Blitz of the Day Pt. 2- Clemson Fire Zone

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

So I have been watching spring games and re-watching college games from 2016 since we are in a football drought right now.  I was recently watching the National Championship from this year and noticed a well designed 5 man fire zone Clemson ran.

I’am  a very firm believer that blitzing is a science and not just throwing bodies at the wall. You have to know why your blitzing and how to attack an offense for blitzing to be successful. Blitzing successfully has a lot more to do with film study and in game adjustments. You very rarely just call a blitz and it works in my experience.  The times I have had blitzes work successfully it had way more to do with our film study and making a key adjustments versus what an offense was doing to us.

Here towards the end of the first quarter Brent Venables makes a key adjustment to get some pressure on Jalen Hurts. Its 3rd and 17 and Venables decide to go conservative considering the field position and situation I believe.  He dials up what is called “Even Cardinal 3 Palms”

This is a good blitz because it has the adjustment built in based on the formation. If the offense comes out in 2×2 set they check to palms (2 read coverage) if its 3×1 set they play your normal 3 under 3 deep fire zone coverage. They will also play clamp (Cover 6) versus a 2×2 set with a sniffer.  Cody Alexander who runs Match Quarters Blog has great article on “Packaging Your Blitz Calls by Formation” This is a great example of that because  even though the blitzer does not change the coverage shifts based on formation to make the blitz more successful.

For fire zone blitzes to be successful game plan preparation is a big apart of it. When you know what protection a offense likes to use it makes it easier on defense to know what blitzes to call to have a much higher success rate of a blitz getting home or putting pressure on the QB.

Its 3rd and 17  and Alabama comes out in a 11 personnel 2×2 set with the TE set off the LOS almost like a wing.

Clemson on defense is showing a 1 high look with the Free Safety rolled down into the box. This is good pre snap disguise because they are going to end up playing palms (2 read) because its a 2×2 set. With it only being a 5 man pressure its good to have some disguise and make it harder for the QB to recognize where to go with the ball.

Another key to this pressure is the previous play Venables called a fire zone blitz similar with the Linebackers cross blitzing.

The blitz gets picked up because Alabama is running 6 man half slide protection scheme. They are zoning to the boundary side and man protection to the field side as you can see in the above diagram. Here is a live look at the blitz below:

Venables and the Clemson defensive staff had to have seen this and Venables did a good job playing the cat and mouse game and making a sound adjustment by calling “Even Cardinal 3 Palms” in order to attack the 6 man half slide protection and have solid coverage behind it to get off the field on 3rd and long.

Alabama is not able to pick up the blitz and the FS comes through untouched forcing the QB to get rid of it which is just as good as a sack most times. Alabama can’t pick up the pressure because Clemson technically has a +1 blitzer for the number of blockers they have. Each blocker is responsible for a gap. Clemson is bring 3 people in the A gap with the Running Back and Center being responsible for the A gaps, so Alabama does not have another blocker to pick up the Free Safety.

This a great example of having a blitz in your arsenal to attack a certain protection scheme and having a great in game mind to know when to call this blitz. Its no surprise that Venables and the Clemson defense are as tough as they have been the last few season.

If you are looking for more post on blitzing I have few right here on my blog I have written on and I leave the click on links right below this

Bringing Pressure with Cornerback Blitz

Attacking Empty with 6 Man Pressure

Attacking 3×1 with Weakside Overload Pressure

NCAA Zone Blitz with a Twist


Blitz of the Day: Florida State Okie Front Overload Pressure

Florida State was one of the hottest teams the second half of the college football season large in part due to its defensive turn around who became quite dominate with their pass rush and nation leading 51 sacks. Charles Kelly does a a great job of mixing up the looks to be able to pressure the quarterback.  I started going back to some of FSU games,  this week I’am watching FSU vs Miami and I found a great example of how Charles Kelly gets pressure.

Its 3rd and 6 and Miami has drove the ball deep into FSU territory at the +19 yard line. In my opinion as a defensive coordinator one of the best times to send pressure is with teams inside the +25 yard line. My reasoning for this is because the field shrinks and you now have the help of the 12th defender which is the back of the endzone which means less chance of allowing a explosive play to happen.

