Sunday, July 20, 2014

Man or Zone Blitz, That is the Question...

I actually get this a lot, and to be honest, it is a very fair question.  For most of us who've gotten into coaching in the past 20 years, the zone blitz was the newest and latest and greatest thing when it come "en vogue".  I have run both during my tenure as a defensive coach, and I thought I'd weigh in on the two schemes so that readers might get an idea of what they are looking, especially when trying to adapt higher level schemes to play at the high school level.

Some History
I actually started out my defensive career with zone blitzes.  I worked for a DC that absolutely did not blitz.  This guy almost couldn't stand to blitz.  From him I learned that defensive football ain't all about running guys here and there and everywhere putting your guys in "high risk" situations as he called it.  It was about making the offense uncomfortable in what they were trying to do.  In my opinion, this is exactly what defensive coaches should be trying to attain.  Anyhow, I found some pretty cool zone blitz stuff and presented it to him, and he really liked it.  The idea, back then, was that you could blitz and still have all 11 eyes on the football.  We already ran the four-spoke rotating secondary, so using a sky or "skiff" player (seam-curl-flat) wasn't too big of an issue for us.  We were also in our infancy in pattern reading coverages, so that wasn't too hard to adapt to the three deep, three under zone many zone blitz teams were presenting at the time.  So, we went for it.  Now we were like most, we had our patented NCAA blitz we used a large majority of the time and a few others.  As time went on, and I became a DC, I kept the zone blitz package in the scheme, even adapting it to fit a three man line and so forth.  Then I ran across the 57 page playbook from TCU that many, many people have perused through over the past several seasons.  What I noticed, no zone blitz?  I thought, "How is this possible in today's game?".  The further I delved into the TCU defense, the more and more I liked the ultimate simplicity of the Cover 0 scheme.  See, having cut my teeth on the zone blitz, I was afraid of being "pure man", because as all the clinic speakers say "We don't have the athletes to do that".  Well, I was THAT guy!  I always felt I didn't have the athletes to "man up" with other teams.

I had an epiphany one fall week when we were to face a district rival.  Now this foe, was a team we did not even belong on the field with, however, for some reason, we were a thorn in their side.  We had nothing that season.  TONS of injuries had plagued us, we had JV kids moved up to varsity and quite simply were very, very inexperienced.  Well, I uncorked the man blitzes on the team we were facing.  I did so, mainly because my freshman and sophomore linebackers didn't read so well, but also I wanted to see how we'd take the fight to somebody.  Instead of being reactive, we went proactive.  I wish the story had a happy ending, however it does have a silver lining.  We lost by 16, however, I'm pretty sure it would've been worse had we not done what we did.  The kicker of the whole thing was the score was 22-6.  Our opponent was averaging close to 42 points per game coming into that game.  We held them to their lowest output of the regular season (they went on to be the regional runner-ups that year).  Anyhow, what I liked is how easily the blitzes adjusted to what we were seeing.  This was a spread team that would get into some two back stuff as well. To keep run fits working, zone blitzes need quite a bit of adjustment, especially between who is the hole dropper and who is the skiff player.  We constantly had miscommunication between these two positions.  It could've been poor coaching, but I think it was basically a simpler system was needed.  The man blitz provided that.  Well, I got let go after only dabbling in man blitzes, for a year, and ended up at a junior high coaching seventh and eighth graders.  Anyhow, after my two year sabbatical with the younger guys, I came back and have implemented a man blitz scheme where I'm currently at.  With all this said, I'm going to show you the two schemes as well as the pros and the con's of each, and then give you my heart-of-heart talks on what I feel works best at the high school level.

The Zone Blitz
I'm not going to go to in-depth with zone blitzes, but most know that you are sending four to five players into designated gaps, while generally dropping into a three-by-three zone, or a two-by-four zone (although there are teams that are using less droppers and more rushers and getting away with it).  Again, this is purely a generalization.  The most simplest of the zone blitzes is the timeless NCAA blitz.  It is a deception blitz that slants the DL in one direction, and then brings two rushers in the C and D gaps away from the slant.  The DE (or sometimes OLB) in the direction of the slant will usually drop, and in most cases becomes the weak side "skiff" dropper.  The remaining LB is the hole dropper and to the blitz side a safety rolls down to be the strong side "skiff" dropper.  The remaining DB's rotate into a three deep zone.  Pretty simple stuff.

