The best option on the first play of a drive against most offenses is to line up in your base and see how the offense is planning on attacking the defense for that series. The objective for any defense is to stay ahead of the chains on 1st Down and make the offense work for the rest. Calling a defense is easy when the offense has its back against the wall on 3rd and Long. It is the in-between downs (2nd/3rd and medium), that a defensive coordinator earns his paycheck.
The medium downs are truly the “gray area” of football. Blitzing on these downs is crucial to staying ahead of the chains. Get too aggressive and the defense can give up a big play through the air. A missed gap assignment could lead to an explosive play on the ground. Stay too passive/static and a defense can watch as the offense slowly trots down the field. Like anything, there has to be a happy medium.
All blitzes are not designed the same either. There is a blitz for every situation, and it is the role of a defensive coordinator to call them at the correct time. The focus of this article is to highlight three run-down stop calls every DC needs to have on their call sheet.
1. Full Line Movement
Full line movement is a great tactic on early downs. Just like twists and stunts are used on 3rd down to waste extra blockers (occupy three linemen with two defensive linemen), full line movement is a great way to combat the run, especially when a defense has a bead on the direction of the play. The key to full line movement is to make sure the D-linemen are climbing over any block-backs. When a D-lineman works over a block back, it freezes the O-line and doesn’t allow any of them to climb to the second level. If done right, the D-line literally creates a wall and funnels the play back to the free hitting linebackers.
The LBs essentially don’t have to move, keying on the RB. Even against Power, the line should overtake the block-backs and still create a wall. The LBs need to be patient and wait for the cutback.
This is NOT a single gap line movement. This is full line movement. The DE in the direction of the movement needs to take an out-step and set the edge, boxing any play to him. Versus the Spread, this can create a “pull” read and allows the OLBs to stay in their cover downs. Again, the point is to waste five with four. If done right this is a great first down call as well. Remember, Spread teams want to find the “B” gap, so change it. Below is an example of how full-line movement works against the run. Insert a LB on an edge pressure and force the ball carrier to hesitate and the defense has a tackle for loss.
2. Gap Plug Blitz
The Plug blitz is a great way to pressure run teams that pull guards in their run scheme (acts as a natural Nose/Will if Nose climbs over the block back verse power). It is also good against the Zone because it gaps out the offense, and the backside end can hang for the cutback. Plugging every gap on a run play can be problematic for the offense because a defense is sending more defenders than the blocking scheme can handle.
The beauty of the Plug blitz is it translates easily into passing situations as well (below). Even if the offense play-actions, the blitz will still hit home because of the numbers (six on five). If the offense decides to max protect, the Sam can insert himself (add-in/delay – “green dog”) in the blitz as a plus-one and the Down Safety (DS) can become a free player.
Flexibility is another strength of the Plug blitz. A defensive coordinator can easily change the way the blitz hits every week, without creating a new blitz. This can be done by adding single interior line movement (send the T to “A”, or N to “B”), or stunt both interior linemen at the same time. All that changes when tweaking the D-line’s fits is the gap the LBs run through. The run fits stay the same. This blitz can be run with man behind it, or as a Zone Blitz.
3. Cross-Dog Blitz
The age-old cross-dog blitz still holds its value in the age of the Spread. Like the full line movement discussed above, the objective is to wastes three linemen with two D-lineman. Against the run, the cross-dog can be confusing to the O-line. As the Nose rocks out and the Tackle works vertically through the “B” gap, the O-line must communicate and be able to exchange the advancing LBs.
Versus an 11 personnel set, the DE to the TE aligns in a 9 and holds the edge. The DS is in charge of the vertical of the TE as well as the “C” gap. The crossing ILBs can be confusing for the line as they work to the next level and might be able to eliminate the double-team block completely (quickly after the snap too). Against single-back Power, the cross-dog can wreak havoc on the pull. As the Nose crosses the pulling guard’s face, he pulls the center further from the midpoint and allows the Mike to cleanly attack the strong “A,” or adjust off the double of the Tackle (he essentially fits off the inside shoulder of the guard), gaining penetration. The Will can take the cutback, and hopefully get penetration where the offense wants it the least, right in mid-line of the play. If the RB hits it wide, the DS is untouched and should make a one-on-one tackle. Below is an example of the blitz versus a 12 pers. Wing Twin look.
This blitz is also great against play-action and serves as a blitz that is flexible enough to use on pass downs as well. Anytime a call can be used on multiple downs is a plus. Traditionally both “A” gaps are attacked, but this blitz can be changed to attack in particular interior linemen. Like the gap Plug blitz before, this blitz can be run with man behind or as a zone blitz.
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