Film Room: Butler Adding Wrinkle To Fire X Blitz

The Fire X blitz is a tenet of the zone blitz made popular by Dick LeBeau. Even with him gone, Keith Butler has kept it and a wide array of fire zones. As any good coach should do, he’s taken it a step further and added wrinkles. Those were on display this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts.

On second/third and long, Butler – and I think LeBeau did it too, to be clear – will shift an outside linebacker off ball and next to the normal inside linebackers. Twice against the Colts, he combined it with the Fire X. The concept, as a reminder, are two inside linebackers trading blitzing A gaps. Five man rush that’s supposed to mess with slide protections and/or get a linebacker on a back, even though the offense has numbers (6 blockers vs five rushers).

An example of the “conventional” Fire X blitz. From last year vs Baltimore, which resulted in a sack.

With the extra linebacker off-ball, it offers more flexibility in who is rushing. Harder to define the defense. And the blitz works the same. The timing of the blitz has to be perfect, at its best when the linebackers get a running start, the exchange has to be clean (one has to go first, can’t run into each other), and the edge defenders must contain the pocket.

That’s what we see on both rushes. The first ends in half a sack for the ILB twist, James Harrison and Vince Williams. The contain is an important aspect. For one, Arthur Moats is left one-on-one with the back, the left guard winds up blocking no one, and Moats forces the QB to climb the pocket.

Who, of course, climbs right into the pressure. Harrison rips through the RG, getting the initial pressure, collapsing the pocket, with Williams on clean-up duty.

The second doesn’t end in a sack but the perception of pressure forces the ball out quick for a short gain and long third down.

Same idea. Good contain by Roy Philon and Anthony Chickillo. If the QB held onto the ball any longer, Tyler Matakevich was picking up a sack. Again, despite it being a six man protection and a five man rush, you get a linebacker on a back. That turns it into a backs on ‘backer drill, always in favor of the defender.

In “and long” situations, Butler will get creative and maximize his outside linebackers. That could mean stacking them to a side or putting them off ball like here. Force the offense to adjust to different looks, not getting comfortable, and wait for one guy to make a mistake. When there’s rush lane integrity, these blitzes are highly effective.

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