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