COACHES CORNER: Examining late-game defensive philosophies

Fremont’s Jackson Foster takes down Blackford running back Peyton James during an August 26 game.

In football, defenses are continuously affected by time-related elements of the game. The way a defense responds to these situations will often determine if the team wins or loses the game.

In this week’s coaches corner let’s discuss why it’s important to have a two-minute and four-minute defensive philosophy.

4-minute defensive philosophy

As a defense, you consider yourself in a four-minute situation when your opponent has the lead and the possession of the ball with roughly four minutes remaining in the game.

In many instances the offense will be in a “chew clock” situation and try to run off 15 or more seconds before snapping the football. If the offense has to pass, the play will likely consist of play-action as well as RPOs (Run Pass Option).

In this scenario, quarterbacks are taught to take a sack or loss of yardage rather than throw the ball away or risking throwing an interception. Runs will be very conservative and will likely be simple handoffs to lower the risk of a possible fumble.

The objective as a defense is to get the ball back to the offense without allowing a first down. Create a turnover or score on defense!

Turnovers in the four-minute situation are destructive to an opposing offense. Do everything in your power to have no penalties, as they will keep a drive alive and not give the offense a chance to get back on the field.

The offense’s cadence will be very simple as it does not want to get a silly penalty that will stop the clock. Understand this and be ready to attack when the ball is snapped.

The big key is to stop the run! Expect the opponent to run the ball and try to take as much time off the clock as possible. Always think of stripping the ball when you are tackling the ball carrier. Create a big play!

After tackling the ball carrier, get off and allow the officials to spot the ball. There cannot be any mental errors or missed assignments. One first down helps the offense tremendously and a second first down could potentially seal the game. The defense must be alert of its timeouts remaining, communication is key when calling a timeout. You must stay together and don’t waver as a defense!

2-minute defensive philosophy

On many occasions, the most important time of the game is the last two minutes. Defensively, we consider ourselves in a two-minute situation when we have the lead and the opponent has possession of the football.

A two-minute drive may start with just over two minutes left in the half or the game. It is important as a defense that you understand your personnel that you put on the field. Not all two-minute situations are alike and it is be detrimental to not practice different situations and scenarios.

The objective is similar, to get the ball back to the offense by creating a turnover or by not allowing a first down. Turnovers in this situation will deflate an offense (at the end of the half) or can seal the victory (at the end of the game).

The second guy in on a tackle goes for the ball and tries to create a fumble! It is extremely crucial to have absolutely ZERO penalties in this situation. Penalties stop the clock, keep the drive going and give the offense a chance to put points on the board.

The offensive cadence will be extremely quick and in many cases it will be on “first sound.” In more critical situations, a defense may get a varied count intended to draw it offsides. Defenders must play smart and hard. If you are on the field, it is very important to know the situation, as every two-minute drill is different. Some questions to be thinking about could include:

● What does our opponent need? (TD, FG, or multiple scores)
● How much time remains?
● How many timeouts?
● Where is the field position?

The tempo needs to be slowed down by making it difficult for the ball carrier to get up and return to the line of scrimmage. Unlike the four-minute situation, be slow to unpile, but never so intentional that a penalty is called. It is important to avoid panicking and maintain your demeanor. Handle yourself with the utmost confidence, know exactly what to do at all times and have absolutely no missed assignments or critical errors.

Championship-winning teams embody all these pieces to the puzzle. Missing one or two pieces can be a make or break situation at the end of the game. Preparation is the key to success and you must educate your players on these time sensitive periods of the game and practice these situations so they can succeed when the game is on the line!

Coaches Corner appears weekly at Outside the Huddle. The author Wes Painter played football at both Snider High School and Indiana State University. Following his playing career, Painter coached defensive line and special teams for the Sycamores before moving back to Fort Wayne. He served as an assistant coach at North Side from 2019-20.

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