Blitz identification is crucial to NFL Scouts

NFL Scouting report

In our continuing series, we look at NCAA conference’s team/players blitz identification and when they knew it was a go, when the QB was in shotgun in an Ace formation. This is a crucial piece in drafting several positions.

This report shows who had good blitz identification on both sides of the ball, either to protect against it or know where they could.

First you see the Scout’s notes and then below, the explanation what it all means. I’ve changed this team’s formation name to Rainbow to protect the Scout and team/conference.

The numbers in front of the percentages indicate how many times over the 11 games that were scouted. A percentage without an amount of how many times something was done/attempted has no value. It also gives NCAA/NFL scouts an idea of how a team/player operates and their load.

3 Technique Vs. Rainbow (RB):
To: 41/57 (72%)
Away: 16/57 (28%)

Force Player Vs. Rainbow:
WLB: 42/75 (56%) 
SLB: 22/75 (29%)
WLB/SLB: 11/75 (15%)

Move Calls Given? No

Blitz Side From Gun (1 Back):
DBL Side Pressure: 11/83 (13%) 
Away From Back (From Boundary): 9/83 (10%)
To Back (From Boundary): 16/83 (19%)
Away From Back (From Field): 21/83 (25%)
To Back (From Field): 26/83 (31%)

Turnover Margin: +6

Defensive Stop Rate: 73%

3 Technique Vs. Rainbow (RB):

Is the RB the indicator where the pressure will come from?
Is the boundary the indicator? That’s what you need to know. ‘Hey, forget the RB…72% of their pressure schemes come when we’re on the hash, and they come from the boundary and play coverage to the field. Was their blitz identification good?

Or, they blitz to the side the RB is on, no matter if it’s from the boundary or the field. ‘We’re gonna blitz the LB who is opposite the RB’.

The other stat is something we need to know. Rainbow is that team’s base formation (10 personnel, 2 by 2 WR’s)…so when they’re in gun, where are they going to set their 3T at? To the RB or away? And that will dictate how they protect and where they set up the protection scheme, plus will give them an idea of which way to run their zone scheme runs.

Force Player Vs. Rainbow:

The Force LB is the LB who still has the B Gap responsibilities to his side in the run game. He may not line up over the B gap. He may displace himself out to halfway between the tackle and first receiver, or out even further, but on the snap of the ball, he sneaks a peak to the action at the LOS to see if it’s a run, and he’s gotta get back into a position where he can defend the B gap.

Blitz Side From Gun (1 Back):

A lot of times just based on hash marks, it’s the LB that is lined up into the boundary, because he has a shorter distance between him and his gap as opposed to the LB to the field.

The force LB is often identified with subtle movements. On the snap of the ball, he may take a jab step forward as he needs to get downhill quick to get back to the B Gap. He may end up in coverage, but his first responsibility is the B gap to his side. Did they execute blitz identification?

Move Calls Given?

A move call is something that New England uses in short yardage situations. Their Defensive Lineman will line up normally, then as the QB starts his cadence, you’ll hear a command from the linebackers that tells the defensive lineman to slide down one gap.

The intention is to catch a left guard off-balance and maybe you’ll get a cheap 5 yard false start out of him because he started a count too early because he was watching the defense move like the ball was being snapped, instead of listening to the cadence.

How a player and his team identifies the blitz goes to coaching. The NFL wants players that can do this (and coaches who can teach it well). It’s not just athletes they’re checking out.

Running Backs in zone scheme – Football 201

ruing backs in zone scheme

Running Backs in Zone Scheme

Last week, we talked about the difference for Offensive Lineman between running the zone play as opposed to running the power play, and what it required from each position. Lets now advance the ball and talk about the Running Backs in zone scheme.

Yes, it is true that all 32 teams have both the zone scheme and the power scheme in their playbook. Below we look at the different skill sets it takes for the RB to have in the zone scheme as opposed to the power scheme.

For a zone RB, patience is a virtue as the crease and the hole isn’t always exactly where he hopes it will be pre-snap.  What looks like a cutback play is really the RB using his vision to see that due to the defensive scheme, the hole is going to open in the backside B Gap as opposed to the frontside B Gap.

Obviously, all RB’s need to have vision and have to be quick. Vision for a zone RB is paramount, and the ability to see a crease on the backside as he’s pressing the frontside hole. If the play is blocked right, typically the RB will have a hole, and half-a-hole to choose from when he presses the line. He really can’t go wrong by choosing either.

