Blitzing is probably the most difficult scheme related aspect to a defense’s game for a defensive coordinator to design. Coaches use all sorts of methods and players to try to get pressure on the quarterback, often to no avail. To be honest, the best way to have a dominant blitz scheme is to have dominant players. However, getting dominant players is a difficult thing to do. But there is another way for coaches to have a blitz scheme that is, if nothing else, brilliantly disguised.
On almost any pass play, a “hot,” route is designated to a player that would likely be open in case the quarterback is under pressure. Considering that linebackers are blitzing, the opposing team is quite likely to have few if any linebackers in coverage, and the tight end/running back would be difficult to cover. A typical hot route might involve a running back going into the flat or a tight end running over the middle. With a linebacker blitzing, one of these players likely will not be covered very well.
Typically, on almost any blitz, one or more safeties are going to be forced to cover a tight end or running back to cover for a blitzing linebacker, or the safety will blitz himself. Considering that, on most plays, safeties go into a cover 2 zone, they are usually about 10 yards off the line of scrimmage, which is terrible position to cover a tight end/running back or blitz. In many cases, they move closer to the line of scrimmage, so they are in better position to do either of these things. Though this helps them do that job more effectively, the issue with it is that it’s a clear way to tell the offense that the team is blitzing, and a good offense will adjust accordingly when they see a safety lining up 5 or 6 yards off the line of scrimmage.
However, there is a way for a defensive coordinators to get around this potential issue. They just need big, physical corners that can really jam the release of opposing wide receivers on their team.
How can big corners prevent this issue? It gives the safeties freedom to line up anywhere on the field on any given play. A really big, really strong corner can inhibit the release of a wide receiver. If they can jam an opposing wide receiver to the point that they take even just 1 extra second to get into their route, then the safety has 1, crucial extra second to get into a deep zone and provide help over the top when needed. If they are given more time, then they can afford to line up closer to the line of scrimmage than most safeties and still get comfortably into a deep zone. A big corner gives safeties the freedom to line up about 6 yards off the line of scrimmage on every play, whether they are dropping into a deep zone, covering for a blitzing teammate, or blitzing. And if a safety lines up at the same position of the field on every play, the defense doesn’t have to change any of their alignments to blitz and cover hot routes effectively, and the offense will have a significantly harder time figuring out whether or not the opponent is blitzing. It’s a powerful tool.
I know what most of you are probably wondering; is there any correlation between big corners and good pass rushing numbers? I looked that up, and even I was surprised by the results. Of the 16 starting NFL corners who are 6’0 196lbs or more, 15 play on a team with a pass rush ranked 17th or better (with Glover Quinn being the lone exception), 12 play on a team with a top 10 ranked NFL pass rush, and 10 play on a team with a top 7 NFL pass rush. Even teams like Oakland, who aren’t known to have any spectacular pass rushers, were second in the NFL in sacks, and are the only NFL team whose starting cornerbacks are both over 6’1 205lbs. Clearly, there is a correlation.
Overall, a team having big corners can really help a defense disguise a blitz. Having the ability to line up your safeties within 7 yards of the line of scrimmage and comfortably get into a 2 deep zone is a major asset to any team. Forever on, I will always have higher opinions of big corners. They’re pretty valuable.