San Diego Chargers 27-10 Cincinnati Bengals: How The Chargers Beat Andy Dalton With The Blitz
The San Diego Chargers rattled Andy Dalton with fire zone blitzes in the AFC Wild Card playoffs. (Photo: Reuters / James Dudko)
The San Diego Chargers inflicted the Bengals' only loss at home this season by beating quarterback Andy Dalton with the blitz.
San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano challenged Dalton with fire zone pressures that produced three sacks and forced the young passer into as many turnovers.
Pagano knew that Dalton is reckless in the face of pressure and unleashed his range of blitzes from the start.
On first down at the Cincinnati 34-yard line, the Chargers showed Dalton a 4-2-5 nickel look. Pagano sent inside linebacker Manti Te'o through the B-gap between the left guard and tackle.
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He was followed by safety Eric Weddle, a great blitzer. Bengals' running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis was initially occupied by the rush from Te'o. He was late getting over to Weddle, who put immediate pressure on Dalton.
With Weddle in his face, Dalton's sideline pass toward star wide receiver A.J. Green was high, wide and incomplete.
Behind the blitz, Pagano played a three-deep, three-under coverage, the classic cover scheme for all fire zone blitzes.
He had defensive end Reggie Walker drop back on the side away from the blitz. Walker joined inside 'backer Donald Butler and slot corner Marcus Gilchrist to form the three underneath defenders.
Outside cornerbacks Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright, along with rookie safety Jahleel Addae, were the deep trio.
These kind of fire zone schemes kept Dalton rattled and also confused the Cincinnati blocking schemes.
By the third quarter, Pagano was really ramping up the pressure and Dalton was beginning to crumble. On a first down play at the Cincy 29, Pagano shifted his 3-4 personnel to create pressure up the middle.
He moved one outside linebacker, Jarrett Johnson, down onto the line as defensive end. Pagano then shifted his other outside linebacker, Melvin Ingram, off the line and into the middle.
The San Diego defense now resembled a classic 4-3 front. Pagano sent Te'o and Ingram on inside blitzes at the left side of the Bengals O-line.
Te'o went first and Ingram, the team's best pass-rusher, followed. On the other side, Johnson bailed into underneath coverage in the flat.
Johnson, Butler and Weddle were the three covering defenders underneath, while Wright, Marshall and Addae remained deep.
Dalton was quickly pressured by defensive end Kendall Reyes. He couldn't step up to avoid the rush because of the blitz by Te'o and Ingram.
Eventually, as Dalton tried to escape the pocket, Johnson chased him down to notch the sack. But Pagano didn't let up. He had another crafty blitz ready for Dalton on the very next play.
The Chargers switched to their 4-2-5 nickel package on 2nd-and-14. Pagano moved his inside linebackers to create another pressure look.
Butler crept up to the A-gap on the left side of the center. Meanwhile, Te'o moved to the outside as an edge-rusher next to Johnson on the right.
Both Te'o and Butler blitzed, while Ingram backpedalled into underneath coverage. Weddle moved down to join Ingram and Gilchrist as the underneath three, while the deep trio stayed the same.
Reyes, Johnson and Te'o chased Dalton out of the pocket and forced another desperate throw that inevitably fell incomplete.
Later in the quarter, with Dalton and his offense now near breaking point, Pagano sent another blitz that produced the biggest play of the game.
The Bengals faced 3rd-and-8 at their own 26. They fielded a four-wide receiver set, with A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu on one side.
Pagano would force Dalton to throw to Sanu in the slot, where coverage would be waiting.
This time the Chargers were in a 4-1-6 dime defense. Pagano had rearranged the front to pair rush ends Ingram and Thomas Keiser together over the left side of the Cinncinati offensive line.
Butler lined up as a standing rusher on the right. Pagano would overload that side with the blitz.
Butler and slot corner Gilchrist blitzed off the right. Because Gilchrist was supposed to cover Sanu, the slot receiver now became Dalton's hot read behind the blitz.
That's just what the Chargers were banking on. They had outside corner Wright play "trap" coverage. He let Green release deep and get picked up by single-high safety Darrell Stuckey.
That meant Wright was free to lurk in the inside passing lane where Sanu was. With Reyes in his face, Dalton never saw Wright, or even expected him to be there.
His late throw to Sanu went straight to Wright. The turnover helped the Bengals build a 10-point lead heading into the final quarter.
The Chargers kept the pressure on Dalton all game. The young-signal caller never knew where blitzers would come from.
The combination of different rushers with the same three-deep, three-under coverage keyed this major upset.
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