What Is a Blitz In Football? Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: December 29, 2023

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.

This article will show you exactly what blitz is in football and how you can identify it when watching a game.

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 their reads and 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.

Blitzing defenders is a high risk, high reward opportunity for the defense. Each defensive coordinator has their philosophy, different blitz packages, and their blitz scheme.

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 forcing the quarterback to make 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.

A linebacker blitz or safety blitz isn’t always best for the defense.

If the offensive line can effectively block the blitz, throw a sight adjustment, or make pre snap adjustments, it stresses 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. A successful blitz has all the gaps covered by all of the blitzing defenders. See the example below for a visual reference.

Defense playing blitz gaps

If one of these players blitz and doesn’t rush their assigned gaps, one will be wide open, and the running back can usually run through it untouched. Here is an example:

Defense Not Playing blitz Gaps

Pass Rush Vs. 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 often identify as a blitz for any more players moving 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 that 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 more to affect the offense and quarterback. This is a common tactic among defensive coaches who have a weak pass rush.

Cover 0, also known as a zero blitz, differs from a conventional blitz as the maximum number of defenders are trying to sack the quarterback.

What Is A Fire Zone Blitz In Football?

When a team blitzes, they often send 6 players, meaning the other 5 remaining defensive players must 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.

Fire Zone Blitz

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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Linebacker blitzes are designed to disrupt the quarterback to throw an incomplete pass or interception.

Players rushing must provide extra pressure when they run blitzes or the offense will take advantage of it. If the coach sends five or more players, there’s a good chance you will get a sack or big play.

If you liked learning about the football blitz, we recommend you check out our Beginners Guide To Football below to help increase your football IQ.

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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About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.