Bluffing Blake Bortles into an Interception

This post by the always-outstanding Jim Light motivated me to go back and look at some defensive film from the 2014 season, with the goal of locating some creative defensive schematics that led to turnovers.

The Jags game immediately came to mind as the defense picked off Blake Bortles three times, including two by Tashaun Gipson.  His second interception caught my eye as Jim O’Neil’s used a combination of offensive tendency via film study, a blitz bluff, and solid back-end coverage to confuse Blake Bortles into his second interception of the afternoon.

The game situation is 6-0 Cleveland with 3:30 to go in the 2nd quarter, The down and distance is 3rd and 4 at the Jag’s 26 yard line.

Gun Empty Bunch Strong and Routes…

3rd and 4 is a tough down for the defense to play as both the pass and run are on the table. The Jags tip their intention by coming out in an “empty” set with the strong side wide receivers aligned in a “bunch”.

Based on the down/distance and pre-snap formation the offense is looking to convert something short using a dressed up horizontal spacing concept to the strong side of the formation.  The back-side routes act as ‘hot reads’ should the defense blitz.

Setting up the Defense….

A couple things to note.  First, notice the MIKE and WILL threatening the A-gaps.  A-gap pressure is TOUGH on a QB, as it hits quickly and does not allow him to step up into the pocket.

With the double A-gap threat and 4 “down” rushers (I’m including Sheard as a down linemen although he doesn’t use a three-point stance and slides in late) Bortles is looking at a possible 6-man rush with only 5 blockers.  This is EXACTLY what the defense wants him to see.

From VERY limited film study of the 2014 Jags offense I noticed that when blitzed in empty, the QB’s “hot” route was generally built into the weak side of the formation.  The hot routes are 3-step, inside-breaking routes like the slant and shallow cross.  The goal is to get the ball out of the QB’s hands quickly before the blitz can get home.

If I can see this, I promise you Pettine and Co. can see it as well (2016 edit to add that after last season’s performance, maybe they can’t).  Here’s an example of a backside hot route out of the same formation from week 2:

So down to brass tacks….

The defense’s goal is to “bluff” the double A-gap pressure both pre-snap and at the snap and then drop the MIKE and WILL into coverage.  Notice that both take a hard pump fake forward at the snap to sell the blitz and “show” pressure before dropping out to their coverage responsibility.

The defense is playing a Cover 4 shell, or “Quad”, with a “box” check to the strong side (count which side has more WR’s/TE’s/RB’s; remember there are a total of 5 skill position players in a formation.

We’ll breakdown the coverage by looking at the strong side and weak side individually…

The “Box” Check…

Because the offense is aligned in a “bunch” the defense automatically checks to a “box” call.  I’ve focused on the Quarters box check in a previous post so I’m going to quickly review the box and move on.

The “box” check is a 4 over 3 coverage that plays out like a matchup zone in basketball.  It’s pattern matching on steroids.  Each defender will man up a wide receiver based on the wide receiver’s route stem after the snap.  After the patterns have distributed, each route will be covered with a free defender to bracket based on the route concept.

Slow-Stepping the Backside…

The defense is playing standard Quarters to the backside (they *could* be playing man based on their depth, but I would expect the DB’s to press with no deep safety help).

Both DB’s are playing with a slight inside shade (or inside leverage) to help prevent the defender from crossing their face (This is particularly useful for the CB as he can use the sideline for help when defending downfield routes).  The CB and Gipson align at a depth of 7 yards.

Depth or “cushion” is vital to their function within the play as they will “slow step” at the snap to read the quarterback’s eyes and wide receiver’s routes through the 3-step route tree. (Note there are probably LOTS of different name for this technique; I know it as a slow step but different coaches will label the technique differently).

This technique is similar to the “flat foot read” many of the top CB’s in the game use.  Don’t backpedal at the snap, read through the 3-step routes, and break downhill to the ball on slants/hitches/shallows/quick outs.  If the wide receiver doesn’t stem his route through the 3-step game, open the hips and stay on top of the wide receiver past 10 yards.

The DB’s will “slow read” the routes here as they expect Bortles to look to his backside hot route based on the presnap “bluff”.  They are expecting the ball to come out quick as Bortle should think he has to beat 6 v 5 pressure.  So the DB’s will read the QB’s eyes and the WR’s route stems, with the WILL “buzzing” into the hook/curl zone to squeeze the throwing window and create visual confusion.

If the WR’s do not run quick game routes the DB’s will open and man turn at the 10ish yard line.  If this is a “true” Cover 4 shell, the DB’s will use a “zorro” technique to switch off the WR’s if they run a “switch” concept like post/wheel.

Eyes on the QB/WR…

At the snap the CB and Gipson “slow step”, reading the QB’s eyes/WR’s stem.  After a hard fake to sell the blitz the WILL opens at 45 degrees towards the sideline, looking to “buzz” underneath any inside-breaking routes.

Boxing the Bunch…

Outstanding coverage by the CB, SAM, MIKE, and SS.  Every WR is covered with the inside hitch bracketed by the MIKE and SS.

Breaking on the Ball…

Gipson breaks downhill before Bortles starts his throwing motion.  So how does he do this?

“Eyes on the WR” allow Gipson to pay downhill as soon as he sees the route stem into a slant.  It’s a calculated gamble that the bluffed blitz will cause Bortles to look hot to his inside-breaking route.  Gipson breaks so quickly that he beats the WR to the ball (the WR HAS to get his head around MUCH quicker; as soon as he sees a FS lined up over him with no deep help he should know something is up).

Gipson’s Technique…

Let’s take a look at Gipson’s technique.  First, feet shoulder width and knees bent in his stance for a “power base”. “Eyes/nose over toes” to lower the body’s center of gravity and keep the weight on the balls of the feet.  At the snap he leads with his butt and keeps his shoulders square through his break.

Pay close attention to his quick, short steps.  These quick steps allow Gipson to transition into his break with little wasted motion.  He drives to the WR’s upfield shoulder and undercuts the route to take the ball away before the WR has his head around.

Even if Gipson was slower in his break he would be in position to drive through the defender and break up the pass.

Great use of tendency via film study, blitz disguise/bluff, and coverage scheme/technique to bait a rookie QB into a turnover.


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