This season the zone blitz will be the blue plate special for many teams. So what are the NFL's offensive brain trusts doing about it? Here are seven ways they believe it can be beaten.
1. Run the ball. "Anytime I've got a defensive lineman playing soft in front of me, looking to drop into coverage, I say run it down his throat," Philadelphia Eagles center Steve Everitt says. Denver Broncos wideout Willie Green, who played for the zone-blitzing Carolina Panthers last season, suggests running outside, "like Green Bay did to us in the NFC Championship Game." The Packers are the only team that has run for more than 200 yards against Carolina in its two-year history. "Show pass and get the linemen dropping and then go to a lead draw," Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman adds.
2. Employ the play-action pass. "But only after you've shown you can run effectively," says former San Francisco 49ers coach Bill Walsh. "The defensive linemen will be looking for the run first, and they'll be a count slower getting into their drops. But your line has to be aggressive and sell the run."
3. Attack vulnerable zones. Packers coach Mike Holmgren says the two softest spots are the area opposite the blitzer and the area in which the defense is dropping a lineman.
4. Strike quickly. "If your quarterback is slow on his read," New York Giants coach Jim Fassel says, "then they have you dead." "Be aggressive and definite on your throws," adds 49ers quarterback Steve Young. "The second you pump, then hesitate, they've got you."
5. Throw wide. The flats are a good place to start, according to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jim Harbaugh. "That's where the zone thins out," he says. "Plus the linemen can't get outside to cover. The middle of the field is where it gets congested, with people popping up in strange places."
6. Keep extra blockers in and go deep. "We like to send a lot of people out," Eagles quarterback Ty Detmer says, "and the zone blitz forces you away from that. But it you maximum protect and pick up the blitzes, you can get the deep one."
7. Flood a zone. Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy believes the scheme can be outnumbered, especially when the defense plays a zone with six, instead of the traditional seven. "We put so many guys out that we've got the defense spread thin," he says, "and we're going to hit one of [our receivers]."