Quarterbacks find it hard to have grace under pressure
Pat Kirwan By Pat Kirwan | NFL.com
The first defensive trend of the season is just as aggressive as offenses going no-huddle, a topic I discussed last week. And it's a trend that is sure to sit well with fans who for years have called for the removal of the prevent defense (all together now ... a defense that only prevents you from winning).
Instead, the prevent appears to have been put on the back burner, and teams are now turning up the heat on opposing quarterbacks in crucial situations.
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When Steve Spagnuolo was defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, he sent a barrage of blitzes at Tom Brady in the final minutes of Super Bowl XLII, making a statement that pressure is a whole lot better than a three-man rush and soft-zone coverage.
Defensive coaches took notes at the success Spagnuolo had against one of the all-time great quarterbacks. Last season, teams started using pressure packages to close out games more regulary, but the prevent was still a part of many teams' game plans. This season, for two games at least, aggression is in full force.
Most defensive players are in strong favor of aggressive schemes and wonder why coaches, with the game on the line, stop doing what got them into a position to win in the first place. If last week demonstrated one thing, it was that bringing the heat on quarterbacks in a two-minute situation is on the rise. The Jets, Bears and Ravens were some of the teams that used it successfully to close out victories in Week 2.
One former defensive coordinator believes a pressure package, rather than a prevent defense, has plenty of merit and is a growing trend. As he said, "There was always a pressure package to stop game-winning drives, but it is being used a lot more nowadays and it's effective."
Here are the things a pressure package does to an offense:
It restricts what a running back can do
A Jets player told me that they were very much aware of the damage Kevin Faulk does out of the backfield during Brady's two-minute drills. In Week 1, when Brady led his team back to a win over the Buffalo Bills, Faulk had a second-and-2 reception go for 10 yards, a third-and-4 catch for 5 yards and a first-and-10 grab go for 7 yards. Last Sunday, the Jets used the blitz in the two-minute situation to lock up Faulk. This restricted his ability to release and be the check-down receiver for Brady.
It lures the quarterback into turnovers
In Week 2, the Ravens knew that Chargers QB Philip Rivers was a mid-line pocket passer and when they brought Ray Lewis up the middle, rather than sit and play zone coverage, Rivers wound up throwing an interception to Dawan Landry.
It beats the standard six-man protection schemes
Offenses don't generally use seven-man protection schemes in two-minute drills and are reluctant to use five-man schemes if they feel a pressure call is possible. The six-man protections that are prevalent in two-minute situations set three blockers to the right and three to the left. The only way to get quick pressure is to rush four defenders from one side and at least two from the opposite side.
The Bears knew Ben Roethlisberger was one of the top clutch quarterbacks and they elected to use pressure on a number of occasions late in Sunday's game. They dialed up six-man pressures twice, forcing an incompletion to Santonio Holmes and a scramble by Roethlisberger. On the most critical down of the game -- a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter -- instead of dropping eight into coverage the Bears elected to go to a seven-man pressure and forced an incompletion. That resulted in a field goal attempt that Jeff Reed missed, and the Bears went on to win by a field goal.
It forces receivers to break off routes
This development can severely handcuff offenses trying to conserve time. Even JaMarcus Russell, who struggled all day against the Chiefs and completed just 7 of 24 passes, drove his team 69 yards in 12 plays to win the game. On a second-and-15 situation, the Chiefs brought a four-man rush and Russell hit Louis Murphy for 19 yards. Later in the drive on third-and-15, the Chiefs used the prevent with a three-man rush and Russell hit Todd Watkins for 28 yards. No pressure, no problem, even for Russell.
It hurries the clock inside the QB's head
Quarterbacks such as Brady, Rivers, Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning need the clock in their head disrupted. Aggressive pressure can accomplish that task, as can the threat of pressure.
A Jets safety told me that his team pressured Brady on four of the last five plays on Sunday. Brady beat a five-man pressure call on the first play of the last drive with a pass to Julian Edelman for 18 yards. Still, Rex Ryan didn't shy away from that call and opted for another five-man pressure on the next play. Brady's pass fell incomplete.
With a second-and-10 situation, many coaches in the past would have elected to play prevent defense, but the Jets turned up the heat by sending seven defenders at Brady and forced another incompletion. The Jets showed blitz on third down, but after the snap it turned into a three-man rush. On the final play, a fourth-and-10 at the Patriots' 28-yard line with just over a minute to play, Ryan dialed the pressure back up to a seven-man pressure call. Brady's rushed pass to Joey Galloway fell incomplete and the Jets held on for the victory.
It wasn't too long ago that every fan would have seen the prevent call and Brady would have been on his way to his 30th come-from-behind win.
It gives your best pass rusher a chance
Teams with one elite pass rusher realize the offense will turn the protection scheme to that player and make sure an extra lineman or back is available to double-team him. Any three- or four-man rush call leaves an extra blocker to help slow a team's top rusher. Defenses that show extra pressure opposite the best rusher will leave an offensive lineman alone against the best threat to get to the quarterback.
With aggressive defensive schemes on the rise, don't be surprised if quarterbacks start to adjust. We might have already seen the beginning of that.
On Monday night, Manning caught the Dolphins in a six-man pressure call late in the game as he tried to bring the Colts from behind. Manning correctly audibled to a quick screen that Pierre Garcon turned into the winning touchdown.