3rd Level Add On Pressures to Defend 12/21 Personnel Run Game

Feb 29, 2020 | Defense, Pressure, 3-Deep 3-Under Zone Pressures

By Mark Theophel
Defensive Coordinator & LBs Coach
Hartwick College (NY)


As an odd front, zone pressure defense, we look for opportunities to pressure our opponent’s top run plays every week. If teams can run the ball, they will run the ball, so the challenge when formulating a game plan is to find ways to make the prospect of leaning on the run game seem discouraging. This means not only being sound vs. the run but also utilizing aggression to create negative yardage plays. We usually do this in the form of 5-man pressures, with a variety of patterns involving inside and outside linebackers. However, teams that run out of 2-RB and 2-TE formations present a unique challenge of defending extra gaps that are not present in single-back/spread formations. To meet this challenge, we have been leaning more on secondary blitzes to gain additional unblocked players at the point of attack. These are still 5-man pressures that utilize familiar blitz patterns. However, these pressures will involve a safety or a corner in place of an additional LB.

Philosophy of DB Blitzes:

Our game plan philosophy every week is to attack what our opponents do best. The formations that present the biggest challenge to this are ones that utilize multiple RBs and/or TEs to create additional numbers in the run game. The “8-man box” gets talked about a lot to get the extra defender, usually a DB, involved in the run fit. However, just having the extra DB in the box doesn’t necessarily help us pressure these heavy run formations. If we still only run blitzes that involve our front seven against 21-personnel (or heavier) formations, a well-designed run play can still get blocks on those defenders, and in some cases even use their blitz angles against them. This means that regardless of whether we are in a pressure or a base call, we will often still be relying on our DBs to make tackles on the second level.

Adding DBs to our pressure package, however, opens new possibilities to attack our opponent’s run game while limiting our risk vs. the pass. This fits our philosophy of being aggressive, while at the same time being easy to teach and fun for our DB’s. Here are some advantages that come with running a DB blitz as opposed to a “traditional” zone pressure.

1)  We gain defenders in the backfield who are unaccounted for in the blocking scheme.

Most power and man blocking schemes do not account for defensive backs, and RBs are taught that if the front is blocked up, he is responsible for making the “extra” man (usually a DB) miss. By adding the extra man to the pressure, we ensure that he will meet the play at or behind the LOS, rather than having to make a difficult open-field tackle. This gives our defender the advantage in that matchup against the RB.

Diagram 1

2)It allows our LBs to pursue more aggressively and chase plays down.

In a 5-Man pressure, we account for counter/boot/reverse with the widest outside rusher when the play goes away. That responsibility would normally fall to an LB in a base call or a typical zone pressure, so adding the safety as the D-gap/outside rusher allows other players involved in the blitz to chase down anything that goes away, knowing that he doesn’t have to worry about containing anything that comes back to his side.

Diagram 2

3)It clears up the fit for second-level defenders not involved in the pressure.

When we blitz DBs, we are running blitz patterns that normally occur with multiple linebackers, so adding a safety/corner will mean subtracting an LB from that pressure scheme. That linebacker then becomes a second-level defender with a coverage responsibility. If an offense can diagnose the pressure and block everyone up, the extra man is now a linebacker who is closer to the ball than a DB, and his progression will take him directly to where he is needed to “clean up” and ensure a minimal gain on the play.

4)The movement up front wrecks the vertical run lanes and forces runs to the edge.

Most of our DB pressures are edge pressures that involve collapsing the front by stunting our linemen to inside gaps on the side of the blitz and crossing down-blocks away from the blitz. By taking away the vertical run lanes with our front and containing the play with the blitz and with the run support opposite the blitz, we can swarm the ball and create negative yardage plays.

5)We can run them as add-ons to our base defensive calls.

Most of our DB pressures are simple add-ons to a base defensive call. A base call for us will involve an OLB rushing to one side of the formation and the DB to that side will be involved in the perimeter run force. Turning that into pressure is simply a matter of blitzing the run force player (DB) off the edge and playing man coverage to that side. On the side of the defense opposite the blitz, our coverage can still function as called, and we can use the same terminology we use in a base call.

To study game film of this concept, click on the video below: