What is blitz in football ? A blitz in football is easy to define. Simply put, it’s a play call by a defense that’s designed to rush the quarterback with more defenders than there are blockers.
For example, if there are 5 blockers on an offensive play (the 5 offensive linemen), then a blitz would be a play that has 6 players rushing the quarterback.
Pretty easy to define, isn’t it?
But just because a blitz is an easy concept to understand doesn’t mean that it’s easy to execute properly.
In fact, there are a few different types of blitzes as well as a few different reasons why you’d want to call a blitz.
A good defensive coach will know the best time to call a blitz and what particular blitz to call in that situation.
When a defense calls a blitz, it’s a risk they’re taking.
By rushing an extra attacker, there will be fewer defenders who’ll be dropping into pass coverage or fewer defenders to help out if a runner gets behind the blitzers.
With a blitz, the defense is sacrificing conservative play for the opportunity to put extra pressure on the offense at the line of scrimmage.
Let’s take a closer look at why you’d want to run a blitz and what type of blitzes you can run.
Different Types of Blitzes
Blitzes can be run out of both zone defenses and man-to-man defenses.
In zone blitzes, the pass coverage behind the rushing defenders will be a zone scheme. This means all defenders will be responsible for covering an area of the field and not a specific offensive player.
Man-to-man is exactly the opposite.
The defenders behind the rushing players will be responsible for covering a specific offensive player if the play called is a pass.
They’ll have no extra help and must cover that player no matter where he goes on the field.
For all the different blitz packages we’ll discuss here, we’ll assume the defense is running a base 4-3 formation.
That means there’ll be 4 defensive linemen (2 defensive tackles and 2 defensive ends), 3 linebackers (a Mike, Sam, and Will) and 4 defensive backs (2 cornerbacks, a free safety, and a strong safety).
1. Inside Linebacker Blitz
In this blitz, the extra pressure will come right up the middle.
The Mike linebacker will blitz through one of the A gaps, between the center and one of the offensive guards.
To create the extra pressure, either the Sam or Will linebacker will blitz through the other A gap.
This puts a ton of pressure straight up the middle of the offensive line.
Along with the defensive tackles, the 2 linebackers blitzing creates a 4-on-3 situation with the 2 offensive guards and the center.
2. Outside Linebacker Blitz
This blitz scheme will seek to attack the offense on the outside edge of the line.
The Mike linebacker will rush the quarterback on this play, too.
This time, though, he’ll attack through the B gap on one side of the field, between the offensive guard and offensive tackle.
Then, the linebacker on that same side of the field will blitz the C gap to the outside of the offensive tackle.
This will put all the pressure on the outside edge of the offensive protection scheme.
The offensive guard and offensive tackle on that side of the field will need to account for 3 or even 4 rushing defenders in the defensive tackle, defensive end, Mike, and either Sam or Will.
3. Double Outside Linebacker Blitz
One quick variation on the outside blitz would be to have both outside linebackers rush the quarterback while having the Mike drop back into pass coverage.
This would put extra pressure on the offensive tackles on both sides of the field.
Some NFL defenses will even drop a defensive tackle or defensive end back into pass coverage with these blitzes, asking them to serve as quasi-linebackers
That may be a little too complicated for youth football teams, though.
4. Secondary Blitz
The final common blitz scheme involves rushing one of the members of the secondary.
If the defense decides to blitz a cornerback, then the idea is to create extra pressure on the quarterback to force a quick and errant throw.
Since cornerbacks often don’t tackle well, their job when they blitz is to simply push the quarterback out of his comfort zone.
If the defense decides to blitz a safety, then the goal may be to create a sack or stop a running play in its tracks.
Safeties are better tacklers, so a defense can aim to do more than just move the quarterback out of the pocket when they blitz these players.
The Different Types of Blitzes in Football
When most people watch or play football, it seems like the defense is always blitzing because there are always players rushing the quarterback (QB).
This creates a disconnect between what constitutes a blitz and what constitutes a normal pass-rush.
A pass rush is when you send your defensive line after the QB — which includes the defensive ends, defensive tackles, and nose tackles.
Whether you’re playing in a 3-4 defense or 4-3 defense, one of the defensive line’s main responsibilities is applying pressure to the QB.
A blitz, on the other hand, occurs when you increase the amount of pressure on a QB by either sending more players or tricking the offense by sending different players than expected.
As a result, we have several different types of blitzes including the conventional blitz, zone blitz, safety blitz, and cornerback blitz.
Pros and Cons of Blitzing in Football
Blitzing in football is one of the most rewarding defensive plays when done correctly, but it’s also one of the most disappointing plays if not executed to perfection.
Since a blitz produces a wide range of different outcomes for the defense, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of sending extra players after the QB. To help you better understand the sheer magnitude of blitzing the QB, let’s discuss the pros and cons in detail.
First, we’ll look at the benefits of blitzing:
- Opens the door for sacks, which boosts team and fan morale.
- Catches the offense off-guard when a player finds a gap in the offensive line.
- The extra pressure increases the chances of forcing an incomplete pass or turnover.
- Keeps the offense honest when selecting plays throughout the game.
- Forces the offense to make quicker decisions than anticipated.
- Now, let’s take a look at the pitfalls of blitzing:
The QB and offensive line communicate with each other secretly, so they often pick up on the blitz pre-snap without the defense knowing.
