Chalk Talk: The Zone Blitz

Ted Clarke

By Ted Clarke

“We want to trick them with with a guy there not figuring on coming, or somebody shows up in a place you’d never expect him to be.  That’s the concept in a nutshell: you hold them by the nose, then sneak around and kick them in the tail – just like General Patton used to say.” Dick LeBeau

The phrase “zone blitz” is a term that is thrown around quite a bit by commentators during pro games and college games. While the actual play unfolds in front of us, few actually understand the basics of the scheme. Let’s see if we can simplify it. Bringing pressure has always been the answer to a great QB, team speed, offensive scheme or a combination of the three. 

Pressure is brought by bringing more defenders the offense can account for and having corners or safeties cover receivers man-to-man.  The obvious disadvantage here is that pass defenders often find themselves on an island, alone, with no help.  Unless the defender plays perfect coverage, the result is a long gain or a touchdown. The other disadvantage here is if the rush is picked up by the offense, generally the result is a completed pass.

A new wrinkle was needed.  Bursting upon the scene in the 1990’s season, Dick LeBeau was credited with devising this new wrinkle.  He believed that by showing his basic defensive front and coverage but have players simply swap responsibilities that it would create confusion and failure for offenses. Pretty simple in design, but difficult to execute.

For the purpose of explanations we will use a 40 front or an even front.  The even front has four down linemen, and three linebackers.   The DL is arranged in front of the OL with their hand in the dirt.  The linebackers are aligned at their usual depth and alignment behind the DL. By alignment the defensive linemen have been designated as rushers, and the LB’s are expected to drop into coverage.

An easy example would be using the “Will” LB to swap responsibilities with the weak side DE with Cover 2 being played behind it.  As a reference for Cover 2 there is a good Chalk Talk by Whittier Christian DC Pete Karavedas.  In this zone blitz the “Will” blitzes through “A” gap and the defensive end drops into coverage.  Now remember that the DE started with his normal alignment and stance, hand in the dirt.  When the center looks at the defensive alignment to call protection, he sees a normal alignment.  But what they get is a DE, a rusher, dropping and a LB, a pass defender, rushing through “A” gap. This has created confusion for the offense, as the OT is now wasted blocking air. By adding the “Will” to the rush the offense has to account for him somehow.  The easiest fix is to keep the RB in.  That eliminates a receiving threat for a simple 4 man rush.

There are numerous combinations that are possible for the defense to use in an effort to create pressure.  The concept is to create confusion by constantly changing who is coming and who is dropping.  It makes it difficult to account for and block the right man.  So the good guys win and the bad guys go back to the white board.  This weekend as you hear the announcers talking about the zone blitz, the scheme may be slightly different, but the principals are the same. Rush the passer and play zone coverage behind it.

Ted Clarke is a former High School Head Coach and Commnuity College Coach. His high school stops included head coaching stints at San Dimas and Glendale. He most recently was on Monrovia’s staff as defensve coordinator.

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