Zone Blitzes Among Many Changes To Look For

November 25th, 2009
Former Bucs DE Steve White

Former Bucs DE Steve White

By STEVE WHITE
JoeBucsFan.com analyst

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?’

25 Responses to “Zone Blitzes Among Many Changes To Look For”

  1. Warthog Says:

    Steve, your articles are consistently among the best I have read about the Bucs. Keep up the great work.

    I’m not sure we’ll see a huge bump in production against the Falcons but I think another week or two down the track, as they get back in the Tampa2 swing we may see some improvement.

  2. Jackson Says:

    How many Pro Bowlers do you think we’ll have this year Mr. White, 6 maybe 7 with Quincy steppin’ up, oops forgot Kyle Moore, that’s 8? Thank goodness for this Tampa 2.

  3. Trox Says:

    Warthog, I echo your sediment. Steve, as a loyal Bucs you are a daily must read for me on this website or on your blog. I really enjoy your insight.

    I believe we will see more blitzing from the Bucs, especially during 1st or 2nd down. Considering, we really didn’t see any early blitzing from Bates at all, it can only help. I would assume we may see Ronde blitz out of the slot again, which would be a welcome sight.

    I don’t expect miracles this weekend, this move is more about building for next year. However, I do expect incremental improvement.

  4. Mr. Lucky Says:

    Steve,

    To be honest with you I dont know WHAT to expect from the boys in Pewter this week.

    Under Monte’s system the Bucs broke down last year – hence the switch this year.

    the Tampa 2 has always been soft on the run up the gut – even when you were on the team.

    I would love to see more zone blitz’s but this week? I think its too early but I’m hopeful. I would like to see more gap slants and this will – hopefully – free Black and Hayes up for getting into the backfield.

    I do hope that Morris/Barry find a way to send Sabby when in the box because his strength isn’t the pass.

    What I WANT to see is Pewter in the backfield and disrupting the Falcons – that has been sorely missing. If we can do that I would expect big games from Talib and Jackson.

  5. sgw94 Says:

    @Jackson

    LOL yeah you made a funny. I am sure we will see you back here on Monday right?

  6. sgw94 Says:

    @Warthog and @Trox

    Thanks for the compliments guys.

    What I think we will see as an improvement more than anything else is the return of some big plays in the running game. So far this year we are probably dead last in tackles for loss in the NFL. If we get back to playing more than one front and blitzing some on first down I think you will see guys showing up in the backfield against Atlanta. And I also think you will see a noticeable improvement on the pass rush in early downs if we have a declared undertackle.

    We still aren’t sure just how much Raheem will put back into the playbook but if he puts the things back that I said in the post I think without question you will see an improvement.

  7. sgw94 Says:

    @MrLucky

    What I will say is to look for improvement. Don’t look for us to be dominating, but look for us to be a lot better than one of the worst defenses statisically in the NFL. Look for the front 7 to make some plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage. And look for the pass rush to improve on early downs. Remember now, the Falcons haven’t exactly been setting the world on fire in recent weeks so this is a game that we have a legitimate chance of winning. But win lose or draw what I personally want to see is improvement across the board and good football.

  8. Jeff Says:

    It was mentioned on another site that Morris plans to implement an aggressive, blitzing version of the Tampa 2 – which he ran at K-State. Any chance you can tell us what to expect? You know more than I, but it seems as if teams have figured out the Tampa 2 and have attacked it well. I’m all for a blitzing\aggressive version, but not sure what to expect.

  9. lightningbuc Says:

    Hey Steve,

    You told me last week I didn’t know a damn thing about football and didn’t know what the hell i was talking about and I’m back and will continue to be back. I’m a big boy I can take it. And while I still respect your views as that of a former NFL’er, my view is still the same of the D-Line, that it lacks talent. But that is just our two views, so these next 6 weeks will show if it’s lack of talent or scheme related. I hope you’re right and we see some progress. Either way, I will be back here to talk with you. I like the fact you interact with us, and for that THANKS!

