A Closer Look at Cal's 2009 Defense and Special Teams, Part 4

For this next installment, I am going to stray from the format of the first 3 posts in this series to spice things up a little bit.  Instead of subjecting loyal readers to a whole season of failures from a specific area of the defense, I will take a closer look at the failures for the first half of a game from 2009 in this post.  This defensive area fell well short of expectations.  In this next post, I decided to look into everyone’s favorite topic: Pressuring the Quarterback.


Pressuring the Quarterback

Contrary to popular belief, blitzing just to blitz in hopes of sacking or disrupting the quarterback is not effective.  Blitzing is most effective when sending specific pressure to attack the weak parts of protection schemes during certain down and distance situations.  Dialing up the right pressure at the right time is important to the success of the defensive playcall.  Equally important is having the personnel capable of executing the blitz, which means they must have a diverse set of moves, must know their assignments, and having extra athleticism to make up for a miscue always helps.

Upon thumbing through last season’s statistics, I noticed that Oregon State was #82 in the country in sacks allowed and I selectively had forgotten that Cal did not sack Oregon State’s quarterback a single time.  Spiked by curiosity and recalling the complaints about Cal’s ineffective pass rush against the Beavers and rushing 3 too many times in that game, I took a deeper look into things and cut every pressure play that involved a blitz, zone blitz, and the additional 4th rusher from the first half of the 2009 OSU game.

Without any further ado, here are some of the relevant statistics to this post (well, most of them are relevant) and clips:

Total OSU Offensive Plays, 1st Half Run Pass
39 15 24


Cal Defensive Personnel vs OSU, 1st Half
3-4 3-3-5
Total # of snaps 36 3


# of Rushers on Pass Plays 3 4 5 6 Play Action
Total # of times 4 14 3 1 2


Pressure (5+ blitzers) on Down 1st 2nd 3rd
# of Times 2 5 1


Pressure (5+ blitzers, zone blitz, and 4th rusher) on Down 1st 2nd 3rd
# of Times 4 6 2


Down and Distance, All Plays
# of Plays
1st and 10 14
1st and Goal 3
2nd and Goal 2
2nd and 1-3 1
2nd and 4-8 2
2nd and 9+ 7
3rd and Goal 2
3rd and 1-3 1
3rd and 4-8 1
3rd and 9+ 5
4th and short 1


Down and Distance, Pass Plays Only
# of Plays
1st and 10 7
1st and Goal 1
2nd and Goal 0
2nd and 1-3 0
2nd and 4-8 2
2nd and 9+ 7
3rd and Goal 1
3rd and 1-3 0
3rd and 4-8 1
3rd and 9+ 5
4th and short 0

4th "Mystery" Rusher

The left, right, and middle of the offensive line was pressured in these clips.  Note how little pressure the linebackers get.
1: Left Inside Linebacker (Bishop) is the 4th Rusher and takes on the Right Guard
2: Left Outside Linebacker (Holt) is the 4th Rusher and takes on the Right Tackle
3: Operating out of 3-3-5 personnel, the Middle Linebacker (Young) is the 4th rusher and he goes up against the Left Guard
4: Right Outside Linebacker (Young) is the 4th Rusher and is blocked by the Tight End


Pressure with 5+ Rushers

The OSU offensive line is attacked from the outside on both sides and straight up the middle.  Less than ideal success rate.
1: Cal sends 5 guys (3 DL, 1 OLB, 1 ILB).  The additional rusher that gets sent is the left inside linebacker who had a clear path to the QB, who got the pass off rather quickly.  Notice how the pass was completed to the area the ILB was blitzing from but also, the safety covering the OSU WR was the victim of a pick route.

2: Cal sent 5 guys  (3 DL, 1 OLB, 1 SAF).  This clip is a bit frustrating to review for a few reasons.  First, Cameron Jordan (Defensive End on the bottom of the screen) is held and there was no call.  Second, Aaron Tipoti (Nose Tackle) got a very good push on the center but let up when he thought the running back had the ball.  He did realize his mistake and went back to the rush.  If Tipoti never let up, he probably would have gotten a hand on Canfield and even sacked him, changing the face of the game.

3: Left Cornerback Blitz.  If this were a pass play, it looks to me that 5 guys would have rushed.  However, it turned out to be a run play that was defended very well by Cal’s defense.

4: Blitz near the Goal line.  Cal sent 6 guys and had man coverage on every eligible receiver.  The OSU tight end stayed into block so one of Cal’s safety’s served as a "safety."  OSU ran another pick route which blocked Cal safety’s from covering the WR who scored.



