How Stanford Attacked Oregon’s Pass Protection

Overloaded 4 man pass rush

Watching Stanford take on Oregon recently has been brutal for Duck fans, but interesting for coaches, specifically on passing downs as Stanford’s three and four man pass rush really caused Oregon problems. Stanford does a terrific job of making things look much more complex than they actually are for offenses, as we’ll examine. Against Oregon, Stanford targets the Ducks’ offensive line by faking blitzes, thus attacking Oregon’s pass protection rules and getting favorable one-on-one match-ups.

Let’s breakdown some of the ways Stanford attacked Oregon’s pass protection by checking a few examples and considering the solutions.

Showing Pressure Inside and Winning on the Edge

Stanford causes mayhem for Oregon with a simple 3 man pass rush in this “sugar” look. What is a sugar look? Basically it means that they’re going to show that a linebacker is blitzing. Whether he does or doesn’t remains to be seen to the offense.
Taking a look at the image above, we see that the Cardinal is showing pressure with just one linebacker. Essentially, they’re showing a 4 man pass rush and Oregon has, hypothetically, 6 offensive players to pick this stunt up if you include the running back.

3 man pass rush

From Video

Notice the Pressure From the Defensive End on the Left

Looking at the play in action, we see that Stanford flushes the QB out of the pocket with just a 3 man rush. How exactly does this happen? Is it bad execution? Nope, there’s a lot more to it.

Sugar Blitz

From Video

Notice the feet of the guard and center.

Check out the pre-snap look again above, and you’ll see a highlight on the feet of the guards. Check out the animated play again. You’ll see that both guards step inside.  This is because the Mike (Middle Linebacker) is showing a blitz to the right of the center, likely in the “A” gap, which is between the center and guard. When the linebacker doesn’t blitz, for the first second and a half of the play, there are three blockers dedicated to just one defender, the nose tackle.

The threat of the blitz makes the left guard, no. 54, step inside to help take the nose tackle. You might be thinking at this point that the defensive end made the play, so why does this all matter? The offensive tackle, no. 64, has to be ready to take the inside pass rush, because he doesn’t have help to the guard inside of him. So the tackle’s “mental weight” is protecting the inside area, meaning he can’t sell out to stop the speed rush on the outside, allowing the defensive end to easily knock down no. 64’s hands and flush the QB out of the pocket.

This is an easy little sugar look by Stanford to attack man protection. With this sugar look, they maximize the efficiency of a three man pass rush while dropping a near maximum amount of defenders into coverage. Even if they don’t get a sack, they increase the likelihood that Oregon will throw an errant pass.

Bringing Overloaded Four Man Pressure

Even with the sugar stunt, Stanford couldn’t survive the whole game with a three man pass rush. So another tactic they used was an overloaded pass rush stunt. Again, they attacked the same position, the left tackle.

Looks like a Balanced Pass Rush Threat

From Video

Appearance of a Balanced Pass Rush Threat

Examining the pre-snap look above, the Cardinal show a 3-4 front, with the quick five man balanced pass rush look. This affects the pass protection as well. The Duck center and QB are expecting a few specific stunts and pass rushes from Stanford, thus they set their pass protection rules and responsibilities accordingly.

Overloaded 4 man pass rush

From Video

The main pass rush against Oregon comes on the  left side of the offensive line.

The Cardinal does something different, as instead of giving that pass rush, Stanford brings two pass rushers off Oregon’s left edge, as illustrated above. They also bring the nose directly into the left guard, along with one pass rusher to the offense’s right.


As shown in the clip above, Oregon’s left tackle is in a difficult spot. The offensive tackle locks on the outside rusher, allowing the inside defensive linemen, who was slightly delayed, to go between the offensive tackle and the offensive guard. Notice how Oregon’s protection “slid” to the right. They essentially had three blockers on one defender again!

While Mariota scrambles for a one yard gain, this again squanders another opportunity for Oregon.  He has no outlet pass to throw because Stanford has so many people in coverage. While this looks like a blitz, it’s just a standard four man pass rush. This means there’s plenty of zone droppers on Stanford’s side of the ball with eyes on Mariota, ready to jump a rushed pass.

Solutions for Oregon

Oregon ran a lot of play action or pump fakes in this game. In my opinion, they should have tried to utilize the quick passing game a little bit better. I’m not talking about plays where the QB has a run option either or has to make a decision pre-snap. Just get the ball out quick and eliminate thinking that slows down the play.

Oregon will benefit this upcoming year from returning an experienced offensive line while Stanford loses some key personnel.  We can assume that offensive line coach Steve Greatwood will have this group practicing extensively to counter these defensive strategies since Oregon will see this often in the upcoming season. Opposing coaches will implement a strategy against Oregon until the Ducks prove they can stop it. I also assume that Oregon will modify its pass protection schemes to try to prevent three-on-one match-ups from happening.

