When developing solutions to tactical problems through small unit activities, it’s important to condition defenders so players can become used to certain patterns seen in the game. Defensive styles have inherent limitations that present opportunities for attacking players. Using the defensive wall metaphor, and thinking of attack tearing down that wall, it is important to pick the right tool(s) for the task at hand. Below are the characteristics and potential tools for breaching a blitz defence.
Blitz Defence Characteristics:
- Defenders typically align on the outside shoulder of the attacking player, with the intent on keeping the play contained close to the origin of the play
- They push up fast looking to make a tackle deep behind the gain line (or go for an intercept), making them vulnerable to side steps
- Often the outer defender comes forward more than the interior group of three or four, which looks like a gate swinging shut (whereas one could say a drift defence looks like an open gate)
- In other systems, a central defender shoots up ahead of the rest looking or the big tackle or intercept
- In both cases at least one defender comes further forward than the rest, leaving space behind that can be exploited by the ball carrier or a strike runner
- They also tend to leave a lot of space between the rushing group and the full back
Exploiting a Blitz Defence:
Exploit the Space Behind
If outer defenders run too far forward, they give a great exit opportunity for the ball carrier. In the diagram, the passer dummies a pass hoping the outside defender sprints up to put a big hit on the receiver, but then slips behind with a sharp angle and a burst of speed. It’s key that the ball carrier run away from his/her defender and and behind the inside shoulder of the next defender. In some cases, that defender recognises this and is able to adjust. This defender is now out of the play allowing the player he was covering to sprint forward and go looking for an offload from the ball carrier.
Exploit the “Shooter”
If the pass is made early and a defender “shoots up” ahead of the rest, there’s an opportunity to send someone else from either side in behind. In this situation, the support runner has to run a sharp line aiming for the space behind the defender and make a timely call for a sympathetic short pass.
Similarly, when one “shooter” comes forward to cut off a pass or in an overzealous attempt to intercept, a patient passer can hold and pass behind the shooter to a strike runner coming up flat.
Pass Deep to Get Around the Blitz
As a blitz defence usually only involves a small section of defenders coming forward, there is an opportunity to go around the closing ‘gate’. The team using this option requires patience, quality execution and belief that they can play from deep (a tackle here can mean a costly turnover!). They have to hold their depth and make early and accurate passes with little forward running so they have time to get to the outside. It can be a less-risky option to take, however, if the players leading the blitz aren’t the most agile and if support is present to run into the holes created.
Pass Over the Blitz
If the defending line is up fast and tight, there is still an option to pass (remember: the aim of a blitz is to contain the ball on the inside and contest from a powerful, go-forward position of strength behind the gain line). In many blitz defences, the wing holds back to cover a kick. If the passer has a good long pass, he/she can try lobbing a quick one to the winger coming up flat over-top the blitzing group. For reference, Quade Cooper often does this, but he has also thrown intercepts or set up the receiver for a big hit when the pass was floated too high, allowing time for a defender to get under.
Kicking Behind the Blitz
The group rushing forward often leaves a big gap between them and the full back, inviting a short kick behind for someone to re-gather. Although a lot of people hesitate to kick as one can be giving possession away, this tactic used more than once early in the game can also cause a blitzing team to ease off, not wanting to give away too much space behind. This is one of the reasons that teams use blitzes more as an occasional / situational tactic rather than a continuous style of defence.