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Full Version: OVERVIEW of jim Johnson's 4-3 Defense PART 2--Zone Blitzes
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ClydeSide
This is an article from last February, and give a nice summary of Johnson's basic blitz strategies. Of course, the mad scientist would alter them as needed game by game--but here's the basics:

http://www.eagleseyeblog.com/2012-articles...zone-blitz.html


Looking back at the Eagles' feared zone blitz...

Written by Thomas Jackson on Tuesday, 14 February 2012 06:09.


It wasn't that long ago when the Eagles were famous for their Jim Johnson defensive scheme known as the "zone blitz"...

Even the "Big Ben" prime-time offense of the Pittsburgh Steelers felt its sting to the tune of a 15-6 regular-season Eagles victory in 2008...




When Ben Roethlisberger wasn't crawling around on his hands and knees, he was scrambling around like he didn't have a clear picture. If you didn't know better, you might have thought he'd lost a contact on the turf of Lincoln Financial Field.

Unfortunately for Big Ben, there was contact and plenty of it. Jim Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, provided it with a wide variety of stunts and blitzes that Philadelphia used to rack up nine sacks.

It was tough to find a pattern in Johnson's attack. He would bring players from every level of the defense -- the first level (defensive line), the second level (linebackers), and the third level (defensive backs) -- all with a high degree of success. And he constantly broke his own tendencies. But what is most important is that the Eagles believed in his philosophy and they executed his schemes as a well-disciplined, cohesive unit.

In the second quarter and trailing the Eagles 7-3, the Steelers had the ball, first-and-10, at their own 33. Out of base personnel, the Eagles rarely blitzed. But Johnson called one, bringing linebackers Omar Gaither and Stewart Bradley. Philadelphia played man-to-man coverage and showed it pre-snap, with no disguise.

The blitz was designed for Gaither to attack Roethlisberger through a gaping hole in the offensive line, with no one to block him. For that to occur, several of Gaither's teammates needed to perform some dirty work.

At the snap, defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley slanted across the face of the left guard, holding the attention of two blockers, the guard and the center. Bradley, the middle linebacker, blitzed from the second level, keeping his path as close to Bunkley as possible. He was blocked by running back Willie Parker. Right defensive end Darren Howard performed a wide and controlled rush, removing the tackle from the rest of the offense.

With Bunkley occupying the left guard and center, Bradley controlling Willie Parker, and Howard widening the tackle, a huge gap formed on the left side of the offense. Gaither, following closely behind Bradley, sprinted toward Roethlisberger, untouched. While he didn't make the sack, Gaither disrupted the timing of the pass. Gaither forced Big Ben to move forward, into the waiting arms of Juqua Parker.

If Roethlisberger had another half second, he could have hit an open Heath Miller, but the timing and precision of the blitz sprung Gaither free just in time to force Roethlisberger off his perch. Instead of another first-and-10, the Steelers faced second-and-12.

That's the kind of game-changing moment a Philadelphia-style defense used to be famous for.

Looking at the "zone blitz" in Philly as a forensic examiner, one must conclude that it is not yet dead...and could come back. We need to know that the rest of the league has adapted to reading and picking up the zone blitz, so it's not that easy to make a living off anymore.

Historically speaking, the "zone blitz" was invented to counter the "Run and Shoot" offense that was so innovative and successful in the '80's and '90's... The "Shoot" as it became known was basically defined by the spreading out of four wide receivers... it evolved into different variations with different names, like "Choice and Switch"... Mike Martz when he was with with the Rams consistently used forms of "Choice and Switch". Petrino at Louisville had used a couple of R&S concepts. Even Charlie Weis at Notre Dame used a play very similar to the Georgia concept, ie., the famous four verticals so common today where the slot receiver reads the coverage to attack the seam or the deep middle...all these variations were largely developed and expanded based upon the R&S. Everyone who seriously considers passing offense should study the Run and Shoot.

The Shoot as a specific, delineated system with the four wide receivers (or two split ends and two slots), a single back, half-rollouts, certain run plays, the protections, the screens, and the like was countered by defensive minds like Jim Johnson's. Offenses responded and have disguised their run and shoot philosophies by calling them different things and showing different looks. There is nothing magical (or surreptitious) about that; it is the West Coast philosophy and it is a good one. The reason people question all this now is because, for a time, the Run and Shoot had nearly unparralleled success. Jim Johnson created a blueprint for slowing it down and ultimately beating it.