Blitzing leaves one or more offensive players left unguarded, opening the door for an easy reception.
With little help deep down the field, the offense can break off for a huge run if the running back finds a gap through the line of scrimmage.
If the cornerbacks play tight man coverage, the receivers generally make a quick move to get open quickly for the QB.
Receivers and tight ends have more room to rack up yards after catches with fewer defenders covering beyond the line of scrimmage.
The benefits of a blitz are the reason why coaches and teams continue to utilize it in real games, but the various pitfalls are the reason why most teams only blitz 20-35% of the time.
In today’s NFL, some teams use it as often as 50% of the time — of course, they also give up a fair number of big plays on defense.
The History of the Blitz
Now that we understand a little more about what the blitz is and why coaches elect to utilize it on defense, let’s take a look at where the term ‘blitz’ comes from and how this strategy came to be so popular in football.
Many of you won’t know this, but the term ‘blitz’ actually comes from the German term ‘blitzkrieg’ which means ‘lightning war.’ It was used by the British in 1940 to describe the heavy airstrikes sent by German forces in WWII.
Nearly 10 years later, a New York Giants’ defensive tackle began popularizing the strategy in the NFL. Don Ettinger, also known as ‘Red Dog,’ was the first player to specialize in blitzing the quarterback, a strategy that rose to prominence very quickly.
Ettinger’s nickname became football slang itself when the players blitzing the quarterback were called ‘red dogs.’ The nickname is also used as a verb to describe when a player is blitzing the quarterback.
In commentary, it would sound like “The play broke down quickly when Don Ettinger started red-dogging the quarterback.”
It wasn’t long before the blitz became popular on running plays, in addition to passing plays. Clark Shaughnessy popularized the run blitz in the 1950s by sending 8 players at the line of scrimmage.
This makes it difficult for the running back to find a gap, while also creating pressure on the quarterback if the offense decides to pass.
A decade later, the safety blitz became popular by St. Louis Cardinals defensive coordinator Chuck Drulis. The 1970s saw the rise of the 3-4 blitz, which includes three defensive linemen and four linebackers.
The 3-4 defense has at least one linebacker blitzing each play, but the coach switches which linebacker blitzes.
In 1985, Buddy Ryan used the 46 defense to stop the run at all costs. It consisted of placing 10 defensive players inside the box and one player deep down the field.
It’s rarely used today and is easy to pick up by the offense, but still stops the run at all costs.
Finally, the zone blitz rose to prominence in 1992 with Dick LeBeau’s Pittsburgh Steelers. It was designed to stop the West Coast offense but is effective against a majority of offensive schemes.
Today, teams often use a variety of blitzes and schemes to keep the offense on their toes.
Reading a Blitz on Offense
A blitz is the offense’s worst nightmare. It forces them to make hasty and rushed decisions, increasing the chances of a turnover, and changes the way an offense reacts throughout the game.
It’s a psychological weapon for the defense, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a weakness.
There is a wide range of tactics, methods, and techniques offenses use when dealing with a blitz. Let’s take a look at some of the most prominent ways an offense can either prevent or outsmart a blitzing defense.
Practice Makes Perfect – it sounds cliche, but it’s true. Coaches often throw different blitz packages at the offense during practice to help them see blitzes happen in real-time. When you perfect reading the blitz in practice, it’s much easier to outsmart the defense when you encounter a blitz in games.
Throwing Hot – this is a technique used by both the O-line and quarterback. Using pre-snap adjustments, the O-line leaves one ‘red dog’ unblocked, but in the quarterback’s line of sight. This takes away the threat of being hit from behind, allowing the quarterback to feel more comfortable against a blitz.
Sight Adjustment – this is a technique primarily used by the wide receivers and tight ends, but also the running back or fullback if they aren’t assigned to block. It requires the offensive target to spot the blitz and change their route pre-snap. The new route takes advantage of the open space left by the ‘red dog.’
Trick Plays – tricking the defense into thinking you’re doing one thing helps turn the tides on the defense. One of the most popular trick plays is quickly throwing the ball to a receiver by the sideline (behind the line of scrimmage) and having the receiver play quarterback. Meanwhile, the QB takes off down the opposite sideline as a receiver.
No-Huddle Offense – the no-huddle offense keeps the defense on their toes. It limits the amount of time the defense has to react to the offense and forces the defense to think twice about blitzing.
QB Run – the QB run is much more popular in today’s NFL. With more athletic quarterbacks in the league, a quarterback can spot the blitz post-snap and quickly run outside the pocket. While on the run, they can either find a hole and continue running or find an open receiver before passing the line of scrimmage.
Football today revolves around the blitz. Even when the defense isn’t planning on blitzing, the idea is to make the offense think you’re blitzing.
It’s a constant game of give and take by both sides of the ball and it’s what makes the game of football so unpredictable to watch.
In regards to the offensive side of the ball, preventing and outsmarting the blitz comes down to practice.
You need to constantly improve your own game to give yourself the advantage over the defense — make them react to you, not the other way around.
When Should You Blitz in Football?
The defense knows how rewarding a blitz can be and it’s a large reason why they’re always eager to bring it out in a game. With that being said, it’s not wise to blitz too often because it leaves you vulnerable and predictable.
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