Last week, we documented a front that enabled the Eagles to blitz effectively to create unblocked rushers. The shift to the odd front is designed to confuse blockers in obvious passing situations. Blitzing is not only a tool to disrupt timing on passing plays however, but it can also force unfavourable down and distance situations when used against the run. Today we’re looking at Schwartz’s aggression on typical run downs, and how he likes to counteract certain formations.

The Risk of the Blitz
Run blitzing can be a risky business. If opponents respond with quick screens, draws or play action passes, they can enjoy great success. The league’s best quarterbacks, including Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Carson Wentz, use their pre-snap cadence to identify extra rushers so effectively the risk is rarely worth the reward. They are particularly adept using wide formations, that stretch defenses horizontally. The booming popularity of the spread attack was partly because it enabled quarterbacks to read pressure schemes efficiently. By reducing numbers in the box, it makes it easier to identify blitzers at the line of scrimmage. Being aggressive in these situations is a recipe for disaster. I’d imagine it’s kinda like Philly cheesesteaks made in LA?

Defensive coordinators typically respond to 11 personnel (one back, one tightend) with nickel packages (5 DBs). The retraction of a linebacker lightens the box, motivating offensive coordinators to use the ground game. Combined with a tight formation, that provides wide receivers with easy angles to pick off safeties and linebackers, corners can easily be isolated in space on outside runs. One-on-one in the open-field with a corner is a dream matchup for running backs, and offensive coordinators. Jim Schwartz has a counter to prevent exactly that kind of situation.

Blitz Audible vs Tight Formations?
During the third preseason game against the Browns, Jim Schwartz showed a tendency to blitz the strongside against tight formations. When Cleveland split their strongside wide receiver close to the offensive line, the Eagles almost exclusively responded with a blitz. On the following first-down play, the Browns come out with a pair of receivers split tight, alongside a tightend. In response, Malcolm Jenkins blitzes from the strong safety position.

Later in the game, the Browns come out in the same formation. Sure enough, the Eagles send an extra rusher, this time it’s Sidney Jones off the slot, helping to pressure Mayfield.

It’s not clear whether Schwartz would call the play in response to the Browns’ personnel, if it was a message sent from the sideline after seeing the formation or, more likely, if it’s an automatic shift by the defense based on alignment. The split is wider on the first play, perhaps explaining why it is Jenkins that blitzes, whereas the narrower split on the second play might dictate that it is Jones who is tasked with rushing.

The next couple plays see the Eagles facing a similar formation. Instead of a pair of wideouts, the Eagles are facing a single tight wideout on the strongside. They bring the same blitz on each occasion. First, it’s Bradham rushing off the edge.

And finally, here comes Jenkins against the same alignment.

The Browns ended up gashing the Eagles’ run blitzes fairly effectively. Typically, teams only run zone plays left out of this kind of formation. The blitz schemes are designed to prevent cutbacks on those zone plays. However, the Browns used an infrequent concept to counter the blitz, running same side power (intended direction of attack is the same as the RB’s alignment), allowing a backside tackle to clean out the blitzer. It’s going to be fascinating to see whether Schwartz uses the blitz as frequently in these situations in the regular season. Will teams copy the Browns’ same-side power play to exploit the Eagles’ aggression? All questions we’ll be able to answer in less than two weeks.

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