Happy Wednesday, friends. I had semi-limited time on Tuesday night, and there’s little compelling football news to write about lately, so I decided to break y’all off a little bit of Fat Camp. It also gives me a chance to mess around with the play design software that TJ bought. I’ve been doing mine in PowerPoint for the last few years, but this software has some cool features that will allow me to be more detailed.
Today’s topic is Passing Concepts vs. Blitz-Man Defensive Looks. I’m going to assume that it’s First and 10, inside the scoring area, which is a passing down, and a blitzing down. I’ll walk through some alignment concepts, as well as some play nomenclature, and finally some pattern and protection design.
Peep this first graphic, and take a moment to note all of the key things you know from looking at it, without looking past the jump. Feel free to write them down if you want, to measure how you did.
Here’s the full list of data points:
- The ball is centered between the hashmarks and spotted on the 15-yard line.
- The outside WRs are aligned on the top of the numbers.
- The offense is in 11 personnel.
- The standard formation name is Ace, which indicates that a single RB will line up directly behind the QB.
- The TE is to the right, so we’d call the formation Ace Right.
- The defense is in Nickel, with an extra CB, and one less LB on the field than their Base package.
- The Defensive Line has 4 players, aligned from the defense’s left as 4T, 0T, 6T, 8T.
- The 2 LBs are both aligned inside the DL, opposite the ORG and OLT.
- The LCB has outside leverage against the Z WR.
- The SS is outside the strongside hashmark.
- The FS is inside the weakside hashmark.
- The CBs across from the X WR and the Slot (we’ll think of him as F shortly) are both playing head-up technique.
And the sky was blue. And the grass was green. And the fans were loud. Is all this detail germane to anything? Yes, it sure is. Let’s go back through the 11 points, and take some meaning from each of them.
- The offense has equal room to either side of the field, so the defense doesn’t have as much opportunity to play a boundary style on the short side. That means playing the CB with inside leverage and trying to force all pass routes to the boundary, treating the sideline as an extra defender.
- This is a pretty standard NFL alignment, which leaves room to go in both directions, inside and outside.
- That means there is 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs on the field. That signals to the defense to get an extra CB on the field, as in item 6.
- This is a versatile and common formation from 11 Personnel, as it gives the RB equally good options to run, pass, or block in any direction.
- This is going to inform the positioning of the Sam LB and SS for defenses which play Strong and Weak (most of them).
- 3 CBs match up with 3 WRs and are a good indicator of man-to-man. (Of course, so is down & distance, and location on the field.)
- This is a pretty overloaded look for the defense, and it makes audibling to a run right a pretty solid idea. Remember the rule of wrist: pass into the blitz, and run away from it. We’ll revisit this.
- If I’m the QB seeing this, I’m figuring on the Mike to definitely blitz on the LG, and the 6T to quickly engage my LT. That leaves the 8T as a free runner, or isolated on the RB, depending on the protection. The defense considers that a scheme-dictated mismatch, so I want to be ready to consider changing the protection, and to definitely plan on getting the ball quickly, possibly with a half-roll right.
- This could indicate Cover-2, but it’s situationally more likely that it indicates man-to-man, with possible double-team help from the SS.
- The SS being outside indicates a dual read for him. That is, if the TE releases, he takes the TE. If not, he doubles on the Z.
- This indicates a centerfield Cover-1 responsibility for the Free Safety.
- This means the WRs have 2-way go routes, and the CB is playing to react to the route, indicating that they don’t anticipate getting help from anybody.
I have a fairly interesting offensive football background, in the sense that I’ve been influenced pretty equally by East Coast and West Coast offensive coaches, whether it’s been talking to them, watching their videos, attending their clinics, or reading their written materials. That tends to inform my verbiage and naming conventions in a unique way, because I mix languages a bit, in a way that makes the most sense to me. You’re getting this Ted Style, in other words.
If I’m calling a passing play, there are several important elements to include:
1. Personnel Grouping – Designated by 2 digits, indicating number of RBs (first digit) and TEs (second digit). Number of WRs is 5 minus the first digit minus the second digit. This is pretty universal in the NFL, but it’s of definite East Coast origin.
