SWAT Football Blog

Defensive Coordinator Development: Bashing the opponent.

In 1992, there was no Internet, no YouTube, no Facebook, no GIFs shared on Twitter, no

sideline laptops. Scouting an opponent was done by studying a game, live and in-person or by

studying VHS game film. My job description, as defensive coordinator of an AAU-style, 22-under

summer team in 1992 was the same as my high school head coach job in the fall – stop the run.

Until 1992, we defended the same opponent every week – run first, run second, pass third.  The

only difference was helmet logo and jersey design – every opponent dressed differently but

looked exactly the same… until game 5 in 1992. Here’s what culture shock looked like then:

500-plus total offensive yards and a 2:1 pass-run ratio. Our opponent’s previous week’s stat

sheet featured an upside-down pass-run ratio that turned the league upside down – 67% of

their plays called were passes, 33% run. And, 67% of their yards were in the air, only 33% on the

ground. This team re-defined “balance”: 2:1 pass-run play-call ratio, and 2:1 pass yards-run

yards ratio.

Game 5 was our first time defending a 2:1 pass-run ratio. Our undefeated opponent was in the

process of slaughtering a high-performance league with a run & shoot offense, bombing

through the air and on the ground. They were a pass-first team. And pass-second team, but

they could run at will. Yet, they were labeled a “finesse” team by our coaches and players –

“soft.” We bashed them at practice, meetings, and during film study. I encouraged it. The “soft,

finesse” label was our reaction to what we didn’t believe in – pass first, pass second, run third.

We bashed them because they threatened our perceived sanctity of the game. If you didn’t play

“smashmouth” football, you weren’t a real football team. But, our bashing stopped after we

studied them on film. Studying their film taught me lessons in the science of coordinating a


A true, balanced offensive attack is not defined by numbers. A true, balanced attack is defined

by will and capacity, the potential to pound you equally in the air and on the ground. A 50-50

split on the stat sheet is not direct evidence of a balanced offense. A 50-50 split is only

circumstantial evidence of a balanced attack. A 50-50 split in pass-run plays called, is not the

main, direct evidence that you’re going to face a balanced attack. The main evidence is what

they can do in the air and on the ground if you don’t stop them. A true, balanced attack is the

outcome – yards gained and points scored by the equal power of air game and ground game.

When the opponent shows the will and capacity to pound your defense into the ground by air

or ground, you’re facing a balanced attack.

One element of a great offense is defensive weakness and ineptitude. A bad defense makes an

offense look good. A weak defense makes an offense look stronger than it is. The worse the

defense, the better the offense looks. The defense that allowed the 500-plus yards on the film I

was studying, weakened physically and psychologically because they couldn’t keep up. They

couldn’t stand up to a fast-paced, pass-first offense because they were in worse shape than

their opponent. Opposing strengths and weaknesses work together as a team. Mediocre

defenses don’t just get physically pushed around. They get psychologically pushed around as

well. Getting pushed around in body, mind, and soul manifests in the inability to stop the

strength of the opposing offense. If your defense cannot build its strengths to match and

exceed the opponent’s strengths, their offense will look like images in your side-view car mirror

do: closer, bigger, and faster than they really are.

Defenses don’t win championships. They contribute to championships but they don’t win

championships alone. “Great defense” is an abstract concept, open to wide-ranging

interpretation. “Great defense” is the product of a complex mixture of high-performance on

defense and low-performance on offense. Winning championships takes high-performance on

offense and special teams.

Pass-first, pass-second teams are more dangerous than run-first, run-second teams because

they use the entire field and the entire offensive unit. They challenge your fitness level,

physically and psychologically. They do more than spread your defense. They force your

defense to play at higher levels, literally and figuratively. “Higher levels” has a dual meaning –

higher performance level and a higher geographic level on the defense – downfield.  We call

downfield our “outfield.” Spread offenses create your outfield. Run-oriented teams don’t. They

play in the infield. Spread offenses force you to cover the outfield to make big hits before the

offense does. Run-first, run-second offenses make your outfield complacent by teaching your

outfielders to play as infielders. Playing the outfield is more than chasing the long ball. Playing

the outfield is taking away the run at the highest level. If your secondary doesn’t change its

mindset against a spread, pass-first, pass-second team, they will only cover deep “ground” and

never cover the opposing “ground” game. Spread offenses re-define “ground & pound” by

moving the ground game to the highest level. When they ground and pound you deep, they will

ground & pound you short. Essentially, spread offenses create a multi-level ground & pound

game. If your defense cannot physically and mentally handle multi-levels of ground & pound,

your defense will get pounded into the ground. If they can handle it, it will force the spread

offense to change its multi-level approach by abandoning the outfield and sticking to the

infield. The moment you change a spread offense’s mindset, you change their character.