If the back sees the half-a-hole open to the play side, he can take his 3 or 4 yards and keep the chains moving. However, if he has the vision, gets the right blocks, he may wait on a bigger hole developing on the backside. That hole can turn into a bigger gain. This where patience comes into play. It’s all in how he sees it. He can only have so much patience and often, he should just take his half-a-hole and get what he can.

Leonard Fournette is a power running back. He runs some zone plays, but he is devastating with a lead blocker like, FB Tommy Bohanon in front of him and getting downhill quickly. This is a guy who is more of a 1 cut runner, who puts his foot in the ground and gets into the hole and delivers the boom.

He is a more physical running back who, due to scheme, is going to need to be able to beat 1 guy, as the backside defensive end will have to be accounted for in the blocking scheme since there is usually no threat. This leaves one guy he needs to be able to beat. That’s the rule. Over him, around him, through him…just beat him.

More and more running backs are coming into the league with experience in the spread/zone schemes, so the transition is easier for them to keep running with the zone scheme.

Power/G schemes are a little less used collegiately, but it hasn’t gone the way of the doo-doo bird, so there are players in the draft that excel at running behind a G scheme. Top tier RB’s have the ability to do both, and are also a threat in the passing game (hello Todd Gurley), and if you find a guy like that, he’s pretty special.

Outside Zone

In case you’re very new to football, the reason backs aren’t as thrilled with the G scheme is because they go hand in hand with the QB typically in shotgun in a pass happy scheme. Read here for why.

Running Back: how he goes is how the offense goes – the stats show it.

running back

The Running Back sets the tone

While gathering stats to write this piece on the running back, one strange set of numbers popped up: Four of the top five fastest running backs made it to the playoffs last season. In order of fastest clocked times during a play: Leonard Fournette, Derrick Henry (Ten), Todd Gurley (LAR), and Tevin Coleman (ATL).

Notice something else? Two of them were first round picks, and one a Heisman winner. None drafted past the third round (Coleman). It’s a small sample size, but worth noting.

Here are some more stats: the top five rushers in the league made it to the playoffs, six of the top ten made it (would have been eight if not for tie break rules). CJ Anderson and Zeke Elliot were numbers 9 and 10. What’s curious about those two is: 1) CJ had the 9th most yards, but his 3 TDs were amongst the worst for a starting RB who started all 16 games. 2) Elliot had 7, and played four less games. What’s telling though is how badly Dallas did without him.

The top 10 RBs in the NFL last season:
1 Kareem Hunt 1,327 4.9 Avg Yds, 8 TD
2 Todd Gurley 1,305 4.7 13 TD
3 Le’Veon Bell 1,291 4.0 9 TD
4 LeSean McCoy 1,138 4.0 6 TD
5 Mark Ingram 1,124 4.9 12 TD
6 Jordan Howard 1,122 4.1 9 TD
7 Melvin Gordon 1,105 3.9 8 TD
8 Leonard Fournette 1,040 3.9 9 TD
9 C.J. Anderson 1,007 4.1 3 TD
10 Ezekiel Elliott 983 4.1 7 TD

One could say that you need a top RB to make the play offs and that’s the most important weapon.

He helps his QB do better. However, neither the Eagles or Patriots had a RB in the top 13. Deon Lewis was 14th and LaGarrett Blount was 21st.

What they did have was the third (PHI) and tenth (NE) best running yards. Of the top 13 teams who made it to the PO’s, only Dallas, Baltimore and Denver missed them. The Ravens had the same record in the AFC as LAC and Titans, but lost out do to tie breaker rules.

Of those 13 teams, Denver had the least TD’s. Many would blame quarterbacking and OL, but those are lazy answers. Here’s why:

Jacksonville. Blake Bortles was erratic to be kind, and he was among the most hit QB’s in the league. The OL was inconsistent and yet, their run game was the best in the league. 2,262 total yards. A big part of that was Fournette, but the other guys racked up 1,222 yards.

One bad call away from a Super Bowl with a mediocre OL and QB. Yes, their defense was tops, but the offense still had to score, they ran 18 TDs in. Minnesota had the 7th most yards and 15 TDs.

