MQ breaks down one of Pitt’s game-planned Safety blitzes.
Pitt had a monster year on defense in 2019. Prior to this season, the Pitt defense had been relatively mediocre, sitting in the median of Defensive Efficiency. 2019 would see the Panthers tie for the first in sacks per game (SMU/3.92) and tied for seventh overall in tackles for loss (TFLs) per game with 7.9. Pitt would even finish in the top-25 in 3rd Down efficiency (23rd) at 33% efficiency. Until 2019, Pitt’s highwater mark for DEff had been 58th (2017).
2019’s defense was Narduzzi’s best since his arrival in Pittsburgh in 2015. Pitt would do all this with only one draft pick, CB Dane Jackson (7th Round), and four All-ACC 1st or 2nd Teamers. Beginning with his time in East Lansing, Narduzzi has been known for his unique pressure package that features a six-man rush and what is referred to as HOT or EYES coverage. This is a three-deep/two-under concept that has the two under players read the QB and “periph” the WRs they are matching. This gets the underneath players into the lanes.
There are multiple coverage variations to each pressure/blitz. Most people are familiar with Fire Coverage (3u/3d), but Narduzzi can also tag his pressures with SQUAT (Trap 2) or CAT (man). This allows him to change to presentation for the QB or play different coverages to match the routes he is getting. This article will focus on a Safety blitz used multiple times in Pitt’s game versus UCF. When Narduzzi likes a pressure he will run it until the offense stops it. This was no different versus the Golden Knights.
One simple coverage tweak can add numbers into the box and free up your LBs versus Y-off offenses.
I learned about using a “key” read on an offset TE (H-back) in 2017 when I heard Don Brown speak at the Lone Star Clinic in College Station. In his words, he stated, that without City Check (Cover 1 with keying safeties), he didn’t know where he’d be as a coach. Those are powerful words from one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Sometimes you need an extra fitter on the H-back, especially as more Spread teams base out of 11/20 personnel sets (Y-off), and this was exactly what I was looking for.
Don Brown’s City Check or “Key/Fox,” as Dave Aranda (LSU)/Todd Orlando (Texas) refer to it, is a Cover 1 adjustment to any two-back formation, and can also be used if the H-back turns into a traditional TE on the line of scrimmage. Both safeties are aligned 8-10 yards deep at the edge of the box and are keying the FB or offset TE depending on personnel grouping. This is a great way to give a two-high look pre-snap (Quarters), then add numbers post-snap (gapped-out single-high). Below is a diagram of Michigan running the scheme versus a 21p “I” Twin formations.
Both safeties are slightly tilted in and focusing their eyes on the FB. Whichever way the FB inserts or moves, the safety to that side will trigger down to “cap” the box fit. Most defensive coaches want plus numbers in the box. The term cap refers to the third man responsible in the fit. There should be an inside and outside shoulder player on the ball carrier. The “capper,” or third fitter, caps or tops the fit.
Inside the box, the LBs are focused on the RB, and if the back were to go out for a pass (more likely versus a Shotgun offense), the LB to the RB’s side would take him. The rest of the secondary is locked on their man. In terms of pass coverage, the safety away from the inserting FB will work “through the Post,” creating a Cover 1 look. Below is a clip of the play illustrated above, a simple Iso from 21 pers. I Twin.
The motion by the Badgers’ FB triggers the safety to the nub-TE’s side to start working down. Wisconsin is used to seeing City Check from Michigan and understands how to manipulate the trigger. The open “A” gap is actually away from the motion, and the FB works back to it on the snap of the ball. Inside the box, the LBs must understand the leverage of the secondary and how the FB’s movement will trigger one of them. In the clip above, the ILB hits the FB away from the dropping safety (referred to as “boxing” the block), essentially forcing the ball carrier to the safety. The overall result is a short gain. Continue reading “Keying the H-back Versus Y-off or “I” Formations”