Monday, January 9, 2012

Defending Against the Pass - Passing - part 3

We used to say that offense sells tickets, defense wins ball games.  Maybe not so much any more.   Defending against teams like the Packers and Saints seems an exercise in futility.  If you're playing against them, you'd better score a lot of points.

We've been talking about the passing game.  It isn't as important in Women's Professional Football as in the NFL because, unlike the Peyton brothers who were taught to pass and practiced the skill from before they rode a bike, girls/women haven't had years of coaching and practice  throwing and catching a football.  The pass is a powerful weapon but far more difficult than it looks on Sunday television.  Mastery takes hundreds of hours of practice.

Still, as women's football gains popularity, as girls-playing-football gains wider acceptance, we're going to see more passing in Outlaws games. 

We've talked in preceding posts about the offensive side of passing.  What about the defense?  How do you defend against a passing attack?

They're getting to Marisa before she can throw.  Best way to
break up a pass is to sack the quarterback.
The best defense is rushing the quarterback.  If you can sack the quarterback, you defeat the pass before it is thrown.  In our post about throwing the ball we had a series of photos where Marisa Rivas eluded the defense and got the ball away.  In this photo, they got to her. 

If your defensive line can't get to the quarterback, defending the pass  falls to the secondary - the defensive backfield. 

One of the toughest positions to play in football is the defensive secondary.   You need to figure out which receiver to cover.  The offense has five potential receivers - two ends, three backs.  In the NFL they sometimes send all five down field - that's what's happening when the announcer says there's an empty backfield. In women's football they rarely send all five down the field but frequently there will be more than one.  So the defensive backs have to know which defender is covering which receiver.

That accomplished, you need to run with the receiver wherever she goes.  She'll try to fake you out, look like she's going left and instead cut right.  Look like she's curling back toward the quarterback, then release and scamper for the end zone.  So you have to keep your eye on the receiver.  And stay with her. 

A complication for the defender is you aren't allowed to touch the receiver.  You aren't allowed to just get in her face so she can't see the pass coming.  You can't hold her.  All with one exception.  If the ball is in the air and you see it and try to catch it, it is okay to jump in front of the receiver.  Both defender and receiver have equal rights to catch the ball and in fighting for it, some contact is permissible. 

The key is whether or not the defender is looking at the ball.  If you've turned you eyes toward the quarterback, you see the ball coming,  and reach for it bumping into the receiver as you do, that's okay.  But if you're looking at the receiver and bump into her, that's "interference" and a penalty.  The penalty is a "spot foul" placing the ball where it would have been if the receiver had caught it.

Glance the wrong way for an instant and the receiver
can break free for an easy catch and score.
Hate when that happens (unless we're on offense)
The problem with that is you don't know when the ball is going to be thrown so you don't know when to look back at the quarterback.  If you take a quick look, you have to take your eye off of the receiver.  While you check to see if the ball is coming, the receiver can change her route and get open. 

Even if you do have the receiver covered, if you stay with her step for step, and you avoid the interference penalty, the receiver still has an edge if the quarterback is Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees.  Because wherever you are, you're only covering one side of the receiver.  If you're a step ahead of the receiver, the quarterback can throw the ball short.  If you're behind the receiver, the quarterback can throw the ball over her head (and over yours) so she grabs it on the run and continues to race for the goal. 

The rule of thumb here and in sports in general is to keep yourself between the receiver and the goal line.

All of this said, I do have a few shots of pass defense.  First is a three-photo set illustrating my advice to keep yourself between the opponent and your goal line.  This is a pass to an Outlaw.  Two defenders are in the area but behind the receiver.  Receiver catches and makes the score.  So one admonition to defenders is to not let the receiver get past you.

You can see the ball sailing in over everybody's head to land in
the receiver's hands.

If the receiver can get a step ahead of the defenders and the quarterback can place the ball just
out in front of her, you have six points.


The second photo series is an incompletion caused by defenders and receiver getting to the ball at the same time.  Three defenders, one receiver.  You can break up a pass by fighting for possession just as long as you're going for the ball and not interfering with the receiver.

Ball sailing high.  Three Outlaws closing in on the receiver.

The ball is reaching the receiver at about the same instant as the
defenders.  If you look closely you'll see it just above her
yellow helmet.

Thanks to a good solid hit, the receiver can't control the ball.
Incomplete pass.

I suggested above that the receiver has an edge in fighting for the ball if the quarterback throws it to where only the receiver can reach it.  In the following series Outlaws #6 Griff had proper position, keeping between the receiver and the goal.  The quarterback placed the pass perfectly where only the intended receiver can reach it.  But Griff slipped inside and...

Griff slipping in front of the receive hoping to cut off the ball
before the catch.

Okay, so she caught it.  Griff reaches through and slaps the ball away.

Griff's black-gloved hand slapping the ball away.

At the right here is a closer shot cut from the photo above.  Look closely and you'll see Griff's black gloved hand popping the ball out of the receiver's grasp.  Great play.

Every play in football involves fighting for control.  I love watching defenders battle receivers for the ball - especially when the defender is a friend of mine and wins the contest.

The ball drops harmlessly to the ground as Griff's teammate, #23, Jackson, closes in.  If it had been a catch Jackson would have been there to help with the tackle.  Another part of pass defense is damage control - if the receiver does make the catch, get her tackled before she can make any more yards.

When you're in the defensive secondary, you are visible.  Make the play and the crowd cheers.  Miss the play and everyone sees.  Although there aren't a lot of passes in women's professional ball, the secondary has to cover receivers on every play just in case.  If  this isn't a passing play, you need to run toward the line of scrimmage to help with the tackle if the runner breaks free. 

Lots of running.  Running with the receiver.  Running back to the line.  Not only is the job difficult and highly visible, it is physically demanding. 

Glad I was a lineman.  I hate running.  (Don't much like walking, either.)

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