As the typical history goes, the zone blitz killed the R&S. The preface to this story is that for twenty years, the Run and Shoot did not get blitzed. [Well, it did, but Run and Shoot teams (like the U of Houston) would score 60 or 70 on those blitzing teams, and the NFL teams that tried it would give up after a quarter or half of touchdowns raining from the sky.]

The R&S used the RB in the protection. The quarterback would do a half-roll to one side, the line would do a kind of sprint-out/turnback protection, and the running back would often block the defensive end or end man on the line of scrimmage to the half-roll side. About 8-10 times a game, however, the running back would block the DE for a 1001 count, and then slide off and release for a screen pass as his linemen got downfield to block for him. Against an all-out blitzing team, no one covered him because he had already engaged a defender, so everyone assumed he was in the protection, they would rush upfield, and the running back would release out into the open field.

It became a study in game theory and reading and reacting. So defenses responded to this RB tactic. They had to keep at least one safety or another defender back to spy the RB. Why did this mean no blitzing, if the RB is able to block the end man on the line of scrimmage while another player must sit back and not blitz, simply to see whether or not the RB releases on a screen? The net result was that R&S teams rarely, if ever, saw Cover 0 blitzing man defenses. They could always release four receivers, block with six (assuming their six could block the other teams' six) and not face any overload blitzes.

Enter the zone blitz. Back in his days with Texas A&M, Bob Davie was an innovator. Against run and shoot teams like the University of Houston, he would run his 3-4 defense, blitz his outside LBs (thus forcing the RB to stay in and block), and drop off defensive linemen and interior linebackers so he could still play zone with six to eight defenders. As a result the R&S's protection and formation scheme broke down. They blocked with six, had the running back on a bad matchup with a good OLB, faced an unblocked rusher, but the defense still had 6-8 guys in coverage, so the R&S's "hot reads" and breakoffs did not work either. The run and shoot finally had to adapt. Sure they could do things like certain quick breakoffs and other gadgets, but free rushers and seven guys in coverage was a losing battle for the QB.

Jim Johnson was studying the Texas A&M zone blitz theory very closely... And he soon realized it was not just about merely "disguising coverages," (as Run and Shoot QBs and receivers were well coached and could still find the voids or the single man coverage), or the straight blitzing (as shown above, Run and Shoot teams could defeat the straight blitz), it was the defensive combination of always being able to get an unblocked rusher, eat the RB, and run a disguised zone that eventually rattled and slowed down the "pure" Run and Shoot.

Jim Johnson didn't invent those three elements of an effective zone blitz, but he certainly incorporated them into an overall unified vision, knew when to call them, and also (most importantly) got his players to buy into them.

I wonder if we'll begin to see the integration of "zone blitz" with the proven benefits of the Castillo/Bowles/Washburn regime of defensive line pressure and revised secondary coverage?

The zone blitz was started in the early '90s as a way to give the defense a method to pressure offenses without the high risk of playing man-to-man coverages. Zone blitzes are easy to disguise because they look like base zone coverages to the offense at the line of scrimmage.

Another aspect of the zone blitz confusing to the offense is the fact that the defensive players exchange responsibilities. The defense blitzes players who the offense had anticipated will drop into pass coverage. The defense then replaces those blitzers with players that the offense had accounted for as rushers. Is the current Eagles defensive personnel versatile enough to pull off these switches?

There are unlimited combinations of zone blitzes. The idea is to confuse the offense's identification of who the rushers and pass defenders are. It plays havoc with the offense's count system in determining blocking assignments.

The offense counters the zone blitz with ways to identify if it is coming and where it is coming from. They may utilize different formations and change the snap count so that the defense tips ofF its plan prior to the snap.

There's a Standard 2-Deep Zone and a 3-Deep Zone from which all zone blitzes are designed off...

