Feb. '22 Blitz of the Month: 'Bills' NFL Sim path
MQ takes a look at Minnesota's Double A-gap pressure attacking the boundary (Bills).
Simulated pressures are a great way to attack offenses on 3rd & Medium. Once an offense gets into a predictable passing down, the defense can focus on defeating the pass protection. Once the protection is identified, the defensive staff can then work on defeating it.
Running Sims allows the defense to apply pin-point pressure while still keeping traditional pass distribution (Drop-7). The key to developing Sims is to place a defense’s best rusher in areas where they can win one-on-ones or run-throughs. The specific front used in Sims, especially on 3rd Down, is just as important as the rush.
A simulated pressure is one that “simulates” a rush of more than four defenders. Replacement pressures on early downs that utilize the Mike or attack an internal gap with a second-level defender are also considered Sims. Below is an example of Aranda’s MEX path. The internal pressure simulates a five-man rush, whole the B-backer drops into coverage as the Rat. In all, only four defenders are rushing. Though Aranda chooses to run a 1-Rat concept behind the pressure, he could easily tag Cover 2 or Cover 3 behind it, which is why Sims are becoming so popular.
The versatility of simulated pressures allows defensive coaches to manipulate the O-line while holding coverage integrity. Depending on the needs of the defense, the defensive coordinator (DC) could choose to run any coverage structure they want as long as the coaches understand the limitation of the drop-out from the first level. On early downs, the defense changes coverages to create a different picture for the QB, who now has to read and react post-snap. The pressure structure and design on early downs is more traditional and cautious because the run game is still in play.
On 3rd Down, many defenses decided to attack offenses with what is referred to as an X-Front, or 5-O alignment. The front is called “X” because the players on the front can be anyone the defense chooses, like X’s on a whiteboard. Herein lies a bit of manipulation. The placement of a “problem” defender can affect the protection, opening up a hole for a rushing defender (ex. - Aaron Donald). In many cases, the 5-O or X-Front places the defenders in a BEAR alignment (5/3/0/3/5).
The defense has created man blocking by placing a defender on each O-linemen. Twist stunts and internal inserts from the second level are a favorite of this front. Coverage becomes a critical topic because depending on who is dropping into coverage, the defense needs to ask, “What can they do?” For example, you don’t want your 300 lbs. Nose dropping as the Wall-2 or Seam defender. Watching him chase a Slot WR downfield could be catastrophic. Placement - Pressure Path - Coverage, in that order.
One of my favorite ways to attack a defense is the BOSS or LOAD Front (below). The front places all the “Bigs” on one side and the Mike and Jack (rush ‘backer/EDGE) opposite. The Saban system’s infamous NFL fronts use a Load Front to attack the offense. Field, Boundary, to the RB, or away are all ways you can set the front, and each has its special tag. In many cases, offenses will choose to slide the front to the “Bigs,” making their protection predictable. In reality, the defense is still creating man blocking with a 5-O alignment. Manipulation can ensue!
From the 5-O alignments, defenses can add an extra defender to create a six-man presentation. When choosing to do so, defenses most often choose to run a double A-gap mug presentation by the two ILBs (M & $ in the previous diagram). The front structure to accommodate the mugged ‘backers is what I refer to as a JET alignment, placing the DEs in 5s and the interior D-line in 3s (below).
The six-man presentation forces the offense into a predicament, where to place the RB? With five on the O-line and a RB left to block, the offense has to place the RB in a specific spot in its protection. Some offenses chose to slide and place the RB on the edge, while others work the RB into the middle to assist the Center. Regardless, the RB now has to block, which in many cases is something they are not accustomed to doing. As I like to say, “Make the RB block!”
Miami under Brian Flores has made a living using a Double A-gap alignment. The illusion of pressure forces many teams that face the Dolphins into slide protection. From there, the Dolphins use a “TAG” concept (below). Once the O-line chooses a side to slide to, the innermost defenders to that side “pop-out” into coverage. In many cases, the Dolphins get a free runner at the QB.
Like the 5-O alignments, the 6-O front allows the defense to manipulate the O-line’s protection scheme. For example, all the simulated pressures that defenses can run under the 5-O look can be used in a Double A-gap presentation. In addition, the placement of so many defenders on the line of scrimmage (LOS) can make the offense predictable. If that is the case, the defense can now swing away.
Related Content: The Dolphins’ “TAG” max pressure