There is a certain beauty to a well-executed blitz. Not just in the bounteous one, two or six points it can generate for a fantasy team, but in the way a defensive coordinator's design is carried out with precision, confusing highly skilled offensive players into making costly mistakes.
Anatomy of a Play
The game was tied, 3-3, with just over 9 minutes left in the second quarter. The Dolphins faced a third-and-five from their own 45-yard line. It was Miami's second third-and-medium situation of the game (medium being 4-6 yards).
They had converted the first such third down with a shallow crossing route to Patrick Cobbs, gaining 17 yards and setting up a field goal. On that play, Pennington was in the shotgun and Ronnie Brown motioned quickly in front of him to fake a handoff -- akin to the "Wildcat" play when Brown is at quarterback and fakes to Ricky Williams. The Ravens rushed Pennington with only four defenders and played man-to-man coverage. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis was responsible for Cobbs, but he took two steps in the wrong direction, toward Brown's run fake, and Cobbs beat him on the crossing route.
On this third-and-five, Pennington again lined up in the shotgun and again faked a quick handoff to Brown. And once again, the primary receiver was Cobbs on a shallow cross.
The difference is what the Ravens did defensively. They blitzed with five rushers and played zone coverage -- better known as a "zone blitz." The blitzers were Lewis, and defensive backs Jim Leonhard and Frank Walker. At the snap, they attacked the right side of the Dolphins offense. Anthony Fasano blocked Lewis and Brown took Walker, but because Cobbs and David Martin released into routes, there was no one left to block Leonhard. He was untouched and forced Pennington to move left.
Defensive end/outside linebacker/hybrid-freak-of-an-athlete Terrell Suggs initially aligned as a defensive end. At the snap, he dropped back as an underneath zone defender. It was Suggs' area that Cobbs was attacking on the shallow crossing route. As Suggs dropped, he scanned the field in front of him and noticed the receiver coming into his zone. After seeing Cobbs it took him just seven lengthy strides to intercept the ball.
While the design of the blitz ultimately worked, there was nothing special about it. It was a straight-forward zone blitz that could have easily been beaten for another first down, if not for an accidental collision. And therein lay the true beauty of the play.
Just as Lewis attacked the line of scrimmage on his blitz, Cobbs released to the inside on his crossing route. Lewis didn't see Cobbs, and Cobbs didn't see Lewis. The two players smacked right into each other. It wasn't enough to knock them down, but plenty to surprise both players and stop their momentum. Because Lewis' blitz was accounted for by Fasano, the collision didn't negatively impact the Ravens.
But because Cobbs was Pennington's primary target, the collision was devastating to Miami. Cobbs' route was behind on its timing, preventing Pennington from making a quick throw, while simultaneously allowing Suggs more time to spot Cobbs in his area. Pennington waited until Cobbs finally crossed the field and then tried to force the ball past Suggs.
If Cobbs had crossed the field cleanly, it's likely that Pennington would have thrown him the ball for another first down, without even taking a hit. As it turned out, the Dolphins weren't so lucky and Ray Lewis' best play of the day was just a beautiful accident.