How to Package Your Blitz Calls

Offenses are packaging their plays, why can’t the defense?

Packaged plays are all the rage right now in the world of offensive football. The advent of the RPO has created a disparity between the offense and defense. As offenses find ways to package their plays and react off the alignment of the defense, it is putting tremendous pressure on  defensive coordinators to call the correct pressure at the right time. With teams creating matchup problems with formation into the boundary (FTB), wide splits, and tempo, the defensive schema must begin to change in concerns to playcalling. More importantly in regards to how defenses line up and attack formations. Defensive coaches who call plays by field/boundary or strong/weak need to adjust their theories. Calling plays to a direction is no different than guessing and is short sighted because no huddle teams can run several different formations, and get into different personnel sets without subbing. So, in reality, by calling a strong side blitz you could be running it right into the exact thing you don’t want, an extra blocker. When offenses play with a tight end, or “H”, they can run a spread set one play, TE set the next, and switch to a two-back power formation to finish it off; all this while the offense tempos and the defense must adjust on the fly. In the case diagramed below, TCU had to defend an 11 personnel, 10 pers., and finally a 21 pers. set back-to-back with tempo. If a DC is not formationing his calls, he could get into something that is fatal or don’t call anything and end up predictable.

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Oregon vs TCU in last year’s Alamo Bowl. In three consecutive plays, Oregon used three different personnel sets (11/10/21) and never subbed until the third play.

If a defense doesn’t package its blitzes, or formations its calls, then it is at a huge disadvantage. Guessing against tempo and RPO teams is deadly. On paper, the best way to approach calling blitzes is to allow the offense to get set and then call the blitz. That sounds great, but against tempo teams it is impossible. How does a defense call blitzes that react to the offensive formation? Simple, package the blitzes that come from the same blitz or movement tree. Offenses do this all the time. By combining several plays into one call, the offense can quickly react off the box numbers and coverage. Essentially they can run a different play every time the ball is snapped without subbing. Combine this with changing the formation and the defense can get off kilter fast. Defenses can do this too, by packaging blitzes from the same tree and keep the base defensive structure and rules. See the example below. This is the same blitz, “America”, but run to fit what the offense gives it. Like a defensive RPO.

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“America” vs (10) 2×2 and (10) 3×1. The blitz stays the same but ran with different players to match the offensive formation given.

 Blitz to Formation (BTF)

Blitzing to the formation is nothing new. For decades the top coaches in the NFL have done this. Ryan, Belichick, and Saban all come from a BTF tree. Simply put, a blitz is called, the offense comes out and the defense adjust to what it is given and either runs the blitz or “Omahas” depending on the call. This is no different than a QB stepping to the line and viewing a defense’s “box” numbers and the secondary’s leverage points before running an RPO. The thought that a defense can’t do this is imperceptive. Defenses can, and must formation calls, in order to keep up with tempo teams. Want to run an “edge” blitz? All the defensive coordinator has to do is signal in the call, and the players adjust to the offense and run the specific edge blitz made for that formation. This can be used in about any call a defense may have. As long as the DC has set parameters and rules for the call, the players just react to the offense.

More and more colleges and high school teams are switching to split coverages to deal with the different formations teams run from play to play. Technically this is formationing a call. The DC can call the signal for the base defense, and the players adjust to their side of the field. That is formationing at its simplest. The question now is how can a defense start packaging their calls? The answer again, blitz the formation, or BTF.

Creating a Packaged Blitz

The fear for defensive coaches when the topic of formationing blitzes and calls is the defense ends up aligned in the same formation over and over. Predictability is never a good thing. By packaging blitzes, a defense can get the right call whenever it needs it. Want to run a cross-dog? The DC can call it, and guarantee that no matter the formation, the strength will be called right, and the right people cross-blitzing will. The key to packaging is to go through all the formation scenarios. For instance, most DC’s don’t want to run an edge blitz into a TE. The offense can absorb it. The check to this would be to send the LB to the open side off the edge. If not packaging blitzes, a DC might call a Sam edge blitz into the one thing he didn’t want, a TE. The checks and autos system establishes a set of rules or a base. The players learn this from day one and become comfortable. As long as all the checks are from the same tree, the defense can naturally react to any formation.

