Bettcher’s Blitzing Part 2: A Betweener’s Bastion


Part 1: Steve Spagnuolo’s DB blitzes

James Bettcher

In part one, we took a look at ex-defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defensive back blitzes, highlighting aggressive schemes relying on one-two combination punches to get after the quarterback. Reiterating again, the point is not to indict Spagnuolo (the team was so injury plagued for most of the season), but the pass rushes provide such a unique contrast between the two coordinators. The first stark difference that Bettcher will bring to the table is the position from which his rushers originate. In particular, safety/cornerback/hybrid Tyrann Mathieu, whose starting blitzing position was often very close to the line of scrimmage. This defines the pass protection a bit more for the QB/offensive line, but less deception means, potentially, less time needed to get into the backfield. These types of blitzes should almost be considered Bettcher’s go-to blitz package over the past two seasons. Just a reminder: the Cardinals last year blitzed DBs at a rate 6th highest in the league. See below:

All four of these examples feature Mathieu blitzing from different defensive formations (nickel, dime, and base), and zone and man coverages behind him. If you noticed, particularly out of dime personnel, Bettcher does use two-deep safety looks pre-snap. This makes his secondary willing and able to play virtually any coverage, not just the single-high safety defensive looks of Cover 3 and Cover 1. This use of Mathieu from around the line of scrimmage is easy alignment-wise against bunch formations or to the closed side of a formation directly over the tight end. It works best when the offense believes that the potential blitzer is also a bona fide coverage defender to take the receiver or tight end in coverage. The biggest key over the next 18 months for the Giants’ defense is if they can draw out defenders from the patchwork secondary that maybe do not equal the complete package of traits that Mathieu possesses, but who are close enough to selectively let them unleash defensive backs.

One of the most important parts of Bettcher’s blitz packages was LB/SS/Money backer Deone Bucannon. A strip sack of his was highlighted above, but perhaps the real weapon for the Cardinals in recent years was his flexibility in pass coverage, unlocking many different types of schemes. See the below example against the Houston Texans where emerging safety Budda Baker blitzes off the edge:

The deception here for the defense against the offensive line was not the wider angles of blitzers from any position on defense like with Spagnuolo, but rather a question of who was pass rushing at the line of scrimmage, knowing that both defenders could cover the tight end. The flexibility in the secondary is crucial here for a wide range of players to be able to cover, as well as blitz, effectively. You can call Bucannon whatever you want, money backer, strong side jack linebacker in nickel, in this case. The read for the QB/offense is difficult because it must be made quickly and not as simple as throwing it from where the blitzing backer has come. Many in the NY area are asking who this player could be for Bettcher. New LB Alec Ogletree (very, very misunderstood — devoting a piece to him in near future) mostly played on the strong side last year in Los Angeles for Wade Phillips next to ILB “money backer” Barron, who played weak side. These roles will probably not be as defined this year, as the larger Ogletree (230+ pounds) played safety in college, and camp will tell if incumbent safety Landon Collins will play the moneybacker on certain downs, or a rotation similar to what was described previously for Mathieu.

Another element of Bettcher’s defenses the past two years that can not be ignored is the surge in DE Chandler Jones’s production. Over two seasons, after being traded from NE, he tallied 28 sacks total, and last year registered 18 QB hits and 41 QB hurries (hurries rank in the top 20 for edge rushers, according to Pro Football Focus). The film revealed a fair amount of notable observations, indicative of Bettcher’s philosophy of using defensive back elements of the pass rush to free Jones up. In this first example against their division rival 49ers, the Cardinals feature an almost Radar-like right side of their defense with three defenders in a two-point stance (importantly, including #20 ILB/DB Bucannon lining up in 2i-technique over the inside shoulder of the left guard), while Jones is on the defense’s left in a four-point tilted stance. See below:

Many will ask why, after highlighting Jones’s totals, I chose to show a clip in which he was not credited with anything? This play reveals much on a few levels for Bettcher. First, he will run quick-acting stunts, most of them in the interior of his defensive line or coupled with linebackers/defensive backs/money backers. These stunts require speed and agility moving south quickly and rarely include long loops or players crossing multiple gaps over. Second, the six-man front with one side in a two-point stance and the other in three- and four-point stances almost guarantees that Jones will get a one-on-one matchup on the right tackle. Because the tight end was detached, he could not easily block any of the three defenders on that side, and the 49ers chose a protection set where the RB blocked reading the offense’s left side. This is where showing numbers on the line early is sometimes better for your talent than deception. The offense must pick their poison, and you can keep your best pure rushers like Jones doing what they do best — left alone to rush in a one-on-one scenario.

This may be a bit of a stretch, but handling a talented pass rusher like Jones this way is akin to power running for the offensive line. The more you do it, the more it can build upon itself. The repeated snaps that Jones received against multiple different blockers (he moved all over the defensive front), allowed him to hone his rushing style for successful rushes later in the game or over time. The act of pass rushing is not just a simple, robotic ability that defenders can turn on and off at will. When Bettcher is quoted for being “aggressive”, he means defenders using their traits to get after the ball carrier, whoever that may be.

Another way Bettcher helped Jones’s production was via defensive back blitzes off the edge. Blitzing is a true art in the sense that sometimes a coordinator may use the rusher to achieve other goals besides just sacking the QB. His path is important; sometimes, the rusher rushes to simply keep a running back from going out as a receiver. Sometimes, blitzes occupy certain potential blockers, ensuring a type of matchup you want in space. This is another benefit when elaborate deception is substituted for obvious defensive looks that basically dictates an offense’s pass protection. A great example of this is found below from week five, where the Cardinals faced the Eagles on a 2nd-and-4.

To conclude, Bettcher’s use of defensive backs as blitzers from both the perimeter, as well as the interior (like Bucannon), were efficient in generating their own pressure, but it also helped other producers in the Cardinals’ front seven. Many readers may ask, “Okay, that worked for the Cardinals, but will he employ these types of strategies with the personnel of the current Giants?” The answer is mixed, of course, and working with a new secondary lacking bona fide depth, it may take a bit of time to develop. But ultimately, the Giants have a coordinator who runs a synthesis of just enough scheme and just enough freedom to get its talent playing at a higher level. College defenses, particularly in the Big 12, are grabbing attention for their innovation toward multiple type fronts coupled with flexible secondary personnel (example here, great article by Coach Cody Alexander). Will the Giants look like this in week one? Probably not, but Bettcher brings them steps closer to this type of flexible play for the near future.