  10. BigMacAttack Says:

    I agree with this evaluation and the decision by Coach Rah. I believe we will finally start moving onward and upward. I think Barrett Ruud is one of the keys to success, and he has to get back on his game. I think we’ll start seeing more gang tackles from a very athletic defense and this should help Sabby. The biggest impact I think will come from the overall motivation of the players. I think they want this and it will lift their spirits. Regardless of what Raheem has said about his players, I think he believed they were underachieving and he could get more output from them. We have 6 games left and 5 of them are definitely winnable. I don’t think anybody will beat the Saints at home, but I think they will ultimately lose to the Colts in the Superbowl (18-0 vs 18-0). Brees is great, but Peyton Manning is unstoppable and it was nice to see Belichick humbled by him.

  11. sgw94 Says:

    @Jeff

    I have to keep pointing this out, the Bucs have never and will never exclusively run a Tampa 2 defense. You look at any year where we did well defensively and while we ran a lot of Tampa 2 on third and long, in early downs we ran zone blitzes and cover 3 with 8 in the box a lot as well. I think people focus way too much on the term Tampa 2 instead of what is actually happening on the field. Teams haven’t “figured out” the Tampa 2, its just that it has weaknesses like any other defense would. For most of last year our defense played well, we didn’t play well in 3 out of the last 4 (I would argue holding Atlanta to 13 pts wasn’t a “bad” game). But what if that 3 game stretch had happened earlier in the year? Would people still be harping on it considering we still ended up in the top 10 in defense for the year? A full season playing Monte Kiffin’s so called Tampa 2 defense?

    I think not.

    But again its easier for folks to act like ALL 4 games at the end of the season were a debacle and that all of a sudden the defense just doesn’t work anymore. Now I don’t know what tweaks Raheem will have in the scheme but I can tell you that what we were running all year with Bates did not fit our personnel. I said this long before I had even one person visiting my blog.

    It is what it is.

  12. sgw94 Says:

    @lightningbuc

    Just to correct you I didn’t say you didn’t know a damn thing about football. I said you didn’t know what the hell you were talking about when it came to the scheme the Bucs are running. And while we may not agree on some things I appreciate you coming back every week!

  13. Bucologist Says:

    Steve,
    Excellent job. I truly enjoy reading your articles as they are informative and nonbiased. Thanks again, and I will be waiting for more!

  14. Jvato Says:

    Steve,
    What players do you feel will benefit most from the change ?!? I feel Geno Hayes, Kyle Moore, Roy Miller, Ruud and MAYBE even Piscitelli should all Benefit

    Elbert Mack will get a Pickoff too

    I feel the Run Defense will be better just by having the Players eyes towards the Line of scrimmage during plays

  15. McCaddy Says:

    I just want to see this defence get after people again, flying to the football in bunches and making RB’s and WR’s pay every time they touch the ball…that’s what ‘Buc ball’ is all about and it’s why I’ve been a fan of this team for 10 years….while living 1500 miles away.

  16. sgw94 Says:

    @Jvato

    In the short term it will help guys like Ryan Sims, Chris Hovan, Barrett Ruud, Quincy Black and Geno Hayes the most. Those guys are the ones most affected by the change, the defensive ends will pretty much be playing the same as they have all year except if we bring back under defense (which I hope we do).

    But in the long term I think it helps the young guys the most. Roy Miller is a one gap guy and I think he can actually be a pretty good one gap guy. I like my chances with him at nose and even with him at undertackle. He is a little undersized but he has pretty good get off and he will get after it with hands moves. I think Kyle Moore will be a guy who can perhaps grow into the undertackle role and be that guy who is really getting off the rock and making things happen in the backfield eventually. I never really saw him as an end anyway, I always saw him as a defensive tackle.

    I think Hayes may ultimately benefit the most because he looked lost a lot of the times in Bates’ scheme. The kid obviously has the athletic ability it takes and when he knows where he is supposed to go he will shoot his gun and make big plays. The new/old scheme should make things a lot clearer for him and free him up to just go and play.

    As for coverage I will have to wait and see how they adjust that. If they start backing the corners off some so they aren’t always in bump and run then I think it will help the pass defense overall. I dont think people realize just how much pressure it put not only on the corners but also the safeties trying to cover the deep ball when our corners are rolled up so much.

  17. sgw94 Says:

    @McCaddy

    You and me both brother, you and me both!

  18. Allen Says:

    Loved your game when you played for the Bucs. I learn a lot from your perspective, thanks!

  19. sgw94 Says:

    @Bucologist and @Allen

    Thanks for the compliments. I am glad you guys enjoy it.

