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Defensive Terminology, Part II

Blitzes, Pressures, Knockdowns and Hurries

Coach Cunningham has never, throughout his career, been shy about his desire to pressure the quarterback. After the past few seasons of the failed “Tampa-Two” defensive scheme, Lions fans are anxiously awaiting a more aggressive approach. The entire basis of the “Tampa-Two” scheme was consistent pressure from the down linemen, allowing the backers and DBs to honor their zone assignments and take away entire swaths of the field. The Lions, and to be honest most teams outside of Tampa Bay that have tried it, did not have the necessary personnel to achieve that type of pressure from their front, and they were forced, reluctantly, to do other things.

I don’t expect that to be the case so long as Coach Cunningham is calling the plays.

Fans of the Detroit Lions are going to be inundated with terms like blitz, knockdowns and hurries, all of which mean different things that combine into a single concept: pressure. Coach has said more than once that he intends to blitz as much as fifty to sixty percent of the time, but what exactly does it mean to blitz?


A blitz, in football, is a simple concept. At least one linebacker or defensive back rushes the quarterback without reads or coverage assignments. Some fans think that defensive ends or tackles rushing the passer constitutes a blitz; it does not…they are just doing their job. A blitz is a specific call, and is a high risk/high reward decision made by the signal caller.

The reward is obvious: the quarterback is sacked for a loss of yards and the play is disrupted. The risk, however, is not as obvious. Every linebacker that rushes the passer vacates their passing zone responsibilities and/or their run gap assignment. Every DB that blitzes vacates a man or zone responsibility as well. Some quarterbacks don’t mind blitzes, as they tend to open up throwing lanes and should leave at least one open zone. Quick hitches, slant cuts and tight end option routes are great counters to blitz calls.

Knockdowns and Hurries

Sacks are not the only statistic kept to measure pressure on the quarterback. Any defensive coordinator worth his salt also counts the number of time that the quarterback is knocked to the ground, and how many times he is hurried once the ball is snapped. These are difficult for a fan to see amidst the clamor on the field and the banter on the television, but just as, if not more, important than sacks.

Coach Cunningham, with his focus on pressuring the quarterback, will be looking at both the short term (sacks) and the long term (hurries and knockdowns) when assessing his team’s performance. Hurries and knockdowns speak to fatigue and pain, factors that limit the performance of any quarterback in the third and fourth quarters. Imagine your own body being driven into the ground fifty times. Professional athlete or not, that is going to hurt, and getting up each time will be that much more difficult.

How is this any different?

If Coach Marinelli and Coach Barry had difficulty getting adequate pressure from their down four, then how will Coach Cunningham do more? It has to do with how blitzing fits in with the other players on the field. In the “Tampa-Two”, defensive backs played zones, typically with the safeties playing the two deep middle zones, and the corners playing the short curl-to-flat zone and supporting the run. If a backer blitzed, the inside short zones, the curl and hook zones, were left empty, allowing for completions over the middle…think Chris Cooley and the Washington Redskins.

Cunningham likes his corners to play man-to man. This frees up at least one safety to come down and support the middle of the field, or replace a zone if it is vacated by a rushing backer. It also allows the safeties to be more active in run support in the box.

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