Miami comes out in 12 personnel in a 2×2 alignment,  I call this formation Gun Ace Wing.

Florida State has their Nickel package on the field but gets into a 3-4 Okie look presnap, I really like this because some blitzes are easier to disguise and work better out of a  3-4 look because you don”t have to drop a defensive lineman into coverage.

Like I said earlier one of the best times to send pressure is when teams get inside the +25 yard line because the field shrinks and the defense now has the 12 defender aka the back of the endzone to help you out. Charles Kelly dials up a nice overload pressure in this situation.
An overload pressure is any blitz where you intentionally blitz 4 defenders off one side of the Center.  In this scenario Florida State is bringing this blitz to the Running Back side. Im sure through game plan and preparations Florida State knew that Miami liked full slide insert protection.  Also with it being 3 and 6 inside the 20 yard line Miami knows they can at least get 3 points here in a scoreless game nearing the end of 1st quarter. Miami play call is very conservative because of this.


As you can see nothing is aggressive about the play call and Florida State did a good job here and deciding to be aggressive in this situation. The key to making this blitz work is that Miami is using full slide protection on this play.  Florida State brings the overload to the Running Back side in order to get a 2 on 1 versus the RB. They purposely bring 2 defenders off the edge to have one more defender than Miami can block.  The blitz side defensive end also did a great job of occupying the left tackle to free up both defenders blitzing off the edge.

Florida State is running Man Free Cover 1 with this blitz as well. Important to note that even though Florida State did not get a sack on this blitz the pressure forced Brad Kaaya to get rid of the ball early, but more importantly he had to get rid of the ball and doesn’t have any room to lead the TE open because of the back of the endzone. If Kaaya would have had an extra half second he probably would have been able to fire a shot for a easy TD.  See the blitz in action below

3 and Out (Breaking Down Defensive Series) Pt. 1 Clemson Defense Stands Tall After Turnover


We start part one of 3 and Out with the Fiesta Bowl and Clemson defense who last Saturday shut out a very good Ohio State offense.  Holding Ohio State to just 215 yards of total offense and forcing 3 turnovers. Brent Venables is easily one of the top 3 defensive coordinators in college football. This game he did a good job of mixing up his looks sending pressure and just rushing 3 or 4 playing zone or man coverage. Sometimes it felt like he was inside Ohio State huddle having the perfect call for certain situations.


Clemson had their first offensive possession of the game after forcing a 3 and out on Ohio State game opening drive.  Deshaun Watson threw an interception that set up the Ohio State offense on the +33 yard line. As a defensive coordinator one of the toughest things to do is to get a stop after a turnover that sets up them up on the positive side of the field. Clemson defense did just that and here is how:

Ohio State comes out in 10 personnel 2×2 set Double Slot formation with the RB set to the field. Clemson comes out in their base 4-3 defense. They set the strength to the field and the Sam linebacker bumps out to apex #2 removed. The safeties are in a 2 deep look.

Ohio State wants to run Power Read Pitch into the boundary side of the formation. This is a good play on paper as they will try to use the Defensive End’s squeeze and spill rule against him. They want the DE to squeeze and spill so they can bypass him and get the pulling block to the second level of the defense.  It looks like the QB is reading the front side linebacker because once he widens with the RB motion the QB automatically keeps it.

Clemson’s DE does a great job here of really squeezing and getting hands the Left Tackle. He squeezes him so much the Left Tackle is not able to climb up to the backside Linebacker. The DE squeezes so good that the pulling Center has to pick up the scraping backside MLB. The play should still be successful but the FS reads it and fits very fast in the alley to make the tackle on the QB that the WR doesn’t have a chance to crack him. Even the DE after squeezing on the left tackle is able to redirect and get in on the tackle with the FS. This is a very good display Clemson defense being disruptive also showing its talent on defense and not letting Ohio State execute.



Its 2nd and 10 ball still on the left hash. Ohio State comes out in 11 personnel 3×1 Pistol Trey formation to field.  I think Ohio State is expecting pressure in this situation they start with #1 WR outside of #2 on the ball I think they short motion him to try and get a man or zone read.

