Scoring touchdowns might be the most fun, but as a legendary football coach once (probably) said, “Defense wins Turkey Bowls.” Locking down the opposing offense and creating turnovers will ultimately clinch your attempt to bring home the gridiron gravy on Thanksgiving Day.
The best way to dominate defensively is to man up with pilgrim-to-pilgrim coverage. The defensive scheme is simple: mano-y-mano. Each defender picks an offensive player to cover and does his or her best to shut that player down. The extra defensive player is designated as the Rover—he or she roams the field providing support wherever needed.
Begin head up against your offensive opponent, and allow for a 7- to 9-yard cushion (add a few yards if the offensive player is especially fast). At the snap, execute a few backward read shuffles—i.e., shuffle backward until you determine whether it’s a pass or run play. If it’s a run, come up and make a play on the ball carrier. If it’s a pass, continue your backpedal and try to maintain your cushion.
Quickly plant and break on the receiver if he or she runs a short route. Otherwise, continue backpedaling until the cushion has been reduced to 2 or 3 yards. Then turn and run with the receiver, making sure to turn toward him or her so so you won’t lose track. Read the receiver’s eyes and hands to determine if and when a pass has been thrown. At that point, look back, locate the ball and make the play.
If you are covering a receiver who is relatively unathletic, feel free to play bump and run. Line up 1 yard in front with your eyes focused on the receiver’s chest. On the snap, deliver a blow to the receiver’s chest and mirror the receiver throughout the remainder of the play.
STACK recommends making pilgrim-to-pilgrim your primary defense during your Turkey Bowl. If your team is a bit thick in the ankle or out of shape and can’t keep up with the offense, settle on a less demanding zone coverage.