Benefits of Zone Blitzing

  • The benefits of zone blitzing are that you can generally get 11 hats to the ball if the ball breaks the LOS.  You rarely end up with defenders with their eyes to the back of the ball, not seeing what's going on.  
  • Many zone blitzes are very option sound, and also because a defender cannot be "run off" as they can in man schemes, if the option does break, the damages can be limited.
  • It's match up zone, a lot of folks have been doing this for years, so the scheme fits right along with what they already do.  
  • You can even spot drop it in high school and get away with it for the most part.  So if you are spot drop team, zone blitzing can be an easily added package as well.
  • The possibilities are endless.  Drop both DE's and bring all three LB's.  Roll a safety into the hole while blitzing the MLB from the Over front, you name it, with zone blitzing it can be done, to a degree.
  • Less confident players seem to feel a bit more comfortable with it, in that they don't necessarily feel like they are on an island.  Since the deep zone guys are basically MOD (man only deep) defenders, they don't have the same pressure a a MEG (man everywhere he goes) defender does.  You basically take away half of the routes they will see (or more) and now they are limited to defending deeper breaking routes, which if you are already zone, this is what they see 90 percent of the time anyways.
  • Blitzes are easy to set up.  They can be brought by run strength, pass strength, right or left, and field and boundary.

Drawbacks to Zone Blitzing

  • Dropping a DL into a poor match up.
    • i.e. having a DL have to be the SCF player vs. a speedy slot.
  • Dropping a DL to the field
    • Many times these zone blitzes are field/boundary, so sometimes in certain situations, you end up with a DL as the SCF player having to drop to the field.  That is a long way to go, even for a DE.
  • Match up issues in general.
    • There will be times you end up with a DL on a receiver and a LB on a RB.  This is an adjustment that will have to added to the overall scheme
  • A large amount of schematic adjustments
    • There are certain formations (seems like 11 and 12 personnel cause a lot of these issues) that need to be accounted for as not necessarily fitting to the blitz.  In other words, you have to build in adjustments.  These adjustments add "weight" to your scheme (i.e. more for your players to have to remember).
  • Due to adjustments, the overall scheme is reduced.  What this means is you can only run a few of these to be effective.  Due to not only having to teach the base scheme, you now have to teach the adjustments as well.

Now, I know Manny Diaz has had a ton of success zone blitzing, as has Michigan State and Nebraska to name a few.  However, I'm talking about high school football here.  I zone blitzed for eight seasons, and all the while some of it was good, the more and more folks saw these blitzes, the more they lost their "luster".

Benefits of Man Blitzing

  • Coverage rules are simple and concise.
  • Motion to new formation or change of strength (COS) does not really effect.
  • Match up issues can be handled via switching of blitzers assignments (think TCU's switch call).
  • Can bring as many blitzers as needed vs certain sets.
  • All gaps and all men accounted for without the use of numerous adjustments
  • Man is usually played somewhat tighter than zone, forcing QB's to make near-perfect throws.
Drawbacks to Man Blitzing
  • It is man, one slip up, one misread or poorly timed break on an out-and-up and it can be six points.
  • Not all eyes on the ball, if a big run breaks, it can do some serious damage.
  • In some schemes, rushers must account for the backs and the QB draw, with younger, over-eager players this can often be overlooked, thereby allowing the screen and draw game to hurt the blitz.
  • Pick routes, or "rub routes" can often cause defenders to collide, thereby leaving an offensive player open with nobody back deep to help.
  • Not necessarily an advised scheme to attack the option.  Again, with not all 11 eyes on the football, certain run support players can be "run off" leaving the defense with a soft flank, or weak on the interior.
In My Opinion
I have gravitated toward the man blitz for the simple reason stated above that man is usually played somewhat tighter than zone, and forces high school QB's to make very good throws.  I have played both a three-by-three and two-by-four zone scheme and had QB's make throws on us, however most of the completions we get vs. man, is if a defender slips or utilizes poor technique etc.  Even the colleges and the NFL teams are gravitating to more man to man schemes when they zone blitz, as evidenced by a resurgence in Cover 1.  I mean, let's face it, offenses have evolved and pretty much all of them have at least one hot route, or check down concept built in to them anymore.  The idea here is get the QB to hold the ball longer, or to disguise the look in a way to get the QB or OC to change the play into something you know they're going to run (again, from film study).

In all, I've just seen more payoff with the man blitzes than I have with zone.  I'm not advocating that you switch, I'm just giving a personal account of what my experience has led me to do.  

