Copyright 1999, 2000 John T. Reed

A number of readers have told me they are having trouble stopping the off-tackle play when they box the defensive ends in the gap-air-mirror. This is especially true at the higher age levels. I acknowledged that possibility in Coaching Youth Football, 2nd edition and explained how to adjust. Please reread pages 93 to 95. Also, there is now an extensive section with seven different adjustments you can make on that in the Gap-Air-Mirror book.

One guy wondered if the fact that he got beat off-tackle four times by one opponent (he was undefeated and unscored upon in all other games) meant that he should switch to the 5-3-3 defense. The 5-3-3!? How in the name of God do we strengthen the off-tackle hole by moving six guys back off the line of scrimmage? If he switches to the 5-3-3, not only will he get beat worse by the off-tackle play, he will also get killed by the sweep and inside traps. In the 5-3-3, the defensive end is responsible for both the off-tackle play andthe sweep. That does not work in youth football. He can easily be blocked out by the tight end, tackle, guard, or fullback or double-teamed by any two of them.

If the offense does not have a fake off-tackle, play-action pass, or counter, you may be able to get away with moving your middle linebacker over to strengthen one of the off-tackle areas if the offense is favoring one side.

Examine your video and see who is breaking down. In the gap-air-mirror, you have a down lineman in the B gap which is one gap inside the off-tackle hole which is the C gap. To the extent that he penetrates, he should screw up the off-tackle play. If there is a tight end, you also have a linebacker lined up on the inside shoulder of the tight end. That is the C gap. If the tight end blocks as is normal in an off-tackle play, the linebacker should keep the tight end away from his body and fight to the ball. If you use the CYF pages 93 to 95 procedure, the defensive end will also be there to help.

If you have a very strong down lineman, it may pay to turn him into a two-gap player. Make him responsible for both the B and C gaps. That is, you line him up nose to nose with the offensive tackle instead of in the B gap and have him read and fight through the offensive tackle's block. This is a common assignment of a nose tackle in an odd-front defense. (There is no nose tackle in the gap-8 or 10-1 which is an even defense.)

Most running plays that succeed inside the tight ends do so because the defensive linemen stood up. Standing up on the D line is the root of all evil in that area.

If the tight end releases on a pass route, the linebacker has to go with him. But if they are running their off-tackle play by sending the tight end out on a decoy route, you might have the linebacker who normally covers the tight end switch pass-coverage responsibilities with the middle linebacker. In that case, the linebacker who is lined up on the tight end just worries about the C gap running play and the middle linebacker takes care of any pass to the tight end.

Have your scout offense run the off-tackle play a lot in practice. Gordon Wood, the most successful Texas High School coach, said you can stop any play if you see it often enough.

Good luck,

John T. Reed