Category Archives: Defense

Blitz of the Day: Vs Empty Set Presented By Yogolaada

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Today I wanted to do a nice defensive post. When I am bored I draw up all sorts of gridiron possibilities with an app on my iPad. Here is a play I drew up this morning for fun. In this diagram I put in a Psycho front- taking out the nose guard and having my ends play a 3 technique. The offense is in an empty set (no running back) with 01 personnel (no back, 1 tight end and 4 wide receivers.)

The coverage is split. On the side of the bunch it is typical cover 2. The corner plays the flat, and there is a deep safety for this side of the field. The nickel plays an intermediate zone. On the other side its simply cover 2 man under. The Mike linebacker is responsible for the quarterback. He is a QB spy to account for the possible QB run up the middle. Against a stationary passer he can blitz the B gap on the right side.

This is technically not a blitz since we are only sending a 4 man rush. It however is a crafty four man rush. The defensive end on the right takes on the center. This prevents the center from helping the guard as the other end comes flying up the A gap. The Will linebacker blitzes the B gap as the outside linebacker comes off the edge. The guard is now in a pickle. He has two players to pick up by himself. He knows to block inside first and therefore he picks up the guard. The Will backer has a free lane to the quarterback. Its a quick acting stunt that allows the blitz to work.

Does the Super Bowl Favor Great Offense or Great Defense

We are a day away from the Super Bowl. The two week build up to the big game is almost complete. This year we have a meeting of a great offense (Denver) and a great defense (Seattle). The question is which does the Super Bowl favor, great offense or great defense.

In the early 2000’s the answer was great defense. The Giants great offense was dominated in Super Bowl 35 by the Ravens legendary defense. Super Bowl 36 saw St. Louis’s “Greatest Show on Turf” stifled by the Patriots dominant defense. Super Bowl 37 was won by the Buccaneers bone crushing defenders and it was not even close. The Patriots won the next two Lombardi trophies. While Brady had emerged as a great quarterback, New England still had a dominating defensive unit. Pittsburgh would win Super Bowl 40 and Super Bowl 43. The Steelers were a pretty balanced team in both championship seasons. That said we know they prided themselves on their defense.

Things seemed to be changing when the Indianapolis Colts won it all in the 2006-2007 season.The Colts were a great offensive team that beat Lovie Smith’s great defense. The Colts defense was far from great but it had just enough pieces to be successful. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeny provided great pass rush; this made life difficult for teams that had to pass to keep up with Manning. Safety Bob Sanders was a dominating presence in the Colts secondary. An offensive centered team won the Super Bowl; but defense still had a strong presence in the big game.

The Patriots entered Super Bowl 42 with a historic undefeated record and a record breaking offense. The Giants entered the game on a roll after barely sneaking into the playoffs. New York’s defense frustrated New England’s offense. An offense that was used to getting what it wanted with relative ease was stifled. The Giants defensive line dominated the game. Eli Manning provided the late game dramatics with the winning score to Plaxico Burress. The Giants beat one of the greatest offenses of all time in the Super Bowl. This supported the Idea that defense wins championships.

Super Bowl 44 and 45 were won by teams with great offenses. In Super Bowl 44 we watched two great offenses as Drew Brees and the Saints beat Peyton Manning’s Colts. This Super Bowl will always be remembered by Sean Peyton’s rewarding gamble to start the 2nd half with an onside kick. It will also be remembered by Peyton Manning’s pick 6 that cost Indianapolis the game.

Super Bowl 45 was a shootout between Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. While the Steelers had a good defense it was not what it once was. Rodgers carved up the Steelers and stepped out of Brett Favre’s shadow. One of the most pivotal plays was when Cullen Jenkins busted up a run play, leading to a Clay Matthews fumble recovery. Are you noticing a trend?

Super Bowl 46 was a rematch of the Patriots and Giants. Oddly the game was almost entirely like their Super Bowl 42 meeting. The Giants defensive line was dominant. It was a tough game that Brady almost won; the problem was Eli got the last chance. Defense prevailed over an offensive juggernaut once again.

The Baltimore Ravens won Super Bowl 47 on one of the best days of my life. I had waited 12 years for another Super Bowl parade in Baltimore. I was only 10 and just beginning to obsess over football when we won Super Bowl 35. The 2012 Ravens did not have the dominating defense I grew up watching. The Ravens got to the Super Bowl on the throwing arm of Joe Flacco.

The Ravens defense almost gave up what seemed like an insurmountable lead. That however is when the magical unscriptable and fitting ending happened. Ray Lewis’s iconic career ended with a goal line stand in the Super Bowl. The Ravens built their lead on offense and won the game (the hard way) on defense.