Venables decides to play it safe on this 2nd & 8 with it still being a scoreless gain. Clemson is still in its base 4-3 defense here the SLB bumps out and plays outside leverage of #2 removed. Clemson does this because they are playing Cover 3 Buzz where the SS will buzz down and be the hook/curl player.

Ohio State goes with 7 man full slide protection expecting pressure I believe.  To the 3×1 side #1 runs a post and #2 runs a curl and #3 is apart of the pass protection. To the single WR side he has a simple comeback at the sticks.  The boundary Cornerback is playing a press bail technique so the comeback is tough to guard in 3 deep coverage. Also the WLB who is the curl/flat player cant get underneath the comeback in time because he still has to be a run player in the box. Ohio State completes the pass for an easy 7 yard gain.


Ohio State gets a nice completion to put them in 3rd & 1, they immediately look to catch Clemson defense off guard by going up tempo trying to hurry to the line of scrimmage to run a play to pick up the 1 yard for a first down. Ohio State goes formation into the boundary with 11 personnel 3×1 Gun Trey formation. Ohio State looks to run Quarterback zone which is a great call in this situation because its 1 yard you have to get and you hope that you can get a hat on a hat blocking wise where the QB can basically fall for a first down.

Clemson does get a little bit surprised by the no huddle up tempo but you see the Linebackers signaling a strength call and the Safeties signaling the coverage call. It looks like Clemson makes a base call here running just your basic Cover 3 with the SS spinning down strong side to be the curl/flat player. The SLB looks like he is aligning in a 9 technique and Clemson sets the 3 technique to the field making this a Under Front defense.

Clemson barely gets set before Ohio State snaps the ball but the key to this tackle for a loss it the playside DE doing a good job of firing out and beating the Left Guard to the block point. This allows the DE to come right in the backfield to make an easy tackle for a loss on the QB.  If the Left Guard slows down the Defensive End he suppose to reach just a little bit its no doubt the QB would have picked up this first down easy and some more.

Clemson defense did not get rattled being thrown into a tough situation having to defend a short field early in a scoreless game. They played very disciplined physical football with Ohio State which I think was a huge difference in this game overall.

NCAA Zone Blitz with a Twist

Yes yes this is another blitz post what can I say I love pressure I think all defensive coaches love being able to send pressure when you can. I was browsing through some old game films when I was at my last high school looking at how we played Quarters Match similar to Michigan State when Narduzzi was the Defensive Coordinator and I stumbled across a blitz that was highly successful for us which is the traditional NCAA Blitz that everyone runs (DIAGRAM #1)


We found a different way to run this blitz with a simple exchange between the MLB and the blitz side DE we mugged up the MLB in the B gap and loop the DE into the A gap with the SS still blitzing off the edge. We really like this versus 2 back formations and became a pretty good run and pass blitz for us versus 21 and 20 personnel formations. (DIAGRAM #2)

But we also discovered we could run this blitz versus 2×2 formations with great success as well
(DIAGRAM #3 and #4)



we started out using traditional 3 under 3 deep zone blitz coverage dropping our weak side DE in the low hole. Then we evolved  We made it a 6 man blitz and played 2 under 3 deep coverage because we noticed the team rarely released the RB out of the backfield.  (DIAGRAM #3 & #4).

When we ran into teams who wanted to release their RB on the check down we easily just tagged a “peel” call to the huddle call. I really like this blitz because when we did it right we had great success getting our stunting DE as a free rusher in the A gap. Which as you know immediate pressure in the QB’s face causes automatic problems.

The other element of this blitz I love too is that it’s a very safe call versus the run as well. We still all all the gap covered and frequently ended up with a unblocked player in the backfield on run plays.

I really wish I had more footage of this blitz because we had A TON of success with it but I’am no longer coaching at this school and don’t have access to this film but I found a few clips with the film I do have below enjoy.

Attacking 3×1 with Weakside Overload Pressure

We have seen a resurgence in the 3×1 formations this season in the teams on our schedule. Except for the three wing-t teams we faced all of our opponents had some type 3×1 formation in their offense. I love being fundamentally sound on defense but I love pressure just as much and I’am always looking for ways to send pressure versus what a offense does best.