Here's some older posts on blitzing, and links to good sites with blitz information:

Blitzology, need I say more!
Some 3-5 stuff from Hit'em Hard
RUNCODHIT's blitzes



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Defending 3x1 Formations Part V

Part V of the series on defending 3x1 sets is dedicated to pressuring your opponent when they choose to line up in some form of trips formation.  As many coaches have asked me over the years "How do you keep your blitzes sound when they go 3x1?".  It's not rocket science, but you do have to be willing to get a bit out of your comfort zone sometimes.  In this post, I'm going to go over some of my favorite pressures over the years and the how's and whys of running them.  Before that, though, I think the idea of why you pressure and when you pressure is essential.

Blitzing With a Purpose
Most coaches think that blitzing is gambling, or "sending the house", while some coaches think blitzing is what defenses do.  The real idea here (and it's one I've harped on in all four of the previous articles) is attacking your opponent based on scouting data.  Obviously, the less you know, the less you want to pressure until you feel you have a grasp for how it is that your opponent plans on attacking you.  With scouting data though, and tendencies, you can now dial up stunts and blitzes that are geared towards making your opponent play "left handed" so to speak.

Last season, we faced an opponent that would get into trips open, with the running back (RB) set to the trips.  When they did this, they would do 1 of 3 things.  First they'd run speed option into the trips.  Secondly, they would sprint out into trips and run a flood pattern concept (shown below).  Lastly, they would fake the inside zone run, and throw a bubble screen to the number three receiver (again, shown below).

That was pretty much all they did out of this look.  They would even flop the RB over and run one of these three plays.  That my friends, is what you call a tendency.  This was something I felt I could exploit, and we did.  We ran a version of TCU's dog blitz, or the good ol' NCAA blitz, but we made sure to have the flexibility built in to the defense to be able to blitz to the RB.  This allowed us to overwhelm them on the option and sprint out, as well as playing man to man coverage vs. the bubble screen look.

Folks, this is nothing new or revolutionary, it's simply using a tried and true blitz, mixed with good scouting data (I had 6 games on them, 5 of which were vs. 4 man fronts).  This took them out of what they liked to do out of 3x1 gun strong.  They tried to run zone read out of this look, but the stunting tackles makes life miserable for the OL, who now no longer have angles and end up pushing the DL into the path of the RB forcing the cutback to the unblocked blitzing LB.  This was not pressuring for the sake of pressuring, but a well calculated risk that ended up paying off in the long run.

Film study folks...that's all it comes down to.

Solid was introduced to me a while back, and if you are a base nickel defense, Solid is an awesome adjustment to 3x1 sets.  Solid by itself, is just what many refer to as Palms coverage.  The trips side isolates #1 and #2 and plays them in either a Two read, or Quarters concept, while the weak side of the coverage plays some sort of standard high-low, three-on-two bracket on the back and the single receiver.

I can already here the moans and groans.  "Duece, what about handling #3 vertical?".  I get it, hang in there.  Yes, Palms coverage main weakness when played to trips is the ILB having to handle #3 vertical.  Now, if through scouting data, the team you face doesn't do this, your golden.  Simply play your Quarters variant to trips, and then get a good double on the single receiver with any of the concepts listed above.  Sky is obviously a low-high where the safety robs the curl to flat and will help play inside and under the number one receiver.  Cloud is simply this low-high variant reversed.  In either one, you have a deep half player (sky = corner, cloud = safety) along with a hook player (the LB) to give you a three-on-two advantage that a coverage like Solo does not.  MEG is two man.  This is still similar to Solo, but the main difference is the weak safety (WS) does not have to concern himself with covering #3 vertical to the strong side of the coverage.  MEG, allows you to double any deep route by the single receiver, the back or both with a half-field safety.  MEG is an easy installment if you already run Solo.

The real idea behind Solid is the the last three ways of playing the weak side of the coverage.  Smoke, Cowboy and Backer are all pressures built into the coverage.  They are still man concepts, but instead of being three-on-two, you are now bringing pressure from one of the three players, and essentially playing Cover Zero on the weak side.  Smoke, is the weak safety coming off the edge with the LB handling the back and the corner playing man on the single receiver.

Backer is the LB blitzing the open gap to his side.  It could be the A gap, or the B gap.  You can really set it up however you want, I just chose to always blitz the open gap for simplicity's sake.  Now the safety will roll down and play the RB man to man, while the corner remains manned up on the single receiver.

Solid Cowboy is a corner blitz, and is an excellent pressure when brought from the boundary.  The DE fires inside and the corner comes off the edge.  The WS will now man the X receiver while the LB takes the back.

As you can see, this is quite an easy pressure package to adapt to your trips coverage.  The blitz can be game planned, or simply built in as an auto-check if need be.  The possibilities are endless!

