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Anatomy of a Play: Philly's zone blitz

  • By NFL Films
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When Ben Roethlisberger wasn't crawling around on his hands and knees, he was scrambling around like he didn't have a clear picture. If you didn't know better, you might have thought he'd lost a contact on the turf of Lincoln Financial Field.

Unfortunately for Big Ben, there was contact and plenty of it. Jim Johnson, the Eagles' defensive coordinator, provided it with a wide variety of stunts and blitzes that Philadelphia used to rack up nine sacks.

Anatomy of a Play
Tom Mihalek/Associated Press
NFL Films' Greg Cosell breaks down how Jim Johnson's zone blitz defense sacked Ben Roethlisberger eight times. More ...
Anatomy of a Play extras:
» Breaking down the zone blitz
» Mikell on Philly's blitz strategy

More Anatomy of a Play:
» 'Wildcat' beats Patriots

It's tough to find a pattern in Johnson's attack. He brings players from every level of the defense -- the first level (defensive line), the second level (linebackers), and the third level (defensive backs) -- all with a high degree of success. And he constantly breaks his own tendencies. But what is most important is that the Eagles believe in his philosophy and they execute his schemes as a well-disciplined, cohesive unit.

In the second quarter and trailing the Eagles 7-3, the Steelers had the ball, first-and-10, at their own 33. Out of base personnel, the Eagles rarely blitz. But Johnson called one, bringing linebackers Omar Gaither and Stewart Bradley. Philadelphia played man-to-man coverage and showed it pre-snap, with no disguise.

The blitz was designed for Gaither to attack Roethlisberger through a gaping hole in the offensive line, with no one to block him. For that to occur, several of Gaither's teammates needed to perform some dirty work.

At the snap, defensive tackle Broderick Bunkley slanted across the face of the left guard, holding the attention of two blockers, the guard and the center. Bradley, the middle linebacker, blitzed from the second level, keeping his path as close to Bunkley as possible. He was blocked by running back Willie Parker. Right defensive end Darren Howard performed a wide and controlled rush, removing the tackle from the rest of the offense.

With Bunkley occupying the left guard and center, Bradley controlling Parker, and Howard widening the tackle, a huge gap formed on the left side of the offense. Gaither, following closely behind Bradley, sprinted toward Roethlisberger, untouched. While he didn't make the sack, Gaither disrupted the timing of the pass. Gaither forced Big Ben to move forward, into the waiting arms of Juqua Parker.

If Roethlisberger had another half second, he could have hit an open Heath Miller, but the timing and precision of the blitz sprung Gaither free just in time to force Roethlisberger off his perch. Instead of another first-and-10, the Steelers faced second-and-12.

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