American football defenses are tasked with the tough job of stopping high-powered offenses. To keep the offense guessing, defenses must confuse and pressure the quarterback into making poor decisions. One of the ways to enforce offensive mistakes is to blitz during a football game.
A blitz is when the defense sends 5 or more players toward the line of scrimmage as the ball is snapped to disrupt the offense. Defensive coaches will typically have 4 or more players blitzing every play.
In this article, we’re going to show you exactly what blitz is in football and how you can identify it when watching a game.
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Blitz In Football
Ever since the evolution of the spread offense, defenses are forced to cover speedy receivers all 53.3 yards wide. Quarterbacks are more efficient than ever in both their reads and their ball placement.
To add more pressure on the quarterback, defensive coaches have created unique ways to blitz the quarterback.
Blitz, short for the term blitzkrieg, was used by Germany in World War 2. This term meant “Lightning War,” about how Germany would invade their opponents with land and air assault.
The term was adapted in football, which meant the defense would bring as much pressure to the quarterback as possible.
Traditionally, defenses will line up in 3, 4, or 5 down fronts. This means the defensive line of scrimmage will have 3, 4, or 5 players that will move toward the offense on the snap of the football.
When blitzing, players will run as fast as they can through a gap in hopes of tackling the ball carrier on the run or sacking the quarterback.
This strategy is highly effective when the defense can get through the offensive line and the ball carrier.
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How To Blitz In Football
Blitzing often requires 6 players to move toward the line of scrimmage and 5 players to cover the eligible offensive skill players. The defense can make no mistakes, as each player is man-to-man.
This is the high-risk, high-reward portion of blitzing. The whole point of blitzing is to force the quarterback into making quick decisions. These quick decisions are often poor, as the quarterback will try to do almost anything to avoid taking a sack and losing yards.
Blitzing isn’t always a good thing.
If the offensive line can effectively block the blitz, it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the players covering the 5 eligible receivers. The quick offensive players can run free without any safety help, resulting in an easy 6 points.
To blitz in football, coaches will have 6 players moving toward the line and occupy all of the gaps. If one of the gaps is left open, a big play happens from a running perspective. See the example below for a visual reference.
As mentioned, if one of these players blitz and doesn’t rush their assigned gaps, one of the gaps will be wide open, and the running back can usually run through it untouched. Here is an example:
Difference Between A Pass Rush & A Blitz
Often a blitz can be mixed up with a simple pass rush. If the defense has a simple 4 man front, they will rush 4 defenders at the start of the play. If any more players are moving toward the line of scrimmage, this is known as blitzing.
Any rush with 3 or 4 players moving toward the line of scrimmage is considered a simple pass rush. Teams will often identify as a blitz for any more players that move toward the offensive line.
This is often confused when a team with a 3 down front (3 men on the line of scrimmage) rushes another player at the snap. They’re only rushing 4 players, which most offenses consider a standard pass rush.
The team who can get to the quarterback will rarely blitz, as their standard pass rush can disrupt the quarterback on any play.
Teams with a weak pass rush may need to blitz a bit more to affect the offense and quarterback. This is a common tactic among defensive coaches who have a weak pass rush.
What Is A Fire Zone Blitz In Football?
When a team blitzes, they will often send 6 players, meaning the other 5 remaining defensive players need to play man-to-man coverage against the offense’s 5 eligible receivers.
However, a fire zone blitz changes the dynamic of the blitz. The defensive will blitz 5 players toward scrimmage and have the other 6 players play zone coverage.
This blitz is known as a fire zone blitz. The most common type of coverage behind a fire zone blitz is the 3-deep, 3-under coverage, as shown in the diagram above.
Teams will use a fire zone blitz to add pressure to the offensive line, meanwhile protecting against the deep pass by having 3 deep defenders. These defenders are all playing zone coverage in hopes that the quarterback will make a wrong decision and intercept the football.
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Running a blitz in American football is a high-risk, high-reward play. The teams that blitz often put a lot of stress on their defensive backs, requiring them to be good man-to-man defenders.
On the flip side, teams that rarely blitz become predictable, and a good offensive line coach can typically pick apart the defensive scheme. There needs to be a healthy dose of blitzing and playing zone coverage to confuse and stress the offense.
To be successful as a defensive unit, all gaps must be covered. If a team is blitz-happy or has a standard defense, all gaps must be accounted for to stop the run.
The run game often exposes teams who fail to cover gaps when blitzing.
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