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


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.