How to Stop the Running Game in Football

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The ground game is still a very important part of football, particularly in high school and college. While high-powered passing games get most of the attention thanks to innovative offenses such as the spread that features the pass as its main weapon, the running game will always be important. It's a key weapon in short-yardage situations and around the goal line and teams have to run the football when they have the lead in the third and fourth quarters. To stop the run, a defensive team needs to be powerful, punishing and innovative.

  • Your defensive line needs to get physical and aggressive. The goal of your defensive line is not bringing down the ballcarrier. Instead, each defensive linemen needs to take on and defeat the blocker in front. If one of them can also bring down the ball carrier, that's a bonus. However, if the defensive linemen win their battles that means that the linebackers are free to come in and make a sure tackle of the ball carrier.

  • Linebackers need to take an analytical approach prior to the snap. Look at the setup of the running backs. They need to realize whether the receivers are in a position to block or are going downfield first. Then they should get in position to blow the play up and make a tackle. it is a linebacker's job to make as many tackles as possible. However, if a linebacker notices that one of the defensive linemen is overmatched or is about to be double-teamed, it is his job to turn that matchup around and defeat the double-team block.

  • Bring one of your defensive backs close to the line of scrimmage. With four defensive linemen, three linebackers and one safety within four yards of the line of scrimmage, you have put eight men in the box. This means that you have more tacklers than the opposition has blockers and you should be able to stop the run. However, if your defenders are lax in their tackling and they are more intent on making a big hit than they are wrapping up the ball carrier they could fail in their mission.

  • Have your defensive linemen watch as much film as possible. They will see the techniques used by the offensive linemen and figure out schemes to defeat them. If your defensive linemen know what their opposite numbers are going to do before the snap of the ball, it is that much easier to pick out the right counter move and find a way to win the battle.

  • More than anything, every defender must maintain an aggressive attitude and come on the field with the idea that they will not be beaten in the running game. A strong mental approach is a must because establishing the run will give the offense the confidence to keep running the ball. It tells the offense that they are stronger, tougher and more athletic than the defense. Conversely, stopping the run early will reinforce the opposite. Sometimes an offense will find a way to overcome a defense that has stopped the run early, but it is rare. Never giving in to an attitude of defeat will go a long way in helping a defense stop the run.

Tips & Warnings

  • Defensive linemen do not have to make the tackle against the running back. Instead, they need to concentrate on defeating the offensive linemen in front of them.
  • Linebackers must make the tackle and cannot get dragged by the running back. Instead, they need to come with a punishing tackle and make sure they wrap up the ball carrier and not let him get away.
  • All defensive players--and particularly defensive linemen--must watch as much film as possible to learn the tendencies of their opponents. This is especially helpful in defeating offensive linemen.

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