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Advice On Beating A 3-1-1 Defense

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Happy New Year Everyone!!!

I hope you are all doing well and had a good holiday season.

We are playing in a winter league again this year and our first game of the winter season is against a very good team that won the fall Cen-Tex tournament this year.

We played them in that tournament and they run a very unique (at least in our area) 3-1-1 defense (see the attached diagram below). They have 3 on the line with 1 blitzer and 1 deep safety. In the tournament their blitzer was very fast and the safety can play sideline to sideline with speed and great hands (picked us off 2 or 3 times in that game).

What I need is advice on beating this defense, since 95% of the teams in our league play a 3-2 or 2-3, we just don't have much experience with this D.

So my plan going into the game is to attack the outsides of the defense as deep as possible. It will be difficult to throw deep on them though as their rusher gets to the QB fast.

I have diagrammed a play below that I think can be effective, but I would like your opinions/advice/suggestions.

Basically in the play below I run a trips left or right formation. I have the outside guy go deep and the slot reciever run a slant over the middle. This will force the safety to make a choice of who to cover, and he'll probably pick the deep route. I have the middle reciever run a 2 step dig to hold the defender on the line in place, and then the center runs a very shallow route to the right to keep the other 2 defenders on the line close to the line of scrimmage.

If it works out like I think, it should leave my slant reciever wide open in the middle of the field for a big play.

I have a couple other plays that are very similar to this one as well with slight variations to the routes, but this is the one I think will work best.

Let me know what you think and if you have any other ideas/suggestions.

Thanks!!!

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There is always a way to beat a defense and there is always a way for the defense to adjust to what you are doing. We play this kind of defense (and play against it) so I can give you all kinds of advice.

I like your play idea. If they stay vanilla, then you can force the outside defender to make a choice. We teach our outside guy to go with the deep receiver so that should leave your short one open, especially if he slides towards the outside. The middle defender probably won't just stand there. He'll shade over to the trips side and look for that short pass that's why I'm saying have the receiver head outside.

Look to see what the outside defenders are doing (or let me know if you already know). We teach (and the other teams also teach) them to take a drop with the outside receiver. So, if you have your receivers running long patterns on the outside those defenders drop back. In effect it creates space in the outside flats as the play develops. One of my favorite plays was to line up two outside receiver, 1 left, 1 right. Have them each run a go, post or flag. Your halfback swings towards one flat, just at or beyond the los and the center swings towards the opposite one. A lot of times the middle defender will key on either the center or halfback. The QB watches the middle defender and throws the opposite way that he goes. The QB needs to hold the ball until the rusher is on him AND he has to look downfield too. The result is an easy short pass that gets immediately to the outside with room to run.

If you tell me that the outside defenders are not taking drops, instead they are just playing around the los or short coverage I'd say attack them deep. You could have your receivers run go routes or flags and then the QB watches the middle deep safety, either looks him off, fake pumps or something and then goes the other way.

Our center end around works well against this defense too. Look for the threads on that play. You can run it out of twins right for instance or any of many variations. If you have a fast center who beats the middle defender towards the sideline it opens up worlds of possibilities. The outside defender has to decide to stay in coverage or come in for the run. If he stays in coverage the center just runs. If he goes after the run the center flips a quick pass to a wide open receiver on that side.

I have some other ideas too. Let me know what you think so far.

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Thanks Orange!!

My recollection from the tournament is that the outside defenders stayed close to the line of scrimmage. They may have dropped back a bit, but I don't remember them following the recievers deep in coverage.

I really like the idea of having the RB and center run routes to the flat. That way if the defenders do drop back in coverage I'll have plays to beat them both ways. I hadn't thought of that.

I really like that center end around play, and we started using it alot this past fall. We usually run it out of a trips formation though, which gives us a reverse option, a short pass option and a deep pass option besides the center run.

Please let me hear your other ideas!!

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The center end around has many options. Here is another one:

Twins right, one of the twins comes in motion. You can either fake an end around to him or not even bother to fake the end around. The idea is to get the middle defenders attention. Then when you hand off to the center he has more room to run.

Against a 3-1-1 I like rolling my QB out. Stack trips on the side like you do. One receiver runs deep up the sideline (too wide for the middle safety to cover). Another receiver sits on the sideline maybe 2-3 yards off the los and waits. The center drags at an angle along with the QB aiming for about 7 yards off the los towards the sideline. The last receiver can either try to pick the rusher or maybe run a deep pattern towards the middle of the field. On this play the QB reads that outside defender. If he goes long you hit the receiver sitting short on the sideline (my favorite option). If he stays short you should have the outside go pattern open (the kids favorite option). The center dragging is always a nice safety valve as nobody seems to pick him up.

