TAG You're It!

UCLA dipped into the '20 Dolphins playbook for their Week 0 game against Hawaii.

Last season, the Dolphins took the NFL by storm, running what I refer to as a TAG pressure. The design of the blitz is to send more numbers than the protection can handle. Instead of trying to jam players into the box, the defense uses the offense’s protection against itself. As a result, someone somewhere is going to be free.

Related Content: Miami’s “TAG” Max Pressure

The pressure is really good versus Empty protection because there are only five linemen to block six. Regardless of how they handle the pressure, one of the defenders will come free, as evidenced below. The Jaguars run Slide Lock protection, leaving the right side B-gap wide open for #51 to go unblocked and collect a sack.

Jacksonville slides the front to the two WR side but “locks” the LT on the EDGE defender for the Dolphins. The objective of the defense is not to insert all six in the blitz but occupy the O-line just long enough to get one of the defenders free. In the clip, the Jaguars slide the protection to the defense’s left. Once #55 and #53 identify the slide, they “stab” their blocker and drop into protection, reading the eyes of the QB.

Like HOT/EYES coverage, the defenders will read and react off the body language of the QB, attempting to work into his vision. But, again, the pressure is good versus offenses that like to throw screens or hot routes that work to the middle of the formation because the pop-outs occupy that area in coverage and muddy the read for the QB that also has to contend with a free-running defender.

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In their Week 0 game against Hawaii, UCLA ran their variation of a TAG pressure five times. Though Hawaii completed several passes underneath, the QB was in duress, and no 1st Downs were given up. The Bruins ran their pressure from a NIC Front with both ILBs mugged in the B-gaps. NIC refers to the two interior D-linemen aligned on the Center (below).

Below, Hawaii Big-on-Big protection against the Bruins’ look. As the RG moves to pick up the DT inside, there is no one for #40 who has direct access to the QB. On the left side of Hawaii’s line, the LG pinches to help secure the other DT (#99) and then works out to collect #15. Both defenders to the slide drop once they “stab” their respective blocker. The QB has to quickly throw to an underneath WR who is quickly collected by his defender.

In both the Miami and UCLA pressures, the edge defenders are always in the rush. Doing this allows the defense to have natural walls on either side of the box. Plus, if the offense uses a full slide, the EDGE will be the free hitter. UCLA’s front structure put speed on the inside and initially led to the Warriors using Big-on-big protection. In the second clip, Hawaii goes Empty with a TE/H-back aligned in a Bunch set to the field. In many cases, defenses won’t attack reduced sets like the one shown in the clip. UCLA attacks the protection, and the LT ends up blocking no one.

On the third try, Hawaii goes with a full slide. The EDGE to the bottom comes free, and the QB has to throw HOT. The WR is easily collected for minimal gain and a 4th Down. In this pressure, the DBs are playing “catch” coverage or a “scootch” technique. The pressure is designed to force a throw short, and underneath, so the DBs are patient and trigger on any break working top-down.

4th pressure and Hawaii reverts to Slide Lock or Big-on-Big protection. Same result. The B-gap defender comes free, and the QB throws a hurried and inaccurate pass.

On the 5th pressure and the game already sealed up, the Bruins drop both B-gap defenders. Since UCLA had created pressure from these looks early, dropping out the B-gap defenders is a great way to cause doubt in the minds of the O-line. The RT works a full slide to the B-gap defender, only to see him drop out. The slight step inside leaves him vulnerable to the EDGE, who goes unblocked. Even in the bluff, the Bruins hit home with the pressure and got a man free.


UCLA created doubt and havoc by using a simple alignment and read pressure to combat Hawaii’s protection in an Empty scheme. With only five blockers and six defenders, the math is in favor of the defense. Manipulation of the pass-pro ensured one defender got home free. For the interior defenders, if their O-linemen inside turns to them to engage, the player will “Stab” and then drop out into coverage, reading the eyes of the QB.

The scheme can be used at all levels and is a great way to attack teams that want to go Empty on long yardage downs. Coverage-wise, the catch technique combined with the design of the pressure inhibits the offense from throwing downfield. So even if the offense completes a pass, it is nowhere near the 1st Down mark.

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