  20. FlBoy84 Says:

    While I do hope we’ll see some improvement this week, it’s very tough to judge from last week to this week because you’re obviously facing a different team. If this change was made before the GB game, everyone would be praising Rah as the next Greg Williams/Dick LaBeau. Unfortunately, we don’t play GB every week.

    I think to truly judge the success of this change, you have to give it time. Improvement for a couple of games really doesn’t mean anything once teams get tape of what we’re trying to do on defense and adjust their scheme to counteract it. The proof will be when teams know what to expect from our defense, yet we’re still successful in stopping them.

  21. sgw94 Says:

    @FlBoy84

    Where there are certainly some things that may change from week to week, but there are others that we can judge in the game this week. Blocking schemes are blocking schemes. I know some folks will act like this coordinator or that coordinator has reinvented the wheel but for the most part the NFL is a copycat league. We aren’t going to go out on Sunday and do something that the Falcons haven’t seen from us over the last decade or another team this year. And not everything will work and not everything will fail, but you will get a general sense from play to play if there is progress. Thats why I say this game on Sunday should be judged in totality not based on just the good play and not just based on the bad. On an average running play did we hold them to 3 yards or less? Are we getting off the field on 3rd down. Those are things that I believe, especially against a division opponent who knows us well, that are going to be indicators this Sunday regardless.

    Now the defense will also probably improve over the course of the rest of the season because even though guys are already familiar with the scheme they haven’t really played it any this year. So there will be some adjustment there as well. But again, for the most part if we do better this Sunday thats a good sign. If we do the same then the jury is out. If we do worse you can expect a new staff coaching this team next year. I don’t mean to put it in those blunt terms, but it is what it is.

  22. FlBoy84 Says:

    I agree Steve that blocking schemes are blocking schemes. However, the guys DOING the blocking are not the same from team to team. Being that GB and Atlanta run a similar zone scheme, I’m curious to see how it goes. All I’m saying is we’re going to have to wait until the season’s over to see if it’s the right move or not. As the GB game showed, one game does not a great defense make. LOL

    On a separate topic, did enjoy your draft blog the other day. I’m one of the Suh backers, but would be just as excited if we landed Berry instead. There seems to be a plethora of quality DL prospects this draft, while safety isn’t quite as deep. Just read this interesting bit from Kiper:

    ” There’s a significant number of people in NFL war rooms that will say that when it comes to building a good football team, you draft from the line on out.

    There’s a consensus that if you can build an awesome defensive front, things fall into place for the defense: The linebackers don’t have to deal with blockers getting downfield. The cornerbacks are able to make plays because distressed quarterbacks, hampered by a great pass rush, are forcing throws. The great safeties can both disrupt the passing game deep, or get into the backfield on blitzes because offensive lineman and backs are dealing with the base pass rush.

    In sum, everything becomes easier.”

    In reading this, it’s easy to see our challenges on defense.

  23. JoeMurgia Says:

    Steve, when you get time after the holidays, can you give us a rundown on the weaknesses of the T2? A certain Bucs fan, All Da Way, on the PR board, thinks you’re avoiding talking about that. He’s also upset that Bates was cut loose.

    Regarding your mention that all Ds have weaknesses, including the T2, here is what ADW had to say…

    “That is extremely vague and not addressing directly the weaknesses of the T2. Until White presents a balanced discussion he can not be seen as a credible third observer from my view.

    “And he is being intellectually dishonest by not providing a balanced argument because he does know the weaknesses of the T2. Like I said before he is writing what his audience wants to read.”

  24. BigMacAttack Says:

    Wow, SGW94 has a Hater.
    There’s always 1 idiot in the Crowd. 99,999 of us love and appreciate Steve and one lone guy is on an island. I’d say he is in press coverage, 1 on 1 with Steve Smith, and no Safety help over the top. 6 points all the way on this play.

    In tough times we all need salvation and little things to look forward to. Steve has given that to many of us here, with a little from Joey BadaBucFan.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

  25. JoeMurgia Says:

    Nah, ADW isn’t a hater. He’s just misinformed. And he’s not alone. For some reason, there are a handful of fans out there who refuse to admit that SW knows what the heck he’s talking about and not just defending the D Line guys. I think it’s about ego.

    ADW weclomes SW’s response and I hope he (ADW) starts posting here so he can speak for himself.

 
 

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