49ers Fans Introduction To The Zone Blitz

Aaron AgteContributor IOctober 31, 2008

To all 49ers Fans:
On Sunday, October 12th, you were introduced to the Zone Blitz by the Philadelphia Eagles, whether you have already met him or not I do not know.  The Eagles are known as a team that blitzes as much, if not more, than anyone else in the league.  T

There was a commercial a few years ago about "Football Town USA," where everyone including kindergartners knew football.  The third grade teacher asks, "What are the hot reads for a blitz?" One child raises his hand and says "A slant or a fade."  The slant and fade are both quick throws that the QB can get the ball out of his hand before the blitz gets to him. 

So JT O'Sullivan and the WR were on the same page doing pretty well.  Executing at least four or five slants as a hot read against a blitz for first downs.  This was a great sign for a young QB that he is on the same page with his WR executing in a high pressure situation.  I remember thinking in the first half, "Why doesn't Philadelphia try a zone blitz?"  The answer: Because they are smarter than me.
A zone blitz has only been around for a few years, because even a decade ago the athletes on the field were not good enough.  A zone blitz will send 1-2 LB from the same side and drop the Defensive End into coverage.  This is designed to do a few things. 

First, the offensive linesman is usually prepared to block the guy right in front of him.  If he blocks his guy, the RB, Center or Guard will be responsible for the blitzers.  However, when the guy he is prepared to block doesn't rush, the offensive linesman (usually the tackle) must take a split second to re-adjust and block a blitzing linebacker.  In the NFL a split second is huge, not something a seasoned veteran or a tackle with quick feet can't pick up, but enough for a defensive player to get a hand on the QB and disrupt the throwing motion.
The other big aspect is that QBs are used to seeing an empty spot on the field vacated by the blitzing linebacker.  Hence, the hot read is a slant into that specific area.  A zone blitz calls for the defensive lineman to drop into that area.  QBs are taught to read off the snap how many guys are coming, how many are dropping back and to instinctively know where those guys are.  (With enough practice you can do this too). However,  one of their instincts is that the defensive lineman are coming automatically.  So they usually only have to count the linebackers and the occasional DB. 
So the QB instinctively thinks the DE is rushing, there is an empty area because two LB are blitzing from the same side, the QB and WR have practiced the slant so many times he can make the throw with his eyes closed and he instinctively throws the hot read that he has been taught.
A decade ago, this would work perfectly, because defensive linesmen were not good enough athletes to drop back into coverage.  They might be big enough to get in a passing lane, but they didn't really adjust, and the ball could be thrown around him.  Now, you have defensive linesmen (I'm going say this started with Jevon Kearse, aka, "The Freak" and others) who can run down a running back from the backside. 

These guys are FAST and ATHLETIC.  They could probably play any position in college, but they are now defensive ends in the NFL.
So when I thought the Eagles should try a zone blitz, they didn't because they were smarter than me.  They waited until the end of the game when the 49ers are driving down the field for a touchdown to tie the game.  They zone blitz, JT O'Sullivan throws a perfect hot read, Juqua Parker, the defensive end, picks it off, runs it back for a touchdown, game over.
A perfect zone blitz.