If you’re watching the game from home, how can you tell when a blitz or defensive line stunt is coming? This article shows blitz and stunt indicators as well as how offenses react to them.
Blitzing and defensive line stunts are all about timing as well as spacing. One spacing indicator of defensive line stunts is when multiple defensive linemen are bunched together and leave a big gap along the defensive front. Below, the Seattle Seahawks begin with an overload alignment with three defensive linemen right of center. Post snap, the 1 technique defensive tackle Michael Bennett (#72) loops around the defensive end. Although the timing doesn’t affect quarterback Matt Ryan on this play, the goal was to create one-on-one matchups on the right side of the line, and confusion on the left side:
Large defensive line gaps can also be a blitz indicator into that gap. Below, the New York Jets leave a large pre-snap gap unaccounted for between the nose tackle and the defensive end. Post snap, the defensive end crashes down, while the outside linebacker comes from the outside and the middle linebacker attacks the original gap. The New England Patriots offensive line is confused, does not communicate, and only left tackle Nate Solder is left to account for three rushers.
Below is another example of a defense using multiple 3 techniques and leaving the A Gap open, but here the Patriots blitz and the spacing goal is different; the goal is for Malcolm Brown (#90) to attack the inside shoulder of Houston Texans left tackle while Chris Long (#95) loops inside. Because Long and Brown occupy the guard and tackle, Logan Ryan runs free on the DB blitz:
Another blitz indicator is when more than one player appears to occupy the same defensive area. Below, multiple Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs end up next to each other right outside the defensive end in what is called a fire zone blitz scheme:
Recognizing the Blitz: Safety Alignment
There are times when defenses will disguises blitzes from outside the box and blitz with their overhang defenders, which could be nickel corners, safeties, or linebackers. These defenders try to disguise themselves for as long as they can and time up the snap.
These blitzes can be difficult to see, but quarterbacks could recognize them by looking at the alignment of the deep safety. If an overhang defender blitzes, then a deep safety would have to replace them and cover a slot receiver or tight end, so they would usually have to line up right over them and closer to the box than usual.
The Green Bay Packers are lined up with an empty backfield and twins to top of the screen. The defense lines up with a linebacker apexing the slot. The deep safety to that side lines up directly over the top of the slot but tries not give away what his coverage responsibility by trying to walk around. However, he cannot stray too far from the slot because he has to cover him. Rodgers recognizes the blitz and throws hot to the slot, who drops the ball unfortunately.
Also, notice how the deep safety is aligned to the trips side on this play:
Notice the difference of his alignment in the next play.
(The offense will line in trips to the top of the screen this time.)
The nickel corner blitzes and Rodgers wants to throw hot to that direction, but the deep safety did a good job of covering the slot. The defense did a good job of bluffing a blitz too. Linebacker, Sean Lee, came up to the line like he was going to blitz, but when the ball was snapped, he ran back and covered the #3 receiver. Rodgers couldn’t throw hot to either of them and was sacked on the play.
So how could quarterbacks tell if a defense is disguising and bluffing their blitzes? They could use the hard count to their advantage. The hard count is typically used to try to get an defense to jump offsides, but because the defense tries to time up their blitz and movement with the snap, a quarterback could get them to show their hand.
Initially, the free safety stays back to give the look of a single-high defense while the strong safety (#30) is up on the line bluffing a blitz. However, Carr gets them to move with the hard count.
The movement revealed that the free safety would walk into the box leaving the Bills in a Cover 0. After seeing the blitz and the coverage, Carr gave Cooper a signal to run a double move on rookie Kevon Seymour. Cooper beat Seymour by faking a slant before leaving him in the dust with a mean cut upfield. Without safety help, Seymour was toast and Carr laid the ball out softly for Cooper who scored a 37-yard touchdown.