And I don't think those outside defenders can stay short. There is way too much room for the middle safety to cover. If you send 2 receivers deep on each side and the QB looks him off, it would be an easy connection. Hopefully you have a QB and receivers to make that kind of play.

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Hey guys,

I think the key is to have a playbook that has plays to attack any sort of defense. If you get caught up in facing a 3-1-1, your playbook will suffer vs. 3-2 or 2-3 (which, as you mentioned most other teams run).

It's easy to get caught up in X's and O's, but at the end of the day you have to remember rely on your personnel. I'm not sure who gave me the advise on here, but tailor your playbook toward your personnel. Come up with a base playbook, and then augment it toward your players.

To that end, we faced quite a few 3-2-1 defenses this past season. We found on running plays the key is to get the d-line to lean in a certain direction, then attack the opposite side. On passing plays, we looked to throw to the flats first, and if they were contained we ensured we always had a player find the seam in which our QB would hit as a 2nd option. We forced defenses to change their formations based on exploiting their weaknesses---not in their scheme, but their players. Learn to audible, and keep hammering away at their lesser-skilled players.

The bottom line (IMO), is that if you face a defense that is disciplined (regardless of scheme) it's imperative to dictate play by compelling them to do what YOU want via fakes, misdirections, etc., and not deviate from your game plan.

Good luck!

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The center end around has many options. Here is another one:

Twins right, one of the twins comes in motion. You can either fake an end around to him or not even bother to fake the end around. The idea is to get the middle defenders attention. Then when you hand off to the center he has more room to run.

I like this option too, but I am a little worried about the delay cause by faking the end around. i have drawn it up, but I'm thinking I would probably just send the guy in motion and immediately hand off to the center (ignoring the motion guy). What's your advice on that?

Against a 3-1-1 I like rolling my QB out. Stack trips on the side like you do. One receiver runs deep up the sideline (too wide for the middle safety to cover). Another receiver sits on the sideline maybe 2-3 yards off the los and waits. The center drags at an angle along with the QB aiming for about 7 yards off the los towards the sideline. The last receiver can either try to pick the rusher or maybe run a deep pattern towards the middle of the field. On this play the QB reads that outside defender. If he goes long you hit the receiver sitting short on the sideline (my favorite option). If he stays short you should have the outside go pattern open (the kids favorite option). The center dragging is always a nice safety valve as nobody seems to pick him up.

And I don't think those outside defenders can stay short. There is way too much room for the middle safety to cover. If you send 2 receivers deep on each side and the QB looks him off, it would be an easy connection. Hopefully you have a QB and receivers to make that kind of play.

I agree with you. In the tournament we weren't ready for this defense, and I recall that their safety was excellent at reading our QB's eyes and cheating over to make the picks on us. I still don't think they had their outside defenders cover deep (maybe because their safety was so good and they dared us to throw it on them). Also I didn't have a QB who could throw it long in that game so that hindered us as well.

I think if they stick to that same strategy we can definitely beat em long this time as I have 2 QB's who can throw pretty well now.

Do you ever find that these defenses cheat over on a trips formation?

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Hey guys,

I think the key is to have a playbook that has plays to attack any sort of defense. If you get caught up in facing a 3-1-1, your playbook will suffer vs. 3-2 or 2-3 (which, as you mentioned most other teams run).

It's easy to get caught up in X's and O's, but at the end of the day you have to remember rely on your personnel. I'm not sure who gave me the advise on here, but tailor your playbook toward your personnel. Come up with a base playbook, and then augment it toward your players.

To that end, we faced quite a few 3-2-1 defenses this past season. We found on running plays the key is to get the d-line to lean in a certain direction, then attack the opposite side. On passing plays, we looked to throw to the flats first, and if they were contained we ensured we always had a player find the seam in which our QB would hit as a 2nd option. We forced defenses to change their formations based on exploiting their weaknesses---not in their scheme, but their players. Learn to audible, and keep hammering away at their lesser-skilled players.

The bottom line (IMO), is that if you face a defense that is disciplined (regardless of scheme) it's imperative to dictate play by compelling them to do what YOU want via fakes, misdirections, etc., and not deviate from your game plan.

