Applying Pressure with the 4-3 Defense
By J.A. Polk
The 4-3 offers the defensive coordinator or coach many different blitzing situations. Like many other staple formations, the 4-3 offers both zone and M4M blitz schemes. Common techniques to pressure the Quarterback include: 4 Linemen Blitz, Linebacker Blitzes, Secondary Blitzes, Safety Blitzes, and Zone Blitz concepts.
In the modern game of football, many defensive 4-3 teams have become successful with the 4 linemen blitz scheme. Some of those teams include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the early 2000’s, and the New York Giants of the late 2000’s. This scheme relies on quick, speedy defensive ends, and strong penetrating defensive tackles. The defensive end will rush off the end of the LOS, while the defensive tackle prohibits the quarterback from stepping up into the pocket. The 4 linemen blitz also works with stunts (coordinated moves between 2 or more defensive team members). Stunts are designed to confuse the blocking offensive lineman’s assignment.
When the 4 man blitz is effective, many defensive coordinators decide to add linebackers unto the assault. Linebackers can be used to create blitz schemes that concentrate on sending 4, 5, 6, or 7 personnel. Knowing the skills of your linebackers is key! Some linebackers may be better suited for pass coverage roles, than blitzing roles in M4M and zone blitz schemes. Coverage abilities are important, Linebackers will be asked to protect the curl, hook, and flat areas, in zone schemes; while covering speedy backs in man coverage. Some M4M schemes allow for read and react blitzing (if the assignment is blocking, Blitz :( “! Beware of the Screen!” ).
Secondary (Corner and Safety) Blitzes
Secondary blitzes are a great way to create pressure on both the exterior and interior offensive line. In modern schemes these types of blitzes are more common, seen in both M4M and Zone Coverage; in addition to using Combo Coverage (M4M mixed with Zone Coverage). These schemes serve many purposes for the attacking defense. Like many other blitzes, the secondary blitz relies on timing. The blitzing personnel must properly disguise their intention, while attacking the assignment at the snap of the ball. Some coaches would show a secondary blitz during the Pre-Snap Read, while checking into a different coverage of play at the snap, creating a set-up. When used and set-up properly, these blitz schemes can confuse the offensive’s linemen. However, knowing when to use this type of blitz is the primary key for success. Primary situations for the secondary blitz include: Running Situations and against 5-7 Step Drop Passing Schemes.
Zone Blitz scheme is a safer way to blitz, while reducing the pressure that M4M blitzing can create on both, the cornerbacks and safeties. Unlike M4M Schemes, Zone Blitzing allows for a 2nd Line of defense. Defenders protect a pre-determined area of the field, covering any entering offensive personnel. As the offensive player leaves the defender’s zone, that defender passes the coverage of that offensive player to the defender in the next zone; than working back to their original divider. Zone Blitzes offers an endless possibility of combining blitzing and coverage personnel, in multiple 4-3 variants. In this scheme all three personnel groups can be involved in either portion of the play’s responsibilities (Blitzing or Coverage). However, pressuring the quarterback quickly is important. When not pressured quickly, exceptional coverage reading quarterbacks are able to find open receivers. As a weapon to combat Zone Blitzes, modern offensives have built in automatic hot routes; coaches must know and plan against these types of routes. Take your personnel’s coverage/blitzing skills in to consideration when creating or selecting desired zone blitzes. Player should acquire the responsibility that best suits their skills.