2. Formation/Strength – This is the aforementioned Ace Right, and the naming convention here is pretty universal throughout offensive football, down to the pee wee level.
3. Motion or shifts, if any.
4. The Pass Routes In The Pattern – This uses standard route trees, which you can see here, the first for outside receivers (X and Z), and the second for inside receivers (Y, and F in this case). This is a West Coast concept, and using the numbered system implies that specific patterns don’t have to exist in the playbook, and the coach can call a route combination that the team has never run before to exploit an in-game matchup, and have it be understood by all.
5. What The Backs Are Doing – I think of this in West Coast terms as well, in keeping with the route tree concepts. The standard West Coast personnel grouping is 21, so we consider the 5 eligible receivers on any play to be an X, a Y, a Z, an F, and an H. X and Z are definitionally the outside guys on the left and right. The Y is a TE, or the nominal “strongside” slot WR in a 4-wide look. F stands for FB, and if there isn’t one, the F is the guy who’s on the field in his stead. H is for HB, and there’s usually one of those on the field.
Anyway, the routes of the X, Y, and Z guys are accounted for in the 3-digit number designation from the route trees. If the F or H have routes, they’re called out by name after the 3 digits, like F Slant or H Go. If no route is called out, that indicates that the RB is expected to block, and not enter the pattern.
6. The Protection Scheme – The average NFL team will go into a game with about 30 different protection concepts in the game plan. These will vary in small ways, such as the depth that the linemen are setting at, if there’s any chipping involved, and the direction the center looks first. These are designated by code words.
7. A Check-With-Me Play – Not all teams will prescribe a specific audible, but I believe in doing so. It takes the burden of choosing an alternate play off of the QB, and it makes calling the alternate play easy. The QB will holler Alert, and a color. If the color is “live”, the check-off is live. If the color is a “dummy” color, the original play is on. Some defenses will shift from their original look, and guess your audible, if they think you have one on, which is why you need to hit them with some dummy audibles, and why I’d never hire Brad “Audibles Are Unnecessary” Childress to do anything beyond work a cash register in the snack bar. Some teams vary their live color by quarter, but I believe in doing it on each play, to maintain maximum unpredictability.
So, that’s a lot to digest in words, so let me show you what I mean. The play call is Ace Right 797 F Drag Queen Orange 28 Sprint. You could draw that now, right? No? Well, I did, so you don’t have to.
You know up to Ace Right 797 F Drag from above. Queen is the protection scheme, which in Ted Style means that the line is setting at normal 5-step drop depth, the Center is blocking to his right, and the HB is responsible for the first free runner who appears on the left, working from inside-out. It’s called Queen, because the back shades the weakside. If it were King, it would be the same, only the center goes left (weakside), and the HB goes right (strongside).
Orange is declared as the live color for an audible, and 28 Sprint is the check-off play, which looks like this.
You’ll notice that due to the overload on the offense’s left (defense’s right), we have a blocking mismatch on the offense’s right. We’ve got what amounts to 5 on 4.5 since we basically expect the RB to be able to beat a CB in the open field. The C, RG, and RT are well-aligned to block the 2 DL and 1 LB, and the TE can go hit the SS. The Z receiver can hit the CB enough to inhibit his progress and then run downfield and find another guy to put a hat on. The RB probably comes close to scoring, if the QB calls this audible in this situation.
As for the original passing play, though, I like its chances to work against the blitz package that the defense has on. We’re asking the F (slot) receiver to run away from a third CB, and chances are, our third WR is better than their third CB. If not, maybe we’ll put our best, or second-best WR in the slot for the play. Jerry Rice ran a ton of F Drag and F Drive routes in his career, after all.
We'll revisit some other concepts soon, but this is how I invent interesting football content, as opposed to the average Denver Post writer. Expect some more of this as the offseason goes on, and I hope you found value in it. I'm off to Dallas tonight, and I'll be back in the United States on Friday evening, so be cool until then, you dig?