May '22 Blitz of the Month: Clemson's Hot blitzes vs. Wake Forest
MQ looks at how the Tigers attacked the RB against Wake with different variations of a six-man blitz.
Outside of Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi, newly appointed Oklahoma Head Coach Brent Venables is the next best coach to review when looking for “HOT” blitzes (six-man). Not everyone is audacious enough to run six-man+ pressures at volume in this modern era. Narduzzi and Venables are. With the latter leaving to be the next Head Coach of the Sooners, the torch has been passed to Linebackers Coach and Senior Defensive Assistant Wes Goodwin. The coach has worked at Clemson since ‘09, only taking a three hiatus to be the Assistant to the Head Coach under Bruce Arians at the Cardinals.
In this year’s Nike Coach of the Year Clinic, Goodwin featured Clemson’s “hot” pressure concepts in his lecture. Defenses like to run six-man pressures as early-down run calls or on 3rd & Long when the ball will have to be thrown deep. To secure the RB in case of a screen or quick flare, the DE or edge rusher (depending on the blitz) will “peel-and-eat” the RB. The term HOT refers to the zone coverage behind the blitz, and the most common is a three-deep/two-under scheme that uses “Eyes” technique by the underneath players.
In HOT/EYES coverage, the two underneath defenders will read the eyes of the QB, hence the name. The term “hot” refers to the quick throws QBs make under duress and usually within five yards of the line of scrimmage (LOS). Regardless of what a coach calls the coverage, the design of the pressure is to overwhelm the protection, eat up the RB, and get the QB’s eyes down on the rush.
When teaching the coverage concept, defenders can drop in, pop out, or hold their alignment depending on the coverage scheme paired with the pressure. Regardless, there are always two underneath and three deep. The underneath players will “sling-to-vision” or squat and attack the intentions of the QB. If the QB looks away from the underneath defender, he will race to get into his vision. If the QB looks towards the underneath defender, he will squat and “feel” for the “hot” route.
One concept that can trip up HOT coverage is crossing routes. Since the defense is playing with vision coverage, they are not matching any underneath routes. If the QB can wait long enough, the crossing route can race under the initial zone defender and find space in the middle of the field. When teaching HOT coverage, coaches need to teach the “sling” defender to feel for any crossing routes. Vision coverage helps when the QB is in a panic and telegraphs their passes, but if the pass protection holds up, crossing routes can be a deadly way to attack overly aggressive teams.
Not all six-man pressures need HOT coverage behind them, with many coaches opting to run some type of man coverage to complement. With more crossing routes and mesh concepts becoming popular, it makes sense to have a man complement. In their game against Wake Forest, Clemson played more man schemes than HOT when running their six-man pressures. Running man ensures that every eligible WR is “capped.”
The issue of the RB is taken care of in the blitz design. Someone is responsible for him if he were to leak out early or attempt to run a screen. As for a slotted or on-the-ball TE, Clemson rushes these players and tries to lock them up on the LOS. The ability to have “peel” players or “hug” rushers allows the Tigers to use a defender as a RAT (low hole/cross-cutter) or close the post. If the offense gets five out, the pressure will morph into a five-man pressure.
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Finally, Clemson can use different alignments to attack the offense on early downs or 3rd & Long. Like Narduzzi at Pitt, the Clemson defense uses a four-down front as a base, with a 3-3-5 package on 3rd Downs. Changing looks within each package is crucial to keeping future opponents from identifying pressure situations. For example, in their game against Wake, the Tigers used their Base and Odd package to run their HOT pressures.
One of my favorite five-man pressures is what I refer to as “Back Check.” The pressure essentially attacks the B-gap to the side of the RB with the two linebackers to that side. To get the Tackle to set wide, the DE to the side of the RB will COP, or contain rush, setting an edge. The defense can create " plus " numbers in the B-gap against teams that like to run Slide-Lock away from the RB; the defense can create “plus” numbers in the B-gap. Below is my BOSS (Bigs on Same Side) BUCKS pressure I diagramed in Anchor Points. The pressure illustrates the concepts’ effectiveness away from the RB as well.
As the diagram illustrates, the pressure attacks away from the “slide” side. The RG takes the Mike as he works across his face, opening up the B-gap for both blitzers. Left with no choice but to take the $-backer, the Ni is left free to attack the QB. One team in the NFL that likes to run variations of Back Check is the Ravens, illustrated below. They even use an excellent “coffeehouse” technique from their Double-A mug alignment to get the second insert.