June '22 Blitz of the Month
West Virginia's four-down Sim MAC 3 Buzz
According to PFF, West Virginia had the third-highest blitz rate at the FBS level in ‘21, blitzing over 56% of the time. I’m always interested in teams that have higher blitz rates because I feel there is always more to the story than, “We blitz a lot.” For the Mountaineers, when you dive into how they blitz, it becomes clear.
Blitzing is defined as sending an off-ball defender towards the line of scrimmage (LOS) post-snap. The defense can use the blitzer to add to the number of rushers or drop defenders away from him into coverage (replacement/Creeper pressures). There are multiple ways to attack offenses from simulated pressures to max blitzes.
West Virginia opts to use their off-ball linebackers in the box, with over 77% of their “blitzes” coming from those defenders. Though that number is relatively high compared to others, the Mountaineers only sent more than five defenders ~21% of the time. Five-man pressures were at 18% of their calls, meaning that most pressures came from the Creeper/Sim world (PFF).
One trend across the college football landscape has been the rise in teams that feature Creeper/Sims as an extension of their base. In his Nike Coach of the Year Clinic, Glenn Schumann, co-DC Georgia, explained how Georgia had essentially morphed into a “Cross-Dog” defense, utilizing simulated pressures to attack college spread offenses. Head Coach Kirby Smart reiterated that thought during that season,
“…we have changed a bit philosophically, whether we've got a great front seven or an average front seven… we'd probably be doing what we're doing. It's not a matter of [offenses] changing us, it's more a matter of what we have to do in order to defend these types of offenses.”
West Virginia is not at the top of any list for innovation or even considered by most a “great” defense (66th in Game EPA and 32nd in DFEI). However, the Mountaineers are a good study in the evolution of today’s game, one that features four-man rushes created by blitzing off-ball defenders from different areas in the box. In addition, the Mountaineers are on par philosophically with many of the top defenses in the country: use a four-man rush, pin-point pressure, and utilize simple coverage structures behind to counter quick motions.
Simulated pressures are a great way to get your box ‘backers involved in the blitz while also manipulating the run blocking of the offense. Schumann pointed out in his NCOY Clinic that by sending a box LB internally the defense creates “Cross-Dog” paths that are standard best practices for most defenses. The initial pressure of the LB is tailed by his ball-fitting counterpart, who leverages the RB’s near shoulder.
One of the easiest ways is to “float” the Center, or move the anchor points (DL) away from him leaving him with no help. The action of the DL forces the Center to show his cards or “float” him, giving a more athletic blitzer a one-on-one. Against zone-centric teams, this can create run-throughs for the inserting ‘backer. For example, below, the Nose runs a NOB stunt (Nose-to-B), leaving the Center to either chase the Nose or work by himself to take the Mike who will cross his face leaving a natural alley for the other box ‘backer.
I call the technique by the Mike “Cross” for “cross the Center’s face.” If the Center chases the Nose, the Mike pins the hip and climbs vertically, working inside the RB (clip below). Opposite the Mike, the Will fits off the RB. If zone, the RB will take an angle towards the Center and get cut off by the Mike, pushing him through the front door. The Will then works to leverage the RB, most likely fitting into the other A-gap, making the whole play look like a traditional six-man Cross-Dog.
Aranda calls this pressure MEX and opts to send the ILB away from the RB. The technique used by the blitzer is called a “V-Tech,” as the insert reads the Center’s intentions or the “V” of his neck. If the Center flashes to the blitzer, he will cross face. If the Center works away from the blitzer, he will climb off the path of least resistance.
» Coaching Point: In my experience coaching this at the high school level, it is easier to teach the insert to cross the Center’s face. The fitting LB often would anticipate the Mike crossing and end up in the same gap if the blitzer read the block wrong. Force-fitting the Cross tech. ensures everyone is on the same page and you get the natural cross-dog action. As for where the insert comes from, pick an indicator, whether it is the strength or the RB, and stick with it. Plus, if you teach the LBs to cross naturally, you can easily install what I refer to as MANNING (below).