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Every Cardinals blitz vs. Chargers, first half

Digging to the root of Arizona's pass-rush woes, we dissect every blitz from the first half of Saturday's game against San Diego.

Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sport

Part four of our on-going saga of why the Cardinals are struggling to get after opposing quarterbacks, this time focusing on the different blitzes employed against San Diego's first team offense. With apologies to the color-blind and those averse to Paint, we'll start with an explanation of what some of the different squigglies mean on each slide.


Man Blitz - Anyone designated with the lighter purple "man blitz" did his job on the play by consuming a block, rather than directly pursuing the quarterback; it could have been drawn up for him to do so, creating an opportunity for another player to get into the pocket, or it could have been circumstance.
Gap Blitz - The primary blitzer, this assignment is designed specifically to affect the quarterback. Note that this is speculation, as it's impossible to actually identify each player's assignment without knowing the playcall.
Blitz pick-up - These gray marks indicate who blocked who (which is often different from who was supposed to block who).
Man/Zone defense - Fairly self-explanatory, just note that anyone marked as being in coverage typically dropped back at the beginning of the play, though there were a couple misdirections where the defender appeared to blitz then backed off after a second or two.

Blitz 1

ARI brings five, SD blocks with six. Campbell (93) spins around the left tackle, forcing the quarterback to throw or move. He gets his arms up to disrupt the quarterback’s vision or passing lane, but the pass is away cleanly. Dockett (90) swims over the right guard and locks up with the right tackle. Brinkley (54) locks up with the left guard, while Dansby (55) gets double-teamed by the center and right guard. With two blockers taking him out of the play, his job is done and instead of continuing to rush, he backs off into coverage. Because the center opted to pick up Dansby, Bell (37) has a clean gap into the pocket but the running back picks him up with no trouble.

Campbell is the only player to get a win on the play, successfully spinning past his blocker to create a clear lane into the pocket. Though it appeared that the play was designed for Dockett and the two inside linebackers to consume blocks by the offensive line, which they did, both Dockett and Brinkley were stoned by single blocks.

The play itself worked. It created a gap for Bell to shoot through, and though he failed to defeat the running back’s blitz pick-up, his attempt left Campbell one-on-one on the edge. Campbell did enough to disrupt Rivers, who failed to complete a poor throw to a well-covered receiver.

Blitz 2

The defense got gashed on this one. The Chargers lined up in the shotgun on 2nd & 14 and called a draw play. That’s probably not something you want your defensive playcaller to be surprised by, but he apparently was as this was exactly the wrong defense for the play.

This is a kind of overload blitz. Both linebackers blitz the same gap, one after the other. It creates a lot of traffic in a small area so it’s common for the blitzers to get caught up on one another, but that’s not what happened here.

The guard and center both mistakenly picked up Dockett (90). The first man to the gap, Dansby (55), had a clear lane into the pocket. The guard eventually reacted to the blitz and picked up Brinkley (54). Sadly, it was a run play, and the ballcarrier was able to evade Dansby despite his initial penetration.

I can only speculate, but Campbell (93) might have misplayed this. He made a really quick swim move at the snap that propelled him into the B gap. He was probably supposed to contain both the A and B gaps on the left side, instead of throwing himself into one or the other. If not, this is a poorly designed play, as the left A gap was left unaccounted for. The runningback saw the opening, darted through it, and ran for an 18 yard gain.

Blitz 3

Dockett (90) and Campbell (93) take the guards head on. The play is designed to create a two vs. one block against the left tackle, and it’s important that the interior blitzers occupy the guards so they aren’t able to pull to the left and seal the extra blitzer. It works as intended. The center effectively blocks no one, and the guards are occupied long enough for the blitz to go off. The left halfback stays in to block but doesn’t recognize the pressure so he leaks out on a delayed route (the right halfback runs a route into the flat).

