Film Study: Creating Pass Rush Lanes & Alleys

Disclaimer: I'm not an expert. Rely on the following analysis at your own risk.

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In my last post I showed how the Cal defense disguised one of its blitzes in the ASU game which forced the offense into throwing an interception. If you read that post, my tone seemed to suggest that the Sun Devil offensive line was mostly at fault for failing to identify the blitzer (Cal safety #7 - D.J. Campbell). They were at fault there. Of course, some credit is due to the actual Cal defensive players on the field like D.J. Campbell and Mychal Kendricks for disguising their respectively blitz and coverage so well.

But another person needs credit for this INT. You see, this great defensive play didn't JUST happen because the Sun Devil offensive line failed to identify a blitzer post-snap. This great defensive play didn't JUST happen because D.J. Campbell and Mychal Kendricks did such a great a job disguising their coverage/blitz exchange. This great defensive play didn't JUST happen because there was otherwise great all-around execution on the field by the other Cal defenders. This great defensive play ALSO happened (and perhaps more importantly happened) because of great scheme by Cal Defensive Coordinator, Clancy Pendergast.

Let's take a look at what he did.

In case you don't recall the situation, I'll quickly revisit it.

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Arizona State was down 9 points late in the 4th quarter. They obviously needed two quick scores to win the game, meaning that their offense had to pass the ball. The Sun Devils faced a 3rd and 10 at around midfield. They had 10 personnel on the field (4 WRs), with trips left and the RB offset to the weak (the side opposite of the WR strength) and short side of the field.

Cal countered with its 3-3 Nickel defense (3 DL, 3 LBs, 5 DBs). Cal showed a pre-snap Man Free / Cover-1 look. Immediately after the snap, Cal safety #7 -- whom was showing man coverage against the inner slot WR -- blitzed. Cal linebacker #30 dropped back into man coverage on that very same inner slot WR. This was the coverage exchange. My big point in that previous post was how critical it was for that Sun Devil OL to identify disguised blitzers post-snap.

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And I showed how the Sun Devil offense did not identify all the blitzers. Cal sent five pass rushers total (3 DL, 1 LB, and 1 S). The Sun Devil OL only accounted for four of the pass rushers, the 3 DL and the 1 LB. They did not account for the blitzing safety. As you can see in the picture above, the 5 Sun Devil offensive linemen are blocking the three defensive linemen and the linebacker but are completely oblivious to that blitzing safety.

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Because the offensive line failed to identify that blitzing safety, there was basically a huge pass rush lane for the safety to run throw and lay the wood to the Sun Devil QB.

So is this an offensive line execution error? Yeah, basically, since they didn't identify the blitzing safety.

But this isn't just some unforced error, it was a forced error.

As I alluded to in my intro, there was some smart scheming going on here by Cal Defensive Coordinator Clancy Pendergast which resulted in this forced error.

So let's (finally) look at how this scheme caused this offensive line error.

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First let's take a look at the play from a different angle, as seen above. I like this angle a little better than the TV broadcast angle because you can see the spacing and assignments of the OL and DL better.

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Just so we're all on the same page, I've put positional abbreviations in the above picture so we all know who's who. Remember, the safety (labled "S" in the picture above) is the disguised blitzer. The middle linebacker (Cal LB #3) is also a pass rusher along with the three defensive linemen.

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Now, the key to understanding football is this: numbers.

Quite simply, football is a numbers game. I hate a lot of football cliches ("Defense wins championships," "SEC speed," etc.) but this cliche is true. So many football concepts (like high-low reads, zone reads, bootlegs, gap assignments) are based on simple mathematics.

This play is no different. This play simply boils down to this: 4 is greater than 3.

I've drawn a boundary around that four vs. three matchup in the picture above. That is where the scheme is happening.

The significance of including the offense's LT, LG, and C in the boundary is because those are the offense's three left-most blockers. I know the center is in the "middle" of the offensive line, but for the purposes of football coach scheming, he's usually considered a part of both sides (because of the fact that he is in the middle he can block to either side).

The Cal defense is attacking the Sun Devil's THREE left side blockers. And they're attacking with ... wait for it ... FOUR pass rushers. You don't need to be a genius to figure out that 4 > 3. The defense should win this battle. This is a simple overload blitz.

