This week’s Coaches Corner is written by Matt Dunn, FCL Defensive Director, 2016 graduate of University of Maryland, current assistant coach at Loyola Blakefield and member of PLL Whipsnakes LC.
UNC vs UVA – March 11 2021
The two-man game has become increasingly popular in offensive sets. The element of bringing an extra player to the ball forces defenses to communicate and make quick decisions – neither of which come naturally to most defenders. Many teams set rules for how to play picks, but executing these rules gets more and more difficult as offenses become savvier and more deceptive in their two-man games. Defenders must have great field awareness and chemistry between the on-ball and off-ball player to execute their strategy effectively. Let’s take a look at some two-man game action from this past weekend and how teams defended (whether intentionally, or not). We will focus much of our attention on the UNC v UVA game as picks were prevalent in both offenses.
Stack & Chip
One way to play picks is to have the off-ball defender “stack” the pick and step out to get a chip as the dodger runs off it. This allows the on-ball defender to drop off and get underneath the pick. The stack and chip forces the ball carrier to run wide off the pick allowing the on-ball defender to catch up. This works well for pick’s as dodgers carry across X a few yards below GLE since the on-ball defender still has a good angle to drop off and recover. See below as UVA uses this technique. One thing to be cautious of is getting slipped if the player who stacks the pick steps out too far and the offense reads it!
Here is another example of a “stack” without the chip. Due to how deep this pick is, the chip is not as important. What is important is the early communication so that Connors (#28) can drop off and get under. By stacking the pick, the off-ball defender doesn’t allow the picker to drift up field and set the pick closer to the goal, and he also gets out of the way from setting a “double pick” on Connors (i.e., where Connors has to get around both the picker and his teammate).
Defending Up Picks
“Up picks” – where an off-ball player moves up the field to set a pick for a dodger coming downhill – can be tricky to defend. The dilemma with an up pick is that the dodger is often coming off of the pick directly into a dangerous location. Typically, when these picks are set in tight teams attempt to smother the dodge and get “over” the pick. Now we have 2 examples here of UNC dropping off and getting underneath of the up pick. In the first example where the pick is set high and wide, UNC recovers before Aitken gets a shot off; however, he is pretty close to having an opportunity to shoot it. In the 2nd example, Bertrand is able to gain enough space off of the up pick to get a quality shot and score.
In the Duke v Denver game in the beginning of the season, we saw Duke use up picks to create leverage. In the first clip, Denver drops under the pick much like UNC did. Montgomery (#15) from Duke gets too much space for an easy step down in the alley. However, in the 2nd example, Denver plays more aggressive style and works to get over the pick. Although the on-ball defender gets picked off, they switch and eliminate any easy shot opportunities off of the up pick.
Razor picks are another difficult pick to defend. These picks are set around goal line extended for a dodge starting from one of the back corners of the field. These are tough to get underneath of because it often leads to the defender getting hung up above the cage or trailing with an unfavorable to navigate the goal.
In the example below, Carolina’s Will Bowen (#24) defends UVA’s Matt Moore (#5) as he initiates from the back corner and runs Bowen off of the razor pick. Bowen is so concerned with Moore splitting back topside to his strong hand (Moore is great at sweeping to his right) that he trails Moore off of the pick and ends up getting hung.
Now here is example of UVA getting under a razor pick set for Chris Gray (#4). Chris Saustad (#11) for UVA is able to get up and press out on Gray forcing him farther below GLE. To adjust here, the picker for UNC must drift lower towards the end line. This gives Saustad enough space to drop off and get underneath the pick without getting obstructed by the goal. Notice how Gray does not try to drive Saustad up-field as much here as Moore did to Bowen in the prior clip. This is likely because Gray is a righty so him splitting topside to his left is not as big of a threat.
Now when Moore does not press topside as heavily, Bowen is able to move laterally with Moore and get under the pick without getting hung up. The key here is the Moore never truly threatens a topside split, so Bowen does not feel the need to respect it as much. Another point I want to call out here is how UNC plays this “safety” style with their off-ball defender. For razor picks, I think this is smart. They drop their off-ball player to the top of the crease where he can read the play – if Bowen gets picked, he is able to switch and if Bowen gets through, he can recover. There is a chance he may get hung, but this is a better option than getting beat cleanly off of a pick or slip.
This is another example of this “safety” concept. As the picker rolls behind the cage to set the pick, the off-ball defender stays above his cage and communicates his teammate through the pick. By staying above the cage, he can direct traffic and serve as a safety valve to switch in case of any contact. Sometimes with both players behind the cage, teams can accidentally send two to the ball with a poor read or not be in a good enough position to switch. This less aggressive safety concept negates that.
“Gate Picks” / “Swing Picks”
The Gate or Swing Pick is a subtle move where the picker approaches to set a pick on one side of the defender, and then swings to the other side last second. This can get the defense into trouble, especially if the off-ball defender does not communicate throughout the process and put himself in a solid position to switch on contact.
Watch how Aitken (#6) initially seems to set an up pick for Moore, but then flips his pick to set it for Moore’s right hand. UNC commits two players to the ball as Moore gets a step topside off of this pick. The defense actually does a nice job of rotating around this pick on the throwback and recovering.
We hope you enjoyed this BREAKDOWN, and are excited to keep watching the top offenses and defenses this spring!
Please share, comment below, and let us know what you think! Stay tuned for more, and as always, we’d love to have you join our FCL community on FCL Online!