Good luck!

I definitely agree with you John, and I do have an extensive playbook that I use every season, but for this team I just want to have that little extra advantage just in case...

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I like this option too, but I am a little worried about the delay cause by faking the end around. i have drawn it up, but I'm thinking I would probably just send the guy in motion and immediately hand off to the center (ignoring the motion guy). What's your advice on that?

No, you're right that's exactly how we run it. We just let the receiver come in behind the QB and the QB does not delay, just hands off to the center. The motion is usually enough to get that middle defender to lean in the wrong direction and with a fast center that's all you need.

I agree with you. In the tournament we weren't ready for this defense, and I recall that their safety was excellent at reading our QB's eyes and cheating over to make the picks on us. I still don't think they had their outside defenders cover deep (maybe because their safety was so good and they dared us to throw it on them). Also I didn't have a QB who could throw it long in that game so that hindered us as well.

I think if they stick to that same strategy we can definitely beat em long this time as I have 2 QB's who can throw pretty well now.

Do you ever find that these defenses cheat over on a trips formation?

Yes, and we do it also. Here is one way we do it. We slide the middle defender over to the strongside a couple of yards. We place the rusher on the side of the trips anticipating the QB rolling that way. We'll move the middle safety in towards the strongside 4-5 yards. The outside defender on the strongside will shift more towards the outside. The outside defender on the weakside will shift 5 yards or so more towards the center.

So basically we slide everyone over about 5 yards towards the trips. Other than that, our defense looks pretty much the same. We have our middle guy alert for a possible end around to the open field so he has to shift back if there is motion.

Teams that are not used to facing trips will not react initially and maybe not at all depending on their coaches.

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Hey guys,

I think the key is to have a playbook that has plays to attack any sort of defense. If you get caught up in facing a 3-1-1, your playbook will suffer vs. 3-2 or 2-3 (which, as you mentioned most other teams run).

It's easy to get caught up in X's and O's, but at the end of the day you have to remember rely on your personnel. I'm not sure who gave me the advise on here, but tailor your playbook toward your personnel. Come up with a base playbook, and then augment it toward your players.

To that end, we faced quite a few 3-2-1 defenses this past season. We found on running plays the key is to get the d-line to lean in a certain direction, then attack the opposite side. On passing plays, we looked to throw to the flats first, and if they were contained we ensured we always had a player find the seam in which our QB would hit as a 2nd option. We forced defenses to change their formations based on exploiting their weaknesses---not in their scheme, but their players. Learn to audible, and keep hammering away at their lesser-skilled players.

The bottom line (IMO), is that if you face a defense that is disciplined (regardless of scheme) it's imperative to dictate play by compelling them to do what YOU want via fakes, misdirections, etc., and not deviate from your game plan.

Good luck!

I definitely agree with you John, and I do have an extensive playbook that I use every season, but for this team I just want to have that little extra advantage just in case...

Understood, and this always helps to be prepared. My line of thinking is , "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." By that, be the puncher, not the receiver. One thing I've learned over the years is the importance of dictating the game. We can talk about X's and O's all day, but being able to pinpoint what's working/not working based on your playbook is key, IMO.

FWIW, what I do is the following:

1. Script our first 10 plays. We stick to them without fail. Typically, these are our 10 most potent plays.

2. Based on those 10 plays, I determine what has worked/not worked.

3. As an example, if we run a trips right bootleg to the slot receiver in the right flat that did not work because the CB was disciplined enough to stay in his zone, when we go to the line to run that play again and I see that same CB on the right side, I'll audible at the LOS to shift the formation left and hit the left flat.

4. Teaching the kids how to audible in these instances will work miracles. It's not as hard as it seems. We simply talk about the concept of it, and come up with keywords for each audible (the kids love it). As an example, in practice we learn when we run the trips right bootleg, if I yell, "Monkey poo!" at the line, they know exactly what to do--which is to simply reverse the play.

I believe at this age, it's all about discipline. And when you face a team as disciplined as yours, you then start looking at matchups to give you the edge with each play. I know this is a bit off-topic as to what you originally inquired about, but wanted to at least share my experience that has produced quite a bit of success. ;-)

Please let us know how you do. I wish we had a winter-league here. Until then, I will simply wait, get my players together once every few weeks for a walk-thru practice, and wait until the spring. I'm losing three players this season due to age, so I'm anxious to see what the new guys will bring to the table. Until then, I try and keep the other players geeked about the upcoming season. ;-)

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Update:

We ended up losing that game 32-0. The other team was just plain GOOD!!!

