Friday, May 20, 2016

4-2-5 Run Blitz vs. Zone Run

When I am thinking about pressure vs. the run game, my #1 goal is negatives. Negative yardage runs kill drives. The offense wants to be on schedule: 1st &10, 2nd & Med, 3rd & Short, and Repeat. Negatives get the offense into 2nd and 3rd and Long and off-schedule. No offense wants to operate from off-schedule. A pressure that creates negatives or the threat of that pressure affects the offense forcing the offense to react. The #2 goal is to create a game state where the pressure or threat of pressure limits what the offense is willing to call. Bottom line we want:

#1 Negative Plays
#2 Offensive Limitation

There is more than one strategy for creating negative plays. This post focuses on the strategy of attacking a specific blocking scheme. In this case the scheme being attacked is inside zone.

Defense by the Numbers

Here the offense is running split zone. The offense has 3 blockers for the play side 3 defenders and 3 blockers for the away side 3 defenders. The core is blocked in the diagram.

If the SS is pressuring off the edge, the offense has a numerical problem. 

The defense is now presenting a 4th threat play side who is not blocked at the point of attack. This creates the potential for a negative yardage play.

The offense can ask the split #2 WR to block the blitzing SS. This is a difficult block. The angle of the block pushes the blitzer into the play. If the SS does a good job with his alignment, timing, and blitz path, the blitz should be disruptive. The pressure doesn't have to be create a TFL by the SS to be a success. If the SS can simply force the RB to change direction in the backfield the chances of a negative play go up. 

If the WR is unable to make the block, one solution for the offense is to reduce the split of the WR. Moving him closer to the core.  

This solution can give the WR a good angle to block the SS. Bringing the WR inside also creates challenges for the offense:

  • Anytime the offense brings another body into the core the defense is able to bring one more too. In this case the FS become a 5th defender to the play side. 
  • The slot WR is now in the core. Many slot receivers do not want to go mix it up in the core. If we can get the offense into a place where they are using their personnel in a sub-optimal role that is a success.
  • The change in the WR's alignment can tip the play.
  • The new alignment can affect the spacing and timing of pass routes the offense wants to run. 
  • The altered alignment may also create problems for other run blocking schemes the offense wanted to run from their original alignment. If we can get an offense into a choice between running split zone and running those other plays, we are creating the offensive limitation we want. 

The offense could opt to change personnel.

Using a TE instead of a WR allows the offense to have the alignment they want to pick up the SS pressure. 20 personnel may be their best personnel grouping. If the slot WR was one of their best 11 then getting him off the field is a success for the defense. Now the offensive limitation is based on what can the offense run from 21 personnel. What plays from 20 personnel are no longer available?

The offense may be committed to staying in 20 personnel and running twins from their normal split. In that case the offense can elect to use the FB on the pressuring SS. Running lead zone instead of split zone gives the offense a 4th play side blocker for the 4th defender. 

The offense must now find a way to control the backside DE who is unblocked. One solution is to run or fake naked/keeper concepts with the QB. The philosophy is to slow the DE down from chasing as he pauses to check the QB. 

One major problem develops for the offense on naked and keeper. What if the defense isn't blitzing the SS. If the defense is inverting the WS, the DE can chase flat down the LOS. The WS is outside for the QB. If the ball is handed off, the chasing DE has a great chance to create a negative. If the QB is running a naked or keeper, the WS is unblocked and has a chance to create a negative. 

Another offensive strategy is to use orbit or reverse motion to control the back side of the play. 

The FB can block the blitzer and the motion can help hold the back side DE.

The offense however, has the same issue as before with a weak side inverting safety. The End can chase and create negatives vs. the zone run. The WS is unblocked for the possible reverse. 

The same issue exist when teams transitioned from 2 back to 1 back under center.

If the offense doesn't have a blocker for the pressuring SS, the defense can create negative plays.

If the offense has a 4th blocker to the strong side, they can block the SS. The challenge is the same as in 2 back, how to control the backside DE and WS. 

That brings us to zone read schemes. One of the most common 1 back solutions to control the back side of zone is for the QB to read the DE.  

The offense can read the weak side DE and block any threat of a weak side #4. The offense still has the issue of how to block the pressuring SS. This is where the defense has to capitalize on the biggest weakness of zone read schemes. It is an option, the defense controls where the ball goes. In this case the defense wants the ball handed off into the difficult to block SS pressure.

When the offense is aligned with a 4th blocker to the zone, they can block the SS. Here the defense wants to force the ball to get pulled by the QB. The inverting WS will be there to make the play. 

Bottom line is the numbers dictate who an offense can or cannot block. The offensive formation dictates the numbers. How do we design pressure to attack zone schemes? With blitz the formation concepts. 

Here is an example:
This is a 5 man zone dog concept rushing either the SS or WS.

Vs. 2x2

Against a 2x2 the offense has a numerical problem with a SS pressure. 

The Rush:
SS - Outside Rush
End - Play into the B gap
Tackle - Head up 2 alignment, slant away from pressure
Nose - Head up 2 alignment, slant away from pressure
End - Stay square and force give on zone read

The Coverage:
Corners - Tight 1/3
WS - Rotate to MOF
FS -Seam
Will - Slingshot to Seam
Mike - Plug alignment, A gap vs. run/3RH drop vs. pass

Putting the DT's in 2's and the alignments of the Mike and Will are critical to the success of the of the pressure.