In the Super Bowl you will always have two great football teams. The Super Bowl almost always has two evenly matched teams- which is shown by the close games we have been treated to. I would argue that a Super Bowl championship is won and lost with defense. It comes down to who can make the game changing turnover or defensive stand. Even in Super Bowls featuring two great offensive teams, the game has come down to defensive heroics. As we approach Super Bowl 48, let me remind you that defense wins championships.

Defensive Gameplan For Ravens against Browns

Defensive Gameplan For Ravens against Browns | Chris Schisler

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Every week on Common Sense Football I will get you prepared for the Ravens next matchup. This is my basic defensive game plan for the Browns game. To form this report I studied the Browns week 1 game against the Miami Dolphins. I charted the Browns run to pass ratio in each personnel package. I noted every tendency and nuance of their offense that I deemed important information. While one game is not enough to discern patterns it is certainly important to study.

The Cleveland Browns favor two tight end sets. They like to move these tight ends around. They will line up as a wide out, a slot, flexed, in the backfield and a conventional tight end alignment. The Browns are able to show many different formations with mostly the same personnel packages throughout the game. The Browns were in 12 personnel (12P) 42% of the game. 12 personnel simply means they have 1 runningback and 2 tight ends. Of the 42% in 12P they threw the ball 66% of the time. This is a little skewed as they trailed the Dolphins most of the game and had to pass frequently. In the first quarter this dichotomy was much more balanced. That said Rob Chudzinski coached teams like to throw the ball a lot. Another skewed piece of data is the 28 plays they ran in 11P (1 back, 1 TE, meaning they had 3 WR). They threw the 27 times in 11P. This is not the Browns comfort zone and they struggled horribly once they were 1 dimensional.

The Browns offensive line does not protect Weeden very well; even when there is no pressure Weeden often makes a rushed decision. Their right guard Oneil Cousins (former Raven) was abysmal. Holding penalties and false starts were a problem all day for Cousins. Even Joe Thomas got beat and the Browns offensive line looks bad.

The key to beating the Browns is stopping the run and making them one dimensional. I want to take advantage of their weak guard play and have Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty in a 2 technique most of the game. Then put Marcus Spears as the strong side defensive end in a 5 technique. Suggs will serve as the weak side defensive end/ OLB.

In two back sets the Browns showed no significant leaning towards tendency. They played 4 plays in 21P (2 backs, 1 TE). They had to runs and two passes. With 22P (2 backs, 2 TE) they ran 2 plays, one run and one pass. They only ran one play out of 20P which was a pass. One of the interesting 2 runningback sets was their pistol formation with 2 runningbacks and a tight end in the backfield. The Browns also like to use unbalanced line formations and their Full house formation with 22P with 2 backs and a tight end all in the backfield and a TE on the line. The Browns may not have used these sets a lot but they can clearly run and pass from these formations. The Ravens have such a great pass rush they may use these formations more for extra protection of Weeden.

WR is a weak position for the Cleveland Browns. They struggle to create separation in man coverage and no one other than the tight ends has sure hands. We need to play a lot of man coverage and play physical with the wide outs off the line. Their TE Jordan Cameron can never be allowed a free release off the line of scrimmage. Cameron and Richardson are their best and only real weapons. We need to bracket Cameron in man coverage. If we learned anything against the Denver Broncos it’s that our linebackers struggle to cover athletic linebackers. We need to cover Cameron as if he were a number one receiver and not a tight end. In fact I would have no problem assigning Ladarius Webb to cover Cameron. Webb is our best corner and he is their best receiver. I have confidence in both Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham against below average receivers.

One of the notable plays from this game was in 11P. All 3 WR and Jordan Cameron did vertical routes and took the defense with them which left Trent Richardson wide open in the middle of the field. We must have someone accountable for Richardson in the passing game at all times. One of the best ways to keep a pass catching RB from releasing into a route is to blitz at him. If he has to pick up the blitz he is not going out to catch a pass. Richardson in the open field must be a chief concern. Also the Browns like to use a lot of presnap motions. Most of it seems designed to get the defense moving and thinking too much. Everyone just needs to stick to their assignment.

The good news is that Brandon Weeden is a quarterback slot machine, turnovers are there for the taking. We do not need to send extra blitzers to create pressure which gives us flexibility in coverage and allows us to stay disciplined against the run. Expect big days from Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty. When we do blitz we will have no trouble getting A and B gap pressure on a bumbling pocket presence QB like Brandon Weeden. If Suggs and Dumervil can’t rush off the edge I will be completely shocked.

In review the Browns offense is all about using its tight ends to create a lot of different formations with the same personnel. It is very much like the Patriots philosophy with Gronkowski and Hernandez but to say it is the poor man’s version is an understatement. The Browns offense is uncomfortable without the 2 TEs. Protecting Weeden is an impossibility with only 5 men in protection. The right and left guard play is at a very low level of performance. Having our best DTs Ngata and Canty in a two technique we will dominate the line of scrimmage. As long as we bracket Jordan Cameron and play him as if he were a wide receiver there is no pass catching weapon that scares me. Aggressive man coverage could create turnovers. Whoever we have play Free Safety whether it be Huff or Elam needs to have a good day as a ball hawk.

