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Prevent defense does not prevent defeat

Why the death of prevent defense is the natural evolution of football

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Prevent defense, an umbrella term I am using here, is based on the idea that if you sit back and play soft coverage with the clock winding down an opposing offense will not be able to pick up enough yards to threaten you. Maybe you just can’t give up a touchdown, or all you have to do is keep a team out of field goal range.

Either way, the defensive coordinator drops into some sort of cover four or deeper variations of your base zone defenses with corners play 8-15 yards off the ball based on your needs and safeties sitting deep away from the line of scrimmage while you rush three.

The concept is sound in theory. By softening your coverage with the clock nearing zero you limit the backbreaking big play that could change the entire game in seconds. But the problem is, modern football has made this theory irrelevant.

So, let me explain why no matter what scheme you run prevent is never the answer.

Look at this weekend as an example of why giving up chunk plays to prevent the big play is a bad idea. Modern offenses exist to take the easiest throw. The spread as it is run today has your receivers find the space and let your quarterbacks deliver. Lock-down corners, disguised coverage, and pressure disrupts this system.

Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

But prevent is the least disguised coverage on earth because everyone knows you’re dropping into a deep zone, and it also eliminates the pressure aspect.

Case in point, Tech’s defense was the most effective when Charlie Brewer was under duress and not able to sit all day until our weak secondary let a receiver get free. Decent quarterbacks can hit short and intermediate throws all day if you give them all day to throw. Receivers are better athletes than defenders a lot of the time now, and they will get open if you give them time to run.

It’s why guys like Mahomes kill teams. When they extend plays their skill position talent has time to get open.

Another example of how prevent theory fails is the entire concept of the bend-don’t-break alignment. What I mean by that is, and if you were a Sooner fan under Mike Stoops you were victimized by this alignment a lot, a team will back their corners and safeties way off the ball. This can be between 8-12 yards off the receiver, which means you are basically giving up free yards.

In the past, quarterbacks weren’t in systems to consistently exploit this for 10-15 yards at a time. Now they very much are, the receivers run a curl or an out to take ten yards and step out of bounds with almost no time coming off the clock. In a true prevent scenario, not just your base alignment, this allows a team to save timeouts and gives up free yards.

Especially in a game like this weekend, when a field goal was enough to tie it giving up 10 yards a time easily is a surefire way to let a team get into range easily. Additionally, this alignment allows for passes underneath letting receivers run free and asking safeties and corners to make open field tackles, something they are not good at.

Another example from this weekend, Baylor’s best drive of the game was out of halftime when they drove right up the field. Guess how long that took? Hint, it was longer than the 100 seconds they needed to go 99 yards in a do-or-die scenario. By giving Baylor a chance to find cheap yards to prevent the big play Tech let them march down the field faster than they had managed all game.

If prevent doesn’t work, what is the solution?

Glad you asked. Keep four down linemen. Four guys can get home, three are really going to struggle. Don’t let the opposition have a picnic in the backfield before a receiver gets open, because they will get open.

Next, pick your best base coverage defense and run it. Don’t over think this, if you are a cover three team stay in it. If you love man-to-man, soften up some by playing 5-7 yards off the ball but don’t abandon the principles that have kept a team in front of you all game. If you commit to playing your defense, you can slow these offenses down. If you play to just not get beat, and sink way back offenses are designed to gouge you for 15-20 yards a throw.

If you are a team that blitzes, keep sending pressure. Yes you could get burned by it, but is that worse than death by a thousand cuts? Obviously the guy you’re scheming against matters. Against Charlie Brewer, blitz him till he bleeds because he is not going to be able to beat you often when you do. Against guys like Mahomes, maybe just stay in your base defense to slow him down and don’t take the same risks because he can beat you in a blitz.

Disagree with me, or have a critique? Just let me know in the comments below!