How It Works

The first order of business is to select a blitz that you want to run and create a set of base rules. In our case, we will run “America’s Zone Blitz”:

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Each blitz is unique to the formation. All the DC has to do is call “America” and the defense knows that if it is called, an outside linebacker and the Mike are going on a blitz and the back end is running a fire zone. When creating a package, the first blitz drawn up should always be against an offense’s base formation. In the world we live in today, that is 10 personnel 2×2 (seen above). Once drawn up, have a base set of rules. For instance, we want the blitz to go to the back to attack slide protection. That means, against (10) 2×2 the Sam and the Mike are going. We also don’t want to blitz into a TE, but we will discuss that later. Staying with 10 personnel, the following is the 3×1 adjustments. The safety to the OLB leaving becomes the dropper. In this particular defense, there is a Cover Safety (field) and a Down Safety (boundary). In order to let each other know who is spinning the tell each other (Cop – CS, or Drop – DS). This is easy terminology and doesn’t make the call wordy. The DC doesn’t need to tag the coverage because it is built into the blitz. In the case of “America,” we want to run the blitz to the back, so Mike and Will have their numbers called. Take a look at the 3×1 adjustments:

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Verses a near back, and keeping with the 4-2-5’s base rules (we want to look the same at the snap of the ball to not tip off the opponent), the Sam stays in the cover down, and the Mike takes his position while the new “Mike” (the Will) takes the wrap blitz. Against a far back, the Down Safety is the OLB in regards to distribution and run fits since the Will technically is the Mike. That makes the blitz look completely different to the offense, but to the DC, and his players, it is the same call. By bringing the DS the pass distribution to the trips side stays the same. The point with packaging is to change as little as possible within the base rules, yet look complicated to the opponent. If you have to change the base rules, then “Omaha.” Here is the “America” blitz to 3×1 far:

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Blitz vs. TE Sets

Against TE sets, a defense wants to run blitzes to the open side so the extra blocker can’t absorb the pressure. The beauty in packaging plays is, to the offense, it looks like you are running something completely different. For instance, in “America” we want to run the blitz to the back, so in 3×1 near, the Mike and Will go. When a TE enters the game, the rule is we blitz to the open side. This makes the Sam and the Mike the blitzers, just like the blitz versus (10) 2×2 (in a true hybrid system, to keep the Sam out of the box he always goes to the passing strength or the field). Versus an 11 personnel 2×2 set, the blitz would look like this:

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When teams run a Trey set or 3×1 with a TE, the open side is where the blitz should attack. Again, stealing from (10) 3×1 far, the DS and the Will come off the edge. If you are keeping track, we have seen four formations and have adjusted with one call. To the offense, it looks like the defense has run three different blitzes. Think about that? With one call, “America”, the defense was able to run 3 different blitzes to four formations and stuck to the rules of the defense, and didn’t have to “Omaha.” This is no different than an offensive coordinator calling a packaged play and running what the defense calls for. If they can do it, why can’t we? Take a look at the “America” versus an (11) Trey set:

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Even against a 20 personnel 2×1 set, the base rules don’t change. In the base rules for “America,” the blitz states we want to attack the back. In the diagram below, the back is set weak. That tells the Will to go off the edge, and the Mike takes the wrap blitz. If the back was set the other way, the Sam would take the edge, and the Mike would again have the wrap blitz (you could, in theory, regard the “H” as a TE and run the blitz away from him to make it even simpler to your players). Take a look:

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Conclusion

In the end, if you are not formationing your call sheet, then you are guessing. Plain and simple. The saying, “We’ve always done it that way,” gets you beat more times than not. The purpose of BTF is to ensure that each call is run to its maximum potential. It is foolhardy to think that defensive players cannot adjust to every formation. The best way it was put to me is this, an offense can only give you so many sets (2×2, 3×1, 2×1, etc), as long as you teach each player to line up against the base sets, they can line up to anything. In a match quarters scheme, as long as you can count to three you can line up correctly. Blitzing is no different. Create a base, expand on the rules for each call, and ensure you have what you want. Guessing gets you beat. We ask our kids every day to be flexible, so why can’t we? Why can’t our defenses flex like the offense? Use their own cat and mouse game against them. Formationing calls will make it hard for the offense to react to what you are doing. So, beat them at their own game.

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