No team has blitzed more often over the last three seasons than the Arizona Cardinals. Bruce Arians prides himself on being one of the most aggressive coaches in the NFL, and that tendency has filtered over to his defensive coordinators, first Todd Bowles (now head coach of the Jets) and then James Bettcher.
Arizona loves to send rushers from all over the place to confuse and rattle the opposing offense, hoping to bait them into mistakes. That strategy has helped the Cardinals force turnovers on 14.4 percent of their opponents’ drives over those three seasons, the fourth-best mark in the league.
In their first game of 2016, the Cardinals did not bring as many extra rushers as they normally do. Arizona blitzed on just nine of the Patriots‘ 37 pass plays, per Pro Football Focus tracking, a 24.3 percent rate that would have ranked nearly five percent below the league average in 2015. The Cardinals are playing the Buccaneers this coming Sunday, and Bucs coach Dirk Koetter said he’s ready for the Cardinals to bring a lot more heat than they did in Week 1.
“I’m expecting that we’ll see more pressure than we saw last week.,” Koetter said, per the Bucs blog BucsNation. “Arizona’s always been a pressure team. Sounds like they were maybe wanting to pressure more than they did last week. How we respond to the pressure — pressure can work two ways. It can be big for them and it can also be big for us. It will be less of a check down game, more of a ‘be on time with where you’re going to go with the ball.'”
Koetter’s right — one of the best ways to counteract an opponent sending a bunch of extra rush men after the quarterback is to get the ball out quickly before the rush can hit home, so your playmakers can create extra yardage with the ball in their hands. The man charged with doing that against the Arizona pressure will be Jameis Winston, who had a spectacular game in Week 1 against the Falcons. The Falcons, though, have been one of the least blitz-happy teams in the NFL under coach Dan Quinn, who was Pete Carroll’s defensive coordinator in Seattle before taking the job in Atlanta. Carroll’s coaching tree tends to try to get pressure with the front four while sitting back in coverage.
Against that Atlanta defense, Winston held onto the ball for an average of 2.79 seconds before delivering a pass, per Pro Football Focus, longer than 25 of the other 31 quarterbacks in the league. By contrast, only four quarterbacks held the ball for less time than Jimmy Garoppolo, who played the Cardinals in Week 1. Here’s the thing, though: Winston also held the ball longer than most quarterbacks during his rookie season. Jameis held the ball for an average of 2.85 seconds before throwing in 2015, 29th among the 36 quarterbacks that played at least 200 snaps.
Only four quarterbacks threw a lower percentage of their passes within 2.5 seconds of the snap than Winston, who did so just 47 percent of the time. And only four quarterbacks registered a lower passer rating on such throws than Winston’s 80.0 mark. He actually was one of only five QBs that were better when holding the ball for 2.6 seconds or longer before releasing to a receiver (by 9.3 points), with only Blaine Gabbert (23.6 points) showing a larger differential between his quick-strike throws and the ones where he took more time before getting rid of the ball. Winston showed the same tendencies in Week 1 against Atlanta, when 44.1 percent of his passes were released within 2.5 seconds of the snap (27th of 32 quarterbacks) and his passer rating was 5.9 points better when he held the ball for 2.6 seconds or more before throwing.
He did complete 6 of 10 passes for 76 yards against Atlanta’s blitzes, showing good progress from last season, when he connected with his receivers only 49.3 percent of the time when his opponent sent extra rushers at him. The Bucs will have to hope that small sample was a sign of things to come if they want to leave Arizona with a win.
Source: CBS Sports / The Buccaneers have a plan to deal with the Cardinals’ pressure