Blitz or Not to Blitz: That's the Super Question
Vinnie Iyer - SportingNews.com
Jan 26, 2011
The defensive coordinators in Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers' Dick LeBeau and the Packers' Dom Capers, have turned zone blitzing into an art form. Think of a Jackson Pollock painting, hitting the canvas from all angles until the quarterback is in a real mess.
The zone blitz concept is pretty simple up front.
If you send a linebacker or defensive back who would normally cover, you drop a lineman or linebacker back to replace him in coverage. The object is to disguise who exactly is blitzing from where.
Sending elite edge pass rushers like outside linebackers James Harrison and Clay Matthews, along with a three-man line, is also productive.
Both LeBeau and Capers are blessed with versatile talent, and that gives them perpetual permutations with which to rush the passer.
"I think you just have to be able to have enough flexibility in your system where you can change things up and understand what type of protection you're going to get," Capers said.
Both men relentlessly send players after the quarterback.
"We don't really adjust," said LeBeau, who at 73 plans to stay with Pittsburgh through the 2011 season. "Everybody goes into the game against us figuring they are going to get rid of the ball quickly."
The Steelers and Packers finished 1-2 in scoring defense and sacks (48 to 47). The challenge that awaits them in the Super Bowl, however, is about knowing when to put on the brakes.
When it comes to beating the blitz, few quarterbacks are in the company of Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. Among regular starters during the regular season, Rodgers (104.5) and Roethlisberger (101.7) were first and third in passer rating in blitz situations, with only the Patriots' Tom Brady in between.
Itís important that LeBeau and Capers keep the numbers in mind when they draw up their wrinkles for next Sunday:
Steelers vs. Rodgers
Rodgers maintains great accuracy and efficiency regardless of how many defenders are rushing. So expect LeBeau to go strength vs. strength. Although blitzing may not lead to multiple sacks, it's still important to get some hits on Rodgers. It also increases the Steelersí chance at an interception.
With LaMarr Woodley opposite Harrison, LeBeau also will have the luxury of flipping his edge rushers so that banged up 34-year old left tackle Chad Clifton (stinger) and rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga will need to deal with both.
Packers vs. Roethlisberger
Capers can get good pressure against Roethlisberger by just rushing four, and will like the matchup outside between Matthews and Steelers left tackle Jonathan Scott.
By dropping seven, the Packers can handle the Steelers' receivers in coverage and get sacks that way. Charles Woodson is capable of sticking to Hines Ward in the slot, and Tramon Williams has the speed to stay with Mike Wallace deep.
With rookie nickel back Sam Shields playing so well and the safeties each taking a half of the field in cover 2, Roethlisberger will find it hard to exploit anything deep -- he didn't have a wide receiver completion go for more than 20 yards against the Jets.
In contrast, with better wide receiver depth, Rodgers had three such plays in his first drive against the non-blitzing Bears.
Both Rodgers and Roethlisberger average more than 5 yards per carry when they decide to tuck and run.
Roethlisberger tends to take off up the middle, so it's on nose tackle B.J. Raji and inside linebackers Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk to keep contain.
Rodgers has had good success scrambling to his left so right end Brett Keisel must stay disciplined, especially when Harrison or Woodley is flying upfield from the same side.
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