Standard 2-Deep Zone is a basic 2-deep pass coverage, meaning the defense divides the deep pass zones into two halves of the field with a safety in coverage for each. When playing a 2-deep zone, the remaining droppers (the two corners and three linebackers) divide the underneath, or shallow, areas of the field into equal fifths. The offense anticipates that the linebackers and corners will drop into pass coverage and that the two ends and the two tackles will be the pass rushers... This is a basic Eagles 4-3 defensive formation.

In standard 3-Deep Zone, the defense has decided to defend the deep area of the field by dividing it into thirds with each deep zone covered by a defender. When playing a 3-deep zone, you take the four remaining pass droppers (linebackers and a cornerback) and divide the underneath pass zones into fourths. A standard 4-man rush with the two ends and two tackles remains.

The first zone blitz Jim Johnson brought to the Eagles involved the switching of responsibilities in the basic 2-deep zone coverage. It was called the "Weakside Linebacker and DE Exchange"...In this zone blitz, the weakside linebacker blitzes through the A gap, and the defensive end -- from a three-point stance -- drops into pass coverage. This confuses the offense because the defensive end in the three-point stance has been identified as a rusher. The offense expects the defensive end to rush and allocates the offensive tackle to block him. Not only is the offensive line handicapped by the offensive tackle's wasted assignment on the DE, but by bringing the weakside linebacker the running back is forced to stay in and not release into a pass route, even though it is a simple 4-man rush.

It was brilliant in its simplicity.

Johnson then added the "2-Deep Zone with Middle Linebacker and Defensive Tackle Twist", in which the MIKE linebacker plugs his A gap strong and the defensive tackle twists around. The defense simply replaces the MIKE linebacker's pass drop with the weakside linebacker and the defensive end takes the weakside linkebacker's pass drop if it is a pass play.

Johnson also added the "Strong Side Linebacker zone blitz", which is the most common zone blitz in college football today. This linebacker zone blitz appears even more complicated to the offense because the defense shows a 2-deep zone prior to the snap of the football. The offense anticipates that the linebackers will drop into their fifths in pass coverage. However, the defense drops down into a 3-deep zone on the snap, choosing to divide the field into four underneath pass zones and three deep ones. The strong safety plays the outside fourth. The weakside linebacker takes the MIKE's drop in his fourth. The defensive tackle, if it is a pass play, drops from a three-point stance and takes the WILL linebacker's fourth. The defensive end moves from a three-point stance to take the outside fourth. This scheme allows the strongside outside linebacker and MIKE to blitz when the offense doesn't expect it.

JJ also liked the "Cross Zone Blitz".. it involves blitzing both inside linebackers from a formation that appears to be a 2-deep zone (called a 2-deep hide). The MIKE linebacker blitzes his A gap and the weakside linebacker loops around behind the MIKE linebacker in the B gap. The free safety actually drops down on the snap as a linebacker and plays the shallow one-third drop...

Finally, another Jim Johnson classic: the "Strong Safety and Middle Linebacker Zone Blitz"... Johnson learned you can also blitz one of your safeties from a 2-deep look to confuse the offense. In this particular blitz, it is the strong safety who comes up and blitzes the B gap along with the MIKE linebacker who blitzes the A gap. The defense once again plays a 3-deep and 3-underneath coverage giving up an underneath zone.

Maybe we'll see more of these potentially game-changing zone blitzes as 2012 evolves and the coaching triumvirate on the "D" side of the Eagles becomes comfortable and confident with its athletic personnel. I think I saw traces of that evolution of defensive thinking in the final month of the Eagles 2011 season.

make_it_rain
nice read.

good stuff, clyde. (although this isn't too great for my productivity at work)
ClydeSide
QUOTE (make_it_rain @ Dec 11 2012, 09:51 AM) *
nice read.

good stuff, clyde. (although this isn't too great for my productivity at work)


You hear al about "zone blitz" and "fire zone" and 4-3, 3-4, one-gap, two-gap---and on and on. So it's nice to learn a little bit about it. If we are going to win a Super Bowl, it would help to have a great defense. What's working now? That's what I'm looking at now. tongue.gif
TGryn
His history of the R&S is just wrong. The run-and-shoot had success in the USFL, but never really emerged as a dominant offense in the NFL. The Oilers, Lions, and Falcons all used it at one time or another, and if you want to stretch it you could put the Bills' K-Gun with Kelly and Thomas in there too, but it wasn't nearly as widespread or influential as the article claims it was, and no team ever won a championship with it.