The real NFL guys will tell you that the running back helps the OL, and a poor back hurts them (QB, too). When your RBs are slow or miss gaps, they do a whole lot of nothing. Coaching is also to blame. If your line has simple calls, it’s easier for the defense to read them.

There are always exceptions to stats, they only tell half a story; however, I did an article last season and the same held true. Overall, teams with good run games made the play offs and their OL ranking didn’t seem to matter much. Plus, as we saw this year, QB play was all over the place. What mattered was balance.

Yes, a great OL can help the pass and run game by making life easier on the QB and RBs, but when you get in the red zone, the rubber meets the road. The two QBs who just kill it there, Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota, their teams each had 18 rushing TDs.

When defenses think you’re going to use Fournette (9 TD), DeMarco Murray (6) or Derrick Henry (5), it sure makes it easier for the QB to pop a TD off. Which brings us to getting into the red zone for them to score. The time between the 20’s.

The top five teams in the red zone were Jacksonville, NE*, Philly, Green Bay and New Orleans. The top seven teams in attempts went to the playoffs. It’s like hockey: the more chances on goal, the higher chance to score.

The bottom line is this: unless your team has Brady*, the run game is crucial to making it to and winning in the play-offs. This why more teams have running back by committee over a bell-cow back because if he goes down, game over. Let’s hope that Fournette can stay healthy the rest of the season.

Learn about Stem Routes and why running them well helps the quarterback: Football 101

Over the last two seasons, we’ve seen inconsistent quarterbacking, but the receivers (and tight ends) weren’t consistently performing at their top-level. Plus, the depth behind them was poor. A very good QB can overcome, but weak play from receivers only compounds poor quarterbacking.

Why bring this up with Stem Routes? Because the Stem of a route begins the moment the wide receiver (or TE) pushes off. The black line below is the stem. As mentioned in the option route piece, WRs need to sell every route as looking the same. Running a Stem sounds simple: run until you turn (make break). It’s not.

*to note: this is Football 101, simple is used. Many sentences can use the words, usually or typically.

At the LOS, most plays will have a CB line up against them, either in soft press, hard press or off man (seven or so yards back from the LOS). That CB wants to mirror his guy, read his hips and respond. A good WR is able to keep his hips pointing one direction, sink them, plant his outside (or inside foot), and turn on a dime before the CB can react.

This creates separation.
It’s important to know that while the Stem starts at the line of scrimmage, mentally it begins much sooner: in the film room. Receivers need to know the CB’s who will be covering them. If he is an aggressive guy who likes to play hard press, then that first push at the LOS could be a step back. Why?

As covered in hard press, the CB wants to jam his guy, disrupt his timing so the route is shot. When the ball is snapped, the good WR takes a step back and lets his CB come at him, then pushes him aside and bam, he gone.

Remember in press, the hips don’t lie? The stem is all about the hips. If a receiver can get his hips inside, he’s open. That’s the size of an NFL window—the width of a pair of hips.

The dance between the WR and CB is all about who can get their hips to lie, read their opponents (and QB) and get the other to bite.

Rookie receivers tend to struggle with that part. They can run a route, catch the ball, but the ability to do what Diggs does in the below play, is tough to come by. Selling the stem and making the cut against the #1 CB.

Have a QB who can’t throw a rocket or on a dime, but still manages to make good plays? He has receivers who help him by creating space they can maneuver in. If the ball is a tad slow or off by a foot because there is separation, it lessens the chance of an interception. It also allows the receiver to adjust to the ball since there’s no defender draped over him.

Seasoned CB’s know which QBs struggle and they will try to jump a route, this makes selling the stem that more important. Get the CB to bite on a dig, but run a post, etc.

The below gif was against Aqib Talib in 2015 (who was tops), Stephon Diggs was a rookie in his first game against the top corner that season. Diggs keeps his head straight, his hips straight, plants his leg wide as if he’s going to go inside and instead runs an out route. Gets Talib to turn his hips out. Perfection.

Good Stem Routes should create separation.

My guess is Talib got over-confident. Didn’t expect this from some 21-year-old kid, so he got burned. That step sold it, look at all that space. The crappiest of crappy QBs can look like heroes if their WRs can give that barn door-sized window.

Jacksonville needs their young receiving corps of Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and rookie DJ Chark to play at Diggs’ level who’s even better now. One step is all it takes to help or hurt Bortles.