Putting the Tackle and Nose in head up 2 techniques forces the OL to combo. The OL doesn't know where the 2's will go post snap so the zone scheme must combo them. The Will aligns in the box to get the OT and OG to set their zone combo to him. Once the QB is late in his cadence the Will can slingshot out of the box to the seam drop. The Mike takes a plug alignment at 2 yards from the LOS. His normal alignment is 4 1/2 or 5 yards deep. The Plug alignment forces zone combos by the OL to turn into 1 on 1 blocks very quickly. 

If the Will leaves the box too quickly the offense can set their zone blocking to the Mike and rushing SS. The offense can use the #2 weak receiver to block the Will. The Will holding his alignment in the box as long as possible prevents this from happening. 

The Mike's plug alignment is important to attacking the play as well. When the Center and Guard set their combo, we want the Center to be forced to be aggressive to the Tackle. If the Center takes an aggressive lateral step to the Tackle, it is difficult for the Center to redirect to the Mike who is filling the A gap. The plug alignment puts the Mike in a position to fill very quickly. Asking a Center to snap the ball, aggressively zone to the Tackle, and redirect is asking a lot of any player. The Mike's fill in the A gap is critical to stopping the RB from winding back away from the pressure of the SS.

If the the back side Guard tries to zone off to the pressing Mike, the Nose has a great chance to redirect and make a play. The Mike's plug alignment allows him to to fill quickly. The quick fill forces the guard to go fast. If the Guard is too fast the OT may not be able to take control of the Nose. The Nose is able to redirect and pressure the RB, if the RB is winding back away from the pressuring SS. 

If the offense is running the zone the other direction from 2x2:

When the zone is being run away from the pressure the alignment of the Mike and Will are still important. The technique of playing into the B gap by the DE also comes into play.

The offense sets their zone combos up to the Mike and Will.  The End takes a 45 degree step to the the hip of the OT. If the OT was blocking him, the End would cross face and play into the B gap. In this case as the End takes his 45 degree step the OT is zoning to the Tackle. The End will stay on his 45 degree track and chase behind the LOS. The End plays into the B gap from behind the line. This creates a 2 off the edge allowing the End to chase down the RB and the SS to pressure the QB. 

As the play unfolds the Center and OT are forced to chase LB's who are difficult to zone block. The OT attempts to zone to the Tackle and up to the Mike. The Mike is able to quickly attack the run from his plug alignment. The Center is trying to combo the Nose to the Will. The Will is working out of the box to the seam technique. The end result is the Tackle and Mike attacking the midline and forcing the RB to cut back into the chasing End if the ball is handed off. The hand off should not happen as the read for the QB is to pull the ball. The pull should be directly into the pressuring SS for a negative play.

Against a 3x1 the offense has the numbers to block the SS pressure.

The pressure converts to a WS pressure vs. 3x1. The offense can block a SS pressure but now has numerical issues to the weak side of the play. 

The Rush:
WS - Outside Rush
End - Play into the B gap
Nose - Head up 2 alignment, slant away from pressure
Tackle - Head up 2 alignment, slant away from pressure
End - Stay square and force give on zone read

The Coverage:
Corners - Tight 1/3
FS - Rotate to MOF
SS -Seam
Mike - Slingshot to 3RH
Will - Plug alignment, A gap vs. run/Seam drop vs. pass

The effects of the DT's aligned in 2 techniques, the slingshot, and plug alignment backer are all still in place. The ball is handed off into an unblocked WS off the edge.

Against zone to the trips the End and WS create the 2 off the edge effect creating a good opportunity to create a negative run.

Offenses understand what they can and cannot block. For some the answer is to get into a 2 back split gun with the ability to create a 3x1 or 2x2 from the same formation.

The lead blocker can block a SS pressure. In this situation the defense wants to be in a WS pressure. The issue is the offense can just as easily be running to the weak side.

Now the offense can block the WS pressure. The defense would prefer to have 2 off the edge in a SS pressure in this case.

In 2 back formations the offense has trouble with SS pressure unless they block strong. If they over commit strong they are vulnerable to the WS inverting weak. Our solution is to present both looks at once by using 4 under 2 deep coverage concept.

The Rush:
SS - Outside Rush
End - Play into the B gap
Tackle - Head up 2 alignment, slant away from pressure
Nose - Head up 2 alignment, slant away from pressure
End - Stay square and force give on zone read

The Coverage:
Corner - Squat Flat, Force
WS - Align or rotatate Down, C-F
FS -1/2
Mike - Slingshot to Hook
Will - Plug alignment, A gap vs. run/Hook drop vs. pass

We could also elect to play the coverage as a quarters variation. This coverage concept is some times called 2 read or Palms coverage.

In either case we are able to present the offense with both a SS pressure and an inverted WS. Going to a 4 under 2 deep coverage is possible because the offense is only presenting 3 vertical threats instead of four. 

Understanding the defensive numbers can help create negatives when calling pressures to attack the run. Negatives plays result in offensive limitation. We want to make them play left handed. Well planned pressure can help us do that. 


  1. What are the other ways a defense can create negative plays? Bluff pressure,Stunt the line,Stem?