A Rock And A Hard Place: Defensive Football
It has never been a harder time to be a defensive football mind. The game is so focused on offense so much so the rules almost exclusively favor the offense. Great quarterbacks rule the game and gone are the days when teams could win it all because of dominant defenses like the 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers. Defenses will always have a weakness and there will never be an answer to a perfect throw. Defenders are in between a rock and a hard place. In football’s continuous strategic arms race offenses are dramatically ahead of defense. There are more great quarterbacks than ever before. There was a time when there was a very specific archetype for a great NFL quarterback. Today’s NFL has found great variation in types of quarterbacks. From Brady to RG3 and everything in between offenses are scoring more than ever. The question is what is the next answer from the great defensive minds of our time.
A defender cannot touch a wide receiver after the first 5 yards of a route. Defensive pass interference is called almost automatically in every entanglement between receiver and defender. Even if the offensive player interfered with the defender 8 times out of 10 pass interference is called on the defense. Both the defender and receiver have equal rights in terms of getting their hands on the football; but this is just the letter of the law not the actual effect of the rule. Just look at the 4th & 2 conversion where Boldin got away with PI this Sunday! Its absolutely unfair. Now defenders have to understand what constitutes a defenseless player which just adds hesitation. The defender can’t hit high, can’t hit low and in full speed on a moving target what can they possibly do that does not break the rules. The ironic thing is the defenseless players rule creates defenseless defenders. These rules allow officials to have too much subjective power against the defense. Half the time when you hit a quarterback whether he is a runner or not a yellow penalty flag is launched and my sanity is tested.
Quarterbacks are now the ultimate students of the game. The top passers are not only supremely talented by intellectually driven. Peyton Manning knows how to beat you with a mere glance at your defense. Cerebral quarterbacks get the ball out of their hand so quickly sending pressure is often wishful thinking. A blitz that does not get there is defeatist math, a wasted player on the play. Creating pressure with a 4-5 man rush opens up so many other doors in coverage. Often the key is rerouting the receivers and affecting the timing of the play. This is especially effective against west coast offenses where the routes are strictly connected to the footwork of the quarterback. The problem with this is twofold. Playing aggressive man coverage can allow receivers to slip past the defenders. Secondly this can lead to penalties if the ref has a stick where the sun does not shine (Again the subjective control the official has is troubling to defensive football). The defense has the daunting task of taking control of the game from the quarterback. They must be as cerebral as the quarterback is.
The number 1 mistake a defense can make is transparency. The quarterback should not be able to easily kill you before he receives the snap. There should always be disguise and communication.
Remember football is a numbers game. The quarterback counts how many people you have in the box, how many people you have in coverage, and who’s coming at him. Its a numbers game and you better make the QB solve for X.
There will always be things the defense can not achieve. Match ups dictate so much. The defense knows where they’re weak. This is critical information. If you know your safety or linebacker is a liability in man coverage of a TE you want to avoid these circumstances. Denver’s abuse of the Ravens’ Josh Bynes coverage weaknesses on Thursday are a perfect example of this.
I am a zone blitz guy. I have a hard time relying on man coverage when receivers are among the craftiest athletes on the field and I turn my back to an often mobile quarterback. With the zone blitz you cover the field that you can cover and pressure for what you can’t. I’m a zone blitz guy but again the defense must be dynamic with multiple looks mixed up.
There has to be a sense of realistic expectation. There is no perfect defense and there is no perfect answer to everything. The zone blitz gives you the best of both worlds, blitzing and covering. It has its flaws just ask the 49ers, who have feasted on the Packers zone blitz defense.
Defensive football is about making the numbers game work to your advantage and taking away control from the QB. There is no defense to a perfect throw. The quarterback has so much power I’m the game of football. It is not an impossible mission but defensive minds in many ways are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.