May '21 Blitz of the Month

Northwestern's Odd Bears Ni Add FZ 3

The 5-O Front (below) is a best-practice front on 3rd Down and occurs at every level of football. Regardless of four- or three-down base defense, most teams, will carry an Odd package for 3rd Down. Also known as the “X” front because the players can align anywhere like Xs on a whiteboard, defenses can use 5-O Fronts to attack an offense’s protection schemes.

With five defenders stacked on top of each lineman, the easiest way for the defense to block the front is man-blocking. The RB now vacate on a route or search for an extra defender entering the box. Outside of man-blocking, many offenses will choose “Dual Fan” or “Combo” the pass pro.

In a Dual Fan action, the Center will float with the Nose (stay on), and either side of the protection will fan out from the Center. This protection is used when the defense attacks the box's edges with overhangs while dropping mugged defenders. Combo is similar to Dual Fan (below), except the Center will slide in a direction, usually the way the Nose goes. Dual Fan is unlike Slide Lock, where everyone on the line slides a direction with the Tackle away from the slide, staying “locked” on the edge opposite the slide.

When choosing to attack Combo or Fan Dual, the path of least resistance is through one of the A-gaps and forces the RB to scan the pressure and ID the insert. As with any pressure concept, attacking the RB and forcing him to block is a plus. One of the best paths to accomplish this is the Bears path discussed below.


In their bowl game against Auburn, Northwestern used the Bears path with a simple add-on to create a five-man pressure. The Wildcats aligned in an Odd Mug front (505 with LBs stacked on the Guards). Odd Mug is a popular 5-O front that is in the playbooks of many Odd Front defenses. This front creates man-on or combo blocking, which opens the A-gap for the insert.

Below, the Will LB aligns on top of the RB while the rest of the secondary positions themselves across the formation, stacking each WR. The secondary’s alignment gives Auburn the illusion of man coverage. Bears is usually paired with an Overload Front (bigs to one side) and 1 Rat coverage in the Saban system. Northwestern not only aligned in a different front but used zone coverage instead of man. By adding the Nickel (Ni), Northwestern used the Mike's pop-out to create a Fire Zone or 3-under/3-deep coverage.

Auburn counters this look with Combo protection. As the Mike pops-out to get to the vertical seam, the Guard and Tackle work out (fan). The LT for the Tigers doesn’t even hesitate, unconcerned with the DE working to the B-gap. As the Ni inserts off the edge (Roscoe: Rush Outside Contain), the LT kicks out to meet him as the LG collects the DE.

Inside, the Nose is occupying the Center in what I call a Pin-Sticky. To clear room for the Will on the insert, the Nose will attack the Center’s shoulder away from the blitz and is the “pin” in the technique. Pinning is when the D-lineman doesn’t rush upfield but instead holds his position in the gap. “Pinning” is often used to demand or encourage a double-team to widen a gap or occupy a potential blocker. Once the Center engages the Nose, the defender will work back to the line of scrimmage (LOS) looking for a screen or spying the QB (the Nose in the clip mirrors the QB’s scramble path).

To the boundary, the DE uses a pin technique to encourage the RG to stay on him. In the clip, the Jack rushes through the outside shoulder of the RG and occupies his vision. In a 5-O front, each O-lineman must assume each defender is rushing. Once a defender commits to the rush, the O-lineman will take his “man.” The Jack runs a Pin-Cop, pinning the B-gap, encouraging a double-team, and then working to contain (Cop: Contain Pressure). All of these movements ensure the Will is left unblocked through the boundary A-gap.

The final piece to the puzzle is the RB’s block or lack thereof. As illustrated earlier, the RB has to “search” for the insert. When the Ni came off the edge, the RB reacted by coming across the formation. Northwestern’s pop-outs allowed the O-line to fan the protection, but the RB’s responsibility didn’t change. He saw edge pressure and assumed he needed to help. This choice leaves the Will unblocked, and a five-man pressure defeats a six-man protection.

As the QB tried to escape, the RB realized his mistake and turned back to the QB as an outlet. The Pin-Cop allowed the Jack to hold the edge and collect the quick strike to the RB. Along with the Jack’s technique, Northwestern’s use of zone coverage allowed the defenders to see the ball thrown underneath and rally to the ball. Finally, the Nose’s sticky technique put him in a position to assist the Jack on the RB.


Northwestern’s Bears Add Fire Zone is a prime example of how alignment and path can wreak havoc on an offense’s protection. Most man-blocking morphs into Combo protection once the ball is snapped. The issue is the RB doesn’t take the right man. In his mind, he is scanning the edges back inside and can’t assume one of the mugged ‘backers is going to pop-out. The age-old adage of making the RB block holds true here.

Little presentation tweaks and decoys can pay big dividends for the defense. Northwestern made the RB block, and he missed. Even if he had taken the Will on the insert, simple inertia would have told you the LB was going to win with a full head of steam. At the least, the QB would have to get off his mark and make a throw on the move. With the down and distance 3rd & 9, the utilization of zone coverage was a plus. Who cares if the RB catches the ball behind the LOS? The Wildcats have eyes on the QB (and ball) and can rally.


Check out some other clips of the BEARS pressure path:

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