April '21 Blitz of the Month

San Fransisco's Odd Mug Back HOT

Robert Saleh will be taking the helm of the New York Jets in 2021. He is a rising star in this profession at the age of 42. He is a Pete Carroll disciple and has carried the four-down Cover 3 scheme's torch since getting the DC job for San Fransisco in 2017. Saleh has made a name for himself as a forward-thinking member of the Carroll system and a defensive linemen developer.

The last two seasons have seen the 49ers rise to one of the top defenses in the NFL. 2019 was a high-water mark as they finished #2 overall in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. The 2020 campaign would see the 49ers finish 6th in DVOA and 8th in overall EPA (-.015). Saleh is hitting his stride at just the right time.


One of the best ways to attack an offense’s protection is to make the RB “search” for his block. Add a way to manipulate the protection to gain an advantage, and now the defense is cooking. A simple way to do this is to create an overload to one side of the ball or create a situation where the offense will check to Slide protection.

The diagram illustrates a Boss Front with a double insert to the B-gap away from the RB. This type of alignment does several things. First, the offense is likely to slide the protection to the “bigs” or the D-line. Second, the offense could check to man-protection and force the RB to pick up an inserting LB away from his initial alignment. Finally, the five-man pressure illustrated places two defenders on the RB. The offense is outnumbered at the point of attack.

The design works because it plays on the offense’s protection. Regardless of man or slide protection, the “B” gap will become exposed. The RB now has to choose who to take once he gets there. Like fitting a gap run play, the defense has a defender on either shoulder. The only issue with dropping “bigs” is that they may not be able to cover the way you need them to. In a situation like the one diagramed, the ball is most likely coming out quick, so the droppers are there to disrupt the “hot” read or react to a screen. When designing a 3rd Down package, you may want to think who your D-line is and can they drop if needed?


The 49ers run the same path from above but from a different presentation and attack the RB directly. Aligning in an Odd (505) Mug Front (LBs on the Guards), the defense has created a man-blocking situation. As the two inserting defenders creep down, they give up the illusion of passive depth. The alignment forces the RG to fan out to the Ni, who is inserting off the edge. This decision by the Guard creates a new two-on-one. Though the Center blocks back on the mugged ‘backer, the RB follows him as well. This action “floats” the Guard on a better athlete.

“Floating” the Guard refers to isolating the O-lineman in space. The attempt to fan out to the Ni put the Guard by himself on a better athlete. All the defender had to do was make a move. The wide path of the defender forced the Guard to play like a Tackle. Most Guards are inside for a reason and don’t want to be in situations that force them into space against a quick defender.

Had the Guard dove down inside with the movement of the mugged ‘backer, the “B” gap would have been exposed. As the RB stepped up to take the $ aligned in a “zero,” the Ni would have most likely come free. This overload pressure is a great way to attack the offense.

Coverage-wise, the 49ers are running HOT/EYES coverage. The dropper away from the pressure is reading the QB’s eyes and slinging to the Bunch on the other side of the formation. The CB to the “nub” side will most likely play the TE man-to-man. The CB is dropping for depth on the Bunch side while the Safety is playing HOT/EYES with the opposite dropper.

The theory behind HOT/EYES is that the defense is creating intense pressure right at the snap of the ball to overpower the offense. The pressure keeps the QB’s eyes down on the pressure or focused quickly on his “rush” throw (hence the name). With the ball coming out quickly, the defense doesn’t need to play tight on every WR, just focusing on the QB.


Overload pressures like the one shown are a great way to attack a weak RB. The pressure illustrated places four defenders to one side of the ball and away from the initial overload side. Using the “bigs” as bait only to insert away from them is a great way to play on the offense’s protection tendencies. If personnel is an issue with the Bucks path, switch to a Mug front like the 49ers utilized.

The addition of an extra defender forced the issue even more. When developing pressures, be sure to have Sims/Creepers, five-man pressures, and HOT/EYES concepts using the same path. The overall goal is to keep the offense guessing and seeing ghosts.

Make sure to check out the latest book from MQ, Anchor Points, click HERE!

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