The Playbook Abides - Pressure without risk

For weeks Broncos fans have been calling for increased pressure on the quarterback.

Wink Martindale listened.  Either that or he just got sick and tired of letting guys like Troy Smith and Jason Campbell have all day in the pocket.

The Broncos pressured the Chiefs when it mattered--namely in the 1st half of the game.  How did they do it?

By utilizing what is the god-given right of every 3-4 defense: the zone blitz.

In this week's The Playbook Abides, we'll be taking a look at a zone blitz that might just make you change your mind about Wink Martindale.

Wink got creative; the Broncos got a sack.

With 1:12 remaining in the 1st quarter and Denver leading 21-0, the Chiefs faced a 1st-and-10 at their own 35-yard line.  Although the Broncos knew the Chiefs had to probably begin throwing the ball, it was too early to bring extra defensive backs in.  The Chiefs are a running team; they hadn't yet established the run.  So the Broncos stuck with their base 3-4.

The Chiefs came out in a 203 personnel package (2 RB, 0 TE, 3 WR), which is a grouping they use quite often.  It's a flexible set; it can be used to run or pass.  However,  given the 5 available receiving options, it's even more flexible in the passing game.

The Broncos, for their part, decided to zone blitz here.  Below is how they diagrammed the play: 


There are a lot of cool things going on here.  First, LB Jason Hunter (52) fakes the blitz from his outside backer position, but then immediately drops into zone coverage.  Second, NT Jamal Williams (76) tries to occupy the center and the left guard.  Third, SS Brian Dawkins (20) blitzes immediately out of the slot, which forces the running back out into pass protection.  Fourth, LCB Champ Bailey (24) and LILB DJ Williams (55) both cover the short zones, while FS Renaldo Hill (32) plays the deep safety over the top of Bailey.

The key to the success of this play, however, lies in LDE Justin Bannan (97) and LOLB Mario Haggan (57).  They run a little twist, which allows Haggan to ultimately scrape to the middle of the play free and clear.  Chiefs QB Matt Cassel is a sitting duck in a 7-step drop.  His receivers aren't running routes that let him get close to getting rid of the football.  And even if they were, the zones are covered.  

Here's how the play looks when animated: 

What I love about this play is that it's a perfect example of what Dick LeBeau likes to call "pressure without risk."  Haggan looked like he might blitz, but he was in coverage.  Dawkins looked like he was in coverage, but he was coming hard.  And when Dawkins didn't make it to the quarterback, Martindale ensured there was a backup plan with Haggan and Bannan.  And there was no way the Broncos were giving up a big play here.

Great call by Martindale, and great execution by the whole defense.  As we've learned, it takes all eleven players to execute something like this.  Each player has either a zone responsibility, a blitz responsibility, or a responsibility to occupy defenders and pull them away from where the pressure is coming.  

Against the Chargers, expect to see more of this.  The gods of the 3-4 demand it.  

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I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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The Playbook Abides