Team Blitzing

| April 7, 2014

team-blitzingThere are many different ways to get pressure on a quarterback. Some teams can consistently send the same four players and frequently rattle the quarterback. Sometimes that isn’t enough, which is why teams will blitz. At Pro Football Focus we chart who rushes the passer on every play as well as how successful they are at doing so, so we’re pulling some of that data out and taking this opportunity to look at which teams blitz the most and how successful they’ve been.

There are many ways to define a blitz, but here we’re defining it as someone pass rushing that the offense wouldn’t expect to. For example, in a goal-line situation if there are six defensive linemen and they all rush the passer, that wouldn’t count as a blitz. However, in a base 3-4 defense if an ILB pass rushes instead of an OLB, it is a blitz even though it is still potentially just a four-man rush.

Blitz Percentage

The first part of the equation is how often teams blitz. The more a team blitzes, the more the offense needs to be ready for anything. The less they blitz, the more likely it can take the offense by surprise.

We find three teams that blitzed a bit more than the rest in 2013. Leading the pack was the Arizona Cardinals who saw a number of their edge rushers get hurt. They also had one of the better pass-rushing inside linebackers in Karlos Dansby as well as one of the better pass-rushing defensive backs in Tyrann Mathieu. The Raiders had the inside linebacker that led the league in pressures in Nick Roach and last year the Houston Texans had two of the least effective edge rushers in the league, so it was worth it for them to try sending other players.

Rank Team Blitz% Drop-backs Blitz
1 ARZ 49.21% 695 342
2 OAK 47.62% 609 290
3 HST 46.27% 536 248
4 BUF 38.83% 631 245
5 GB 37.07% 642 238
6 MIA 36.17% 647 234
7 PHI 35.45% 773 274
8 CLV 35.28% 669 236
9 IND 33.33% 693 231
10 TEN 32.73% 605 198
11 WAS 32.57% 568 185
12 ATL 32.47% 576 187
13 SD 32.29% 700 226
14 NYG 31.62% 661 209
15 PIT 31.25% 624 195
16 BLT 31.11% 614 191
17 CHI 30.58% 556 170
18 NYJ 30.39% 645 196
19 DEN 29.02% 789 229
20 KC 28.41% 718 204
21 NO 28.26% 637 180
22 TB 27.96% 608 170
23 SL 27.95% 594 166
24 CAR 26.29% 677 178
25 NE 26.14% 746 195
26 CIN 24.75% 695 172
27 MIN 22.05% 712 157
28 SEA 21.35% 726 155
29 DAL 21.01% 676 142
30 SF 19.67% 737 145
31 DET 18.34% 627 115
32 JAX 16.69% 611 102

 

Pass Rushing Productivity While Blitzing

Next are the teams that are best at blitzing as judged by our Pass Rushing Productivity Signature Stat. Here we find a number of NFC teams who don’t blitz often, but when they do the often get pressure. Most of these top teams have two common factors. First, they have pass rushers who play well with or without the blitz. Second, they have linebackers who are perform well in coverage which limits how often the team wants to use them as pass rushers. This includes (but is certainly not limited to) K.J. Wright, Thomas Davis, Lavonte David, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Stephen Tulloch.

On the flip side are teams that generally lacked a successful pass rush. When a team struggles to get a pass rush, they might normally try to blitz more often to get pressure. Most teams that are below average at getting pressure without the blitz are also below average in getting pressure with one. In 2013 there was a negative correlation between how often a team blitzed and how successful they were. This is likely due to teams who lack a strong pass rush attempting to blitz more to make up for it.