Abraham (53) takes on the left tackle with an outside speed move. The tackle reacts by stepping out wide with Abraham, creating a nice big gap between the tackle and guard for the trailing blitzer, Dansby (55), to flow through. Dansby gets a clean hit on the quarterback, but it’s all for naught. Abraham jumped offsides. Insult to injury, Rivers hit his running back with a quick pass for the first down anyway. The play went off as intended but was defeated by a quick read by the quarterback; if he had held on any longer, it would have been a sack.

Blitz 4

Todd Bowles uses the same concept here as he did with Blitz 3, it’s just utilizing different personnel. Here, the safety comes up to blitz the edge instead of an inside linebacker. This is interesting because we get to see how it works when the right guard pulls. San Diego’s blocking scheme calls for him to roll to the left, behind the rest of the offensive line, and pick up whoever happens to be rushing the passer from the left side of the line while the left tackle blocks an interior lineman. Because of this aggressive blocking design, it’s difficult to tell exactly what the Cardinals linemen are supposed to be doing exactly (blitzing a gap or taking up a block).

The Chargers actually have the personnel in to block it, but the pulling guard hesitates before picking up the safety, Bell (37). The running back also tries to pick up Bell, giving Acho (94) a free run at the quarterback.

Acho gets a hit on Rivers, but he completes a quick pass towards the sideline for a first down. The play itself worked because it confused the Chargers blocking scheme and resulted in a pressure and a hit on the quarterback; however, the offense ultimately won because of a quick read and throw.

Blitz 5

Dockett (90) and Campbell (93) do the dirty work in this blitz. They both crash a guard, while the center chooses to double-team Campbell. This leaves the tackles alone on the edges. The right tackle has three people to block and takes the blitzing nickelback, Mathieu (32). Shaughnessy (91) gets through the line untouched and although the runningback stays in to block, he’s too slow to react, failing to pick up the first man through (91) and instead taking Brinkley (54).

The play definitely worked. A pass-rusher should never get a free shot at the quarterback like Shaughnessy did on this play, which forced an incomplete pass. At least one of San Diego’s blockers made a mistake on the play but it’s impossible to tell who.

Blitz 6

This is a fun one. Campbell (93) actually has responsibility for the running back on this play. He starts to blitz, but when the back leaks into the flat, Campbell goes out with him in coverage. Dockett (90) consumes a double team in the middle of the line, leaving Shaughnessy (91) in a one-on-one against the right guard while the tackle has to pick up Mathieu’s (32) blitz. Shaughnessy manhandles his blocker and nails the quarterback, disrupting his throw to the point where the ball wobbles into the hands of one of the linebackers in coverage, Brinkley (54).

Blitz 7

This is probably the same as blitz 5, just with a slightly different defensive formation. This is where the distinction between the Cardinals’ 3-3-5 and 2-4-5 ends; they’re the same alignments, the only difference between them being whether or not one guy is standing up.

Rucker (98) subs in for Dockett and the fresh legs next to Campbell (93) really get some movement in the middle. Rucker tosses his blocker aside so easily the guy stumbles into Campbell and slows down his rush. Rucker makes a lane to the quarterback with this move, but can’t quite get there before the pass is away. Mathieu (32) is picked up by the runningback and bullrushes him into the ground, impressive for a little guy, creating another lane to the QB.

The playcall created pressure and would have seen two Cardinals converge on Phillip Rivers at about the same time if he had held on to the ball any longer.

Did it work?

San Diego's protection schemes were a mess in this game. That'll happen in the preseason when you have a new offensive coordinator. It's also exacerbated by effective playcalling by the defense, and except for one draw play, the Cardinals made good use of the blitz in the first half. They were able to further confuse the Chargers' blockers, creating pressures almost 100% of the time.

Unfortunately, the best pass rush in the world will always lose to a quarterback who can quickly read the defense and get the ball out on time. Philip Rivers is one such quarterback. Even with bodies flying around him and hands in his face, Rivers was able to avoid being sacked even once.

That's not to say that the extra pressure didn't work. Against extra pass-rushers, Rivers was 3/6 with one interception. Note that all three of his completions created first downs; talk about living and dying by the sword. There are some issues holding the pass-rush back (and we'll get to those, and possible solutions, tomorrow) but they seem to be doing a pretty good job on the blitz.