The Hurry Up: Attacking Spokane With Empty Formations

“The Hurry Up” is Shawn "Coach of the Fans" Liotta's weekly blog with information from his coaching experience, film study and conversations with industry leaders that may be pertinent to current trends and strategy in the Indoor Football League. It will give fans a greater insight into the game.

As we approach Monday, fans are eagerly preparing to make the play calls in real time to light up the scoreboard against the Spokane Empire in primetime at the Maverik Center. To become an effective play-caller, you must develop an understanding of how defenses will alter their approach based on formation, situation and field zones.

A well-coached and talented defensive unit such as Spokane makes it imperative to understand their situational tendencies. Let's analyze the game film to identify and recognize potential weakness in the Spokane defense against "empty formations". An empty or “no-back” formation involves the quarterback aligned in the backfield by himself with four receivers being deployed at the snap of the ball.

The offense can be aligned in a balanced 2 x 2 alignment, a trips 3 x 1 formation, or a quads 4 x 0 set:

2 x 2 Empty Formations

3 x 1 Empty Formations

4 x 0 Empty Formations

My review of the Empire defense against the Wichita Falls Nighthawks revealed 13 instances of an empty formation. In six of the plays the Empire played a zone coverage and rushed three defenders. In seven instances, they used a more attacking mentality with man-to-man coverage and a four-man rush. With a four-man rush, or a Blitz situation, there is no back aligned in the backfield to protect the quarterback from the fourth rusher, so the quarterback must beat the defender with his throw. The quarterback is responsible for hitting the open receiver prior to the defender getting to his launch point.

In the first photo below you can see the Nighthawks using a balanced, or 2 x 2 empty, formation, with both high-motion receivers coming from the inside. The Empire do a good job of disguising their coverage, as it appears as both man or zone coverage pre-snap. A post-snap screen shot of the coverage (second photo below) reveals the coverage to be a two-deep zone with three underneath zones.

In this scenario the defense is dropping five defenders into coverage against four receivers and rushing three defenders (third photo below).

When man-to-man coverage is utilized against a no-back formation, it is typically paired with a linebacker blitz.

In the photo below you can see the defensive backs playing with man-to-man technique and leverage on each of the four receivers with a linebacker blitzing through the A-gap. This gives the defense an unblocked rusher, as they are rushing four defenders against three offensive linemen. It places a premium on the quarterback and receivers being on the same page as they often have to execute a “hot” read and adjust their pass route accordingly by “breaking the route off” into the area vacated by the blitzing linebacker.

The unblocked blitzing defender will also accelerate the read for the quarterback as he must get the ball out of his hand quickly to avoid the pass rush.

The offense must recognize out-of-position defenders against empty formations to identif potentially uncovered receivers. In the photos below you can see a situation where the defense is aligning to a 2 x 2 empty formation and have chosen not to cover-down on the inside receiver to the top of the formation.

In the first photo below, the corner at the top of the formation is in a pre-snap press technique, but as the motion reveals itself he starts to bail into his deep zone area. Defenses will attempt to give a false coverage key to the quarterback pre-snap, which is often revealed just prior to the snap. In this instanc,e a zone coverage is used, with the linebacker being responsible for the area outside zone where the slot receiver is aligned in an uncovered situation (second photo below).

The quarterback is able to recognize the uncovered receiver and leverage advantage on the linebacker and quickly deliver the ball to the uncovered man (third photo below).

The quarterback must identify a four-man rush and immediately throw the football to the area vacated by the blitzing linebacker (photo below). This involves the quarerback and receiver being on the same page and recognizing the potential blitzing linebacker located at the back of the defensive box.

I hope you have found this helpful in your preparation to make the play-calls on Monday, March 13, at the Maverik Center.

As always if I can be a resource to you please do not hesitate to email me [email protected] and give me a follow on Twitter (@ShawnLiotta.