I had asked if anyone could tell us what one new thing has been introduced/added to the 3-4 zone blitz in tghe past 40 years, and nobody could. The fact of the matter is there has been one thing that has been added. And it was Nick Saban and Bill Belicheck who did it. It's called "Pattern Match".
Nick Saban, currently the head coach at Alabama, was the defensive coordinator under Bill Belichick when the two were with the Cleveland Browns in the early 1990s. While speaking to high school coaches [URL="http://brophyfootball.blogspot.com/2010/08/nick-saban-cover-3-adaptation-ripliz-to.html"]at a recent clinic[/URL], Saban summed up the early problems of traditional spot-dropping zone coverage: "Well, when Marino's throwing it, that old break on the ball **** don't work."
The answer that Saban, Belichick, and many others developed was "pattern-match" coverage — essentially man coverage that uses zone principles to identify the matchups. As Saban explained at the [URL="http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1606791044/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957& creativeASIN=1606791044&linkCode=as2&tag=chrisbrow nsfo-20"]2010 Coach of the Year Clinics Football Manual[/URL] clinic:
You can play coverages in three ways. You can play zone, man, or pattern-match man. Pattern-match man is a coverage that plays the pattern after the pattern distribution. That means you pick up in man coverage after the receivers make their initial breaks and cuts. We number receivers from the outside going inside. If the number-one receiver crosses with the number-two receiver, we do not pick up the man coverage until they define where they are going.In other words, the zone blitz had come full circle. What began as a way to blitz without playing man coverage had started incorporating man coverage all over again, this time in an entirely new way.
Using pattern-match principles allowed defenses to overcome the deficiencies in both the manic, risk-heavy man-to-man blitzes and the easy-to-exploit soft spots in the zone-coverage scheme. There was now a way to keep the safety of the zone and the tighter coverage of man-to-man. Defenses had finally done for blitzing what Walsh had done for passing — keeping the reward but eliminating the risk.
The nuances of a pattern-match zone blitz are, as one would guess, rather extensive, but the principle is simple. "I had the opportunity to work for [current New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator] Steve Spagnuolo," said University of Pittsburgh secondary coach Matt House at a coaching clinic in Pittsburgh this past summer. "He had a great analogy talking about zone pressure. He said, 'All you do is roll out the basketball and tell the players to play three-on-three.' The players will talk, communicate, and switch on the picks. We do the same thing in zone-dog coverage."