Rank Team Drop-backs Sacks Hits Hurries PRP
1 SEA 155 19 20 43 42.7
2 CAR 178 28 20 43 42.3
3 WAS 185 18 24 51 40.1
4 TB 170 18 26 40 39.7
5 SF 145 16 19 36 39.5
6 MIA 234 18 38 60 39.1
7 DET 115 9 20 28 39.1
8 KC 204 18 19 61 38.2
9 DEN 229 16 23 69 37.1
10 CIN 172 22 20 35 36.8
11 TEN 198 14 20 58 36.6
12 ARZ 342 29 53 75 36.5
13 NE 195 21 22 45 36.5
14 BUF 245 26 20 62 35.7
15 IND 231 21 27 54 35.4
16 MIN 157 12 27 31 35.4
17 NO 180 21 13 43 35.0
18 HST 248 16 41 53 34.9
19 DAL 142 10 14 38 34.5
20 OAK 290 27 34 63 34.4
21 JAX 102 11 12 20 34.3
22 BLT 191 12 25 46 34.2
23 SL 166 19 19 27 32.2
24 CHI 170 14 16 38 32.1
25 GB 238 26 15 51 31.7
26 NYG 209 14 25 44 31.5
27 PHI 274 16 31 62 31.3
28 ATL 187 16 16 40 31.0
29 NYJ 196 8 24 46 30.9
30 PIT 195 15 14 46 30.8
31 SD 226 16 21 49 30.3
32 CLV 236 12 19 48 26.4

 

Pass Rushing Productivity Without the Blitz

Of course, it’s good to compare the above numbers to how successful teams are when they weren’t blitzing. A lot of the teams that have elite pass rushers like Robert Quinn, Michael Bennett, Greg Hardy, J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith are at the top. What is surprising is the team that tops the list are the Buffalo Bills. On a typical passing play they had Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams and Jerry Hughes rushing the passer. All four players had more than 40 pressures on the year.

You’ll notice that teams were generally more successful at getting pressure when they blitzed than when they didn’t. While there are other factors than just how often teams get pressure when they do and don’t blitz, this suggests that most teams would be better off blitzing a little more frequently than they currently do.

Rank Team Drop-backs Sacks Hits Hurries PRP
1 BUF 386 32 32 81 30.2
2 SL 428 34 39 83 29.3
3 SEA 571 28 50 135 29.2
4 CAR 499 32 45 106 29.1
5 HST 288 15 27 64 28.9
6 SF 592 35 38 141 28.6
7 DET 512 24 39 124 28.6
8 NO 457 33 36 90 27.9
9 DEN 560 30 34 131 27.5
10 MIA 413 23 29 87 26.6
11 KC 514 29 26 116 26.4
12 TEN 407 22 24 87 25.9
13 ARZ 353 18 29 68 25.7
14 MIN 555 28 33 116 25.2
15 BLT 423 28 34 71 25.2
16 CIN 523 21 42 106 25.2
17 NYJ 449 32 22 84 24.8
18 PHI 499 23 31 102 24.6
19 IND 462 24 31 85 24.0
20 CLV 433 28 29 71 23.8
21 TB 438 17 28 88 23.7
22 WAS 383 18 23 71 23.1
23 NE 551 28 37 94 22.9
24 JAX 509 20 40 86 22.5
25 GB 404 19 15 81 22.5
26 NYG 452 18 36 75 22.4
27 PIT 429 19 32 69 22.1
28 DAL 534 24 30 94 21.9
29 OAK 319 9 27 51 21.2
30 CHI 386 15 18 70 21.0
31 SD 474 21 27 76 20.7
32 ATL 389 16 13 66 19.3

* All data includes playoffs

* For Pass Rushing Productivity, if on a play one player had a pressure and another player had a sack, it was just treated as a sack. Therefore the data might not add up to what you see elsewhere on the site by individual totals. This was done so we could see — if you add up the sacks, hits and hurries — the number of plays a team created pressure.

 

Follow Nathan on Twitter: @PFF_NateJahnke

  • Right on Watt

    Interesting to see the sack difference between Houston (#5) versus #4 and #6 in pressure without the blitz. I suppose that could be for a couple of reasons:

    1. The majority of their pressure came up the middle (Watt and Antonio Smith), so QBs were able to identify it and get rid of the ball. I’d imagine pressure off the edge (particularly from the blind side) gets translated to sacks more often.

    2. They were pretty terrible at covering TEs and RBs (#30 in both according to PFO), so QBs were usually able to get the ball to a safety valve when pressured.

  • Smitty

    What about the risk of attempting a blitz and giving up a big play? How often do the teams that blitz a higher proportion of the time also give up a higher percentage of big plays? How does the score of the game affect how often teams blitz? Do more successful teams blitz less often in general?