His history of the zone blitz is also shaky, as it goes back to the '70s under Arnsparger, then got refined under LeBeau before JJ became a coordinator.

If he's going to continue this series, he needs to deal with why JJ's defenses were consistently raked whenever they faced Brady or Peyton Manning. Pittsburgh also destroyed his defense in '04.
ClydeSide
QUOTE (TGryn @ Dec 11 2012, 01:17 PM) *
His history of the R&S is just wrong. The run-and-shoot had success in the USFL, but never really emerged as a dominant offense in the NFL. The Oilers, Lions, and Falcons all used it at one time or another, and if you want to stretch it you could put the Bills' K-Gun with Kelly and Thomas in there too, but it wasn't nearly as widespread or influential as the article claims it was, and no team ever won a championship with it.

His history of the zone blitz is also shaky, as it goes back to the<a href="http://&quot;http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_blitz&quot;" target="_blank"> '70s under Arnsparger, then got refined under LeBeau</a> before JJ became a coordinator.

If he's going to continue this series, he needs to deal with why JJ's defenses were consistently raked whenever they faced Brady or Peyton Manning. Pittsburgh also destroyed his defense in '04.


You are absolutely correct. Arnsbarger as the DC under Shula experimented with what he called "SAFE PRESSURE", a way to apply pressure to the QB without blowing coverages. Thanks for clarifying!!!!
TGryn
I'll add: the demise of the R&S as a base offense came around 1991, when you had Miami providing the blueprint for how to stop the Houston Cougars attack (Houston finished 4-7 that year, and the program didn't really reemerge as a contender again until the past few years) and of course the House of Pain game.

Both games demonstrated how the R&S could be demolished without blitzing; the zone blitz had little to do with the run and shoot's fading after that. The Oilers would continue to have success with it for the next few years after that, but I'd argue that was more about having a HOF QB (Moon) and a good surrounding cast than the system they were running.

We also faced Detroit running a R&S with Barry Sanders in the '95 playoffs and beat them 58-37 (though it wasn't that close, we were up 51-7 before calling off the dogs).

I was as a big a supporter of the run-and-shoot as anyone in its time - anything exotic that goes outside what everybody and everybody else is doing is naturally more interesting - but the piece reads like it was written by a guy who never really accepted that its time had come and gone, so he makes it into a critical piece in the evolution of football strategy. I was there for the time he's talking about, and just don't see how the timeline matches up the way he says it did.
HOUSEoPAIN
The House of Pain game is one of my favorites
ClydeSide
QUOTE (TGryn @ Dec 11 2012, 04:57 PM) *
I'll add: the demise of the R&S as a base offense came around 1991, when you had Miami providing the blueprint for how to stop the Houston Cougars attack (Houston finished 4-7 that year, and the program didn't really reemerge as a contender again until the past few years) and of course the House of Pain game.

Both games demonstrated how the R&S could be demolished without blitzing; the zone blitz had little to do with the run and shoot's fading after that. The Oilers would continue to have success with it for the next few years after that, but I'd argue that was more about having a HOF QB (Moon) and a good surrounding cast than the system they were running.

We also faced Detroit running a R&S with Barry Sanders in the '95 playoffs and beat them 58-37 (though it wasn't that close, we were up 51-7 before calling off the dogs).

I was as a big a supporter of the run-and-shoot as anyone in its time - anything exotic that goes outside what everybody and everybody else is doing is naturally more interesting - but the piece reads like it was written by a guy who never really accepted that its time had come and gone, so he makes it into a critical piece in the evolution of football strategy. I was there for the time he's talking about, and just don't see how the timeline matches up the way he says it did.


Actually, the ZONE BLITZ became big in the PROS after SanFrancisco beat the Bengals in the Super Bowl (1981). LeBeau was the d-coordinator and he was already experimenting with the ZONE BLITZ to counter the 49ers' passing game. He went to LSU and visited Arnsbarger there (who was the head coach at that time.) It really didn't take off big until he went to the Steelers--and the rest is history.
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