Every couple of months I veer wildly off-topic to indulge my personal interests (nee the “Basketball category” on this blog.
I want to break down a few of my personal theories on football and how they relate to some more commonly held football beliefs.
Let’s start with this tenet: The goal of the defense is to put mental pressure on the offense. If the defense puts the offense, and particularly the quarterback, out of sorts, they probably win. The quarterback that is hating life the most is probably going to lose.
For the purpose of this discussion, I want to focus on the passing game. If the defense is too weak to stop the run, the quarterback never throws, is never out of sorts, and they win. Stopping the run is assumed. People that can’t stop the run lose every time.
So anyway, mental pressure usually comes from pressure rushing the quarterback. Pressure arrives in one of two ways:
- A great defensive line
A great example of “great defensive line” was the NY Giants the year they defeated the previously unbeaten Patriots in the Superbowl. Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Michael Strahan were all absolute superstars that could not be blocked one-on-one, they would rush 4 guys, and to double team all three of those guys and block effectively would have taken 7 blockers ((3*2)+1), more than the Patriots kept in with their spread offense, and the result was that Tom Brady was discombobulated the entire game as he constantly felt the heat.
This is why Right End is the highest paid player on most defensive teams. If the defensive line can generate this kind of pressure without a blitz, it makes everyone’s life easier. That guy, creating that pressure, is worth his weight in gold. Conversely, this is why everyone talks about the Left Tackle and how much Left Tackle’s make. If a Left Tackle keeps a QB from being scared that someone he can’t see is about to hit him, then a QB doesn’t feel pressure. A great LT is the single biggest thing a team can do to help a QB feel secure.
Finally, relative to other things that I will discuss in a moment, great defensive linemen help stop the run. Which, as we discussed, is a preliminary criteria to play the game.
Most people don’t have enough talent on the defensive line to be able to harass the quarterback with just a few men rushing. The result is that many people blitz to create pressure. Defenses that blitz to create pressure rely on another key player (and this is my area of unique contribution to football schools of thought finally make their appearance): The Cornerback.
Cornerbacks are the defensive backs whose primary area of responsibility is covering wide receivers. In a defense predicated on the blitz, the ability to single cover wide receivers, even the best wide receivers, gives a defense unparalleled flexibility in where they bring the heat and how much heat they bring. If you look at the most successful blitzing defenses, you will find teams that value good cover corners: The Philadelphia hey-day under Jimmy Johnson features a slew of Pro Bowl corners: Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Lito Sheppard, Sheldon Brown, Asante Samuel. They were never without two superstar corners. With those corners, they could blitz from all over the field, including bringing Brian Dawkins, the free safety, down into the box for blitzing and run support.
The Jets defense last year keyed off of Revis Island. Rex Ryan simply never had to game plan for changing coverage to account for great receivers. He put them on the island and then felt free to go back to blitzing the QB with all the other players.
Without great cornerbacks, a defense needs to drop safeties back to protect over the top. Once you drop safeties back, you are more vulnerable to the run. Furthermore, now the flats and middle of the field are less defended, so you need your linebackers to keep an eye out for the tight end and running backs. You have fewer players to man up with the safeties supporting the corners. Now you can only blitz one or two guys or risk leaving people wide open in the middle of the field.
Pressure comes from great corners! Take that to the bank.