Defending the Wing-T Offense in the Under Front Defense

Just keep in mind going into this… I am an amateur enthusiast of the Wing-T. We will scout the opponent to see what they do best in the Wing-T Offense, and make our game plan accordingly. But I love the offense, and so half the fun of writing this article was drawing up the best I could, a Wing-T Offense.

In my interview with Jerry Gordon, author of Coaching the Under Front Defense, I asked him how he would defend the Wing-T Offense. “In my opinion,” Coach Gordon stated, “The Under Front is the greatest front for the Wing-T.” He’s absolutely right.

The Under Front is what we have used for several years when facing the Wing-T Offense. The defense creates tough angles for some of the top plays in the Wing-T Playbook, one’s that your opponent might be expecting to run if they’ve seen you lined up in something else (like our 4-3 Over Front Defense) for the past few weeks playing Spread teams.

If you already use a 4-3 Defense attack with lots of bending and wrong arming, you’ll be in great shape against the Wing-T Offense. While the Under Front creates the look of a reduced 50 Defense, it uses 4-3 Defense principles that will be tougher for the Wing-T Offense to handle.

Using the Under Front to Stop the Wing-T Buck Sweep Play

My primary reason for liking the Under Front is that it just creates tough angles for the best plays. Take a look at the Buck Sweep, which looks to kick out the last man. This is the feature play of the very popular Wing-T Buck Series.

We invert the Safety in our Quarters Coverage, and walk the Corner back to stay over top of a vertical release. When the Safety reads the down block by the Wing, he will be squeezing the air out.

The Sam Backer can align in an inside shade on the Wing to make the down block even tougher. There just is not a whole lot of space to make this play happen, and if the Safety were to get logged and cause the play to spill to the outside, the Corner is capable of filling to the outside.

On the inside, the Backers will be reading the Guards and getting a jump on the action. The front side Backer can get on his horse with the pull outside by the Guard. For the back side Backer, he needs to counter shuffle and expect to fill if the Defensive End gets kicked.

The Under Front vs. Wing-T Buck Trap Play

The next play to defend is the Buck Trap. If our Linebackers get over aggressive, the Offensive Coordinator will try to take advantage with a Trap Play to the inside.

One of the tough things about defending the Wing-T Offense is keeping your players disciplined. The whole design of the system is to put players in conflict – make them wrong, even when they’re doing the right thing. Your defenders can’t cheat, and they will have to defeat blocks, in order to defend the Wing-T.

Against the Trap play, the back side Linebacker just needs to be slow over the top and everything should be okay. The trap is going to hit wider because of the 1 and 5 Technique to the strong side. Against the 4-3 Over Front, this is a more effective play with the strong 3-Technique.

Nothing brilliant here, just better angles in the Under Front to defend the Wing-T Offense out of. Another tip from Coach Gordon that can help here is, to shift the Nose Guard from a 1-Technique to a 2i, inside shade of the Guard. The change will adjust the blocking assignments of the Wing-T Offensive Linemen, giving you another advantage – big kids thinking.

Defending the Belly Series in the Under Front

The Belly Series is another extremely popular Wing-T Offense attack, and again, the Under Front Defense gives you great angles against it.

Let’s start off looking at the Belly Crossblock, a weak side running play that attempts to kick out the Defensive End and come down on the Tackle. In the 4-3 Over Defense, this is a great angle. The play hits just like an Iso Play.

The biggest difference is that in the I Formation, we have Linebackers keyed in on the Fullback or the Guard, and will get two hats to the hole immediately. In the Wing-T, we may be keying the Guards, or cross keying the Wing Backs, but we almost never key the Fullback.

As you can see, in the Under Front we have closed down that easy path to the Linebacker. The Offensive Linemen will really have to work to dig out those linemen and crease a crease for the Wing Back to lead through.

The Offensive Coordinator can obviously get more creative than this, as there are a million different ways to block the front in the Belly Series. For the Wing-T Offenses that we see, however, this is a primary method of blocking the series. If we can get them out of their favorite plays, we can start making some progress.

Defending the Wing-T Belly Down with the Under Front Defense

Okay, now I’m really getting out of my element as we go into the Belly Down and the Down Option plays. I hear a lot about them when I am in places that run the Wing-T more (like Iowa, for example), but we do not see much of this. We are more likely to see Power, but I have talked about defending Power here.

The Belly Down is going back to attacking the strength of the formation, but with similar backfield action to the Belly Crossblock (each series focuses on the same backfield action). The play is going to put your Sam Linebacker, the walked up man on the end of the Line of Scrimmage, into conflict.

The down block on the 5-Technique is something he’s getting used to at this point, which helps to open up the Trap Play too. For the Sam Linebacker, he’s been getting down blocked by the Wing on the Buck Sweep. Now he’s going to get kicked out by the front side Guard.

This is one example of how they may attack you if you widen the Sam to inside shade or even head up on the Wing. Once the Sam has loosened up and is striking the Wing, he’s vulnerable to a kick out and a running lane for the Fullback opens up.

As long as your Sam has been well trained at bending down the Line of Scrimmage on the Tight End’s down block, and wrong arming the puller, we can get this play to spill to the outside. When the ball is moving east and west, rather than north and south, your defense is doing okay.

If you can stay in your base look with the Under, you might still be okay. And the reaction by the front side Linebacker to the pull of the Guard may be able to get him underneath the Wing Block  and over top of the Tackle.

We’re in good shape against this play, with several players who can make something happen on it.

Defending the Belly Down Option with the Under Front Defense

Now we’re going deep into the Wing-T Package, at least for our area. If the Sam Linebacker starts really crashing and wrong arming, the Wing-T Offense will eventually just go around him and log him.

By inverting the Safety, we have a good run defender out there. The answer for the Wing-T Offense might be to log the Sam, and then read the very capable Safety. Reading defenders is the best way to neutralize someone that you have trouble blocking, and a 4-3 Defense Safety is going to be a tough order for a lot of backs.

This is a great play, and you really need to get some Linebacker – or even Cornerback – help on this play. The other ace in the hole is, of course, if this play really is deep in the playbook, and you have a team that is otherwise not proficient in the Option out there trying to pitch the ball around.

Again, if the Linebacker gets a good read, he may be able to fire underneath the Wing Block and help the Safety out. We need him to get there, because the pull of the Guard has added another hat to the point of attack.

Your Safety will be in conflict, as he is the box player (contain) and therefore the pitch defender. The Cornerback, as a deep half player, cannot be counted on for consistent help in the running game (notice out easy it would be for the Wing to slide down the field for a pass!).

The Wing-T Offense really does a great job of attack any Defensive Front when run well. For your defense to succeed, you will need to have good, strong fundamentals, discipline, and a belief in the system. It helps to be better athletes too.

The Defensive Front will not be the determining factor in the outcome of most ball games, as long as you play with a sound scheme, defeat blocks, make tackles, and run to the football. But the Under Front Defense puts you in a great position to defend the Wing-T Offense.

Listen to my interview with Jerry Gordon on the Under Front Defense on The Football Coaching Podcast