It also didn’t help that Oregon couldn’t run the ball effectively. When a team gets a lot of three and four man pressure looks, it needs to be able to run the ball, even if this is attacking perhaps Stanford’s best strength. It’s not impossible by any means, and the Ducks are a terrific running team, so they should not be intimidated.

If you enjoyed this article attacking pass protection, I’ve got another article on defensive line stunts against the pass. Also, check out these links if you’re interested in learning more about football defensive strategy or offensive line principles. You can also follow me on Twitter using my handle @CoachCP

I may be in Indiana, but “Oh, how we love to learn about your beloved Ducks!”

Coach Curtis Peterson
Indianapolis, Indiana

Main photo from video

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Curtis Peterson

Curtis Peterson

Curtis Peterson started coaching football in 2005 and he is the founder of Strong Football. He is currently a football coaching consultant for a few teams in the midwest. Coach Peterson welcomes your feedback, please follow him on Twitter at @CoachCP.

  • Douglas Fur ’74

    I agree with the quick pass concept. They were taking advantage of MM scrambling instead of stepping up for a quick pass. In the second clip a guy in stripes screens off a receiver whose body language deflates after the missed opportunity. Who blows the whistle on pass interference like this?

  • Douglas Carl

    “6 offensive players to pick this stunt up if you include the running back.”

    Since this is Ducks specific, shouldn’t you just suggest five men to block, since the running back does essentially zero pass blocking in this offense (unless you consider getting tackled while executing a run fake to be blocking)? I’m pretty sure Stanford (and everybody, for that matter) is aware that the running back will run, run fake, or straight release.


    The path of the ref is reasonably predictable. If your receivers are getting their routes cut off by the stripes, that is a coaching issue. If the receiver stops working because of missing the initial missed opportunity, that is both a player and coaching issue (on the Ducks’ side).

  • hooverli

    I like this. Instead of always “giving” away Duck offensive plays, it’s nice to see how they get defeated, even if it’s only once or twice a year. I’d like to see how you would break down the loss in AZ as well.

    • Tim Donovan

      Well, for that you’d need a child psychologist…

      • maddogsfavsnpiks


  • Tim Donovan

    Go Card!

  • Coach Peterson

    Douglas, they can still use a running back in pass protection. Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it’s not in their playbook. Defense’s respect all these possibilities. They may know the tendency is high for the back to release, but they’re still reading him in most scenarios.

  • jc barnhart

    There where gaping holes left for a really good run in the plays where they rushed 3. If Marshall took the ball to the inside right he could have easily cleared 10 yards.

  • Coach Peterson

    Hind sight is 20/20 though. Also, it’s important to note what looks like a gaping hole really might not be if the defense makes their run/pass reads well, which is something they are good at overall year to year.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Thanks to the Fishduck Drake(s) – ie big duck – for this type of analysis… it’s definitely more illuminating and therefore infinitely more interesting than the typical fluff ‘n hype you read on most sites. If I were uber-rich i’d buy y’all a first class seat to Cancun on Virgin, so you could rest your weary winter wings. (Not to mention the broken ones after Nov 1st).

    Most, if not all, of the pundits and prognosticators (slow learners) are once again predicting Cardinal defeat at d’ feet of the webbed-footed ones.

    I know that’d be your preference as well, but objectively, if you can, do you truly feel the Duck DLine can withstand the Tree OLine surge? Does Pellum have something, some way to turn back the tide of giant humans invading the nest, destroying more and more habitat, crushing the beautiful blue, delicate eggs of your hopes and dreams ?

    I foresee that, despite the graduation of 4 starters, this year will be Stanford’s *most dominant* OL yet. See LT Peat, LG Garnett, C Shuler, RT Murphy and either Casper or Austin at RG. They also have some studs waiting in the… uh… wings(?)… for the various “jumbo” packages coaches Shaw and Bloomgren like to run. Shuler is an upgrade from Khalil Wilkes, while Peat and Garnett are devastating run-blockers and potent pass protectors. You heard it here first.

    IMO, putting on 10lbs, will not help Donald. Not to mention that the Stanford offense now has multiple weapons on the perimeter to open things up if ‘n when necessary. The one caveat is at RB where there’s no longer the stud bruiser like Gaffney, Taylor, Wilkerson, and Gerhardt, from years past. However Sanders is potentially electric and incoming frosh McCaffrey
    is highly touted. Obviously the key is the OL, though.

    What do you folks here at Fishduck think can be done to withstand the onslaught ? It would be a feather in your cap, if you could figure it out.
    Coach Peterson ? Editor Merrell ? Chief Dunn ? Anyone ?