Ultimate: Dissecting the infamous ‘Brownie’ Zone
So this post is about the Zone Defence that Airborne used to devastating effect at BUO 2013. Even in the games we lost (3 out of 10), those teams struggled to defeat this zone defence, causing turnovers and confusion for them.
Historically, the name comes from my University days when we were trying to remember the real name of this set-play when Manny exclaimed ‘Brownies!’ while looking at the cracked mud ground we were playing on, which obviously reminded him of the chocolate goodies.
Although completely unrelated to what was going on in the game showing how ridiculous Manny can indeed be, the name ‘Brownie’ was born. An apt name for the tanned skinned Ultimate players of India also.
So how does it work? Traditionally, a 3-man zone defence will use a ‘bunny’ or ‘chase’ who constantly marks the disc, and a 2–person wall to put pressure on the thrower in windy conditions and prevent the upfield passes, rather forcing them to dump/swing the disc instead.
In this 3-person zone the bunny will typically force one of sidelines until they are broken or the disc is dumped/swung. Then they ‘chase’ the disc all over the field with the wall following the movement of the disc from side to side, sometimes back and forth.
In this zone, there are 2 wings, a short-deep and a deep-deep.
An issue with this zone defence is that the bunny and the wall does a lot of work, tiring out quickly. Another disadvantage is when the disc is swung (i.e the bunny is broken), the offence can move the disc very quickly continuously as the short-deeps and wings seek to cover until the cup arrives at the disc. Hucks are very easy to get off as the offence just sends 2 deep against the 1 deep-deep defender.
The brownie seeks to eliminate all these issues. Of course it has its own disadvantages also, but still very effective against teams that haven’t practiced against or seen it before.
Brownie Set-up: Off the pull, a bunny sets up to mark the disc and the 2 person wall same as the cup above. This time there is a 4th person in the cup who will also be a bunny some of the time. The bunny and 4th person work together to force the disc towards the middle of the field and cover 50% of the field (lengthways) each.
So for example, if the disc is swung to the side of the 4th then he/she ‘becomes the bunny’ and moves towards the disc and starts the stall count. The previous bunny backs off to a ‘4th person in the cup’ position. Even this extra person in the cup can almost stand in a short-deep position when they aren’t being the bunny. The 2 bunnies need to have excellent communication between each other and shout ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ to know who will go to stall the thrower.
Now for the remaining players: there are 2 short-deeps (note, they are not WINGS!) and 1 deep-deep.
Realise what is happening now: since the bunnies force middle, the 2 person wall has less running to do (no need to run sideline to sideline rather just enough to help out the bunny when they are forcing middle from the side). Also there are 2 Bunnies. So they have much less running to do.
The risk of hucks are less since hucking lanes are typically down the sides of the pitch but this is being denied by the middle force of the bunnies and the fact that as soon as the disc is swung from one side to the other there is instantly someone there ready to force them and put pressure on.
The Brownie does not really prevent the dump-swing however. By forcing middle, the bunny wants the thrower to go for the dump or swing. But in doing so, we’re hoping that a mistake will be made, especially in windy conditions. Also the 4th person in the cup can usually make an interception or help cut off the swing (usually gets a Callaghan, we got 2 at BUO because of Brownie!).
The short deeps should be very aware of poppers and deep threats. The Deep-deep should ask for help, the sideline enforcing the calls also.
Just like any zone defence, once the cup is broken it can be hard to regain structure and composure. But the cup should get there quick and continue playing the Brownie as long as it is optimum conditions. And like anything in sports: it requires a lot of practice and team work.