Now, for those that aren't comfortable with playing the vertical of the number three receiver with a LB, there is an answer for this as well, and this is why I stated earlier that if you base out of nickel personnel then you're in good shape.  The coverage call is Special Solid.  Special, or what some others call "Mix", is a man concept on the strong side, or trips side of the defense where the corner will play the number one receiver man to man while the invert and deep safety play a Two Read concept to the number two and number three receivers.  When it's all put together you've got quite a nifty little pressure package that's built in to what most nickel defenses already do.

Now you have a way of controlling the number three receiver vertical, as well as still being able to do whatever variant you want on the weak side.  This flexibility is what is needed in today's defenses, when having to contend with no-huddle, up-tempo offenses.  This coverage/pressure adaptation is easily adaptable to many existing coverage schemes out there.

Attacking the Run
In my opinion, every blitz you run should be sound vs. the run, especially the option.  There are numerous blitzes I could go into, but I think you need to look at a few things first (again, blitzing with a purpose) before just wildly firing off at the hip with a myriad of blitzes.  The types of runs you face, are going to, by-and-large effect the blitzes you need to call.

Defending zone schemes with is usually done a few of ways for me.   I have heard this concept called "Flick", "Hawk", and "Press".  Anyhow, looking at the nuts and bolts of the pressure is simple, because it's not really a blitz, but more a leverage issue created by alignment.  It is a read pressure, meaning that if the LB reads pass, he will still get his drop, but if run is read, he will immediately fill the gap he's aligned in.

Pre-snap, the WILB, in the above diagram, simple walks to a toe-heel alignment with the DL and sits in the B bap.  He's reading the OG to his side, and if the OG fires off, he will blitz the open B gap.  As you can see, the OG has no leverage and is in a poor situation.  If the OG comes off, this leaves the center attempting to reach a 2I, and unless, he's one of the Pouncey twins, the likelihood of that happening is slim to none.  On the side of the RB, the offense already has leverage issues because the OG has to try to come under the three technique to get the other ILB.  The ILB plays the cutback to the A, or, if playing TGOG, can play over into the B gap while the three technique two-gaps and ends up in the A gap.  The DE plays a 2-for-one read by squeezing down, keeping the shoulders square and playing for the pull by the QB.  The offense is in a no-win situation, as if the QB gives the ball with the DE's read, or if the OC simply calls the zone to the soft B gap bubble, they are in trouble.  Again, this is an easy install and read for the LB.  If the OG were to high-hat, he would drop out and play his pass assignment.

Another way of defending these zone schemes is with pure inside pressure.  TCU's bullets scheme is a good way to handle zone teams.  I like setting the DT's evenly either in 2I's, or threes and then blitzing or stunting and blitzing to confuse the offense.

The idea here is sheer numbers.  The offense cannot account for 6 players blitzing without somehow adding a lead blocker.  It should be noted that an even more effective way to run these blitzes vs. zone teams is to have the LB's align toe-to-heel with the DL.  This keeps the OL from being able to execute their signature double-and-scrape technique.

Lastly, I like to run what TCU terms their "Smoke" blitz against zone teams.  What I prefer to do is set the front to the back, then slant away from the back and bring pressure off the edge.  What this does is invite the offense to run zone to the soft B gap away from the back (some teams actually check to this).  It also dupes the QB into a pull read that has him running right into the teeth of the blitz as well.

Smoke to back away from trips

Smoke to back set to trips
A schematic point on the Smoke blitz is that when blitzing the back set to trips, it may be a little more convenient to have the SS make a "switch" call to the ILB and send the ILB instead.  Again, this is based on preference and what you are attempting to achieve, but usually the strong side is to the field, and having the SS come from so far, all the while having the WS have to come over and cover #3 strong can be a lot of moving parts for some to handle.  The easy adjustment here is to simply switch the call between the SS and the ILB.

Defending gap schemes can be a bit tougher, due to the fact that determining when and where they will hit can be a bit challenging.  One scheme that comes to mind is Power and Power Read.  The new craze with offenses in the option game is the Power Read scheme.  We faced a team a couple of seasons ago that ran this play, but also ran QB Power and QB Isolation back to the RB.  The Smoke blitz from above is another good blitz vs. gap schemes.  What we ended up doing is setting the front away from the back, and then also slanting away from the back.  We also set the front up with a 1 and a 3 instead of the traditional "G" look.  The reasoning here is that when the offense pulls a lineman, they now gain a full man advantage on you to the side the OL is pulling.  If your numbers were matched pre-snap, you are now one full man down on the side the offense is attacking.  The Smoke blitz allowed us to bring pressure to the side the offense ran Iso and Power to, but by slanting to the Power Read side, we made life miserable for them.  When we called this, the strong end would align wider than normal (about like a 9 technique).  This allowed him to still work on plays away from him, but also put him in great position to attack the sweep portion of the Power Read play.

