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The Film Room Tackles Pursuit Angles

Let's talk pursuit angles, and how they've spelt doom for the Texas Tech defense in the past

These are the findings of a beat-up former football player who is not a coach and has no desire to be a coach. I can only guess at formations and keys based on the information given. This is not meant to be the end-all-be-all, but rather some educated observations on Texas Tech football.

Football, at it's core, is a game of inches.

If you've played football at a high level, you probably know the value of pursuit angles. If you haven't, you might have no idea what I'm talking about. Let's take some time out of our day and learn a key element to what makes a defense good.

On the defensive side of the ball, it's a common adage that you want "11 men swarming to the football". Most take this to mean "just get 11 people to the football at any cost". It can be interpreted that way, but ultimately if you have 11 all going to where the football is, the running back or wide receiver might gas you to the outside, and your defensive players might not have the acceleration to be able to make the play. Instead, you want all 11 men going to where the football will be. This might mean that the defensive player gives ground, or accepts that the offense might make around 3-4 yards unless the defensive line/attacking linebackers make a great play. Here's a video from the University of Miami that shows exactly what I'm talking about.

So, for instance, let's say that we have a regular old Singleback formation with a Tight End, like this.

If we're playing a running team, David Gibbs and company might line up a little like this, with the weak side defensive end (the right side in the example) in a two-point stance over the tackle. By the numbers, the play is most likely going to the strong side of the offense (the left), because of the "edge player" (the weak side defensive end). Let's have this offense run a regular ol' zone play to the strong side.

Now we see that the play is hitting right outside the tight end. Ideally, the strong side linebacker and the safety will fill the outside lanes and try to force the running back east and west, as opposed to hitting the run straight downfield. In order for the defense to fill as many gaps as possible, we need the strong side defensive end to not allow the tight end to get a clean release on the linebacker, and we need the safety to fill more to the outside, pushing the running back into the meat of the defense, as opposed to letting him get a clean shot outside. Sometimes, when Texas Tech defends these outside runs, the safety and the linebacker engage the tight end, giving the running back a clean shot at the end zone.

Not ideal, as you can see.

The corner, depending on his depth (I have him pressed in my defense), will have to fight off the wide receiver. If the linebacker gets to the tight end, the safety *should* have a clean shot at the running back, who will be forced to change direction ever so slightly. That change of direction will give the rest of the defense time to get there. I know, this is a bad drawing, but the squiggles mean that the safety does not do that, and instead comes to the inside very hard, opening up that outside lane for the running back.

Once again, not good.

However, if the safety goes to where the ball carrier will be, he has a much better shot at making the play, or at least screwing up the running back enough to allow the rest of the defense get back in the picture. Ideally, we want this play to look a little like this:

It's an incredibly subtle difference, a difference that is made by a one or two yard angle. However, this difference is important, because it spells the difference between us losing 4-5 yards or 20-30 yards. Let's look at some Texas Tech plays that were pursued poorly.

via GIPHY

Reverses are effective because they mess with these angles heavily. On this play, watch Dakota Allen (#40) and Justis Nelson (#31). Wether by offensive design or poor fundamentals, both of them take incredibly aggressive angles to the ball, not respecting the speed of the LSU wide receiver. As a result, the play ends up scoring. I can't fault Allen or Nelson too much for this play, this one was simply well designed by LSU. However, we can see the importance of angles, as both of them begin running slightly up the field, realize where the ball is going, and then adjust their angle so that they have a prayer of making it to the ball. Neither of them do, and the result of the play is a touchdown.

That sucked to watch. Let's look at a happy play.

via GIPHY

This play is gaining at least 20 yards the second the K-State safety (#29) takes a poor angle inside. Watch how he has to redirect in order to attempt to tackle DeAndre Washington. I cut this gif off short, but DeAndre takes it all the way, easy. You're not going to get a good handle on him in the open field. However, even I could've made a 10 yard gain here. In order to defend Texas Tech well, you have to have good angles. In order to play good defense, Texas Tech must take better pursuit angles in 2016.