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.

Defensive Philosophy Part 2 Blitzing and Stunting

Last month I launched into a discussion of my philosophy on defense. We began the series of articles by talking about coverages. I explained that I prefer the zone blitzing attack and love the versatility of Cover 3. I also said that it was important to mix up coverages. Today we are going to talk about the front seven.

There is a reason we started by talking about coverage and the secondary first. I believe in creating chaos in the backfield but it must be of the organized and responsible variety. Having the deep and intermediate portions of the field taken care of, allows us to be more creative and versatile up front.

Defensively it all starts up front. I am a 3-4 guy. Being a longtime Ravens fan and looking up to Bill Parcells as an idol the 3-4 is simply engrained in my personality. I believe in creatively getting after the quarterback and bouncing the run outside filling, the gaps to the running back’s peril.

There are basics to the 3-4 and the 4-3 and I want athletes that can do a bit of both. Ideally we mix up our fronts, stunts and techniques with a versatile front seven. So 3-4 4-3 does not bind us to the basics. Lets go over the basics though. Everything builds off them.

For the most part the most basic requirement of a defensive lineman in this defense is the ability to two gap. This means the defender is responsible for stuffing both gaps. He must be tall and long. His priority is to knock the offensive lineman straight back (creating a new line of scrimmage in the backfield) and be a big old space eater. He needs to be tall enough to see over the offensive lineman, and long enough to keep him off of him.

The defensive linemen are not the primary playmakers. The linemen are essentially the lead blockers to the linebackers- the head hunters of a 3-4 defense. The lineman free up the linebackers to run to the football. Both teams have 11 players but the 3-4 makes five offensive players block 3 super sized beasts. When done effectively this is a huge advantage for the defense.

With the 3-4 & Hybrid fronts it is much easier to hide who is pass rushing and who is not. The blitz can come from any where. With 4 down linemen it is easier for the offensive line to know who to block.

The key to stopping the run in the 3-4 is a dominant nose guard. The interior linebackers are lined up over the guards with no defensive lineman in front of them. If the nose guard can not be dominant in the A gaps ( Gaps between center and guards) the linebackers will be fighting off guards all day long and will be ineffective.

Stopping the run is the base need for every defense. It is where everything starts still in todays pass-happy league. The key to stopping the run is to fill the gaps forcing the runner to bounce outside. Linebackers must make plays in the backfield. The defense must always have a player or players responsible for outside contain and the cutback.

Moving to the graduate level of organized chaos let us get after the passer. Through smart stunts and well timed blitzes we can give the quarterback a beating.

A stunt is a special move for the defensive lineman. It is like receivers’ routes; it tells him where to go. The object of any stunt is to free up a blitzer’s path to the football.

An offensive lineman is taught not to let a defender cross his face. Stunts are often used to get the offensive lineman out of position. An uncovered offensive lineman must help a teammate. Stunting can create confusion for the offensive line. A second of hesitation, means a second paused. This is all a blitzer needs to come through his gap flying untouched.

The 3-4 is designed for the outside linebackers to be the star pass rushers. Two elite pass rushers on the outside can definitely lead to a dominant defense. That being said it is not the only way to pressure the passer.

Every team is different, every quarterback is different, and so you must attack each team differently. A quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger I like to flush him to to the side he throws worst to. Knowing that he is going to roll out anyway; use and overload blitz- get him rolling out and roll your coverage with him- forcing him to A.) throw into coverage B.) throw dangerously across field or C.) get pummeled.

Against a stationary quarterback like Tom Brady you have to play it completely differently. If you throw an overload blitz at “Tom Terrific” he won’t roll out he will diagnose it and burn you for it before you can snap your fingers. Because Brady sees downfield so well, sending extra pass rush is often a recipe for your defensive back’s burnt toast.

You need to pressure Brady with a 4-5 man rush. The New York Giants have 2 rings because of their ability to pressure the Patriots passer without sending many extra blitzers.

This is where stunting comes into play. Using stunts like a super stick ( Crashing DE or OLB all the way into the A gap); can get midline pressure on a midline passer like Brady. Another option is to drop your nose guard into a fire zone and blitzing 1 or two interior linebackers.

Hybrid defenses sound much more complicated than they actually are. Here are two simple ways to achieve a hybrid front.

1.) If you are in a typical 3-4 if you shift your defensive line to the strong side and shift your linebackers to the weak side you can now be a 4-3 front. The weak side outside linebacker plays now with his hand in the ground as a defensive end.

