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Multiplicity But Simplicity: Why the 4-2-5 Defense

by Gary Patterson, Defensive Coordinator


University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, New Mexico
1997 AFCA Summer Manual

In this day and age of college football, offenses have become very explosive and complex in the number of formations
and plays used in a game. To combat this problem, defenses must have enough flexibility in their scheme to limit offenses in
their play selection, but be simple enough to be good at what they do. During a game we must look like we do a lot, but only
do enough to take away what offenses do best. This leads me to our philosophy of, “Multiplicity but simplicity.”
With every good idea, there has to be a sense of purpose to stand behind it. The purpose behind the 4-2 front, five spoke
secondary is to give less-talented defensive units the flexibility to compete. There is no more helpless feeling than to play
“bend but don’t break” defense, have the opposition turn up the level of play and have no answer to it. The other thought
process is that the better the athlete we have, the more an offense must contend with our individual ability, plus the
multiplicity of the scheme. We want offenses to guess what they should spend most of their time working on. Our job is to
find out what their answer is and then use other phases of our package to cause new problems.
At the University of New Mexico, we have five goals to playing great defense:
1. Out hit the opponent.
2. Stop the run.
3. Create takeaways.
4. Eliminate big plays.
5. Don’t flinch.
To accomplish these five goals, we use five basic principles within the 4-2-5 to give our players a chance to succeed:
1. Create offensive confusion at the line of scrimmage.
2. Play with great leverage.
3. Establish the eight man front.
4. Establish a pressure package.
5. The five spoke secondary.

Create Offensive Confusion at the Line of Scrimmage


To create confusion at the line of scrimmage we must direct our energy at the pre-snap read. Offenses, as we all know,
do a great job of exploiting weaknesses. As a defensive unit, we do not want to allow offenses this advantage if possible. For
us, the 4-2 front, five spoke secondary gives us great disguise capabilities, plus movement from all 11 players
independently. This movement all happens because the front and coverage before the snap can work separately from each
other. The three safety system is the main reason all this can happen, because of the natural alignments in leverage
positions, this allows the other eight players to move freely.
The first answer offenses use to combat our movement disguise is to use the quick count. We feel this gives us an
advantage because we are now playing the offensive coordinator not the quarterback. We also feel this limits the size of their
game plan because we have taken away the audible possibilities at the line of scrimmage. The main coaching point needed
to make all our movement possible is we must be able to carry out our assignments from where we end up. If not, you must
first do your job!
Play with Great Leverage
Every good defensive team that I have ever watched play had one distinct characteristic about them, they played with
great leverage. We have one key phrase which sums up what leverage means to our players at the University of New
Mexico. That phrase is: “inside and in front.” In basic terms, this tells everyone of our 11 players that no matter where they
are on the field, if they keep the ball inside and in front of them, good things will happen. Another way to present the theory
behind playing great leverage is telling your players once the ball declares inside or outside of you, never allow it to cross
back across your face. What this does is cause a net effect to surround ball carriers. When we first became interested in the
4-2-5 defense, the first obvious characteristic was the natural leverage alignments. These alignments are made possible by
the three safety system. To make the system work properly, it is important how we teach it. We decided to divide the
defensive secondary differently than other teams do, with a corner coach and a safety coach teaching all three safeties. This
split allows the safety coach to work on leverage as a priority along with coverage. The corners can just work on playing
coverage. The natural leverage of the 4-2-5 allows five points to give us a better chance to play great defense.
1. Great alignments to run to the football.
2. Great leverage tackling angles.
3. Great angles to help eliminate the big play.
4. Establishing the eight man front
5. Natural alignments to play assignment option football.

