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Zone and Man Blitzing Strategies and Counter Strategies
Point-Counterpoint: The Blitz – How to Defend it vs. How to Make it as Efficient as Possible
AFM asked two coaches – La Salle (OH) High School Head Coach, Jim Hilvert and Olivet Nazarene Offensive Coordinator Jeff DiSandro - to discuss the blitz. Hilvert is the former head coach at Thomas More College where he went 67-19 in eight years. Jeff DiSandro serves as both the offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator at Olivet Nazarene University. He has also coached at Malone University, Beloit College and Greenville College. During the 2009 season, DiSandro helped lead Greenville to an Upper Midwest Athletic Conference Championship. A defensive specialist, Hilvert believes in being very aggressive when blitzing. DiSandro, an offensive coach, feels there are a number of keys to successfully picking up the blitz.
What is your basic overall philosophy and strategy in trying to stop the blitz?
DiSandro: At our core, we are an option team that is no-huddle. I think this deters teams from blitzing against us somewhat. Both the no-huddle and the triple option force defenses to play more base versus our offense. But each week, from a blitz standpoint, we start with a blitz cut-up that I create after breakdowns early in the week. In addition to getting and using the “data” I want to scout the defense and gain insights on the opponent’s overall philosophy and take notes on that specific defensive coordinator and his tendencies. I also want to have fresh in my mind what schemes in run and pass I have been using / or have had success with that are on tape. I always ask myself if I were a DC how would I attack us? I keep in mind things like: do we have any personnel weakness they might feel like they can attack or do we have any plays or strengths that they could attack by blitzing? As the plan develops I think there are definitely plays we want to stay away from in blitz situations and other plays we want to call in those same situations.
What is your general philosophy and strategy in blitzing an offense?
Hilvert: My general philosophy on blitzing is for our guys to be aggressive. This aggressive mentality is a big part of our defensive strategy. Offenses have a harder time blocking the defense when they are moving and bringing an extra guy. We blitz on early downs so we cause a game-altering play or have the offense play behind the chains. Offenses hate playing behind the chains and this causes the offensive coordinator to get off tract. With the offense behind the chains you can be more conservative on third down.
Are there certain situations – involving down and distance – where you expect the blitz?
DiSandro: A lot is dependent upon the tendencies we get and what the defensive coordinator’s philosophy is. Some teams are aggressive with the blitz and other teams are not so aggressive. One thing I noticed a little bit was that some defensive coordinators will call blitz based on tempos of the game. I saw a couple of teams blitz when the offense was in a rhythm as a way of disrupting that rhythm and momentum. I think third downs and obvious pass situations are a time when we see the most blitzes. Teams will blitz and try to attack our protections in those situations in different ways. In base run situations we have to deal with run stunts and specific option stunts (gap exchanges, etc.) so that we have to be prepared for whatever the defense counters.
Are there specific situations such as down and distance or offensive tendencies where you will likely blitz?
Hilvert: I like to blitz offenses on first or second down. When you scout an offense you usually can get tendencies on what they want to do out of certain formations. As a defensive staff we try to have our best blitzes married up to what an offense will do out of that formation or that down and distance. Film study will help put our guys in the best possible position.
How does your protection scheme work against an all-out blitz? How do you counter a safety blitz?
DiSandro: We don’t see too many teams who attack us with an all out blitz but I have two thoughts in that situation - 1. We need to throw the ball by flooding areas of the field with combination routes and/or 2. We need to max protect and make sure we have the correct numbers in blitz pick up. If they blitz more people then they naturally have less defenders to cover areas of the field.
Protection wise we have two ways to get into our 7-man protections (2 RBs and 1 RB and 1 TE). We also carry an 8-man protection out of our extra OL set. All these protections are based off our 5-man slide which is our most secure protection versus heavy inside blitzing. We could add protectors into our base half man, half slide protection as well. Also, we would work hard to find an advantageous match up on offense. If we do anticipate an all out blitz, we will plan the match up of a WR or slot on one of the weaker defenders and plan a route or read route in that situation. Another option we have versus an all out blitz would be an off tackle screen and a series of perimeter screens that would all be good calls in this situation.
Our coaches, QBs and OL are also evaluating these situations for the OLB and safety alignments, demeanor and stacks. Calling the protection in the right direction of the blitz is something that is essential. We also adjust some of our protections based on the odd front / under sides of the front. We will use a BOB protection scheme when the guards are uncovered to protect against some of the blitzes and long stunts from the DE. The DE stunt in the A gap, if called correctly from a defensive standpoint, is difficult on slide protection.
What circumstances are there where you will use a linebacker blitz, a corner blitz, or a safety blitz?
Hilvert: My general philosophy over the years has been to blitz linebackers. The reason for that is we want our best cover guys to guard their wide receivers. This has changed over the last few years.
We will now have safeties blitz according to the formation or what offensive personnel they have on the field. We have now incorporated more safety blitzes but with that we use different personnel on defense. We call that personnel “SPEED.” We do use a corner blitz. I believe a corner blitz can be effective because offenses forget about accounting for the corner in pass protection.
Do the circumstances change – relative to a blitz – when your offense is in the red zone?
DiSandro: I think they do. When in the red zone, space runs out for the offense. Once inside the 10-yard line, we begin to see a lot of man coverage with more defenders being dedicated to the box. I like angle blocking and pulling (like a traditional power G play).
One of my favorite concepts in the run game is a power “solid” where the backside guard is replaced with a second TE or FB and he pulls / leads through the hole. It is also important to scout the defense and see how they will play pick and rub routes from their man coverage. Some defensive backfields will not switch in their man coverage which makes a basic pick or rub ineffective. Another one of my favorite concepts in the red zone would be a play-action pass off one of our core runs and crossing routes or a weak side flood concept behind that.
Do you have a tendency to blitz more when in the red zone? Hilvert: I know when the offense gets closer to the end zone I am more aggressive as a defensive coordinator. The reason for being aggressive is you are looking for a big play on defense. You want the offense to have to play behind the chains and force them to kick a field goal. When the offense gets into the red zone there is not a lot of field for the offense to work with and it becomes more difficult to move the ball. This difficulty increases when the defense is bringing different blitzes at the offense.
When do you anticipate a man blitz as well as a zone blitz? How do the circumstances differ?
DiSandro: For us, we do see a good amount of zone blitzing from the defense. At times, different zone blitzes and their combos are a good way to attack the triple option. In these situations, changing the Dive, QB and pitch players post snap on the move can make things confusing on the QB. Often we will go into our “squeeze scrape” plan especially when we see the DE slant the A gap and Mike blitzing the B gap. DE slanting A, Mike slanting C and Sam slanting the B gap are all specific option blitzes that gives us some trouble in run down situations. Again, we don’t see a whole lot of man blitzing outside of a few specific scenarios/situations. Red zone and third and short are two of those situations.
What are the distinctions between your zone blitz and man blitzes? When are you more likely to use one more than the other?
Hilvert: In our zone blitz concepts we are willing to give up some underneath routes to go along with the flats. We want the ball to get out of the quarterback’s hands quickly and rally to the ball. In our zone blitz concept we have to be able to re-route the wide receivers. Our SCIF (Seam, Curl, Flats) players have to get their hands on the wide receivers.
Even in our zone blitzes our guys have to match up with wide receivers and not guard grass. When the offense is in their territory or have first and ten or third and 7-10, we will zone blitz. We man blitz more when the offense is on the +40 going into the end zone. We are not willing to give up the flats and underneath routes. The field also starts to shorten for the offense. We want those windows to be tighter and be even more aggressive so we can cause a disruptive play on defense.
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