Three Ways to Attack Empty
1) Cold = Double Tex:
The Double Tex line stunt is a great way to use all five linemen while keeping gap integrity in the middle of the formation. The point of using a Tex stunt is to bait the quarterback into stepping up the field, or the offense into running a QB draw. Many DCs are afraid to blitz Empty because of the threat of the QB draw. Using Tex stunts allows the DC to gain all back seven defenders in coverage while putting pressure on the offensive line.
The defensive ends screaming up the middle eliminates the threat of a QB draw. In the diagram below, the DEs presses upfield to get the tackles to kick out to them. The Tackle and Nose loop to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles and secure contain. Once the offensive tackles kick back, the DEs loop in and aim for the inside hip of the guards. Against “big-on-big” (BOB) protection, the Center should step to the Nose. This opens the weakside “A” gap for the incoming boundary DE and looks like an enticing window for the QB to step up into. Even if there is a draw on by the QB, he will be stepping into two incoming DEs.
The coverage piece behind it can be whatever the DC is most comfortable with against Empty. In the case below, a “loose” Special scheme is the chosen coverage. The Mike and the Will are allowed the luxury of hanging outside because the DEs are responsible for the interior gaps. If the Nose or Tackle cannot get to the outside, the Mike and Will are able to attack the QB once he leaves the pocket or the QB bounces outside on a draw. The great quality of the Double Tex stunt is it gives the DC the best of both worlds, it protects the interior line from a QB draw and allows all the back seven players to drop into coverage.
2) Warm = Single Dog Blitz (Bingo):
To turn the heat up a notch on the offense a DCcan choose to add a single dog (one linebacker) pressure. Bingo Check plays on the BOB protection that many offenses use in their empty package. The DEs are responsible for containing the QB while the interior D-linemen will occupy the “A” gaps. Both DEs need to ensure the tackles take them in protection. If for some reason either offensive tackle steps down to protect the “B” gaps, the DEs should come clean and attack the upfield shoulder of the QB. The Nose shoots to the inside hip of the Center to ensure he steps to him. The Tackle crosses the face of his guard and presses on his inside hip. If the Center steps away (which he should in BOB protection), and the Tackle comes through clean, he should attack the QB’s outside shoulder to cut him off from stepping to the open “B” gap to the field and force him to step weak and into the careening Will LB.
The Mike aligns in a “sugar” technique or bluffs a blitz in the gap he is responsible for (in this case, the field “B”). At the snap of the ball the Mike will jab step to freeze the guard or
pull him away from the Nose. The main objective of the Mike is to get the field side offensive linemen to kick out to the trips side and open up the boundary “B” gap. To the boundary, the Will hips the DE and attacks his gap at the snap of the ball to ensure the Tackle’s stunt takes the guard, and the center steps to the Nose.
In the diagram to the right, the Tackle slides off the Centers back and attacks the field shoulder of the QB. Even if the QB steps to the field, the DE is setting contain and the Mike is still a fold player if the QB steps up and takes off. In theory, the Tackle should cut off the QB and force him to the boundary where the Will comes clean.
The coverage piece behind the Bingo Check is a loose Special to the field and man to the boundary. The DS takes the inside of the #2 receiver and expects the ball to come out quickly. With the Will on a blitz, the slot to the boundary may try and run a hot route.
3) Hot = Zero Blitz (Saw Check):
If a DC wants to ensure a team doesn’t run Empty sets, zero blitz the offense. The best way to counteract an Empty team is to blitz them the first time they show it and challenge them to work through pressure. In a 3×2 set the offense can only block five players. By zero blitzing, the defense actually makes the offense predictable. To counteract the zero pressure, the offense has to run a hot route. The coverage in a zero blitz is a tempoed slide. The secondary is expecting the ball out quickly, and probably to the inside. By not pressing the corners, the offense can’t throw a quick fade and burn the defense vertically. Both safeties align inside and break on any in route, “topping” the WR and not letting them climb (guards against a skinny post).
One issue with being passive against Empty is it allows the offense to sit back and pick apart the coverage. Saw Check ensures that every gap is taken and someone is going to come free. Most likely the offense will slide to one side or the other and a LB will come free. The key in the blitz is the LBs must hit the upfield shoulder of the QB ensuring the QB stays in the pocket. To counteract a jailbreak/WR screen, the DC can choose to drop the Tackle or the Nose into coverage. Once a defense has set the precedent of blitzing Empty, it can then bluff the blitz and force the offense to check out of plays, or check to a “hot” route and throw into a dropping LB.
Many DCs will carry three checks into a game against Empty sets (Hot, Warm, and Cold). The one thing a defense can’t do is just sit and let the QB pick apart the defense. Remember, prevent defenses (drop eight) prevent you from winning. Define how a team protects in its Empty package and exploit the protection. A defense can never go wrong by sending more than the offense can handle, but teaching players how to react in Empty is crucial. Empty forces the defense to expand and opens gaps and lanes for the QB to run a draw or throw downfield. Don’t be afraid to attack an Empty set. Blitzing actually opens up more opportunities for the defense to dictate the tempo of the offense. Bluffing and “sugaring” LBs forces the offensive lineman to think and can create doubt in the protection. Have a plan and execute with authority. Blitz Empty!