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For Students of the Game!

Heres a great peice from Dr. Z's weekly column - about pass protection schemes against blitzes. THIS is truly great, sophisticated football journalism. Pointing out new trends to the reader while conducting research on the subject through interviews with coahces, scouts and former players. Read what he says - its worth looking out for on Sundays.

Here's an amazing thing I'm seeing more often than I've ever seen it before. The defensive end is lined up in normal position against the OT, outside shoulder or whatever. The tackle turns inside to help the guy next to him double-team the DT and the DE is left unblocked. Huh? Absolutely makes no sense.

On one play Philly ran near the Tampa Bay goal line, both Eagles tackles turned inside, leaving Bucs DEs Simeon Rice and Ellis Wyms clear, unimpeded shots at Donovan McNabb. Which they gratefully took, and the only question left was a statistical one. Which one would get credit for the sack?

The Rams lost a tackle for the season on a play like that. Raiders game. Right tackle John St. Clair didn't bother to pick up his man, LB Tavian Smith, who was lined up as a rush end. Actually St. Clair didn't pick up anybody. He turned inside, changed his mind and assumed a pass-blocking stance -- against air. The unblocked Smith came in like an express train, knocked quarterback Marc Bulger three yards back, right into the extended leg of his left tackle, Grant Williams. Broken leg, torn ligaments in the ankle. Out for the year.

What the hell is going on? It happens so often that it can't be mere screw-ups. There's some kind of weird design at work, I just know it.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again," says Mike Giddings, the director of Pro Scout, a personalized scouting service hired by a number of NFL teams. "The league is suffering from overcoaching. Instead of just doing what makes sense, the linemen are doing all that thinking before the snap, all that pointing ... 'I've got him, no you get him.' And they wind up leaving a guy unblocked."

"The defense will either line up in blitz position or show a blitz," says former Raiders TE Todd Christensen, now a broadcaster, and a person with whom I enjoy sharing ideas. "The offensive line will call slide protection to the loaded side. Everyone slides one man down. So what they wind up with on the other side is either an unblocked man, if there's no one in the backfield to pick him up, or a situation such as a Warrick Dunn blocking a Michael Strahan, which just ain't gonna work."

"The book says, when the defense is showing blitz and they're matching six against your five blockers, you turn the wide guy loose," says Denver's special offensive line consultant, Alex Gibbs, the best teacher of O-line play in the business. "But in that scenario you've got to have a back over there, or a tight end, or somebody, to at least chip on him. Then your quarterback has to go to a three-step drop and get the ball to his hot read, against the blitz, right away. But if you just leave a defensive end unblocked, and you're working from an empty backfield, sooner or later you're gonna get your quarterback killed.

"We just won't do it. We won't have our tackles turning inside. We've got a rule -- big on big -- which means that our inside guy, our guard, has to take their big guy, the defensive tackle. If they're sending blitzers up the middle, then it's one-on-two. The guard, if he has no help from the center, who might have a man over him, just has to make himself big and take on two guys, or at least create a traffic jam and slow them down.

"This situation of the unblocked defensive end is growing every day. It's become a basic topic of conversation. One problem is that even if your quarterback can get the ball off to his hot read, and even if it's a three-step drop, he's still gonna get hit -- if he's under center and has to turn his back to set up. In a shotgun, he has more time. All these protection schemes look good in practice, but the quarterback isn't getting hit in practice."
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