While the hyper-aggressive coach will mix-and-match blitzes and pass coverages to sow confusion at all levels of the field, there is a method to Williams’ madness.
Attributing the turnaround guru’s success with multiple teams to simply mashing the “blitz” button minimizes Williams’ ability to teach philosophy, scheme, concept, and technique. Strong prep work through weekly film study, creative blitz designs, solid technique, and a gut feel for when to pull the trigger work together to create an attacking defense that pressures the quarterback and creates turnovers.
A great example of this creativity and aggressiveness showed up in the Rams' early season 37-32 victory over the Buccaneers, as Williams dialed up a six-man blitz in front of a Cover 0 shell (no deep safety help) deep in his own red zone.
Holding a 24-20 lead with 11:56 to go in the fourth quarter, the Rams' defense is on their heels as Tampa Bay has orchestrated a 10-play, 62-yard drive, largely on the arm of quarterback Jamis Winston.
After holding tailback Jacquizz Rodgers to a short gain on first down and forcing an incomplete pass on second, the unit has a chance to stem the flow by winning the 'money down' and forcing a field goal attempt.
Before going further it is important to understand that plays - offense and defense - are not called in a vacuum.
Context is everything. Factors such as scheme, on-field personnel, down/distance, field position, opponent tendencies, and a myriad of other variable influence a play call. Let's look at the context of this situation to set up Williams' blitz.
First, 3rd and 6 is a pass-heavy down as the chances of gaining enough yards for the first is unrealistic given the distance, particularly for a team with an inconsistent run game like Tampa Bay (3.5 YPC in 2016). Also, through three quarters of play, an extremely limited Rams' offense has already scored 24 points, putting extra pressure on Winston and Co. to keep pace. Williams knows the offense wants to cap off a ten-play drive with a touchdown, as a field goal will still leave the Buccaneers down by a point while putting the ball back in the hands of an offense the Buccs have yet to slow down.
Move on the Tampa Bay's formation and personnel grouping
The offense comes out in a Trips Right Gun Weak formation, with outstanding rookie tight end Cameron Brate aligned as the #3 receiver (receivers are counted outside-to-in). This should set off alarm bells as teams will create and exploit this personnel mismatch of a linebacker attempting to carry a vertical route from the tight end down the middle of the field. Furthermore, the offense has already attacked the seams and middle fo the field several times with Brate. As we will see in a moment, it appears that Williams has correctly guessed that the rookie is the primary read based on formation, alignment, down/distance, and field position.
This is a great spot in which to bring heavy pressure as the seam route will need time to break open. If Winston should move off his primary to his hot read, make the tackle short of the first down marker and force the field goal.
The Super Bowl-wining defensive coordinator lives up to his aggressive reputation, dialing up a six-man blitz with a Cover 0 shell behind.
The coverage is fairly straightforward. Everyone is in man coverage across the board, with one notable exception.
Rather than cover the tight end and provide deep help with a single deep defender, strong safety Maurice Alexander (#31) and free safety T.J. McDonold (#25) will work in tandem to play an inside-out bracket on Brate. With no deep help, the cornerbacks and nickelback are on their own. This is true Cover 0.
The double coverage is a strong indication that Williams knows the offense wants to hit the tight end as he bends across the field here.
The defensive line comes out in an 'Outlaw' alignment using a combination of defensive linemen and stand-up rushers. The front does not show immediate A-gap pressure, but with three potential rushers on each side of the center both B and C-gaps face a possible overload.
Williams elects to overload the left side of the offensive line using a wide rush by the right defensive end and a 'TON' stunt (tackle goes first, nose goes second) between the defensive tackle and nose tackle. LB/SS Mark Barron will play a 'blitz-peel' technique in which he blitzes his assigned gap unless the tailback breaks into a pass route. If the tailback does release, Barron will 'peel off' his blitz and cover him man-to-man.
The goal of the blitz is to get a free rusher through the weakside B-gap. The 3-technique's stunt should pull the left guard inside while the right defensive end pulls the left tackle outside. If the defensive tackle can sneak through the A-gap to provide additional pressure, all the better, but he must tie up the left guard and center as they attempt to exchange both rushers playing the gap game.
The offense elects to block the front with a combination man-zone protection known as a 'half-slide'.
Before moving on, check out the always great Chris Brown for an introduction to the three main categories of pass protection: BOB, zone, and combo.
The center, right guard, and right tackle will play a zone concept with each responsible for the gap to their right side. They will step in unison towards their gap, picking up anything that shows up. The left guard and left tackle will block their respective defenders using man principles, while the tailback is responsible for Mark Barron off the left edge.
Now that the stage is set, let's see how the coverage and blitz work together to create a turnover and score.
Focus on the tight end.
The double team is very easy to spot as the strong safety gets eyes on the tight end at the snap and does not open his hips and gain depth towards the trips side of the field to provide deep protection. The ball should come out to the seam as Winston's back foot hits the 28-yard line, but he wisely recognizes the capped route and attempts to move to his backside curl. Before he can attempt a throw to the single receiver or chuck the ball out of bounds, the edge and middle pressure have made it home.
Let's watch the blitz from a tight angle to see the hole.
Start with the left side of the screen. As designed, the B-gap parts like the Red Sea as the end rushes wide and the 3-technique squeezes inside to the A-gap,
As designed, the B-gap parts like the Red Sea as the end rushes wide and the 3-technique squeezes inside to the A-gap, splitting the guard (#62) and tackle (#76). Because the tailback does not release into a route, Barron comes hard at a fairly flat trajectory to keep the hole clear for the stunting nose tackle.
Watch the nose tackle (in a 2-technique over the right guard) pause a beat after the snap to let the defensive tackle make contact with the guard and center. After waiting, the NT wants to shoot around and make a sharp turn off the NT's butt before the center and guard can exchange the rushers.
While the blitz design is creative and the concept is effectively executed, the pressure gets there in part due to poor technique by the left guard and left tackle.
Notice the guard's first step. His left foot initially steps outside, likely because he anticipated B-gap pressure from the 3-technique. When the rusher crosses his face he is left off balance and is forced to turn his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. The center recognizes the stunt and gets his head around fairly quickly, but the DT's quick penetration prevents him from squaring up to take on the block and creates pressure through the A-gap. The nose tackle doesn't make it through the designed hole (B-gap) because the left guard is knocked backward by the pressure, blocking his path.
The left tackle's pass set is awful. Poor depth, high pad level, and no punch. Just all around bad, allowing the defensive end to turn the corner and punch the ball out. Even if the end had not made a great individual play to beat his man, the nose tackle was there to take Winston down as well.
Once the ball is out, the left defensive end alertly scoops it up and takes it all the way, earning a well-deserved six points and a blow of oxygen on the sideline.
Even without the potential addition of the best edge rusher in the draft, expect the 2017 Browns' defense to get after the quarterback in creative ways. Gregg Williams has a proven track record of transforming bad defenses into solid units that get after the quarterback and take the ball away. Let's hope the trend continues.