Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!

The stadium scene.
Nov. 7 2000 7:30 PM

Stop Me Before I Blitz Again!

92000_92336_neubecker_qback

Announcers and sportswriters love the blitz. Fans scream, "Blitz! Blitz!" Tuesday Morning Quarterback screams, "Don't blitz!" Never was that rule on better display than last weekend:

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* Denver leads 23-20 with nine minutes left, third and 14 on the Jersey/B 47. All the Jets need is to play straight defense and get a stop—since the average NFL pass attempt yields 6.4 yards, the numbers are on their side. It's a blitz! Six gentlemen charge across the line, and nobody's available to cover Ed McCaffrey, who catches a 47-yard TD pass for the winning points.

* Pittsburgh has Tennessee on the ropes, leading 7-6 with 2:11 left, and the Flaming T's facing fourth and eight on the Steelers 42 with only one TO left. The Steelers get a stop, and the game's over. It's a blitz! Steve McNair takes a five-step drop, the blitzers don't reach him, and he calmly throws for 17 yards, setting up the winning kick.

* Winless San Diego has Seattle gasping for air, leading 15-14 with 1:21 to play, and the Hawks facing third and 16 on the SD 37. If the Bolts just take the odds with a regular defense, Seattle will end up either with a long field goal attempt or a desperation heave. It's a blitz! Six Bolts charge across the line, including a defensive back. Bottom-quartile QB Jon Kitna hits Darrell Jackson for the first, positioning the Hawks to kick the wining figgie as time expires.

Blitzes work sometimes but more often transform long-yardage down-and-distance that favors the defense into big gains for the offense. Why? Because offenses want to be blitzed. A surprise blitz can really hurt, but a blitz in an obvious passing situation, when expected, leads to man coverage on receivers, and man coverage is what every QB nods off at night dreaming about.

Was this weekend a fluke? The Rams beat the Broncos on opening-day weekend largely on the strength of long TD passes to Faulk and Hakim when Denver big-blizted and someone was uncovered. In September's Rams-Falcons game, the score was tied late in the first half, and St. Louis was stuck at its 20; Atlanta blitzed six and saw Torry Holt take a short flip 80 yards for six, breaking the game open. The Packers were leading Miami by 10 in the middle of the third when the Dolphins faced second and long; Green Bay blitzed six, including a DB, and Miami hit a 50-yard pass that ignited its winning rally. Und so weiter.

Defensive coordinators are blitzing more than ever because they want to "make a play" in flashy fashion: Though nine times out of 10, the single most effective D outcome is an incomplete pass clanking to the ground. It's worth noting that of the league's most effective defenses this season—Baltimore, Buffalo, Miami, New Orleans, the Persons, Pittsburgh, and Tennessee—none is blitz-addicted. They might send someone on occasion but rarely bring six. (When announcers erroneously say "zone blitz" to describe what the Steelers and T's are doing, most of the time only four guys are rushing.)

Oh thou defensive coordinators, take this humble counsel—drop thine men into coverage and play for the clang! of an incompletion.

In other Tuesday Morning Quarterback advice that was inexplicably ignored, Jersey/B reached first and goal on the Denver 2, trailing by seven, 42 seconds left. Last week TMQ detailed how the plays that work at the goal line are power run, roll-out, or "jumbo" formation play-fake, but mamma don't let your sons throw regular passes. So the Jets pounded Curtis Martin (5-yard per carry average in the game) straight ahead, right? There was enough clock for three quick rushing plays even without timeouts, and who can stop three quick runs at point-blank range? First down, the Jets play-passed from a regular formation, incomplete. Regular pass on second down—against the nickel, ideal for a run!—incomplete. Regular pass on third down, incomplete. Regular pass on fourth down, incomplete. Game over. Ye gods.

Best Plays of the Week: Best No. 1. Facing third and goal on the Niners 1 with 12 seconds remaining in the first half, leading 21-0, did New Orleans go pass-wacky? Thanks be to the football gods, no. Power set, Ricky Williams off tackle for six, game effectively over. You don't know how happy it makes offensive linemen when coaches call runs, not passes, in this kind of situation.

Best No. 2. Facing second and goal on the New England 9 in the second, the Bills ran a roll-out right. Jay Riemersma, lined up as the TE right, dove forward to block and tumbled to the ground as if he'd missed his block badly. Then he leapt up and ran to the left curl zone where not a single defensive gentleman remained; Doug Flutie threw back to him for an elegant six. This fall-down fake, followed by a "drag" route across the flow, is a high-school favorite that dates approximately to the Cretaceous Period. The Patriots acted like they'd never seen it.

Best No. 3. Facing second and goal on the Chiefs 2, leading 35-24 with four minutes left, the Raiders lined up in a jumbo set, play-faked and threw to TE Ricky Dudley for the six that iced the game.

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