Simulated Pressures From a “Positionless” Defense (2019 Sugar Bowl)

MQ takes a look at Texas’ 3rd Down pressure package versus Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

The Spread offense has touched every corner of college football. The SEC used to be one of the sole holdouts with only a few teams, namely Ole Miss and Texas A&M, embracing the shift. Saban has finally embraced the change as well, throwing the ball more than he ever has before with Tua Tagovailoa. The 2019 National Championship saw a battle of Spread teams that featured two of the most efficient offenses in the country (and two of the best QBs as well).

Even the NFL saw many of its teams embrace a more open style of play. Defenses in “the Leauge” were getting scored on at a historic rate. Sean McVay and his 11 personnel under center (UTC) offense has taken over the league en route to a Super Bowl appearance. In McVay’s offense, the use of quick motions, multiple formations, and what seems to be an Air Raid-ish passing game has given NFL defenses fits all year. Even further, turn on a Cowboys or Seahawks game and you are likely to see multiple ways to run the Zone or Arc Read. The trickle-up effect is in full swing. Even former Big 12 Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury got a head coaching job with the Cardinals on nothing more than his offensive acumen.

One key element I talked about in my latest book, Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense, is the use of a more positionless defensive gameplan going forward into the future. Rigid positional structures are giving way to a more fluid style of play. For example, to counteract the speed of the Raven’s Lamar Jackson, the San Diego Chargers went uber-small and put up to SEVEN DBs on the field at a time. This is something, until this year, fathomable only on a 3rd and Long or an end of a half situation in the NFL. The Chargers based out of it for a whole game!

This positionless style of play allows hybrid players, primarily at linebacker and defensive back, to play a larger role. In the NFL, the increasing use of 11 pers. groupings are being countered by many defenses basing out of a Nickel defense. Since L.T. in the ’80s, most NFL defenses also carry a hybrid DE, regardless if basing out of a three or four-down defense. The use of “small ball” to counteract the space created by Spread offenses is understandable. Hybrid players allow an almost endless amount of ways to blitz and pressure an offense without losing coverage ability (you’re dropping a speedy LB/DB instead of a rigid D-lineman).

The Big 12 is not new to the concept of “smaller” faster players playing on the defensive side of the ball. The notion that the Big 12 doesn’t play defense is false. Innovation comes from desperation, and in the offensive gauntlet that is the Big 12, it has created an evolutionary playground for defensive (and offensive) football. It comes as no surprise that in a league that is at the forefront of the evolution of the Spread would feature unique defenses within the league to counter the offensive onslaught.

Though Iowa State and their base Broken Stack that features a three-safety Dime Robber scheme has become the most popular scheme within the league, in truth, it is Todd Orlando at Texas that has made his mark around the country behind his use of a positionless defense and defending the wide-open schemes found in the league. I wrote about Orlando’s prowess as a DC in my article discussing how teams attack the Tite Front, the Longhorn’s base defense, but it is his use of multiple personnel packages within a game that truly shows his knack as a DC.

00 Base

The Longhorns base out of a 3-4 that utilizes the Tite Front (404) and a stand-up hybrid DE to the weak side, or away from the passing strength (this is “Mint” in Saban-speak). The inside LB corp consists of a Mike and what is referred to as a “B” ‘backer. In Orlando’s scheme, the Mike is the plugger and will go away from the Nose. This allows the “B” ‘backer to be a free player and essentially “go get the football!” The Longhorns base with a true Nickel as well, and align him opposite the Jack, primarily with the passing strength. The image above shows the Longhorns base look against the ever prevalent “Y-Off” 20 pers. looks seen in many Power Spread offenses.


“Positionless” Defense

Like Iowa State, Texas has a three-safety “Dime” package that they utilize against pass-heavy offenses (think Kingbury’s Tech) or in obvious pass downs where Orlando wants to drop eight and flood the zones. The beauty within Orlando’s use of interchangeable players allows him to stay within packages, but get different pre-snap looks. It also gives him the ability to put players in situations to take advantage of deficiencies within an offensive scheme or weaker/slower players. Continue reading “Simulated Pressures From a “Positionless” Defense (2019 Sugar Bowl)”

Building a Better [Zone] Blitz

Evolving the age old Zone Blitz.

America’s Blitz

Walk into most defensive staff rooms, ask what their #1 blitz is, and it will most likely be some variation of this:

.01 AM BLITZ

The image above is “America’s Fire Zone Blitz.” A Sam/Mike edge blitz with full line movement, and the defensive end to the boundary dropping to the low hole (replacing the Mike). A “Fire Zone” is simply a blitz that sends five men and plays three under-three deep behind it (Cover 3).  Many times a defensive lineman is used to drop to the low hole (MOF), or to replace a blitzing linebacker (curl/flat). Other variations, like the one below, drop the safety into the box and have the DE sink to the curl/flat.

The emphasis for a defense in this type of blitz package is sending more players than an offense can handle to a certain side. Most offenses have hot routes to counteract a blitzing LB. To counter this, defenses started to drop D-lineman, or exchange the LBs responsibilities, into the vacated spots or rolling secondary players to the hot receivers. Here is an example of a Cross-Dog blitz (the term “dog” = LBs) with the DE to the boundary replacing the Will’s coverage responsibility.

Bill Arnsprarger is considered by football historians as the Godfather of the Zone Blitz. In 1971, Arnsparger began using a hybrid DE named Bill Matheson in coverage. This created a de-facto 3-4 and would eventually lead to a new era of defensive football in the NFL. The schemes relevance was solidified in ’72 with the only undefeated season in NFL history. The “No Name” defense ushered in the “Zone Blitz Era.”

The reason Fire Zones are so prevalent is they are easy to run and can use any player on the field. They are also considered a “safe” way to blitz. Arnsparger, considered the blitz safe because he was still playing zone behind a pressure. Legendary DC Dick LeBeau visited Arnsparger early in his career to gain knowledge about the scheme. The words “safe pressure” resonated:

Bill’s catchphrase was that he wanted to get ‘safe pressure,’ on the quarterback, and that expression stuck with me because that was a very succinct way to summarize exactly what I was looking for. Safe pressure. I walked out the door saying those words to myself.” – Dick LeBeau

To run a Fire Zone, a defense has to have two curl/flat players (or seam players), a low hole player (MOF), and three deep third players. This allows a defensive coordinator to get creative because the blitzers can come from anywhere on the field. If looked at as a numbers game, the offense should be able to handle the rush. Where Fire Zones work is by overloading a side, forcing the quarterback to move, and creating short inaccurate throws to hot WRs. The dropping D-lineman assists in the overload by trying to bait the nearest O-lineman into taking him, only to drop and leave a gaping hole for an oncoming rusher. Continue reading “Building a Better [Zone] Blitz”