A Blitzkreig Bashing in the Motor City

Over the last several days, I have been reading many discussions about the Lions’ lack of blitzing against the Saints. Many fans wanted to see more blitzes, especially after the Saints got out to a sizeable lead. Fans wanted to see a drastic difference in the defensive philosophy after three years of the Tampa 2.

I do agree that the Lions needed to blitz more than they did, but not much more. I wanted to explain why the Lions did what they did against the Saints and how I would have approached the game if I were calling the shots.

To put it very simply, the Saints offense is designed to be a blitz buster.  They spread the field with 4 or 5 receivers and put Brees in the shotgun.  This gives the Saints a huge edge because Drew Brees is one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league.

He makes very accurate pre-snap reads and that allows him to make quick decisions and get the ball out in under three seconds.  Very few offenses are good enough to pull this type of gameplan off, the 2004 Colts, 2007 Patriots, and the 2008 Saints come to mind.

Spreading the field gives the Saints an advantage against the blitz. Even if the blitzer(s) break through, the receivers line up with large splits between them. Typically on blitzes, the defense plays zone coverage. The formation is spread wide so each receiver has plenty of room to adjust their route to find the weakness of the zone.

Brees and his receivers have excellent chemistry and almost always read the same signs from the defense. Brees gets the ball out quickly and the receiver has a lot of room in the open field because the defense is spread out and five to six defensive players just had the ball sail over their head.

If I were running the Lions’ defense I would have attacked the Saints with a heavy dose of the 3-4.  The 3-4 is better equipped to stop those types of attacks because it makes it harder for the quarterback and receivers to make the same pre-snap read.  So Brees might read Ernie Sims will be the 4th pass-rusher (the three down lineman are generally assumed to be rushers) and Colston could think it’s Julian Peterson coming.  

Colston runs a route based on what he read and it’s different than what Brees read. Colston would run the wrong route, the throw will be off target or Brees will have through his progression to find a different receiver. If he has to go to a different receiver, it takes him a little longer to get rid of the ball and gives the defense time to react and the pass rush extra time to get there. Or, even better, he throws into coverage and the Lions would pick it off.

The NFL is evolving into a spread-the-field-and-air-it-out league, and more and more teams are switching to the 3-4 to counter it. The Lions have the personnel to install some 3-4 packages, I would like to see them mix it in to keep teams on their toes and give the pass rush a little extra help.

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