Zone Blitzes

The zone blitzes in this clip came on 2nd and 9+ (with the exception of a 2nd and 5) in the 2nd quarter. Screens are a good play to pick up some yardage to make easier 3rd down situations for the offense when in 2nd and longs.  OSU called a screen play in the 1st quarter on a 2nd and long which was stopped by a 3 man rush.  The next two 2nd and longs had regular blitzes beaten BADLY so the zone blitz was dialed up next and there was success with the exception of the first lowlight in the video.

1: Cal blitzed the free safety from the left side and dropped the NT into coverage.  I am not sure what the previous defensive coordinator assigned the nose tackle on these blitzes.  Drop into the short middle zone, spy the running back for screen and dump off passes, or both?  Something I have to check into.  However, if the NT is assigned to spy on the RB in this play, this is clearly his bad which set off the chain reaction.

2-4: The last three zone blitzes in this clip are essentially the same concept with a Nose Tackle dropping into coverage/spying the running back and the defensive ends and outside linebackers on both sides rushing  (OK, I got lazy with my breakdowns but I got tired of watching rushers run straight into blockers).



Thoughts on OSU's QB and OL

Pressuring the quarterback against OSU were pretty bad to say the least.  The OSU OL did a very good job of protecting the QB.  Some missed holding calls but overall, they held strong against the Cal pressure.  When in 1 on 1 situations, the OSU offensive linemen held their own just long enough for the QB to get the pass off (I do not believe he threw the ball away once in the first half).   I think the only clear shot Cal landed on him was in the very last clip of the Zone Blitz video where Kendricks popped the QB just as he was throwing.  Cal touched him a few times otherwise, but never to the point where he was shaken up by a hit.  The OSU QB was very good at getting rid of the ball quickly against Cal and I think a bunch of that could be accredited to being a 5th year senior and the OSU game plan.  Overall in this game, OSU's offense just flat out executed.  It does not matter if OSU was #82 in the country in sacks allowed.  What matters is that they played better that Saturday.

How Did Cal Fare When Sending Pressure?

  • Cal sent 5+ blitzers 4 times out of 24 passes and were beaten 3 times (17% of the time and 25% success rate)
  • Cal blitzed zone and 5+ rushers 8 times out of 24 passes (33% of the time and 37.5% success rate)
  • Cal sent the unknown 4th rusher 4 times out of 24 passes(16.7% of the time and 0% success rate)
  • Cal sent pressure in the form of 5+ rushers, zone blitz, and 4th mystery rusher 12 times out of 24 passes (50% of the time, success rate 25%)
  • Cal rushed 4 fourteen times. 
  • Cal rushed 3 four times and got beaten badly once but sniffed out a screen, got a holding penalty, and batted down a pass the other times (75% success rate).

So what was the problem? 

  • Coverage?  Much better coverage was needed especially while in zone. Sometimes there was adequate pressure despite not getting to the QB but coverage was not tight enough.
  • Playcalling?  I would say part of it is playcalling when looking back in hindsight.  I am not a Sunday morning quarterback so playcalling is near the bottom of my list.  Cal's safeties took a beating when OSU got them in man coverage and when Cal had busted coverages.  It was some brilliant playcalling on OSU's part.  However, Cal did adjust it's playcalling but I really would have liked to have seen more creative pressure on zone blitzes.
  • Personnel?  A good amount of plays were run out of the 3-3-5 last year in long distance situations.  Out of 39 plays, Cal ran the 3-3-5 three times in the first half vs OSU.  Most of Cal’s cool defensive calls from 2008 came out of the 3-3-5.  Believe me and I know for a fact that a large section of the defensive pressure package was left unused in 2009.  Though, I do not expect everybody to believe me.  However, if you do not, check out this post, a compilation of Cal’s defense in the 3-3-5 in 2008.  That section was not just torn out of the playbook and used to start fires for heat to keep the coaches warm at Memorial Stadium during cold nights last fall.  This section of the playbook was left untouched because the personnel could not execute it.
  • Bad Pass Rushing Skills and Lack of Moves?  When breaking down this film, I saw absolutely too many rushers running straight into blockers.  A tackling dummy would have been more effective at times.  When pass rushing, the rusher needs to have an assortment of moves to get to the Quarterback.  On a lower level, this is a talent, experience, and position coach problem.  Going up a level, this is defensive coordinator problem.  On a higher level, this is a head coaching and recruiting problem.  The problem is intermingled on all levels, however, I feel Cal has already taken the right steps in addressing it.  We will see soon. 


Stay tuned for Part 5/5 in the next few days.


The first 3 installments of this series can be found at these links:Part 1: Mistackling, Part 2: Special Teams, and Part 3: Run Defense

The opinions expressed in a FanPost are, in every way, reflective of the opinions of every California Golden Blogs Marshawnthusiast. Moreover, they are reflective of every employee of SBNation, including Tyler "Blez" Bleszinski.

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