- Zone blitz
The Zone Blitz is a common method of defensive pressure applied in
American football, usually at the collegiate and professional levels. It exists in nearly limitless permutations, all of which share the common theme of confusing the offensive lineby dropping pass-rushers into coverage, while at the same time blitzing players who would usually cover receivers.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator
Dick LeBeauis widely regarded as the inventor of the zone blitz. LeBeau popularized the zone blitz in the early 90's, earning Pittsburgh the title of "Blitzburgh". Though the zone blitz has become popular throughout the NFL, Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense - 3 defensive linemen, 4 linebackers - lends itself particularly well to this style of play, and LeBeau continues to utilize it today.
The Zone Blitz is usually executed from one of two zone coverage formations.
In the coverage typically referred to as cover zero, each member of the secondary is responsible for man-to-man coverage on an eligible receiver. The remaining receivers are covered man-to-man by a
Cover one is identical to cover zero with one major exception. One player, typically the weakside or "free" safety is left with no man responsibilities, and can instead roam the intermediate to deep zones.
In cover two, each safety (free and strong) covers a deep half of the field, while the two cornerbacks cover the flats (from the line of scrimmage to about 15 yards deep on each sideline). Three
linebackers (weak side, middle, and strong side) drop into coverage, with each patrolling 1/5 of the middle field. A variant of this, the Tampa 2, has been used by the Buccaneers for years and helped them on their way to their only Super Bowl win.
Cover three relies on the same basic principles as cover two. The basic difference lies in the responsibilities of the secondary. The free safety plays "center field" while each of the cornerbacks covers a deep third, or one third of the field on each side. The middle of the zone is once again covered by the three
linebackers, with the strong safety covering the remaining, far fourth of the middle field.
The blitz itself relies upon confusion among the
offensive linemen. The linemen assume that the defensive ends and defensive tackles will rush the passer. By using a zone blitz, the defense throws off the blocking assignments of the offensive lineby switching the responsibilities of a defensive linemanwith those of a linebackeror defensive back.
For example, in one of the most common zone blitzes, a
defensive endwill drop back into coverage, playing one-fourth of the middle zone, while the weak side linebacker, who would normally cover that area, rushes the quarterback in place of the end. The term 'fire' blitz, or 'fire' zone is used to describe plays such as this, where a defensive lineman drops into coverage and a linebacker takes his pass rush assignment.
The zone blitz provides several key advantages for the defense. In a man-to-man blitz, all four
defensive linemen will rush the quarterback, as well as one or more of the linebackers or a defensive back. However, this leaves cornerbacks and safeties on "an island," meaning they must be perfect in man-to-man pass coverage. The zone blitz eliminates this problem by allowing the defense to remain in zone pass coverage, while still bringing added pressure to the offense by confusing offensive linemen and other blockers. While most regular blitzes do not identify one of the pass rushers, zone blitzes don't identify "any" of the rushers, or how many will come. Quarterbacks who anticipate a "regular" blitz by a particular linebackerfrequently "check off", or make a last-minute play change, to a pass route. Generally, the nearest wide receiverto the anticipated blitzer is instructed to run a short pass route (a "slant") to where the linebacker is currently positioned. If the linebacker does blitz, then his original space is left initially undefended and the quarterback has an easy completion opportunity. The zone blitz, however, allows a defensive lineman to drop directly into pass coverage against the slant. If the quarterback fails to account for this supposed rusher that has actually assumed coverage responsibility, and attempts a pass, the play could result in a turnover.
The zone blitz is also an effective scheme when defending the
screen pass. In a zone blitz especially designed to defend the screen pass, defensive lineman initially identify the running back or other potential recipients of a screen pass in order to cover them specifically rather than dropping into a zone. Covering a specific player is much easier for a defensive lineman who doesn't normally play in the open field. The blitzing linebackers are at an advantage in screen situations because they are more likely to actually pressure the quarterback who is trying to lure slower defensive lineman upfield and not expecting the significantly more athletic linebackers. The hurried quarterback and quickly covered screen recipients usually results in a sack, interception by a defensive lineman, broken play, or tackle for a loss of yards.
The last advantage highlighted above is also perhaps the principal disadvantage to a zone blitz, in that one or more defensive linemen may be required to drop back into coverage while linebackers take their place in rushing the quarterback. Linemen, by design, are the biggest, heaviest, and slowest members of the defense on the field. Asking them to cover a speedy
slot receiveror an athletic, pass-catching tight end is often a losing proposition. Most, if not all, linemen, simply do not possess the speed to legitimately cover wide receivers for more than several yards. These kinds of personnel mismatches can lead to easy completions if the quarterback can correctly identify them.
Blitz (American football)
* [http://espn.go.com/ncf/columns/davie/1430750.html "ESPN's Football 101: The zone blitz"]
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