I have 6 new kids this winter, so it's been a challenge starting from scratch.

Some things I've changed this season that have really helped me are:

  1. We've switched from the 2-3 and 3-2 defense that I have traditionally run, and now run a 3-1-1 like Orange has described. It has worked very well and I think I am convinced it is the best defense at the 8-10 age range. You know what they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em...
  2. We've started scripting plays as John had suggested. This has really helped me this winter season as I am coaching both offense and defense, and it allows me to call the plays and combinations that I know will work together without having to think too much about it. Then I can sit back and see how the defense is responding and make adjustements on the fly.
  3. We run the gauntlet drill at every practice and right before every game. This has made a big difference in our teams flag pulling success. Thanks Rob.

So we are a very young and inexperienced team this winter, but the kids have made alot of good progress and things are looking good heading into the playoffs next week.

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Update:

We ended up losing that game 32-0. The other team was just plain GOOD!!!

I have 6 new kids this winter, so it's been a challenge starting from scratch.

Some things I've changed this season that have really helped me are:

  1. We've switched from the 2-3 and 3-2 defense that I have traditionally run, and now run a 3-1-1 like Orange has described. It has worked very well and I think I am convinced it is the best defense at the 8-10 age range. You know what they say, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em...
  2. We've started scripting plays as John had suggested. This has really helped me this winter season as I am coaching both offense and defense, and it allows me to call the plays and combinations that I know will work together without having to think too much about it. Then I can sit back and see how the defense is responding and make adjustements on the fly.
  3. We run the gauntlet drill at every practice and right before every game. This has made a big difference in our teams flag pulling success. Thanks Rob.

So we are a very young and inexperienced team this winter, but the kids have made alot of good progress and things are looking good heading into the playoffs next week.

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I went up against a 3-1-1 two years ago and it definitely took a while to find the weaknesses. I'm assuming zone, where the corners dropped some when they read pass. I made my WRs split out really far, so their outside contain had to move out - or I would hit them with wr quick screens. When they moved out, I was able to run the seam that was left open. You may run into the blitz, but if you use misdirection in your running you will move the ball. If you go empty backfield, you should have the quick slant from the slot. It may take a while, but your wrs and QB will realize when it should be the slant or wr screen. You can also roll your qb and have the slot run a corner route with wr curling in front of the corner. The corner will stick and the safety will never get out there in time. I run a fake counter, qb roll out and hit the slot on a corner route all the time. Of course, at this age the slot is waiting on the duck to come down, but the safety (bites on counter for a second) and corner never covers the route because he has a wr setting up in front of him. If they do cover, your QB can run for yards.

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Update:

We ended up losing that game 32-0. The other team was just plain GOOD!!!

Thanks for the follow up. That is the other challenge here. Every now and then you run into a buzz-saw team that might not play a complex style of football, but have the horses to to just let their athletes take over the game. We lost in our Championship game this season to a team like that. It's frustrating, I know, but that is what keeps (me at least) coming back for more. Ha!

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So we are a very young and inexperienced team this winter, but the kids have made alot of good progress and things are looking good heading into the playoffs next week.

End of season update:

Our young team ended up winning the superbowl in our division this past weekend. We played 2 teams we had played during the regular season to win it.

The first team we played we had beaten in overtime in the regular season 19-18. We ended up winning this playoff game 21-12. The 3-1-1 defense worked great against them as they had a pretty good running back that they ran alot. We were able to shut him down for the most part, and when they did try to pass we got 2 picks off of them.

Our second game was against a team of very big kids who beat us 34-12 in the regular season. This team had a very fast running back who could cut on a dime, and very huge players that were slow but had a huge hieght advantage over our boys. This game was a thriller, and we ended up winning 27-26.

This was my teams first championship and to earn it in such a challenging way made it really awesome. The game came down to the last play and my son knocked down the pass for the 2 point conversion attempt by the other team to preserve the win.

It was a challenging but very rewarding season. After a turbulent beginning to the season our team pulled together aand won their final 2 games as well as the championship. It definitely reminded me why I love coaching...

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Congrats on the championship! Those 1 pt games add a few grey hairs. Of course we'll need some video proof of this feat.

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