The season is only slightly over a week away and I know you are as excited as I am about this team's prospects in 2009. I just wanted to offer some of my humble advise directed specifically at the defense and offer some suggestions for the game plans you will be putting together in the coming days.
I was reading a very well written article that focused on the amount of Irish blitzes last year and the overall success of such an attack. It was estimated that about 65 percent to 75 percent of the time a blitz of some sort was dialed up against opposing offenses.
What I found surprising was that the majority of these blitzes were led by only five players, with a lesser percentage bringing six, and very rarely an all out blitz of six or more.
Now I know that your pedigree is the blitz and that it has worked well in your past, but I have some second thoughts about the amount of blitzing for the upcoming season based upon some of the losses from 2008.
Basically, I have two main reasons that I think Notre Dame should blitz less in 2009. First, we need to improve our run defense. And second, we will be facing a ton of inexperienced quarterbacks.
You may say that blitzing will help both of those problems, but I think last year's lack of success proves that it may not work again this season.
What I'm worried about is that our defensive line is not aggressive enough and lacks the pass rushing skills necessary to make heavy blitzing worthwhile. I have more confidence in our linebackers and secondary this season, but they need more help from the defensive line to make blitzing 75 percent of the time worthwhile.
I would suggest limiting the number of blitzing to under 50 percent and focusing first and foremost on stopping the run, which was our biggest weakness in 2008. Had we played even 10 percent better on run defense we probably would have beaten Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and North Carolina, and could have brought home victories against Michigan State and Boston College.
Another problem with heavy blitzing is that teams are prepared for it and make the necessary adjustments to counter them. I know you may be salivating at the fact that only Nevada and Washington are bringing experienced quarterbacks against us, but I think our heavy blitzing may make it easier on the other young and inexperienced signal callers ready to battle Notre Dame this fall.
Case in point: The San Diego State and North Carolina losses last year. Neither team ran the ball spectacularly well, which was great for us, but they kept dinking and dunking all over us as we sent blitz after blitz that never got to the quarterback in time.
The Aztecs only gained 71 yards rushing, but they threw for 274 yards. And when you realize they only rushed the ball 15 times but attempted 59 throws, I think this is a recipe to beat our defense. The Tar Heels ran the ball much more effectively but also sliced us for over 200 yards through the air as well.
Michigan State, Boston College, USC, Syracuse, and Pitt just flat out beat us by running the ball, there's no two ways about it. Perhaps we slowed their passing game down, but it didn't matter when they could dial up a run and get an average of four to five yards.
This year I think we should play aggressive, but sit back a little more and stuff the box with eight guys and force teams to throw the ball; but not always leave our secondary alone on islands with receivers with heavy pass rushing.
I think we'll be better off if we shut down the run and force the inexperienced quarterbacks to beat us with their arms against our highly skilled secondary. This way, we can also create more surprises with our blitzes as they become more rare but unknown.
This is what SDSU did to us last year by simply getting rid of the ball quickly and taking four or five yards through the air because they knew blitzes were coming.
My fear is that by blitzing heavily, and not really achieving the objective of pressuring the quarterback into stupid mistakes, we are making it easier for opponents to throw easy short passes and run the ball right at us as we're flying toward the backfield.
Our first two opponents this season, Nevada and Michigan, both run offenses heavily built on running the ball, especially with the quarterback. I think it would be wise to focus primarily on bottling up these teams' ground game and not blitzing on the majority of plays. Neither team is capable of simply beating us through the air.
I know that stacking the box will leave our defensive backs more susceptible, but if we don't blitz as often we will be able to read the quarterback easier and drop a safety or linebacker into coverage for help. To me, this is better than basically throwing a safety or linebacker at the quarterback to no avail, and leaving our defensive backs out to dry with little or no help in coverage.
This is all the more true since Nevada and Michigan will be working almost exclusively out of the shotgun and we will be able to dissect their play action much easier and they will be very uneasy about passing the ball in the first place.
In summary, I would just like to reiterate that we should blitz less often and focus on stopping the run in 2009. If we do this it will be a very successful season indeed.