Pat Narduzzi has made a living by being an aggressive play-caller and getting after offenses. One of his most famous ways to do this is through his HOT pressures. Most coaches are familiar with a Fire Zone that sends five defenders and uses a 3 Under/3 Deep (Cover 3) concept behind the rush. Narduzzi designed a way to insert an extra defender and still play zone coverage. Pitt’s playbook has numerous ways to manipulate the coverage, but the most basic is the HOT concept.
In the Saban vernacular, HOT is defined as EYES coverage because the two “under” defenders are reading the eyes of the QB. If the QB looks to the defender, he will SQUAT and relate to the nearest offensive player. If the QB is looking away from the defender, he will SLING TO VISION while looking for any crossing routes underneath. The secondary is playing similar to how they would in a Fire Zone. The CBs relating to the #1 WR and the middle of the field Safety is working to close the Post.
These pressures are mainly used on 1st Down or long passing downs. The goal is to max out the blitz and overload one side of the offensive line. Narduzzi can do this from base personnel or his 3rd Down Odd package (long yardage). The goal is to max the fit on early-downs to defend from the run, but if the offense decides to run play-action and take a shot, the pressure will be too much. In long-yardage situations, the goal is to get the QB’s eyes down and to hurry the throw or force a check-down to defenders with their eyes on the QB. In most cases, if the RB flares (five-out), the edge rusher will peel with the RB (or tag with “No Peel” to stay in the rush).
The system works, and Pitt has been in the top 10 in total Tackles For Loss (TFLs) the past two seasons. 2020 saw the Panthers as the #1 team overall in total TFLs and second only to Colorado St. (only played four games) with 10+ TFLs a game. In terms of sacks created, Pitt again is one of the best in the country. 2020 saw the Panthers accumulate 46 total sacks (tied with Clemson for #1) and finished behind Miami, Oh (only played three games) in sacks per game (4+). Narduzzi is a master at creating chaos on crucial downs, and analytics show that it is difficult for an offense to overcome that negative yardage and score if you can get negative yards on early downs.
In this month’s featured blitz, the Panthers will attack Virginia Tech using their Odd package. In many cases, Pitt uses an alignment I call BLAZERS (below). The front stresses an O-line by forcing the protection to “fan” outside. In particular, the Guards are stressed because they now have to play like OTs, something they are not natural at.
Narduzzi’s HOT package can easily translate from Base to his Odd Package. In most cases, Pitt will take out the Nose, move the 3 tech. over the Center and bring on an extra DB. The 3-down package allows for more exotic looks and the ability to have an extra DB on the field. Narduzzi can get into 5-O Fronts or space fronts like Blazers. Regardless, there is constant pressure on the O-line, and the pressure can come from anywhere.
In the Narduzzi system, mascots are from the field and cities from the boundary. The blitz shown below is Cowboys (Dallas = Boundary). Pitt brings a four-man overload from the field while playing HOT coverage behind it. The goal is to overwhelm the blocking of the O-line, and if the offense slides to the boundary, they are several people short.
In terms of gap integrity, the folding EDGE from the boundary can take any open gap that appears inside. The Ni from the field is similar to a trailer and will fit off the EDGE and the Mike looping inside. Narduzzi tags him as a “Trail Blazer,” and his coaching points for the Ni are to let the blitzers take the blockers and let the window open.
HOT coverage, or EYES in the Saban vernacular, is a derivative of the Fire Zone family, but instead of having a Middle Hole dropper, he is in the rush. The Seam players are now responsible for reading the eyes of the QB and don’t necessarily match routes. If a Pitt wants to play tighter coverage, they can always play true Cover 1. HOT coverage on paper looks like a huge advantage for the offense, but the pressure leverages the risk. Get the QB’s eyes down on the rush or get him to throw the ball quickly to underneath WRs.
In the clip, the QB heaves the ball quickly to the Inside 9 (Fade, but with inside leverage). The Post-Safety easily reacts to the throw and meets the WR in the end zone. The right OLB (“R”) slings into the middle of the box but begins to pedal back with the QB’s eyes on him and shoulder angle downfield. On the Trips side, the FS works to apex #2 & #3, reading the QB’s intentions. A diagram of the blitz is shown below.
Va. Tech runs SLIDE-LOCK protection with cross-action by the RB. The O-line will slide to the boundary while the RB is responsible for the edge, and the RT will “lock” on the field DE. The Hokie line does a great job of picking up the pressure. As the RT dives down with the DE, he carries the defender to the RG, who comes off with the motion of the Nose. The Mike inserting on the tackle brings him back to the DE working his long stick.
Mike, seeing the RT work laterally, attempts to fit off his outside shoulder (T-READ). The left EDGE doesn’t work vertically to clear the gap for the RB and is cut, making it muddy for the Ni. Good for the QB; the throw was a quick three-step Fade.
Narduzzi’s defenses at Pitt have been some of the best at creating havoc and negative plays the past few years. His use of HOT blitzes on early and long yardages downs forces offenses to always prepare for pressure. Where Pitt lacks in coverage integrity, they make up for it by selecting pressure paths that force a quick throw or an unblocked defender.
The Panthers used a four-man overload to force the QB to the boundary in the blitz illustrated above. The quick Fade throw worked to the Panthers’ advantage, and Va. Tech was forced to kick a FG. If looking at it analytically, the expected points on 1st Down for the Hokies, once they got into the Red Zone, was 4.19. Pitt was able to hold them to a FG (3 points), a -1.19 point differential. A “win” for the defense.
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