Change their character and they become someone they don’t recognize. When a spread

offense loses their identity, they lose their true self, self-confidence, and the game.

During my 15-year police career between 1975-1990, I learned the difference between zone-

policing and district policing. I realized that the same principle applied to defending a spread

offense – change zones to districts, creating freedom within a geographic area. Instead of one

player manning a zone, several players man a district. The key to stopping our first spread

offense opponent in 1992 was separating the field into districts – a defensive strategy that

pounded and grounded our opponent, holding them to only 234 total yards and 13 points in

our 28-13 win.

There was no email, no websites, no screen communication in 1992. So I interviewed the top

minds in run-and-shoot philosophy – by ancient landline telephone. They gave me a crash-

course in how to dismantle a defense regardless of how tough they thought they were. My job

was to find a way to not let it happen to us. They taught me how to think differently about

moving the ball, gaining yards, about bashing and gashing offensively on the ground despite the

label of a “pass-happy offense that couldn’t cut it on the ground.”

I had made the mistake of participating in and encouraging off-field bashing of our upcoming

opponent. Believing if you didn’t ground and pound, you were soft. If you shook the Football

Establishment’s unwritten rules of winning in the trenches, you were an outsider, an unworthy

foreigner who represented a threat to mainstream thinking. If you didn’t play like us, you were

disrespecting the sport. But all this rhetoric was just a manifestation of bulging F.A.T. – fear,

anxiety, tension – grown through the unknown – we had no idea how to stop them. And it was

us who were disrespecting the sport by bashing a foreign system that was working and working

harder than we were.

By the end of my film study, I had changed my perspective. No more off-field bashing. Bash

them on the field. No free passes, no free releases. No box. No distinction between run defense

and pass defense. No difference in pressure. No such thing as blitzing the pass. We blitzed the

play, pass or run. Our interior linemen were expected to drop into coverage. We reduced and

minimized the number of dual responsibility players. We pressured the backfield not just the

quarterback. We re-defined and re-structured the concept of pressuring the backfield by adding

it to our pursuit-angles curriculum. We stopped differentiating between rushing the backfield

and pursuit angles. They were the same.

Research is only as good as its relevance. One week was not enough to change our system. We

added to it instead, without ripping out the heart and soul of our SWAT Defense. We learned to

embrace every style of offense because the greater the diversity in opposing offensive systems,

the stronger our system grew.

Our first spread opponent played by the rules but they used formations we had never seen

before. The used the field in ways we’d never seen before. They distributed the ball like we’d

never seen before. They played at a tempo that we had never played at before.

Twenty-four years ago, we were blessed to face a spread offense so different that it scared us

into changing, not through subtraction but through addition. Thinking straight under pressure

doesn’t just happen. Nothing just happens. It takes life-long learning and practical experience.

Blunt Talk Podcast is committed to coaching higher education and higher performance – with

free downloads, permanently archived – compliments of X Fitness and Jordan Publications.

Recent guests include: (i) Ken Taylor, 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl XX Champ and current

Speed Coach (ii) Coach Christian Vitale from Arizona. (iii) Coach Teddy Keaton from Alabama,

(iv) Charles Coiner, owner of First Down Playbook.

Please visit Blunt Talk Podcast at:

Blessings & all good things.


Gino Arcaro M.Ed., B.Sc., Level 3 NCCP (Nat’l Coaching Certification Program)

Head coach – Niagara X-men football

Owner – X Fitness Inc.


Gino Arcaro is a widely published author. His website, blog, Youtube channel, and list of SWAT

FOOTBALL Books are at:

His books include:

4th & hell: seasons 1 and 2, Soul of a Lifter, SWAT Offense, SWAT Defense, SWAT Tackling Video

& e-book,  X Fitness Workout System, and a 3 business book series called Soul of an


He also has written 20 editions of 6 law enforcement academic textbooks. A new 8-volume

interrogation book series will be released in 2014. And just released, a new children’s book

called “BE FIT – DON’T QUIT.” The first stage of his new Blunt Talk e-books is now for sale. His

latest book on human potential called “Hashtag Peace” is at the editing stage. He is writing

three other non-fiction novels book called The Mystery of Murder: Working with the dead,

Midnight Shift from hell, and Another Bar Fight.


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