Category Archives: Biltzes

5 Big Plays & Why They Worked (Ravens Week 4)

Chris Schisler

Ravens beat the Carolina Panthers with big plays this past Sunday. Here is a look at 5 of these big plays from last Sunday.

1.) Ravens Get Steve Smith Sr. Going Early:

This was the Ravens first play. Fullback, Kyle Juszczyk, was lined up as a wide receiver. The Panthers were playing off in man. Juszczyk motioned inside of Smith Sr. The Panthers switched coverage responsibilities. The cornerback went with Juszczyk on the deep corner route. The strong safety was now responsible for Smith Sr., a huge mismatch. Great route running by Smith Sr. made this all to easy.

2.) Nothing But Green Grass:
The next play is a very well designed screen pass to Justin Forsett. The Ravens cleared the middle of the field with deep routes. The offensive line blocks it like a normal pass play (which really sells it) but center, Jeremy Zuttah, becomes the lead blocker.

3.) 13 Yard Run

The Panthers defensive line slants to the play side making it easier for the zone run to work. The following picture shows the hole beginning to open for Lorenzo Taliaferro.

4.) Great Design Cam Newton:

This is a bit of an exotic look. Haloti Ngata lined up in the left A gap. Pernell McPhee lined up standing over the other A gap. The formation allowed the chain of events that would bring Newton to the ground. The center struggled to block Ngata. McPhee screeched through the A gap almost untouched. Daryl Smith was picked up by the running back but Elvis Dumervil got past the tackle with ease.
5.) Ravens Sack Cam Again:

In a similar look, the Raves got to Cam Newton again. McPhee crashes the A gap, Suggs cuts under the tackle. Daryl Smith pretends to blitz, occupying the guard. Dumervil beats the tackle off the edge.

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.

Quarterbacks Recognizing and Punishing the Blitz

The strategy of both sides of football center around the quarterback. The offense must protect the quarterback who is the primary target of the defense. Aggressiveness in football as I have written in past posts is both a good and a bad thing. The best quarterbacks recognize the blitz and take advantage of it. They understand that when the defense sends a blitzer it loses a man in coverage. The quarterback understands that when there are blitzers there are holes in the coverage scheme. The best quarterbacks invite the blitz knowing that they can take advantage of it. If they get hit, so be it, I am making this throw. Thats the mindset you have to have at the most important position in football.

Drew Brees is a master conductor of his Saints offense. He understands that he is responsible for keeping the Saints offense out of bad plays. He hollers adjustments to the play and its protection scheme based on what he sees from the defense. No matter what you throw at Brees presnap he is a genius at diagnosing what you are actually going to do. Brees beats the blitz before the ball is even snapped.

Some Quarterbacks will beg you to blitz them. I always thought sending extra blitzers at Tom Brady was playing into the Patriots hands. Brady’s mastery is like that of Brees and he makes you pay. If you blitz Brady he simply steps up into the blitz and throws it into the hole in the coverage. ( Pressuring Brady is wildly important, but blitzing is suicidal. You need to collapse his pocket with a 4 man rush. If you can apply midline pressure without sending an extra defender, sacking Brady is much easier. Brady’s greatest strength is that he keeps his eyes downfield. He sees a blitz. A 4 man rush that collapses the pocket, not blitzing is the way to beat Brady). Tom Brady has such a quick release the blitz is often wildly useless.

I remember getting so frustrated last season watching the University of Tennessee’s QB Tyler Bray last year. When you blitzed from the outside, Bray would blind himself of the side of the blitz. The blitzers often would open up receivers on the blitz side, but Bray was blind to the blitz side of the field. All the defense had to do was blitz from one side and roll their coverage to the other side. Bray’s ineffective answer to the blitz was to go to the non blitz side.

In some protection schemes especially i the quarterback has 1 blitzer that he is responsible for. In other words no one will block this player and the QB must get rid of the ball before the unaccounted for defender gets to him. QB’s who can’t step into the blitz cannot handle this responsibility.

The best quarterbacks know and accept the pressure of a blitzing defense. They understand that aggressive defenses are often vulnerable defenses. The quarterback must diagnose the defense, step into the face of the pressure and punish the defense for blitzing.

Setting up Outside Pass Rush with A gap pressure

Setting up Outside Pass Rush with A gap pressure | Chris Schisler | June 3, 2013


The 3-4 defense is designed to schematically get to the quarterback. Typically in the 3-4 front the outside linebackers are the supreme sack masters. The defense is anchored by three defensive linemen who can dominate up front. Their job is to control two gaps and to keep the offensive lineman off the linebackers. The 3-4 is truly a great defense to run when you have a dominating nose guard. If the nose guard demands a double team the outside linebackers have less in their way to the quarterback. While the outside linebackers are the best pass rushers, the advantage of the 3-4 is you can disguise where the pressure is coming from. Anything you can do to alleviate the double teams on the outside is good for the defense. That is why A gap pressure is so important.

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When the nose guard in the 3-4 the two interior linebackers can get through the A gaps with relative ease. The if you can get two players flying through the A gap, and the nose has rendered the center useless to the offense, you will win the battle. Imagine this blitz with the Baltimore Ravens defense. Haloti Ngata playing the nose pushes the center back into the pocket. Michael Huff the safety comes blazing through the right side A gap. The interior linebacker on Huff’s side (Jemeel McClain) loops to the other A gap. The other interior linebacker (Arthur Brown) crashes the B gap. The defensive end over the left tackle drops into a fire zone covering the short to shallow intermediate middle of the field. Suggs and Dumervil cover the flats to intermediate outside pass. Matt Elam covers the deep middle third of the field. Blitzes like this make it harder for the offense to justify extra blockers for Terrell Suggs and Dumervil. When the blitz can come from anywhere you cannot wait for it at any one spot. If the Ravens can establish pressure inside, their star outside linebackers will see elevated sack numbers.


Virtual Chalkboard: Blitz # 3

Virtual Chalkboard: Blitz # 3 | Chris Schisler | June 28, 2013


Like most of my favorite blitzes I have drawn this blitz is out of a 3-4 front with a cover 3 shell. The coverage covers the deep and intermediate pass with 5 zones using one fire zone. At the last second the strong safety creeps into the box just over the linebackers. When the ball is snapped he flies through the B gap. The Defensive end on the strong side (the blitz side) will engage the tackle, and drop into a fire zone, getting whatever depth he can. Ideally he gets into an intermediate zone or can tip an intermediate pass in his direction. Realistically the he just covers the flat. The outside linebacker loops in to fly through the A gap. The interior linebacker on cheating to lineup over the end playing a 5 technique comes around the edge. This blitz overloads the strong side. The goal is to make the tackle useless to the offense.

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