What if it were possible to detect with nearly 100% certainty whether or not the defense is bringing pressure before the ball is snapped? How exactly would you find something like that out? The answer is simple, yet complicated at the same time. You would just need to find what’s called a “blitz key.”
A blitz key is a pretty general term that can refer to anything that gives the offense a definite answer as to whether all those movements and aggressive looks before the snap are for real or just a bluff. A blitz key can be anything from the alignment of the safeties, to the positioning width of an outside linebacker, to the alignment of the defensive line. In fact, sometimes the offensive coaches may detect defensive tendencies against a certain formation, which makes it easier to identify when the defense is really bringing pressure.
In this post we’re going to take a closer look at two plays from the National Championship where Oregon was able to detect an Ohio State blitz and respond in a positive way both times.
Play #1 – 8:46 – 2Q – 1st & 10 on the -9 yard line
In this first example, Oregon lines up in a 3 x 1 set with a tight end to the single receiver side (below). The defense is lined up in an “odd” look, with three down linemen, which right away should set off alarm bells in Mariota’s head. Truth be told, the defense has the same personnel on the field on this play as it normally does, but the guy lined up outside of the tight end is really a defensive end playing linebacker on this play. His job is to maintain outside leverage to that side of the formation and force any play coming his way back inside.
For Ohio State, the odd front look (above) has been a red flag to the offense that pressure is coming, because it allows the defensive linemen to line up head up over offensive linemen, then slant across their faces and cause disruption in the backfield. The biggest blitz indicator, however, is the alignment of the two linemen to the offense’s left side that we just talked about. Since they’re in position to funnel everything back the other way, it’s safe to assume that the defense has something planned coming from the opposite direction, and that all eleven players on defense are part of it in some way.
Oregon has the perfect play call here, running the inside zone (above) to the tight end side, and the players have been coached up on how to handle it. If you notice in the diagram, the offensive linemen are more concerned with sustaining the double team blocks in this instance than in coming off to the next level and getting to the linebacker. The blitz key tips off the left guard, and lets him work with the center to double the nose aggressively, which ends up opening a nice hole inside for the tailback to run through. The offense picks up four yards on first down and is now ahead of the count, avoiding a long yardage situation that would give the defense a big advantage.
Play #2 – 11:33 – 3Q – 1st & 10 on the -30 yard line
This is the first possession of the second half for the Ducks, and they’ve just forced a Buckeye turnover. By calling a vertical pass play like this one they’re going for the quick score, and thanks to Mariota’s read of the defense, they get just what they’re looking for.
Notice that once again, the defense is aligned in an odd front, and the “Will” in this picture is really a defensive end who is playing as a stand up outside linebacker on this play, dropping into the flat away from the blitz to try to take away any quick throws to that side of the field.
The alignment of the defensive lineman in the 4i technique (lined up on the inside shoulder of the left tackle) should alert the left tackle that he’s probably going to be slanting across his face to the left side. The odd front, combined with the particular alignment of the defense to the left side of the formation, and the depth of the strong safety on this play are all dead giveaways that a serious blitz is coming off the strong side of the formation.
The defense nearly gets to Mariota before he’s able to get rid of the football, but by giving the slot receiver a completely free release down the middle of the field, Ohio State allows him a ridiculously easy path to catching the ball and outrunning everyone else to the end zone. With the strong safety rotating down to the flat, and the free safety carrying the tight end’s route coming across the field, the deep middle is wide open, and the Ducks take advantage.
It goes without saying that knowing what the defense is going to do before the snap is invaluable to the success of an offense. However, it doesn’t matter at all what you as a coach know, it matters what your players know. Even if a defense had a completely predictable game plan, and had several blitz keys that were 100% fool-proof, it’s still up to the coaching staff to find a way to get that information across to the players in a way that is easy to understand and easy to remember in the heat of battle. This coaching staff’s ability to do just that is why the Ducks have been a model of consistency in college football for the past decade.
“I may be in Indiana, but oh how I love to learn about your beloved Ducks!”
Coach Alex Kirby
Oregon Football Analyst for the CFF Network/FishDuck.com
Top Photo by John Sperry
Want to go deep inside the X’s and O’s of the National Championship Game? Alex Kirby has put together a PDF with nearly 250 pages of diagrams and analysis, and has broken down every single play in the game. Click here to get access to this incredible breakdown and have it delivered to your inbox instantly.
On his site, LifeAfterFootballBlog.com, Alex will be offering signed copies of his first two books, “Speed Kills: Breaking Down the Chip Kelly Offense” and “Inside the Auburn Offense.” Alex is also the creator of the site, DrawFootballPlays.com of which provided the diagrams above and is a superb tool for coaches and writers to use in their football diagramming.