The 5 o’clock club is published from time to time during the season, and aims to provide a forum for reader-driven discussion at a time of day when there isn’t much NFL news being published. Feel free to introduce topics that interest you in the comments below.
I was looking at the All-22 film from last season’s Week 11 game against the Bengals. What I immediately noticed was that the team was running pretty vanilla defenses in the 1st quarter, rushing 4 and dropping 7 into coverage. The pass rush, which is what I was looking at, was pretty ineffective. The Bengals were blocking with 6 men most of the time and Joe Burrow was staying clean.
Near the end of the 2nd quarter, the Bengals had the lead and picked off Alex Smith to set up shop 1st & 10 around midfield.
You could see that Jack Del Rio had had enough. He decided to test the Cincinnati offensive line and the rookie quarterback with a totally different approach.
He started off slowly. On this play, the middle linebacker, Jon Bostic, lines up over the center and comes on a fairly simple LB blitz.
Burrow was under pressure from Montez Sweat on the play and took the short pass for a 4-yard gain.
On 2nd down, the defense gives a somewhat similar look, with Bostic lining up over the left guard. On this play, however, Kam Curl (circled in yellow) and Kendall Fuller (circled in red) will both blitz while Bostic drops back into zone coverage. No one blocks Fuller and he comes screaming in to the quarterback and gets a hit on Burrow, who throws an incomplete pass.
Here’s the film of the play.
On 3rd & 6, Del Rio ups the ante by lining up both linebackers in a double A-gap blitz look, with Kam Curl walked up on the left side of the defense in what looks like a LEO position to give the blockers and Burrow something else to think about, though he ultimately is not part of the pass rush.
In the end, both linebackers and Curl all bail out into coverage, and it turns out to be a standard 4-man rush.
Burrow opts to throw the immediate pass to the tight end (#83) near the line of scrimmage in an apparent attempt to beat the expected interior blitz. Bostic moves laterally very quickly and makes the tackle at the sideline for a 4-yard gain.
I know that we often see what we want to see, but this play by Bostic is typical of what I notice from him a lot. He demonstrates excellent awareness of the play, good speed, gets the right angle and makes the tackle. While I’m happy to see the team upgrade the position if they can, suggestions that he shouldn’t be on the football field seem misplaced.
The Bengals, facing a 4th & 2 opt for the field goal attempt, which they missed. They never scored again in this game.
The last play I want to look at is the one where Joe Burrow was injured. I would have liked to skip this play because of the injury, but it fits very well with the other plays above, and the injury isn’t seen in gruesome detail on the All-22, so I decided to include it.
Early in the third quarter, the Bengals were facing a 3rd & 2 inside their own 10-yard line. As you can see, Del Rio showed the double A-gap blitz again. Every other time the defense had lined up this way on a passing play, the linebackers had dropped into coverage.
Not this time. In the film clip, you’ll see Burrow move his running back up to deal with the apparent blitz (which the RB handles very well, picking up the linebacker). Washington brings 6 men on the rush and overwhelm the Bengals offensive line. Burrow releases the ball but gets hit by two Washington defenders (DRT Jonathan Allen & DLE Montez Sweat) as the pocket collapses and the drive comes to an end. The injury, of course, was tragic from the standpoint of Burrow and the Bengals, but as a defensive play for Washington, it was an effective use of a 6-man interior blitz.
Knowing, as I do, that Washington lines up a very talented front four, I often feel that those guys will dominate an offensive line on talent alone, forgetting that the guys on the other side of the ball are very skilled as well.
To win on the pass rush, the defense sometimes needs to utilize different looks, bluffs and games to gain an advantage on the offensive line protection. Against the Bengals in Week 11 last season, the 4-man rush wasn’t getting it done. On the Bengals’ first 4 possessions of the game, they drove 75 yards, 74 yards, 68 yards and 41 yards.
At that point, Jack Del Rio switched up and showed the Bengals offense a variety of looks, including linebacker, safety and corner blitzes, as well as plays where the blitz never materialized and the linebackers dropped into coverage.
This worked, and the Bengals offense was stymied.
On the three drives they had with Joe Burrow leading the offense against this revised defensive attack, the Bengals moved the ball 9 yards, 9 yards and 8 yards, failing to get a first down.
The game changed dramatically when Jack Del Rio turned up the heat.
Which of these best describes your thoughts?
This poll is closed
With 4 first-round picks rushing the passer, they should be able to win on their own.
I’d like to see the 4-man rush get home, but it was smart of Del Rio to see that he needed to do something different in this game.
I’d like to see the Washington defense do a lot more of this sort of scheming and blitzing regularly to put pressure on the quarterback.