Establish the Eight Man Front


To be great at anything, you have to have a great belief in what you do. What we have hung our hat on at the University
of New Mexico is establishing the eight man front. The reason for using the eight man front is that we believe you must stop
the run first. If you can’t do that, nothing else matters. The 4-2-5 front allows us the multiplicity to always try to have one
more player at the point of attack than the offense.
The first people on your defensive staff that must buy into stopping the run first are your defensive back coaches. They
have been taught to not get beat deep and be safe. Both thoughts are still important rules to go by, but as a staff we must
free up as many secondary players as are needed to secure leverage and give run support. As a staff, we must do a smart
job of using the multiplicity part of the eight man front to our advantage. If needed, we can play with nine players up, but you
must know what you are possibly giving up. If fewer players are needed to stop the run, this will help us to achieve the goal
of eliminating the big play. Remember, the reason we went to the eight man front is that we do not believe we will play with
the same level of personnel as others do year in and year out.
The philosophy behind being able to play the run with only six in the box is that we want the ball to get pushed to the
outside safeties. The safeties’leverage allows us to stunt or slant any way we need to control the line of scrimmage. With
the addition of the three safeties, this gives us the possibility of nine players playing the run against a two-back set.

Establish a Pressure Package


Establishing a pressure package may be the most important principle for us to accomplish within our philosophy. This
principle alone sets up the disguise movement thought process that we need for multiplicity. We feel as a staff that the threat
of the blitz to an offense is oftentimes worse than the blitz itself. The possibility must exist that we can bring five to eight
defensive players on any given down. This thought process makes an offense account for all eight players on all run and
pass plays. This part of our package is designed to frustrate offenses and make them use their audible game plan. If
possible, we would like to cause offenses to change from what they like to do best on game day.
Many staffs do a great job with pressure within their schemes. Usually, the better the athlete, the more pressure that can
be applied. We, as a defense, can’t assume that we will line up with better athletes. What we must do is find ways to bring
more players to create mismatches. This is the only way, year in and year out, we can be consistent and successful. Our
blitz package must be simple enough to handle all the different formations used in a game. Yet, we must be multiple enough
to take advantage of an opponent’s weakness.
There are many reasons that we like using the 4-2-5 scheme to blitz. Below are a few of the major reasons:
1. The simplicity of naming personnel (Mirrored players).
2. Natural alignment positions.
The easy alignment against two-back or no-back sets (seven off-the-line coverage players).
3. Coverage simplicity
Mirror Alignment: Simple count system for the free safety versus the variety of formations we play against.

The Five Spoke Secondary


Who, and how, we recruit is the first big reason we have changed to the five defensive back system. This philosophy
allows us to recruit a certain body type athlete, which gives us a chance to pinpoint speed as a priority. We believe that you
recruit corners who might be safeties and better athletic safeties who grow into linebackers. By following this philosophy we
end up with an overall faster, athletic defensive unit.
The second reason we like this system is for disguise purposes. All coverage packages have their positives, but there are
always certain personnel groups that cause four man secondaries disguise problems. Because of the fifth secondary player
in our scheme, the disguise factor is already built into the system. Each player can basically work independently from the
other four players. This allows our disguise movement to be totally independent from four man coverage alignments,
because once one of their secondary players moves, they all must move together. With the five spoke secondary, we can
actually show blitz to one side and zone to the other side without losing continuity.
The third reason is the natural leverage and blitz alignments that the three safety system gives us. As we have continually
discussed throughout this article, because of the leverage positions of the safeties, we are able to move our front six around
without risking leverage problems. This allows our linebackers to show in their gaps without worrying about being an overlap
player. The outside blitz position by our safeties makes offenses account for them on all run and pass plays. Again, we want
to limit how much game plan they are putting in.
The fourth and final reason for using the five defensive back system is the mirrored teaching in practice. We break down
teaching pass coverage like we have always taught run progression. We start out with individual, then we go to half zone
and follow this up with full pass skeleton. The reason there is better overlap teaching is the mirrored look of the safeties and
linebackers. Again, the reason this is able to happen is the fifth safety. The free safety allows us to be able to teach half the
field coverage in a ball game, just like we do in practice. We believe this gives our coverage players a higher confidence
level because they are only in charge of their half of the field!
On behalf of Head Coach Dennis Franchione and the rest of the University of New Mexico football program, we would like
to thank the AFCA for inviting us to contribute to this year’s Summer Manual. We would also like to thank all those coaches
who, through the years, have helped us grow in this profession. Success can not be accomplished alone, but must be a
group effort. Being good teachers and believing in each other as a staff helps in achieving this goal. Without the wisdom of
Coach Franchione and the abilities of our defensive staff: Mark Parks, linebackers; Kasey Dunn, corners and David Bailiff,
defensive line, success would be impossible.