This type of pressure typically involves a "pirate" stunt (two pressure end linemen stunting inside) or a "long stick" where the playside end crashes all the way down two gaps inside. These DL stunts facilitate a protection overload (generally can get 4 rushers to a side) as well as help disguise defenders "coming from where they ain't". The entire premise of a fire zone is disguise and ambush. It is a feigned punch at the offense to set up the counter jab.
You can combine the rushers/blitzers in any fashion you like (as seen below in it’s many incarnations), but the strength (or weakness) of the concept is found in the SCIF (Seam-Curl-Flat) player, otherwise known as the BRONCO (coverage) player. These players (DE/LB/S) have to control the vertical release of any #2 receiving threat, become the force element in run, and/or reroute second crossers inside. Although simple on paper, what typically makes this so frustrating for offenses is the fact that this 1-high defense is presented pre-snap as MOFO (2-high, middle of the field open) coverage , coupled with the fact that those SCIF players could be played by a number of defenders (DEs, OLBs, Safeties, Corners), which would drastically muddy post-snap read/collision confirmation (“which one is the danger player to read”)?
To articulate how this translates to the offense, the quarterback sees a clear Cover 2 shell presnap read (MOFO). From this information, he is thinking his read for the hitch step will be based off the playside outside linebacker (#2 defender), playing the curl. Based off of what this defender does (flat, shallow, bail, deep, etc), the clear throw should be the opposite (which receiver will be open based on this reaction). The quarterback has played this textbook scenario over in his head thousands of times and is confident he knows the correct decision. In his drop, this coverage ‘danger player’ is blitzing! This creates an even easier, bullet-proof decision on where the ball should go because the player he is reading is not hesitating, not giving an incongruent read….this player is simply voiding his area leaving a space for an open receiver! The only problem is, with the fire zone, coverage is being rolled. That 2-high safety is now the curl-robber (where that blitzing LB left) coming down late and intercepting that once clear and easy throw…..crap!
Because of the versatility of this type of coverage (6 defenders to cover possible 5 receivers) the matchup zone concept is utilized to play the pattern distribution (where the receivers end up after their stem) and not the actual receivers themselves (I will cover this concept in greater detail in the next post, when I get more time next week).
All NFL and NCAA teams use fire zone concepts. A growing number of high schools are now using fire zones to confuse and constipate passing offenses. The gap exchange element of fire zones also remains sound as a run-blitz, as well.
In subsequent posts, we'll look at how the fire zone can adjust and adapt to various formations.
For more on how offense’s respond to the fire zone, check out the previous entries;
Below are more game situation usages of the fire zone in its many forms. C'est bon.