Another trick WR’s can do on their Stems is a double (or triple) move. They can be used at any depth; it’s all about where the WR thinks he can shed his coverage. When he can get leverage off the hips, get the CB’s pointing away from where the route should end, he’s won. Even though he’s making more than one cut, it’s still the same stem because the route is about where the ball should be caught.

In summation, the stem is to trick the corner into going one way, while he goes another and to do that, he needs agility, speed, knowledge and a connection with his quarterback. Here’s to hoping our receiving corp can deliver.

Run-Pass Option-Learn about RPOs: Football 101

I was asked about the emergence of the Run-Pass Option (RPO) with 21st century QB’s. Until very recently, we rarely heard about the RPO in the pros except for when Aaron Rodgers would do it in Green Bay or Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

I’d say the #1 reason we haven’t seen them much until recently has a lot to do with coaches. Run-Pass OPTION gives the QB a lot of power because he’s deciding where the ball will go, not always the coach. In read-options the QB hands the ball off or keeps it, either way, it’s a run. In play action, the QB fakes a hand-off for a run, but throws because it’s a pass play. Neither has the choice to run or pass.

Typically, in RPO there will be three options: the QB gives the ball to the RB, or he keeps it himself, or he picks one of two throws to make. This means the coach has no clue what’s going to happen until he sees the play unfold. Same for the team. Power given up.

RPO’s are practiced, they’re not like a QB sneak or he runs because it’s a busted play and he’s running for his life. RPO’s are in a team’s playbook, part of their offense. Which is why when teams use them, it’s not a one time occasion.

To make this simple, they work when a defender has both run and pass responsibilities (usually a MLB or safety). The quarterback reads what that guy decides to do; cover the pass or run, and then the QB does the opposite. This is a cat and mouse: see zone, pass, see man, run.

It’s vital the QB and RB give the same look no matter what. No tells. That’s also crucial. If either give a sign before the snap or right after they’re going to run or pass, then that LB/S cuts off the play. This works best when the receivers are spread out three wide, etc. The QB receives the ball, he sees that defender’s movement and makes a split decision. Until he does, that RB has to act like he’s getting the ball.

Can’t say this enough: While you need a good offense to pull run-pass options off, this is about the defense being fooled.

For a while, GB was really the only team that had a modern twist on the WCO because they had Eddie Lacy and Jordie Nelson. One-two punch. Suck up for the run, Rodgers throws a 40 yard bomb. Stay back because you think he’s going to pass and he runs. They were built for the RPO. Able to play WCO and a spread, plus a QB who could do it all with weapons teams feared.

When Rodgers was first doing these, he often kept the ball himself because that is an option in this. However, as time went on, coaches saw that the same principle that allowed a QB to keep the ball worked for his back, too. So, why sacrifice your QB four, five times a game when you can let your back do it?

If he runs, the QB is going up the gooch. The OL blocks for a run no matter what the QB does. That’s crucial. That helps the QB if he throws because the defense is caught off guard thinking it’s a run play. However, this is the NFL, their off-guard lasts a second, so no matter what, the QB needs to dump the ball quickly.

Why are we seeing more of these? I’m no expert, but it’s young guys coming from college systems where they often ran these. They’re used to doing them and…going to say young, again because what happens after you run the ball? In college, the QB often is the one who runs after reading the defense.

Some coaches are smart and use college plays/schemes to help their new signal callers to make the jump. The thing is, often these plays work. If you’re a QB who came from a spread system where you threw a lot and do the same in the NFL, the defense is going to back up. Run-pass options are based on getting defenses to keep an even number on the line, so you can run the ball. If they don’t believe you will or can throw deep, then it makes it a lot tougher to use RPO’s.

Will we see Bortles do them this season? Yes, he did them this pre-season. Teams have to fear the run (and should fear the QB could run, too), plus that RB needs to get out the way the instant he realizes he’s not getting the ball, sounds simple but it requires him to know where he’s out of the way.

As far as the coaching side, Nate Hackett is a fairly open guy, he seems like he’d have no problem allowing Bortles to do this.

Remember, the run-pass option is about the QB deciding where the ball will go and defenses being tricked into thinking it’s one thing and he does another. If the defense doesn’t think they have to worry about your run game or passing game, RPO’s become useless because the defense will force you into your weakness.