Football for Fools No. 2: Breaking Down the Blitz


By Trey Crosby III

Sorry for taking so long to bring you a second edition of football for fools but nonetheless here we are once again. In this edition I am going to break down a part of football we are all familiar with, the art of the blitz. On the surface, it seems almost elementary because we all know that blitzing just means the defense sends extra defenders to rush the Quarterback in an attempt to create a sack or disrupt the offensive play, (duhhh) however in reality that definition doesn’t do justice at all to what blitzing really does for a defense and how an effective blitz should be run.

A little history lesson tells us that the term “blitz” is actually taken from the blitzkrieg, which was a German strategy of war during World War II. Germans attempted to out flank their opposition by sending in soldiers backed by air support to confuse and unbalance them. Germans would use speed and surprise to penetrate and make it very difficult for the opposing army to do anything about it this ferocious attack until it was inevitably too late. Wait didn’t they lose WWII? Errr, Anyway.

Back to football, we know that at any given time the offense will have at least five men on the offensive line protecting the QB at all times. The main object of the blitz is to send more guys at the QB than the offensive line can protect, thus freeing up a player to disrupt the play at hand. Simple enough. But, this move can be countered by the offense max protecting or keeping other players such as Running Backs or Tight Ends out of the pass route and inside the pocket or on the edge to help block free rushers.

Most blitzes are ran by linebackers, they are relatively close to the ball and depending on scheme might not be pass first defenders anyway so they can get away with blitzing without compromising the defense or making it vulnerable to giving up a big play. Along with LB blitzes, there are also Corner and Safety blitzes as well. All of which have pros and cons respectively.

These are all generalizations of the blitz; the key factor is in personnel. Personnel, personnel, personnel. That determines what you can and cannot do with your team as far as blitzing goes. For instance, if your team does not have very good 1-on-1 Corner coverage, blitzing can be very problematic and if you do not get to the QB, well just be prepared to light the board up for 6 on a lot of plays. Since blitzing naturally forces the QB to release the ball quicker than intended, Defensive backs must be quick on their feet to the ball and play tight man to man coverage pretty much at all times.

Multiple blitzers can also use games or stunts to confuse lineman and get into the backfield easier as well. Defensive Coordinators also like to employ key blitzes where players key on other players and depending on what that offensive player does, it may trigger an automatic blitz. Watch here as the Packers run a game/stunt “A gap” blitz.

Also here is a corner/slot blitz

The Zone blitz is also a common type of blitz in pro football as well. Blitzers tend to confuse the offense by dropping defensive lineman into coverage and blitzing linebackers. The 3-4 defense is usually the main formation that the zone blitz is ran from. The common coverage formations are cover 1, cover 2 and cover 3 while running a zone blitz. The main point of confusion for offensive lineman trying to protect during the zone blitz is the fact that they are totally unaware of where the blitz will come from or who will be performing it. Watch the Steelers zone blitz scheme run to perfection.

In an offense, precise route running and timing is everything to a QB and his Wide Receiver so if a pass blitz can interrupt that connection in the slightest bit then the blitz has done its job. Blitzers must use their hands and take proper angles in order to get into the backfield. One of the worst things that can happen during a blitz is to be blocked out of a rush lane and knocked into another the path of another blitzer.

Every action gets a reaction and it wouldn’t be fair if the offense did not have a chance to react to the blitz and counter it, so let’s find effective ways to not only counter the blitz but also use it to the offenses advantage.

The BEST way to counter a blitzing football team is to have and effective ground game. If you can pop off runs all over the opponent, teams will be hesitant to blitz for fear of over pursuing and giving up big gains on the ground. Establish a run game and everything else falls into place.

If the ground game is stalled and a team is being pelted with a blitz the obvious solution or effective countering method is to max protect, or leave extra players in to block the extra rushers and protect the QB.

The disadvantage to this is that while slowing down the pressure, the offense has fewer guys running routes down field giving the QB fewer options to throw too. HOT ROUTES. I would argue that after a establishing a run game the single most effective way to kill a blitz in its tracks is to have effective hot routes put in place.

Defenses must replace where blitzers have come from, during that process a window of opportunity opens for the QB and his Receiver, this is where a built in hot route comes into play. This is why the hot route is usually the area wherever the defender has just blitzed from.  (watch example here)

The halfback draw is also an effective way to fool a blitzing defense and get them to run right by the ball carrier, as does an effective screen play. Beating a blitzing defense by playing matador offense and letting them run right past where they need to be cannot only create long gains but can also make them think twice about nonstop blitzing.

Lastly, since we know timing is everything, buying a QB a couple more seconds by changing to a shotgun formation when he sees blitz can help give the time he needs for a play to develop and beat the blitz.

Hope this gives you a little more insight in what to look for when your team blitzes or is being blitzed upon on Sunday’s this season. 

If you missed the first edition of “Football for Fools” click HERE.

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