Football is littered with specialized terminology. From cadence to crack screen, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.
Fire Zone Blitz
The fire zone blitz is a defensive scheme that generally involves a five-man pass rush, with the other defenders dropping into zone coverage. The fire zone concept is one way a defense can confuse a quarterback. It involves a line of scrimmage defender, such as a defensive end or defensive tackle, dropping into zone coverage underneath in an attempt to take away a possible hot read. The combination of well-disguised pressure with a disciplined zone coverage rotation behind it allows the fire zone scheme to essentially show a quarterback an open receiver or hot read initially, and then quickly rotate defenders toward that open receiver to take away the quick throw, thereby disrupting the play.
In this example, the Denver Broncos unleash a fire zone blitz with defensive end / outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (#94) dropping into coverage on one side and middle linebacker Brandon Marshall (#54) and T.J. Ward (#43) rushing the passer on the opposite end. Here’s a closer look at the five-man blitz scheme:
The defensive front presents three potential pass rushers to each side (from the offensive guards on out), but the Broncos target area is Minnesota Vikings rookie right tackle T.J. Clemmings and the C gap on the right. The interior rushers, defensive tackles Sylvester Williams (#92) and Malik Jackson (#97), will slant left down the line of scrimmage one gap over from where they were aligned pre-snap
But defensive end / outside linebacker Von Miller (#58) has the most important task within this pressure scheme. Starting from a wide 9 alignment, Miller will slant across two gaps, aiming for the A gap between center Joe Berger (#61) and right guard Mike Harris (#79). Marshall, meanwhile, will cross the center and follow tightly behind this elongated slant by Miller, which aims to draw Clemmings out of his gap.
However, even if Clemmings is able to pick up Marshall on the twist – which he doesn’t – it still leaves the blitzing Ward unaccounted for off the edge:
Once Teddy Bridgewater completes his drop, he appears to lock on Adam Thielen (#19) across the short middle, especially with Marshall rushing the passer and vacating the underneath zone. The QB starts to bring his arm up to deliver the pass but halts his throwing motion after noticing that Ware has replaced Marshall in coverage and is driving toward Thielen. Bridgewater brings the ball down and begins to reload – perhaps looking over the deep middle now. But it’s too late. Ward whacks the ball loose and Miller – continuing to do the dirty work on the play – scoops up the fumble.
Here’s an All-22 view of the coverage on the play:
Without knowing the protection and offensive line calls, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what went wrong for the Vikings. On a six-man pass protection, Adrian Peterson likely would have been responsible for Ward (or Marshall) before releasing out of the backfield. The running back does appear to hesitate instead of immediately proceeding into his swing route. However, it’s also possible that Peterson is the built-in hot read on this play in case of a blitz. In either case, Bridgewater and Peterson weren’t on the same page.
The Packers deploy 11 personnel, with Aaron Rodgers (#12) in the shotgun and Eddie Lacy (#27) to his right. Green Bay has pro alignment on the right, and an inverted slot formation to the left. The Cardinals have their nickel package on the field. The secondary shows a Cover 2 look with both safeties deep, and both cornerbacks in off man alignment.
The Cardinals nickelback Jerraud Powers (#25) is in the slot over Randall Cobb (#18), in a press alignment. But just prior to the snap, he cheats toward the football, showing blitz. Rodgers is keenly aware of this, and points out the DB’s movement before the play:
Cobb is now uncovered, and at the snap he will release slowly off the line of scrimmage as the hot read, providing an outlet for the football. Rodgers takes the snap and immediately looks at the uncovered slot WR. But this is exactly what the Cardinals are expecting, with the fire zone blitz:
Here, the safety drops down into a robber technique, while a linebacker and even a defensive tackle slide over to/underneath Cobb. Rodgers looks to throw the hot route, but now has three defenders in his line of sight, when he expected none:
Rodgers is forced to pull the football down and try and make something happen. He does a good job of buying time with his feet, but the blitz and the zone rotation behind it force him to scramble, and the eventual late throw falls incomplete:
Beating the Blitz
In this example, the Cincinnati Bengals use 12 personnel out of the shotgun with running back Giovani Bernard offset to Andy Dalton’s left. The formation has wide receiver Marvin Jones to the right and Tyler Eifert aligned tight on the same side, while wide receiver A.J. Green is split out left with backup tight end/H-back Ryan Hewitt aligned tight to his side:
The St. Louis Rams bring big nickel personnel – consisting of three safeties – onto the field, using a 4-2 front with Mark Barron playing a linebacker role in the box. Showing a two-deep, off-coverage look (or quarters shell) just prior to the snap, St. Louis rolls into Cover 3 and utilizes a fire zone blitz that has two linebackers rushing the passer with a defensive tackle dropping into coverage over the short middle:
However, the coverage shift plays right into the hands of Cincinnati’s double seam pass concept off play-action. Barron initially bites on the fake handoff, false stepping toward center and pulling himself out of position from possibly jamming or, more likely, re-routing Hewitt toward the inside.
With free safety Rodney McLeod rolling to his center field position over the deep middle, Dalton avoids the oncoming pressure and quickly hits Hewitt on the backside seam, right in the area that was occupied by the defender before the snap. The easy pitch and catch results in a 21-yard gain.
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Brian Filipiak & Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield. Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.