It’s something that the Seattle Seahawks made a move towards last season, and will do more of this year – creating multiple defensive fronts to confuse the offense on which defenders will blitz.
The New York Jets are probably the latest team that has had the most success of doing that out of a 3-4 defensive scheme, creating what defensive guru and head coach Rex Ryan termed an illusion of pressure.
“We can give you the illusion of pressure, and it can actually be a coverage,” Ryan told the St. Petersburg Times. “We can overload you on sides. We can run zero pressure. We can run coverage. We can give you all kinds of different looks and (make you) think you’re getting it from one side, bring it from another, bring it from both sides, bring it through the middle, bring it on the outsides.”
The Jets’ statistics for the 2009 back up Ryan’s claim, as his defense was no doubt the best in the league last season.
The Jets gave up a league-low 14.8 points a contest and also allowed the fewest yards per game (252.3). New York held its opponents' quarterback to a league-low 58.8 passer rating. The Jets were the league’s best in third-down percentage defensively (32 percent). They allowed an NFL-low 38 scoring drives, none of them four plays or fewer. And they allowed the fewest number of plays of 10 or more yards and had the highest percentage of three-and-outs.
Blitzing was a staple of the Jets’ defensive scheme. New York blitzed (sending five or more rushers) 45.3 percent of the time in passing situations according to Football Outsiders, second to New Orleans (47.4 percent).
The league average for blitzing in 2009 was 34.2 percent, according to the same source
Seattle’s blitz percentage for 2009 was 31.6 percent, which fell below the league average. Thanks to Doug Farrar of Footballoutsiders.com for digging up that statistic for me. If you haven’t already, you should check out the web site's yearly almanac, which offers a wealth of interesting statistics on each NFL team from the previous season. The new one will be out in a few weeks.
Traditionally, Tampa 2 teams – still Seattle’s base defense – do not blitz that much, choosing to try and create pressure with just four players up front.
The Minnesota Vikings are probably the best example of a successful Tampa 2 team. They only blitzed 30 percent of the time in 2009, which put them at 23rd overall in the league. However, they still managed to get great pressure on the quarterback with just the front four, finishing with a league-leading 48 sacks in 2009.
Another Tampa 2 team, the Indianapolis Colts, also got good pressure up front without blitzing. The Colts only blitzed 24.4 percent of the time last season.
Even with their Tampa 2 roots, the Seahawks will likely try and become more of a blitzing team in 2010.
The NFL is a copycat league. So it’s no wonder teams like Seattle are using some of what the Jets attempt to do to create pressure as a blueprint for their defensive schemes, as the Seahawks move to a 4-3 under front that at times will have the look of a 3-4 scheme.
Check out this video of the Jets frustrating quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots below to get an idea of the success they had using multiple fronts.
According to this Wall Street Journal article, there was an 18 percent jump in blitzes in the 2009 season.
“There might be some similarities to that,” Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said when asked if he had taken some concepts to what the Jets did last season. “We just studied them the other day and watched some of the things that they do, and I think you can maybe draw some similarities.
“But I think it’s unique in it’s own style, some of things that we’re doing. And I know it’s different than what we did last year, and so that’s what has taken a little bit of time for our guys to adjust, but they’ve done a nice job with it.”
Bradley also talked about maintaining a balance between bringing more pressure and creating the allusion of bringing pressure, stating Seattle’s defensive changes is probably a mixture of both.
“I think what the defense has allowed us to do now is become more multiple,” Bradley said. “And whenever you can do that, ‘Now who’s rushing and who’s not rushing’ – then they have to decide and you get one-on-one matchups. And maybe you get a matchup you like, like a d-lineman against a back.
“If you can’t generate the rush with just four guys rushing, then you have to be multiple and creative in how you do it. So this package has a lot of the things we did last year, but it also gives us some flexibility.”
Bradley said the team has been using the OTAs to put players in different positions to see how they would look heading into training camp. Examples of that include Red Bryant working at 5-tech, David Hawthorne playing Will linebacker with Leroy Hill away and rookie Dexter Davis seeing time at Sam linebacker.
Overall, head coach Pete Carroll said he’s been pleased with the way the team has looked defensively.
“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Carroll said about the installation of the new defense, which has included some 3-4 looks. “We’re going to be able to do a lot of stuff, like we’d like to, and try to make it uncomfortable for our opponents and their offense.”
If you’re an X’s and Os geek like me, Blitzology does a nice job of breaking down specific type of blitzes and is worth checking out.
Also, Bradley talked with KJR’s Mitch Levy about the changes in Seattle’s defense this morning in this audio link.