Inside the playbook: beating the Bears zone blitz
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The Bears defense under Lovie Smith is a Tampa 2 team at the core. However, when you break down the tape, this defense will use pressure—both zone and man—that leaves a single-high safety in the middle of the field.
Today, we will take a look at a classic scheme in Lovie’s playbook: Under Smash ("SM" = Sam and Mike). A standard zone blitz concept (rush 5, drop 6) that has been a part of Smith's game plan going back to his days as defensive coordinator with the Rams in St. Louis.
Let’s set it up. The Bears are in their base 4-3 defense aligned in an Under front vs. the offense in regular personnel (2 WR, 1 TE, 2 RB) with a “Strong I” set in the backfield. The route scheme? The “OVS” (outside vertical stretch). It consists of a 9 (fade), 7 (corner), flat combo that will put stress on any 3-deep shell. Check out the play on the chalkboard and then we will get into some coaching points on why this route scheme can beat this zone pressure concept.
The Zone Blitz: Let’s keep this simple and not over-think what we are looking at on the chalkboard. As I said above, most zone blitz concepts at the NFL and college level consist of a 5-man pressure scheme with six defenders playing in coverage—almost like a matchup zone in basketball. We will start with the defense and then move over to the route concept.
ICONThe "OVS" is an ideal route scheme to target the zone blitz in Lovie's playbook.
5-Man pressure: The Bears are going to blitz the Sam backer and the Mike (No.54 Brian Urlacher). With the open side DE (Julius Peppers in Chicago) dropping to the “seam-flat” as an underneath defender, the Bears are sending five players to the QB. On the D-Line, we are looking at a “scoop” technique (stunt to opposite gaps) from the Nose (N) and DT (T) with a “long scoop” from the closed side DE. Create confusion in the protection scheme and get after the QB—basic theory up front in a zone blitz.
Coverage aspect: The FS is going to play the middle of the field (no different than Cover 1 or Cover 3) with both CBs playing the vertical release of No.1 (X, Z). That creates a 3-deep shell in the secondary. Underneath we are looking at the DE (Peppers) and the SS as the “seam-flat” defenders (play No.2 strong and weak). That leaves the “middle hook” player (Will backer in this scheme) to play the No.3 WR.
Route scheme: You will see the OVS vs. Cover 3 and the zone blitz as it puts pressure on the underneath defenders to play both the 7 route and the flat. With the closed side CB now removed due to the hard vertical release from the Z receiver, the offense can work on the SS and the Will. On the backside, I drew the X on the skinny post (and gave him an option to break off on the dig) just to give the FS some eye candy and keep him deep in the middle of the field.
Why it can be beat: Start with the blocking scheme. The RB (R) has to block the Sam off of the edge with the tackle pinching down to pick up the Mike coming through the closed side B gap. This—in reality—is a very easy scheme to block if the O-Line stays with the count and adjusts at the snap of the ball. In the secondary, take a look at the SS—because that is the player the offense wants to work. The SS will carry the vertical release of No.2 (Y), but he can only hold that route until he is threatened in the flat. Once the FB (F) clears the line of scrimmage, the SS will now drop the Y (who becomes the No.3 WR) to the Will backer (“middle hook” player). And that is a long way for the Will to go—especially playing from inside out.
Can you stop it?
Of course, and it starts with pressure. I have the Bears showing a Cover 2 shell in their pre-snap alignment and rolling to the blitz. You expect pressure to get home, but if the O-Line can adjust, you have to be sound in the coverage aspect of the defense. The SS has to force the ball to go to the flat--and that happens only by holding off the vertical release by Y and reacting once the ball is dumped off to the FB.
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