Early in coaching years I use to like sending pressure from the the trips side to try and make the QB make a quick read. But I have grown fond of sending pressure from the weakside of 3×1 formations. If you read one my earlier posts about bringing pressure with cornerback blitz was my early stages of experimenting with weakside pressure to 3×1 formations.

This blitz I’m going to talk about this post is a simple overload 6 man blitz with Zero Coverage behind it. We are a 4-2-5 defense so in TCU terminology this blitz would be a “Dog Blitz” (DIAMGRAM #1).


3×1 is technically an unbalanced set it forces a defense to show its hand a little bit. So many offenses I face go 3×1 to see how you line up and then call what they think is the best play. So I really like this overload pressure because most teams I face run either half slide or full side protection (DIAGRAM #2)

full-slide half-slide

We use this as a chance to get a 2 on 1 on the RB in both pass protections.  In high school football most running backs are not good pass blockers yet so sometimes we get two free blitzers but at least one when we run it right. They key to this blitz is that pre snap we try our best to make it look similar to all our other coverage adjustments to 3×1 to not tip it off.  But sometimes we do show it depending on the down and distance and the situation in the game.

As you can see in (DIAGRAM #1) below
We are bringing four off one side of the center for the overload. We are bringing two off the edge on purpose the DE on the blitz side knows he is rushing now with what we call a “bully stunt” he will still rush C gap but stay on the tackle’s outside shoulder rush as tight as he can to try and shorten the edge for the Weak Safety blitzing off the edge. I also like this blitz versus the run as well for teams who like to run weak side in 3×1 formations.

Now like all things in football there are strengths and weaknesses and the biggest weakness here is that you run Cover 0 there is no MOF player so if you get beat its 6pts,

Also the MLB has the RB man to man which is a match up I dont mind because if the ball is on the hash its not much room for RB to have the ball in space versus our MLB who is pretty athletic, but we easily tag a “Peel” call with this blitz which then the Weak Safety blitzing will peel with the RB. We do that if we dont like the match up or if the ball is in middle of the field or we bringing blitz from the field instead of the boundary.

Lastly some runs to the 3×1 side can be tough to handle if you get caught in this blitz. Some run plays can hit fast and you lose two flow and pursuit players who are backside blitzing. With your secondary in Cover 0 that can make the run tougher to handle to the 3×1 side.

With proper game planning and knowing what your opponent does and situation that would be good to call this blitz this can be a great addition to your blitz package.  Here are some clips of this blitz in action below

Attacking Empty with 6 Man Pressure

Empty formation can be tough to defend  because you must defend literally sideline to sideline and you have 5 immediate vertical threats. That can be tough on your defense, especially when you don’t have to personnel to match 5 WR empty sets which is a common theme in high school. Empty formations also allows the offense the ability to spread the defense out and run the ball between the tackles and on the perimeter, as well. In addition, screen plays out of empty formations can be very troubling versus the empty set.
Over the years if you really work on it and practice it you can formation your defense. Based on offensive tendencies you can have a built in blitz checks so your the aggressor and not letting the offense dictate.

One way I like to attack empty is with the blitz I will talk about in this post. In TCU terminology this blitz is called “Bullets B”(Diagram #1) versus your typical empty slot formation.


It’s a simple plug blitz, but we like it versus only 5-man protection. In “Empty,” we typically like this versus non-athletic QB’s. It’s easy to disguise and someone will come free if we blitz with correct technique. We also should be able to force a quick throw out of the QB or get him flushed out the pocket. Any of these scenarios is fine with us, but this is high risk high reward because it is easy to see, no MOF safety in “Cover-0” which lets us know if someone gets beat vertical, there is no help and probably a TD.

An important component to this blitz is for our players to understand controlling their gap with no seams or cracks in our front. It’s important for your LB’s to know how to blitz. You don’t want them just running into the lineman and getting absorbed which can leave a seam. They need to know its important to control the inside half of their gap. Our DE’s in this blitz are the contain rushers. They must not make the mistake of getting off their rush lanes. Also, the defense doesn’t want to rush too far up field as a contain rushers because it opens up a scramble lane.

This is one simple way you can attack an offense who is using empty and here are some cut-ups of this blitz below.



