Utilizing the secondary in blitz packages is one of the most underutilized tools in a defensive coordinator’s toolbox. As many DC’s will point out, blitzing from the secondary will expose the defense to man-to-man coverage, but if used correctly (and in the right situations) a secondary blitz can hit home. When offenses create pass protection schemes they use the box numbers in front of them to divvy out responsibilities. Whether it is Big-on-Big (BOB), slide, or zone protection, the secondary is rarely accounted for in pass pro. Knowing this, and utilizing the secondary in pressure packages, can give the defense an added advantage and lead to QB pressures or sacks.
Using the secondary near the box is not only for the pass. Much like pass pro, some offenses do not account for the secondary in the box. This can be used to the defense’s advantage. Putting a secondary player near the box and knowing he will not be accounted for is an automatic win for the defense. The use of “trapping” the secondary near the box can also be used to confuse “check-with-me” teams. By placing a secondary player near the line of scrimmage (LOS), the offense must decide if the defense is blitzing or will drop the player back into coverage. By utilizing the secondary in pressure packages a DC can create a simple confusing alignment that offenses have to respect. If done right, using the secondary to leverage the boundary can add to the box numbers without spinning to single-high and exposing the defense to verticals down the seam (or a LB guarding a speedy slot WR).
Below, MQ explains 5 things to remember when blitzing from the secondary:
1- Like Nike says, “Just do it!” In order to blitz successfully from the secondary, a DC must be committed to doing it. Any call on a defensive call sheet should be repped enough to be worth running in a game. The first key to blitzing from the secondary is to make a commitment to actually blitz from the secondary. Too many times a DC will focus on the front seven and completely forget to utilize the secondary when figuring box numbers or ways to leverage teams to the boundary. Once the decision is made to utilize a secondary player in the box (whether blitzing or by alignment) a DC must rep it and use it. Not only is it worthwhile, but it creates “buy-in” from the secondary. It spices up practice and it allows players to be successful in something other than “covering a man.” The pressures do not have to be complex or confusing. There are ways to build in alignments and pressures that lend themselves to secondary pressures. One of the easiest to utilize is “trapping” the boundary with the CB or the boundary safety.
2- Have a “Trap” call for starters. Cover 2 defensive coaches will be familiar with the term of “cutting the CBs.” In traditional Cover 2, the CBs will “cut” to the slot if it appears there will be an out route or “pop” pass. Some defenses will even give a “trap” call to get the CB to work inside the #1 WR and key the slot. The safety will stack him and work as though he is a Cover 3 CB (splitting the “unit” and staying deep”). The issue with “trapping” the two WR side is the exposure of the defense to deep inside cuts (especially versus play-action — No pole runner).
Instead, a DC can utilize the “trap” technique to the single WR side and gain an extra man near the box. The fact that a defense is willing to trap the single WR side allows the defense to then blitz that player. This cat-and-mouse game can confuse a QB and frustrate an OC who is trying to call the “perfect play.” Below is an example of Trap:
In the image above, if the offense were to run an Arc Read (“H” comes across to seal the Will while the QB reads the DE) or even a Counter, there is no one responsible for the secondary player lurking near to the box. If an offense reads the leverage of the boundary secondary to flip a pass out to “X” on a hitch, the Trap alignment can muddy the read, or even give the illusion that the WR is open. If this is the case, the CB can either jump and bat the ball down or “cut” to #1 and pick it off. All the while, the DS is sitting on top in case of a completion. Here is a diagram showing run fits versus a weakside Counter:
Teaching Trap is simple. The CB will apex the end man on the line (EMOL) and the single WR. The boundary safety (DS) will stack the CB and is responsible for “topping” any route ran by the “X.” This is essentially traditional Cover 2 (and similar to “Over” coverage explained in an earlier article). If the offense passes the ball, the CB will “cut” #1, in this case, the “X” WR. Versus a run, the CB will be a free player and is in charge of first threat. Versus teams that run Split Zone or Arc Read to the single WR side, this technique can get a player near the box that the offense cannot account for (see diagram above). The next step in this defensive evolution is to add called blitzes to the Trap package. The only adjustment? The DS has man coverage on the single WR with help from the Will underneath. See a diagram of Comet below:
3- Do not forget your split rules (and don’t blitz in the MOF). Just like spinning to single-high, a defense should never Trap a CB in the MOF. This leaves too much space for the offense to work with. A better option is to bring the safety down (“Drop”). Another issue that can occur is if the WR is split wide from the EMOL and the safety is not comfortable in his ability to get over the top of the WR. In this case, the safety can “drop” near the box. This is a simple adjustment and a DC can easily establish rules to make sure the call is fluid versus any formation.
