First in an occasional series about watching football smarter
Soccer is a complicated game. Twenty-two men with different roles and responsibilities sometimes make it seem like three sports are being played at the same time. Looking beyond where the ball is can lead to an abyss of terminology and schemes. Trust me i was there.
If you want to go there, be my guest, but there are some pretty easy ways to get yourself started with the basics. Think of this series as a starting point if you really want to dive deep into the game, or just want to get a better overall understanding of what is happening on the field and why. We start with the building blocks of each piece: gaps.
What are gaps?
They are names for the spaces between offensive linemen. The typical distance (called a split) is two feet, although this can vary. Gaps are denoted by letters that extend from either side of the center, A through C or D, depending on how many players are on one side.
The alphabet has more letters, and a formation can have more than one narrow ending. Have you ever thought of it genius
* rubs temples *
Yes, technically there would be an E gap if you had a set with two narrow ends. And the E gap exists outside of the D when there is only one tight ending, but that’s not really common in the game’s lexicon and is more of a theoretical space.
Do the skill players need to know about gaps?
Okay, first of all, linemen insult the term “skill player” which implies that they have no skills, although the line between “big skills” and “small skills” should be. But I digress …
It is essential for running backs to understand these terms in order to know where to go with the ball. Width receiver? Fewer. While they are involved in blocking, they usually do so at the perimeter, and the boundaries do not extend to an S-gap, for example. This is for the guys in the “box”.
Why should I care as a fan?
Save this in the back of your mind until you finish reading: blocking is about both angles and geometry, and raw strength. Sometimes angled offensive linemen can help make up for a lack of overwhelming force. Once you understand this, you can see how and why splits and gaps expand or contract.
Teams engaging in a pass-heavy air attack crime, for example, widen their gaps by expanding their divisions to help linemen with pass protection.
Air attack is a system that forces opponents to defend the breadth of the field. Widening pitches to widen the gaps is part of using the width. The defensive end must line up outside of the tackle to maintain its rush lane. If he leans in, the device will only block him and the quarterback will dodge to his left and still discard his throw or climb onto the open field because the end has taken itself out of the picture.
Is the defense interested in blank names?
When a defender is referred to as the 1/3/5/7 technique he is lined up in the A / B / C / D gap (even numbers mean he is “head-up” or straight across from an offensive lineman) . For example, in a 3 technique, most of his body is in the B-gap, and his inner foot (closest to the ball) is even with the outer foot of the offensive lineman. This is how it looks:
He may not necessarily be responsible for that void if the ball is torn, but this is where he stands up first.
Footballers use a number of terms with a gap as a suffix or prefix. What about it?
Let’s go over the most common ones you might hear on a football show.
Gap Running Schemes: This is the family of run games that include “Power” and “Counter”. Running games have a front (where the ball is supposed to go) and a back with the center being the center.
The extremely simplified explanation is that the left guard is on the back when the game is facing right. When that backside guard leaves his position and blocks a player on the right (we call this a “pull”) the game is commonly referred to as a “force”. When two players pull from behind (usually a guard and a tackle) it is generally a “counterattack” and the point is to get the rewind to hit a specific gap. We’ll explain them in a little more detail in a future part of the series.
One-Gap and Two-Gap: These are the two schools of thought in defensive line play. One-gapping is when every lineman is responsible for a gap. It’s an aggressive style in that it allows players to fill in the gaps and penetrate the line without worrying. Two holes give a defender a primary and a secondary hole for control. Sometimes he lines up with an offensive lineman (0, 2, 4 technique) and works towards a gap while pushing the offensive lineman into the other. Done correctly, running back doesn’t go anywhere, leaving linebackers free to clean up the device.
Gap Control: Simply put, does a player control the gap or gaps that they are tasked with? It is not enough to hit an offensive lineman and fly up if you can’t do it. Look carefully when you are watching games and you will see defensive linemen line up to hold their position while games are in progress. This forces running back, for example, to move sideways and into the teeth of several defenders instead of hitting an open hole from north to south.
Gap Sound / Gap Integrity: These terms are basically interchangeable: Do you have a defender for every gap? Eight offensive players on the scrimmage line mean nine gaps to consider. Of course, this requires more than just linemen and linebackers.
A defense that is not a gap sound can be …
Outgapped: Here we discover the beauty of the read zone. Let’s say the defense is three versus three on the left side of the center – one man for each gap.
What if we have a game design where the quarterback essentially creates an additional void by reading the unblocked defender and getting him wrong no matter which option he chooses?
That’s how fine the edges are when you combine this design with an athlete of the generation, like the ravens show us here.
The ravens add a gap to the left for a player to take care of the linebacker. The left tackle goes to the second tier, leaving the defensive end of the back, Cincinnati’s # 96 Carlos Dunlap, alone to fight Mark Ingram and quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Dunlap isn’t even that wildly out of position. He wasn’t completely sold out to attack Ingram. He may have taken a wrong step towards him, but that was enough to allow Jackson to run into daylight. If Dunlap had stayed where he was and taken away the Jackson threat, the Ravens would have blocked the game well enough that Ingram would have had plenty of room to the right.
This is just the basis. From here we build on that in both run and pass play. Stay tuned.
Richard Johnson is a freelance writer, podcaster, and video host. The Brooklyn native of Gainesville, Florida is a college football fan who recently fell in love with the Jacksonville Jaguars and regrets it every day. Illustrations and design by José Luis Soto.