Scheme session: beating the Vikes' zone blitz

In today’s edition of “Scheme Session” here at the National Football Post, let’s examine a play from the first Packers-Vikings matchup of the season when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers took advantage of the Minnesota zone blitz and delivered a 62-yard TD pass to TE Jermichael Finley.

I will first show you the blitz—and the result—in chalkboard form, and then we will check out the video replay of the actual touchdown itself.

As we have talked about in the past, the zone blitz is just exactly that—a pressure with zone principles in the back end. In this case, as with most zone blitzes in the league outside of Dick LeBeau of the Steelers and Gregg Williams of the Saints, defenses rush five and drop six into coverage.

In the Monday night game in Minneapolis, this is what we saw in a 3rd and five situation for the Packers early in the game.

Below, is the diagram I drew up of the zone blitz (or “fire zone”) that the Vikings decided to run from their base 4-3 package versus the Packers “Posse” or 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB set. Usually, in this situation, the defense will switch personnel and bring in their Nickel sub package to march up with the 3 WR look, but the Vikings stayed in their base 4-3, most likely expecting the ball to come out quick because of the pressure.

Let’s take a look…

As we can see, the Vikings are bringing the pressure to the “open” or weak side, away from the TE. This is strictly by game plan, because if you watch the Packers on a regular basis, they are known to keep in the TE and the RB to build a max-protection look for Rodgers.

But, the blitz is coming from the open side, with the “Will” or weak side linebacker blitzing off the hip of No.69, Vikings DE Jared Allen. The “Mike” or middle linebacker, is blitzing off the hip of the Nose Guard, who is scooping to the strong side “A” gap. The “Sam” or strong side linebacker, is showing pressure on the center, but at the snap of the ball, drops to the “middle hook,” where he is responsible for any vertical by No.3. The strong side DT scoops to pressure with contain principles outside of the offensive tackle, while the DE drops to the “strong hook,” where he is responsible for No.2 vertical, or No.2 to the flat.

The secondary play in any zone blitz is standard. The corners run with any vertical release by No.1, while the free safety in the this blitz drops to the “weak hook,” taking on the same responsibilities as the DE opposite him.

That leaves the SS, who is dropping to the deep middle of the field, where he is responsible to cover over the top of both No.1’s down the field. In a moment, we will see how Rodgers took advantage of the poor secondary play of the Vikings.

On offense, the Packers are running what we used to call “Hi-Lo Crossers.” It is a commonly run play run in the NFL on 3rd and medium situations—and it is run from a variety of formations. The premise is simple—two WRs run crossing routes, with one, No.85 Greg Jennings, running the underneath crosser, and the other, No. 80 Donald Driver, running the over the top crosser. The hope for Rodgers in this situation is to read the routes from high to low.

But, Rodgers feels the pressure from his blind side, and steps up to the strong side in a nice pocket created by the departed DE who is now in coverage.

Let’s check out the video…

Both No. 88, Finley, and the “X” receiver in this formation to the open side, are running your basic clear out routes, designed to take the corners out of the play. However, the Vikings corner, No.26 Antoine Winfield, squats in his coverage, and the result is a busted coverage for Minnesota. By stepping up into the pocket and looking to Driver coming across the field, Winfield gets greedy—coming off of his coverage just for a second, and allowing Finley to press his vertical route.

The SS is stuck in the middle of the field and can’t get out of his backpedal quick enough to converge on Finley’s route. The defense was set up to stop this play, but because Rodgers stepped up away from the pressure, the coverage broke down.

And, most likely, these are the exact plays he will have to make once again on Sunday at Lambeau, because the Vikings will bring pressure yet again. But, whenever a QB steps up into the pocket, defensive backs tend to relax in coverage and look to jump routes. Although Winfield will be out this Sunday, it can be any member of the Vikings secondary that could fall into this trap.

A big play from Rodgers, but a play that was made possible by the Vikings lack of discipline.

Click here to view my previous "Scheme Session" at the NFP.

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