Inside the Playbook | Disguising the Blitz


New head coach Sean McDermott has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to coaching defenses. He has coached in aggressive, blitz heavy, man coverage schemes when he was in Philadelphia. He learned how to pressure the quarterback with his front four and play zone on the back end in Carolina. Importantly, he has also been able to combine both of those paradigms on certain play calls, such as this well disguised blitz on 3rd and 7.

Derek Carr injured his finger and was out of the game, leaving Matt McGloin as Oakland’s starter. McDermott knew that backup QBs are not always up to task when thrown into a game due to game speed and lack of reps. Starting QBs see most of a team’s reps during a normal work week, and some of those reps include blitz identification and blitz pickup.


McDermott’s patented pressure package in 2016 was the double A gap blitz.

Courtesy of Billy Marshall–j-zYf4


He ran a variety of pressures that are difficult for offensive lines and quarterbacks to identify, and he did a heck of a job disguising coverages on the back end, making QB’s decisions that much more difficult.

McDermott disguises coverages by moving his defensive backs around up until the snap. In the video below, you will see just about every defensive back move, change their posture, change their alignment, and even change where their eyes are looking.


Pre-snap, quarterbacks are trying to diagnose several things, including the coverage structure. Is it single high, is it two high, then is it man, zone, or a combo coverage?

Can you decipher this look?


Then, is there a blitz coming? If so, where from? Is slot corner Robert Alford (top of screen) blitzing, or is Tre Boston (bottom of screen-#33) the blitzer off the edge? What about the two ILBs in the A gaps? What combination of rush, zone drop, or man coverage are they going to execute after the snap?

It can be quite confusing, especially to a backup…


Post snap it ends up being a blitz by Tre Boston, it appears to be zone coverage or some form of pattern matching to the top of the screen, and man coverage to the bottom.


James Bradberry (top of the screen) is aligned to the trips side, otherwise known as the passing strength. He is playing with ‘zone eyes’ and is indeed in zone or pattern matching coverage. Knowing there is a blitz, he is able to watch the drop of the QB, allowing him to jump the comeback route that McGloin wants to throw as he hits the top of this drop. Players are not only trained in their assignments or techniques of any given play. They are also taught how to use them within the context of said play. In this play, Bradberry knows where the first down marker is and that the ball is going to have to come out quickly because of the blitz. This is situational football at its finest; kudos to Sean McDermott. If McGloin is able to get this ball out, it is more likely picked off than completed.


Instead, Boston gets the big hit on McGloin!


So here’s what the QB is looking at from the line of scrimmage. He has seven possible rushers, with only six possible blockers. That extra rusher (Tre Boston – off screen) must be accounted for by the QB by getting rid of the ball quickly.


The offensive line identified LB Klein as the Mike. Therefore, the center, right guard, and right tackle will block DE Johnson, DT Lotulelei, and LB Klein.


The left side of the line and the running back now have to pick up the three most immediate threats, namely Will LB Davis, DT Short, and DE Ealy. The running back was assigned responsibility of the Will LB, so he will attempt to pick up Davis and the other two offensive lineman will pick up the remaining ‘bigs’. The pass protection is set.

Post snap, it all changes. Defensive end Charles Johnson drops into coverage, as does LB Klein. Since the center slid right, they have three guys blocking one contain rusher. Linebacker Thomas Davis blitzes the A gap and shucks the running back aside, getting immediate pressure on the QB. Short and Ealy jam rush inside, attempting to just occupy and pinch the line down, giving Boston a tight and free rush at the QB.

McGloin is unable to get the throw off in time, and Boston lays a big hit on the backup QB.


Here is the full play:


The organization has brought in a coach that has a wealth of knowledge and that knows how to adapt his scheme to its personnel. McDermott’s defenses have been successful because of some very special talent, there is no doubt about that, but he has also been able to design some very confusing pressure packages to win from play to play, game to game, and season to season.