But this play doesn't simply hinge on the fact that the defense is attacking the offense with one more man than the offense can account for. It's how/where the defense is attacking which is so genius.

Let me back up a minute. Remember, Cal sent FIVE pass rushers at the QB (3 DL, 1 LB, 1 S). The Sun Devils have FIVE pass blockers (5 OL).

Cal shouldn't have been able to get to the QB. Remember, football is a numbers game!

5 = 5

Stalemate! Nobody wins! The Sun Devils should be able to account for every pass rusher! For example, they should have been able to match-up like below:

LT = RDE
LG = S
C = LB
RG = NT
RT = LDE

But Cal's pass rush won on this play! Why???

It wasn't due to some serendipitous luck of the play. Clancy Pendergast planned this. Clancy Pendergast created a numerical advantage.

It was because the scheme brought FOUR pass rushers against THREE pass blockers IN A SPECIFIC LOCATION -- that location being the offense's left side.

That last sentence was so important, I'm going to say it again.

It was because the scheme brought FOUR blitzers against THREE pass blockers IN A SPECIFIC LOCATION -- that location being the offense's left side.

This is how things really went down (from left to right along the line of scrimmage):

LT = RDE
(nobody) = Blitzing Safety
LG = LB
C and RG = NT
RT = LDE

Boom. Five pass blockers are only blocking four pass rushers, leaving one pass rusher unblocked.

Let's review this scheme in detail below.

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The Cal NT (nose tackle) is lined up over the offense's center. The NT will immediately attack and occupy the center (the bottom yellow line connecting the NT and the C).

The Cal LB #3 will immediately show pass rush, attack, and occupy the offense's LG (the middle yellow line connecting the LB and the LB).

And, the Cal RDE will immediately attack and occupy the offense's LT (the upper yellow line connecting the RDE and the LT).

With these three blockers to one side of the offense immediately occupied by obvious pass rush threats (the NT, LB and RDE), then none of them will be able to block the blitzing safety thus ensuring that the blitzing safety gets through.

In other words, the jobs of Cal's RDE, NT, and LB aren't simply just to pass rush the QB, it's to pass rush the QB AND to occupy the entire left side of the offensive line.

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Here's another snapshot of the play as it unfolds some more. As you can see, Cal's NT #91 has occupied the C and is even drawing attention from the RG. Cal's LB #3 is occupying the attention of the LG. And Cal's RDE is occupying the LT. Again, nobody is going to be blocking the blitzing safety.

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With nobody blocking the blitzing safety, he has a clear path to the QB.

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Bam! The QB throws the ball earlier than he wants to and it results in an interception.

To view the play in whole, click on this link (the link will open a youtube video pre-set to start at the correct time). Or you can just fast-forward the video below to the 8:06 mark. Be sure to watch the video at the 8:51 mark too, because that's where you'll see the overload blitz scheme.

Conclusion:

I'm almost a bit embarrassed that I wrote this analysis post. I'm sure most of you who saw this play and read this post are thinking, "This is so elementary! This was very obvious!" Yes, it is elementary. Yes, things are quite obvious.

This was a simple disguised blitz.

It was a "Man Free / Cover-1 safety blitz" play disguised as a "Man Free / Cover-1" defense (without the safety blitz).

It was a simple overload blitz on the offense's left side.

It was simply four vs. three.

It was simply Cal's three most obvious pass rush threats (the NT, RDE, and LB) immediately occupying the Sun Devil's left side pass blockers (the LT, LG, and C) so that the blitzing safety can get through. That created the pass rush lane and alley.

So simple. So elementary. Football is a numbers game.

Remember, here's the genius of it all. Pendergast didn't have a numerical advantage in whole. He sent five pass rushers against five pass blockers. BUT, he created a numerical advantage against the offense's left side by sending four of those five pass rushers against three pass blockers.

So again, this wasn't just some unforced error by the offensive line. This was a forced error by the defense. This was scheme at its finest, courtesy of Cal Defensive Coordinator, Clancy Pendergast.

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Special thanks to TouchedTheAxein82 and everyone else who helps seed the torrents for these games. Without your help, I wouldn't be able to do this stuff. Also, thanks to PRD74 for posting these highlight clips to Youtube so that people can watch the plays as video too.

My other analysis posts can be found here.

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