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Defensive Back Run Support

Run support by your defensive backfield is an important part of being a successful defense. Here we will discuss some basic concepts on defending the run from a defensive back’s perspective.  We will discuss both the corner's and safety's role in defending the run and elaborate on getting off of blocks to make a play on the football.

Depending on the coverage called, either the CB or the S will have an assignment in run support. That means the coaches have told him that if a rushing play is towards him or away from him, he has a specific job to do. In most coverages it is usually first denoted by "Sky" or "Cloud" calls. In terms of Cover 3, we explained this before:

A "Sky" call refers to what the Safety is doing. When this is called, usually upon seeing the strength of the formation by the FS, it is the FS and two CBs who have deep responsibilities. The SS would have primary run support (force) if this is called, and would key the RB in addition to whomever he is assigned based on the formation. The Sky call is strong against the run but weak against the quick out pass to #2 receiver on that side. This flip of the safeties (it can also be done between a S and a CB) called an inversion, and in some DC's playbooks the "force" is played by the FS instead of the SS.

A "Cloud" call refers to one of the Corners. When this is called by the FS, it is the two safeties and one of the CBs who have deep responsibilities. A OLB would shift into the underneath zone vacated by this deep CB, for example. Blitz MIKE from that shifted-OLBs usual spot, and you have a difficult read. The other CB has primary run support (force) and keys the RB in addition to his assignment. Usually the coverage rolls to the CB who has the run key and isn't playing deep, and a S lines up behind him, with the other Safety taking the middle. The Cloud call is strong against the quick out pass to #2 but weak against the run except on wide runs. Anytime the #1 receiver does not align wider than the safety is off the line of scrimmage, the Safety will check to a Cloud call which keeps the defense from being outflanked. Anytime the #1 receiver does align wider than the safety is off the line of scrimmage, the Safety will make the Sky or Cloud call according to the coverage called by the coach. So you see, it all depends on how they line up.


In general, a "hard" corner’s responsibility (most often seen in Cover 2) is to cover the flats and become the force on any outside runs. He'll usually be jamming the #1 receiver at the LOS. You will often see this defender line up 5 yards off the ball or on the LOS and he will normally utilize a variation of the slide technique, if he drops at all. This means that the defender can keep his eyes on the backfield while looking at the flats with peripheral vision…perfect for run support.  In terms of what we said above, hard corners are playing "Cloud" support, essentially.

Softer coverage (corner playing around 7 yards off the LOS) can also allow the corner to look in to the backfield, especially if the DB is utilizing a slide step or the defense is in zone. The defender who is comfortable enough peering into the backfield WHILE playing proper defense will obviously be more reactive to the play type.

Man coverage is the toughest coverage to provide run support. While in man coverage, the defender is locked onto his receiver and must stay with his receiver at all times during a pass play. Unless the defender is 7 or more yards off the ball it is difficult for the defender to sneak a peak into the offensive backfield to see if the play is a run or pass play. The defender is usually so focused on the receiver that the offensive player should be able to get him in a compromising situation. Thus, it is important for the defender to use his instincts when in man to identify the play type and react as quickly as possible. IF the defender can peak into the backfield without compromising the integrity of his coverage, his reaction speed and quality will obviously improve.


The safety has the advantage of (usually) being the "over-the-top" player, turning the safety into a centerfielder during pass coverage and almost an additional (quicker) linebacker in run situations. He typically lines up 7-12 yards deep off the ball (e.g., it depends if he is the SS or FS) near the middle of the field so he has a pretty good view of the entire field.

At the snap of the ball, the safety has his head on a swivel to know what is going on around him but is definitely keying on what is happening in the offensive backfield. When the safety reads run, his duty is to attack the ball carrier and put himself in the best position to make a play. As a defensive back, the safety usually has no gap responsibility and is free to make a play in the most efficient manner. He may have a run support duty in the "alley" (basically the off-tackle region between a WR and the offensive tackle) however.

Overall technique:

At the snap of the ball, the defender will go through his coverage progression depending on situation-specific items. Once the defender identifies run, he will need to make sure he is in a position to keep outside containment on the runner, shed any open field blocker, and make a play on the football.

The corner’s first responsibility in run support is to assure that the running back is not able to get to the outside and turn the corner. Hence, the corner (especially if he is the defender closest to the boundary) will need to keep his outside arm free. What we mean by keeping your outside arm free is to assure that the defender can make a play on a runner should the runner attempt to get to the boundary and assures that a blocker will not be able to square the DB up or seal him from the boundary. Either of these would allow the runner to get to the sideline and run AWAY from the rest of the defense. It is critical for young corners to understand that their job is to either make the tackle or force the play back to the middle of the field so that the corner can get help from his defensive teammates. You will often hear coaches and players refer to this as maintaining "outside containment" or simply "outside contain".

In the open field, the receiver will wish to block the defensive back to allow the runner to gain more yards. The defender’s goal is to shed the receiver’s block so that the defender can play a part in the play. If the defender identifies run extremely early in the play, it is acceptable for the defender to "put a move on the receiver" to get around the potential block. Otherwise, the defender needs to initiate contact with the blocker and go through the receiver to make a play on the ball (running around the block is not acceptable because it wastes time and often puts the defender in poor position relative to the play).

It is also important that the defender not allow the blocker to get into his body, as this spells certain failure for the defender should such occur. Common techniques to get off blocks include initial contact, the rip technique, and the swim technique. While there are others, mastering these three will certainly allow the defender to fend off potential blocks to make a play on the football.

Initiating contact: If the defender can initiate contact and knock the receiver off balance, he likely can go directly through the receiver to get in position to defend the run. The defender will need to assure that he is under control at all times. The defender has to be the aggressor here and must attack the blocker. The defender needs to break down, get low, and drive through the receiver when he initiates contact. It is imperative that the receiver maintains complete body control and delivers a leveraged shot to get the receiver out of his way.

Here is how it’s done:

Assuming the defender is not able to get the blocker off balance and run through him, the defender will need to be able to get off a block when engaged with the offensive blocker. The two popular techniques for that are the rip and swim.

Rip move. When engaged with the blocker, the defender will try to keep the receiver at arm’s length without giving up ground. With the receiver’s arms extended, the defender will create an "L" shape with his arm and "rip" under the blocker’s extended arms. This will break the block and allow the defender to get past the off-balanced and (now) non-engaged blocker.

Although this involves linemen, the general technique is shown here:

Swim move. When engaged with the blocker, the defender will try to keep the receiver at arm’s length without giving up ground. With the receiver’s arms extended, the defender will chop down on the blocker’s extended arms. The move is called "swim" because the motion resembles a freestyle swimming stroke. This will break the block and allow the defender to get past the off-balanced and (now) non-engaged blocker.

Again, this video involves linemen but illustrates how to use the swim move:

After the defender has shed his block, he must make a play on the football. The defender must force the back towards the middle of the field AT A MINIMUM, as he will get help from the defensive cavalry if he can force the ball carrier towards other defenders. Optimally, the defender will maintain outside contain, find the ball carrier, break down, and perform a proper form tackle on the ball carrier.