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Let’s Talk Football: Outside containment is dictated by which defense you call

By Coach Tom Bass Thu, 07/28/2011 - 1:27pm

Each week Coach Bass brings his 30 years of NFL coaching experience to USA Football. Email Coach Bassyour question.

Mike sent the following question:

I first want to thank you for all the great insight you give via USA Football. I have learned a great deal from you. I look forward to purchasing some of your books for greater learning.

I coach kids in the 10- to 12-year-old age group and my question to you is who has outside containment responsibilities on defense. We will be using a 4-3 and some 5-3.

Is it best to always have the defensive end have containment any time he is coming around the corner or would the cornerback on that side have containment if there is no receiver to his side and we are not in a cover 3?

Would it be best to have the linebacker on that side have containment in case the offense either motions across to the defensive back's side where there is no receiver or they send a back out into the flat on that side?

Also, if there is a receiver to that side, should we then have the defensive end be responsible – unless he is in a 7 or 8 technique or will be stunting – or should that responsibility go to the outside linebacker?

Hi, Mike.

Thanks so much for the kind words. This is an excellent question and one that many coaches do not really address until they are challenged in a game by a successful wide running attack.

On each side of the field, we will have four options as to who has the responsibility for containing a wide running play and forcing the ball-carrier back to the center of the field or out of bounds.

The actual responsibility will be determined by the pass coverage called in the huddle and then can be affected by the offensive alignment and personnel in the game.

Your challenge is somewhat different because you are going to be going from an eight-man front (5-3) with three defensive backs to a seven-man front (4-3) with four defensive backs and greater flexibility.

Let’s look at the options you have and the possible calls you can make to designate who has responsibility for contain on the next offensive play:

Easy This call would identify the defensive end as the contain player. This will be your usual call when playing a 5-3 defense. This call might also be used in a 4-3 defense on the side of a slot receiver when you are walking the outside linebacker out to a position over the inside slot receiver.

Backer  This call would identify the outside linebacker as the contain player. This can be your call when playing a 5-3 defense and are crashing or stunting the defensive end hard to the inside and are scraping the backer to the outside of the formation on the snap. You would also use this call on the side of the formation opposite the defensive back rotation in a three deep coverage (Cover 3) when playing a 4-3 defense.

Sky  This call would identify the safety on that side as the contain player. This call would not be a good choice when playing a 5-3 defense as it will interfere with your pass coverage. In a 4-3 defense, this call can be made by either safety who is on the side of rotation, usually Cover 3 or Cover 4 (thee deep rotation to the single receiver side of the formation).

Cloud  This call would identify the defensive corner on that side as the contain player. This call would not be a good choice when playing a 5-3 defense as it will interfere with your pass coverage. In a 4-3 defense, this call can be made to a corner who is on the side of rotation, usually Cover 3 or to both corners if you are playing a two deep coverage (Cover 2).

Once the offense breaks the huddle, have the safeties call out the force call. The corner would hand wave back to the safety to indicate that he received the call. The outside linebacker would hand wave to the safety and relay the call to the defensive end on his side.

These calls and the above procedure were taught and required for every play from the first day of practice to the end of the season.

In teaching these calls to your defensive players, it is important to emphasize that the call always means who has contain responsibility.

It also means who has the pitch man on an option play run to that side of the formation

If you are playing zone defense and the call player is not a rusher (Easy – defensive end), it also can mean who has responsibility for pass coverage in the outside underneath zone on that side of the field.

The call also tells any defensive player with contain responsibility that he has to play any blocker coming from the inside with his inside forearm and shoulder.

Instruct them to keep their outside arm and leg free from the blocker so they can react to the outside, down the line of scrimmage, to any runner who tries to get wide to the sideline.

Using this system, it became easy to change our force call and contain responsibility to any offensive formation shift in alignment or motion by an eligible receiver.

We always felt it was important to establish a target for a defensive back when we asked him to force and contain. This point (force point) was three yards outside the outside defensive player on the line of scrimmage and two yards across the line into the offensive backfield.

The end player was taught to hold his position and not widen out until the ball-carrier crossed his nose. In doing this, our force point remained tight and was never wide out in front of the ball-carrier creating cutback lanes.

A word of caution concerning contain. If you plan on playing man-to-man pass coverage (Cover 1) with or without a blitz, you need to be careful not to assign a player (usually a backer) contain responsibility and pass coverage on an eligible receiver on the same play.

It may be better at your level to assign contain to the defensive end from the start of the play rather than have the end try to automatically take contain if the back on their side releases down the field taking the backer with them in coverage.

Coach Tom Bass

Coach Tom Bass, a 30-year NFL Coach and a technical writer and advisor for USA Football, also is the author of several football coaching books, including "Play Football the NFL Way" (St. Martin's Press), the only authorized NFL coaching book, "Football Skills and Drills" (Human Kinetics) and "The New Coaches Guide to Youth Football Skills and Drills" (McGraw Hill). If you would like to order a personalized autographed copy of Coach Bass' books, copies of his printed “In-Depth Coaching Clinics” or “NFL or College Sport Maps,” visit