Two key things I liked about this pressure was this:

  1. The ILB's did not blitz.  This allowed them to make their reads, and "clean up" anything the blitz didn't get.
  2. It's only a five man pressure.  Against 3x1 formations, you can run a zone concept to the trips side and a man concept away similar to a zone blitz, or Cover One scenario, not leaving your defense as exposed as if running pure Cover Zero.
Another thing I liked about it, was the three technique slamming into the OT, helped pull the guard over, creating a huge gap for our Nose to run through.  The center, assuming he's blocking back on Power Read, missed this block quite a few times that night.  Our Nose had a field day with this call.  You can even run this look against traditional two back power teams.  The idea is that by crossing the Nose from weak to strong, you match the numbers that the offense presents to the attack side by them pulling a lineman.  

Attacking protections
I know most coaches want to hear how to attack specific protections.  For the most part this works, and yes I've got blitzes in my toolbox that work for Slide, Turn back, and Big-on-Big (BOB) protections.  However, I think the protection is only half of the big picture when pressuring the pass.  I think through diligent film study, you need to find the two weakest members involved in pass protection, and find ways to attack them.  Sometimes this can be a undisciplined OL that tends to chase a stunt, rather than pass it off.  This may be a RB in slide protection.  Whatever it is, identify the two weakest elements of the protection and work from there.

When attacking protections, there's a few ways to do it.  I narrow these down to attacking the flaws in the protection, vs. deception.  Most on here, know how or have at least heard how to attack various protections.  The good ol' NCAA blitz to the RB's side in Slide protection is one that comes to mind here.

America's blitz!

Obviously the idea here is to overload the protection by sending four to a side that only has three blockers.  Teams are wising up though, and utilizing Half Slide schemes and vertical set pass protection etc.  I feel more and more, disguise and deception pressures are of more order than simply breaking down the intricacies of the individual pressures.  

One very deceptive pressure, isn't really a true "pressure" in the sense that most think.  Only four will be rushing, but it's a read rush.  What happens is out of  a six man box, the LB's walk up to the outside of the DE's and are on the LOS.  The DE/LB combo reads the block of the OT.  If the OT blocks down, the LB blitzes and the DE drops.  If the OT kicks out, the LB drops and the DE rushes inside the tackle.  This provides a bit of confusion as to who is blocking who on the OL.

This can be a real good empty pressure too, because a lot of times it gets empty teams to check to some sort of hot route, and with two immediate droppers working into where offenses like to throw hot, you can get a free sack by simply confusing the QB.

Another blitz that has been a good one to me, that also has a deception package built into it is Florida's Nickel Tracer.  I wrote about it a while back, with some help from my good buddy Coach Hoover.  This blitz is a good one, in that you really end up running the "Trick" version of it more than the actual blitz.  

Again, not all pressure has to be sending five, six, or seven rushers.  The mere appearance of pressure is sometimes good enough to confuse offenses into checking into a bad call or bad protection.  I know many of us as DC's want to throw a myriad of blitzes at our OC counterparts, but something that has worked for me for years is a call I simply tag "Bluff".  Most of my blitzes are one word calls, so we simply tag the blitz Bluff.  For instance our Will off the edge blitz is WOE.  If we are planning on running that blitz a bunch, then we will also work on WOE Bluff.  Here the WLB walks up as if to come off the edge but backs out at the last minute and plays base defense.  Pretty easy concept to install, and can easily create as much confusion as if you actually blitzed!

"Check, check, 55 Deuce Tampa, 55 Deuce Tampa!!!"

Pressure packages are what send all DC's into a frenzy.  I'm sure if someone studied it, books on defensive pressure are probably the top sellers.  In my opinion, there's no exception for dedicated film study.  A defense that is prepared, and well-versed in what and how their opponent plans to attack them can look like they are blitzing and attacking even when they are playing base defense.  Don't get caught up in all the zone blitz schemes and blitzes-of-the-week talk that has folks so fired up on the Internet these days.  Work the hell out of your base package, do tons and tons of film study and teaching to your players.  All this being said, it is good to have a few things up your sleeve that may help your kids in certain situations.  Again, when and where to use these, are a product of dedicated film study and game planning.

That concludes the posts on Defending 3x1 sets.  I hope you enjoyed them, now I can get to writing about some other topics!  Take care.