If a defense is aligned in a two-high shell, the dropping of a safety is no different than an aggressive Sky coverage (4-Read). The responsibilities are the same, and the safety will play the “Drop” technique much like the CB would in his “Trap” technique. Versus run, the safety will insert and take the outside threat, and versus the pass, the safety will cut underneath of #1 (Curl). Unlike base Sky, the safety will not take the intermediate route, instead “cutting” to the near hip of the #1 WR protecting against the quick slant (this is a typical “hot” route by offenses). The Will is still responsible for the RB and will push the flat. In reality, the only change from base Sky is the alignment of the safety. Instead of aligning at 10 yds he is down near the box. Below is a diagram of “Drop:”
One advantage to using secondary players near the LOS is the fact that the LB to the “trap” side is a free player in the run fit and will work off the secondary player in the run game. In the diagram above, the DS will fit the run the same as if the call was into the boundary and the CB was aligned near the box. This is a simple call for players to make too. If the ball is not on a hash, either check to base coverage or “Drop” the safety. If a DC is not comfortable trapping in the MOF, it is an easy adjustment to get out of. Like it’s sister in Comet, Drip functions the same way for the DS. If a DC is using formations to dictate blitzes, the safety can easily give a “Me” call and take the blitz. Here’s an example below versus a Trips Open formation:
4- Have a changeup. Versus any offense, being predictable will get a defense beat. This is no different when blitzing from the secondary. Having a second blitz to complement plays run by the offense and to keep an OC on his toes is important for a defense to be successful. One simple way to do this is to send the DE to the blitz side up the field. If an offense is utilizing BOB protection the Tackle will kick step to the DE and the Guard will take the interior lineman to his side, this leaves the RB for the LB. In the case of a secondary blitz, no one is responsible for someone coming from outside the box, let alone a secondary player. See below:
In the diagram above, the CB will knife into the exposed “B” gap. This particular pressure is great against teams that run Split Zone. Versus Split Zone, the “H” should take the DE while the Tackle climbs to the Will. This leaves the “B” gap exposed and a clean shot for the CB. The same can be done for the DS in “Drop.” Having a solid change-up and understanding what it brings to the table is crucial for a defense when utilizing the secondary near the box. Below is the safety’s complementary blitz to Cane, Fan:
5- DO NOT blitz the two receiver side (or from the field). One major mistake DC’s make when blitzing, in general, is blitzing form depth. Utilizing the secondary can highlight this issue because of where most secondary players align. Blitzing a safety from 10 yards deep will ensure that he does not get there. Blitzing a CB from the field may hit home once in a blue moon, but defense is about efficiency. One way to ensure a defense’s secondary blitzes hit home is to build them from base alignments. As highlighted above, using “trap” coverages as a call in a defense can then lend itself to a multitude of secondary pressures. Issues begin to arise when DCs try and get cute and blitz from depth. See below:
Above is a Field Comet blitz. There are several issues with this call. First, the CB is too far from the box. Even if this was called in the MOF the DC is making several critical errors: 1) blitzing from depth and spinning in the MOF, and 2) the DC has now exposed the single WR CB to man coverage and no help. The defense has also lost its plus-one to the boundary because it is not only spinning strong but working to the two WR side. If the offense were to run an Arc Read there is no one outside the puller. Counter weak would be a good call too (I illustrate this issue on p.66 of my book Cautious Aggression). By using simple rules and establishing split rules, a defense can use secondary players near the box.
The first step in utilizing the secondary in a blitz package is to create calls that get them near the LOS and the box. Once this task is completed a DC can then create ways to insert secondary players into pressures. Above is an illustration of several ways a DC can do this and not even close to the number of ways defenses can use their secondary. If a DC spins the safety into the box it is not far-fetched to imagine ways for him to get the safety rushing the QB. Blitzing is also not exclusively a pass down call. As stated above, using “trap” alignments and coverages can hinder an offenses ability to attack a defense. The goal for any DC is to get every player involved and to find creative ways to keep OCs on their toes. One way, use the secondary near the box.
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