Robber Coverage- Get 9 in the Box

In 2010 when I started at Hough High School (Cornelius, NC) I learned robber coverage from my good friend our DB Coach- Chachi Sullivan, former South Carolina State Defensive Coordinator now South Alabama Safeties Coach- Mike Adams and also former South Carolina State DB Coach and now Citadel DEF Pass Game Coordinator/ Safeties Coach- Joel Taylor I learned a lot of good defensive football from these guys in my rookie years of coaching.

The robber coverage I learned is very similar to the same one that Bud Foster has run at Virginia Tech for a long time. We faced a plethora of run heavy 2 back teams then so we were looking for a way to be better versus the run as we were not a good physical team at the time. Robber coverage ended up being that answer for us.

I like Robber coverage versus 21 and 20 personnel mainly. Whether its slot, split gun or pro- I, we have run it versus double TE as well buts its a little tougher because play action with four verticals can be tough versus that formation.  In this post I’am gonna talk about Pro Slot because the reason we started running robber was because of this formation.

First I will talk about our fun fits because we run this coverage to shut down the run first and foremost.  So I will show you our run responsibilities (DIAGRAM #1)
Robber Run Fits
Our run fits will not change a bunch from our cover 3 base run fits, just little slight adjustments. The DL’s and LB’s will still be spill players meaning they will attack and control the inside half of their gap or blocker to force the ball carrier to bounce outside.

We will also now align our strong safety 1×5 outside of #2 removed. We like this in robber because with our FS now being a fast fit alley player on run we can widen our force player to really keep the ball from getting outside, and it helps neutralize bubble and tunnel screens.

Our FS is now playing what is commonly called a robber technique he will flat foot read on the snap of football. On an run read he will look to be the alley player right now. He will become the 9th man in box immediately rather in Cover 3 or Cover 1 where he has to be a step slower versus the run because he is the middle field player.

Our CB’s will be secondary force players they will be very slow to the run making sure it is not pass first. Once they read run they will look to force the ball carrier to stay inside not letting him get to the sideline. Meaning they will be outside leverage on a blocker and the ball carrier.

Now lets get into our pass responsibilities. (DIAGRAM #2) Robber can be good versus most passing concepts you will get in 21 and 20 personnel as most offenses have limited concepts to chose from the formations in these personnel groupings.
Robber Pass Resp
The easiest job is the Mike and Will linebackers they are hook/curl players who only have to wall off any inside route of #2 if they have no #2 threat inside they can free up and be true hook/curl players reading the QB eyes.

In the secondary lets start with our CB’s because they have the most complicated job in robber, they will be deep half players like in cover 2.  Now if the have 2 Wr’s to their side they will look to midpoint the WR’s and stay on top of both of them. If both of them are vertical (8yds up field) the CB will lean on #1 and take him man to man. If the CB’s only have one WR to his side he can play tighter and really lean on #1 as that is his only vertical threat.

Our FS will play a robber technique he will read the #2 WR. IF only pass responsibility is he will take #2 vertical and it will turn into man to man. If #2 is not vertical he will look to rob #1 especially a post route by #1 our any deep crossing routes.

Our weak safety and strong safety will be curl/flat players as they will look to wall off and carry any inside route by #1 inside under 8 yards. They will also have what we call the swing of #3 a common concept people have used to try and beat us in this coverage is double slant with running back in the flats (DIAGRAM #3)
Robber - DBL Slant Flat Combo
At first glance after the route distribution this is how we should be matched up. Problem is when people run these type of concepts they are more for picking purposes than anything else. #1 on the slant will run the slant at the curl/flat defender who is strong safety here trying to pick him off to keep him from being able to break to the flats when he should.  When executed properly by an offense its an easy pitch and catch throw for a quarterback and an easy 4-6 yard gain for the offense.

That brings me to my next point ANYTHING you do in football is going to have strengths and weaknesses the key is knowing what they both are so you can make adjustments accordingly to how people are trying to attack you. This  is strictly a run based coverage in our defense that we only play it when we feel we need to get a 9th man in the box right now. This is not something you would base out of in my opinion.

Once again thanks for checking out my post and enjoy the few robber clips I could find below. These clips were hard to find because its been about 3 seasons since I have ran any robber coverage