2.) If you have a mixture of types of defensive linemen you can play both 4-3 principles and 3-4 principles. It all hinges on having a great DT like a Haloti Ngata a Vince Wilfork or a Gino Atkins. If you have a guy who can do both he is your marker. On one side of him play 4-3 principles on the other 3-4 principles and alignment. Maybe on the strong side you want to two gap and on the weak side you want to be aggressive and have your guys penetrate into the backfield.

Thats enough football for you all to digest right now. The important thing to remember is that defense is FUN. You have to know assignment and where to align. You have to be able to read your keys and react quickly. Defense is simply aggression with a purpose and a plan.

My Defensive Philosophy: Part 1 Coverage

Zone Blitzing: Cover 3 Twists| Chris Schisler
Today we are going to talk about defensive football strategy. We are going to dive into the differences between man and zone coverage, and the talking points of zone blitzing. The theme of this zone blitzing conversation is all the possibilities with a 3 deep shell (Cover 3).

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There is no one coverage or scheme that is superior to the others. There are many different coverage schemes and many different ways to rush the passer. It is a matter of practical preference. The defensive coordinator may for example love to play man to man on the outside but he may be stuck with zone corners. You have to play to the strengths of your players. When the Philadelphia Eagles signed Nnamdi Asouamuagh to a mega contract they were sourly disappointed. The Eagles forced their new star to play zone coverage when he was really a shutdown man cornerback. The Eagles failed to get what they expected because they forced scheme on the player. Defensive philosophy is a matter of preference but you must be practical about it.
My preference is to attack the offense with the zone blitz. Zone coverage has several advantages that man coverage does not have. Against mobile quarterbacks man coverage is a liability because the defensive back turns his back to the quarterback. The quarterback can often get cheap first downs. The more the quarterback rolls out holding the ball the more the receiver has to run with the wide receiver. In this day and age it is often an unrealistic expectation for the defense. In zone coverage the defenders are looking in at the quarterback. Secondly man coverage allows route combinations to take the defenders right where the offense wants them. In man the defender is running with the receiver. The offense can strategically open receivers just because the defense is playing along in man coverage. The offense can more easily exploit favorable matchups against man coverage. In zone coverage the defensive backs are defending an area not a man and can more readily impose their favorable matchups. In man coverage route combinations and formations can cause confusion. In zone coverage all that matters is assignment and it is harder to schematically open a receiver; they have to find the window. Zone also allows you to roll coverage and double team a Calvin Johnson type player. There is no defense to a perfect throw so I would rather have my defenders eyeing the ball.
Again defensive philosophy is a preference not a mandate. It is also important to mix up your coverage. I am a cover 3 guy but I know it is important to add some cover 2 man under, some quarters coverage and some Tampa 2 even. The defense has to be unpredictable but play to its strengths. The flexibility of the zone blitz mentality is what makes it so effective. You are trying to get the best coverage possible and what you cannot accomplish you make up for with pressure.
The idea with the Cover 3 schematics is to defend the deep ball with a shell of 3 players. The outside linebacker or strong safety often covers the flats. Its biggest vulnerability is the intermediate pass that stretches the coverage across the field. My philosophy is to say the hell with the flats. I want to cover the deep and intermediate passes and expect my defenders to rally to the short pass. This is an aggressive solution not a passive solution. It is not the prevent defense. I am not letting the offense effortlessly move down the field but if they want to dump it off so be it. Eventually the quarterback has got to take a shot into coverage. Covering the deep thirds of the football field allow me to be aggressive with my front seven.
To run the cover 3 as your base look you have got to mix it up and not give it away before the snap of the football. The cover 3 is easily determined by the safety in the middle of the field. One interesting thing you can do is to invert your strong safety. Doing this allows the safety to cover the flat or intermediate outside pass. It also can free up the outside linebacker as a pass rusher. You can also bring your safety and play a scary game of who is coming and who is not. If you have versatile safeties you can switch who plays strong and who plays free. Reversing the typical cover 3 is a deterrent to the quarterback’s simple read of your defense.

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One of my favorite ideas to add to the cover 3 shell is switching up who takes the thirds. Maybe you send your weak side corner and have the nickel back take a deep third. Maybe you free up your safety to blitz by having you middle linebacker take the center deep third of the field. I proudly call this idea the Tampa 3 which is the cover 3 version of the Tampa 2.This also allows hide the fact that you are playing cover 3 This also allows you to  Cover 3 is versatile allowing for more freedom with your blitzing. Another element that I love defensively is the fire zone blitz. With the fire zone the defender engages the offensive lineman and drops back into shallow zone coverage. This takes up the attention of an offensive lineman and allows a blitzer to fly free. This also is an effective way to bait a quarterback.

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In my next article I will focus on blitzing more. We talked coverage first because coverage allows us to blitz responsibly.