Zone Blitzes Among Many Changes To Look ForNovember 25th, 2009
By STEVE WHITE
Steve White spent every season of the Tony Dungy era playing defensive end for the Bucs. He’s spent countless hours in the film room with the likes of Warren Sapp, Rod Marinelli and more. Joe is humbled to now have White, also a published author and blogger, as part of the JoeBucsFan.com team. Today White serves up an Xs and Os look at what could be next for the Bucs defense now that defensive coordinator Jim Bates was fired and Raheem Morris has filled his role. It’s simply a can’t-miss read for the hardcore Bucs fan.
I find no joy in a man losing his job. So this post isn’t about Jim Bates. What it is about is the Bucs defense we will see on Sunday, and I for one am excited.
Yes, I said excited.
I know I will be one of the few people you will hear all week say that. But to the people who are opining negatively about the switch from Bates to Raheem Morris as defensive coordinator, I will say to them what Brad Culpepper said to me one day in our meeting room:
“I know more football than you.”
You might think that an egotistical statement; hell, I don’t really care.
What I do care about is getting the train back on the tracks, and going back to what we normally do on defense is a step in the right direction.
Here are some changes I think Bucs fans should look for on defense on Sunday against the Falcons:
1. Will we have a declared under tackle?
This year, instead of having one guy who always played under tackle in the B-gap, we just kept both tackles on the left or the right and they alternated between being head up on the guard and being an outside shade of the guard in the B-gap. I really think that Chris Hovan is best suited to be the under tackle, and if he can line up in the B-gap he will be able to get consistent push on play action pass on early downs. Ryan Sims is more suited for the nose tackle position, and if we can get him lined up on the center on most plays I think our defense will function better. Roy Miller has shown that he can do both, so he could basically stay in the same rotation.
2. Will we see the return of our under defense?
All of this year we have played an over defense with four defensive linemen on the line and the strong tackle generally being to the tight end side. If we really go back to our old defense, we will mix in some under defense. That means we will put our Sam linebacker, Quincy Black, up on the line to the tight end side. The end to that side would be in the C-gap with an outside shade of the tackle, the tackle to that side would then be in the A gap, the backside tackle is in the B-gap and the backside end in a wide 5.
This defense gives us a lot of options.
On the front side, we are a lot more stout against the run and we have quite a few options to run blitz on early downs (see our old Bark zone blitzes). On the back side, we have our tackle and end in a prime pass rushing position for play action pass. Also, with Black being on the line over the tight end he will get plenty of opportunities to get physical with Tony Gonzales and hopefully hold him up at the line. If nothing else, it will give the Falcons offensive line another front to have to block.
3. Who will be in on the defensive line on 3rd-and-long?
I wrote earlier in the week what should be done with the third-down personnel. I am hoping that they give Miller and Kyle Moore an opportunity to rush inside and leave Jimmy Wilkerson at left end to rush the right tackle.
4. Will we back our corners off the line a bit pre-snap?
One of the hallmarks of Bates’ defense was that our corners would challenge receivers at the line and be active in the run game. The problem has been, of course, that this also leaves us susceptible to the deep ball. I really am hoping that at least at times we get our corners back to about five yards off prenap, so as to take some of the pressure off them when the Falcons try to go over the top in the passing game.
5. Will we get back to blitzing more on first down?
For as much as people simplistically focused on the Tampa 2 when Monte Kiffin was here, he should have had as much credit for the zone blitzes he also called.
Plenty of times we ran zone blitzes in early downs to get teams into 3rd-and-long situations. I remain convinced that if we can get the Falcons in a lot of 3rd-and-longs, we will get off the field on third down. To do that we need to be sending our linebackers early and often on zone blitzes, not only to knock out the run but also to get pressure on Matt Ryan on play action pass.
Zone blitzes are a relatively safe way to send pressure and still keep coverage downfield fundamentally sound. And again, it’s something we haven’t done all year, so it will be throwing the Falcons a curveball.
Now there is one last thing I want to point out here. We brought back Joe Barry to coach our linebackers this year after being the defensive coordinator for the Lions. He obviously didn’t have a lot of success there but the guy knows Monte’s defense backwards and forwards.
For that reason the transition to what we used to do won’t be especially hard. Combine that with the fact that most of our starters played in that scheme last year, and there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful.
I have said all year that the scheme was not taking advantage of the talent that we do have. I am not saying we will all of a sudden morph into the Baltimore Ravens defense overnight. But what I am saying is that I truly believe that you will see a marked improvement on Sunday.
There are unknowns, of course, like how Coach Morris will gameplan and what kind of calls he will make in crucial situations. But overall, I fully expect statistically and stylistically to see a better product on the field Sunday.
And let me say this in closing, I could obviously be totally wrong. We might go out Sunday and totally lay an egg on defense and look even worse against Atlanta than we did on Sunday against the Saints.
But I have the courage of my convictions and I will be back here next week to take the criticism if I am wrong. To those who are convinced we will suck I just ask, ‘Are you willing to say the same thing?’