How do teams protect their quarterbacks? Let's take a look.
There are a few different types of pass protection. Each has its own strengths and drawbacks. It should not be a surprise that they are essentially based on one of two principles. There are protections based on blocking a specific defender and protections based on blocking a specific area. Just like in pass coverage, there are essentially man and zone.
Zone types tends to be called slide protection because the linemen are sliding one way off the snap.
You can see right here that the linemen are all sliding right off the snap. The linemen and tight end Kellen Davis are responsible for the gap on their respective rights. If everybody is responsible to block the area to their right, doesn't that leave a gap open? Who blocks the area on the left at the edge? In this case, it would be the back, Matt Forte.
What are some of the strengths and drawbacks of slide protection? It is similar to zone. It is less difficult to ask somebody to take an area rather than take a person. The guy could go anywhere. The drawback is you might end up with bad matchups depending on whom the defense sends into the area. You could end up with an offensive lineman blocking a safety and a back against an edge rusher. It all depends on the area.
If you have the wrong protection set up, this can get ugly. Take this play against the Bengals. The Jets are in a slide protection with everything flowing to the right of this picture. The problem is the Bengals are bringing pressure from the left of the picture while dropping the two guys on the right side of the line into coverage.
Because the pressure comes from the left of the picture with the linemen sliding to the right, Cincinnati gets a free runner at Ryan Fitzpatrick despite two offensive linemen for the Jets blocking nobody.
Typically the offensive line and the quarterback work together to make sure they are in the right protection. This was a case where the work in the film room did not pay dividends. They were expecting something totally different from what they saw from the Bengals' front, and the result was poor protection.
The next type of protection is man. It is also called BOB (big on big; back on backer). In this type of protection, everybody is assigned a player to block.
It is relatively simple. The BOB part prevents mismatches.
The strengths and weaknesses are reversed. You can prevent a mismatch like a back against an edge rusher, but blockers have to cover a potentially wider area.
There might be a point where a guy runs so far away from you that you need to switch with somebody else, but that requires quick communication, recognition, and chemistry, which isn't easy. See this play when Cincinnati's right tackle and right guard don't switch quickly enough.
Now if it was as simple as teams simply using pure man and pure slide protections, things would get ugly. Do you think NFL defensive coordinators aren't smart enough to find the pressure points if their opponents only ran two protections?
Former Washington offensive lineman told a story from Steve Spurrier's disastrous stint as an NFL head coach with that lesson.
What was weird was I was starting, I started every preseason game that year in ‘02, and we were killing people. I was like, wow, we’re awesome, I’m awesome, life is awesome, this is fantastic. And then I realized wait a minute, we actually only have two pass protections, and the Steelers are laughing at us because they say they know what our protection is, and Shane Matthews and Danny are getting blown up, and our poor running back, there’s no hot reads, there’s no sight adjusts.
So there are also protection schemes with a combination of both.
Take this one. Four of the offensive linemen are going to slide right at the snap, but Ryan Clady has the guy at the end of the line in man. If the Jets are running a pure slide protection here, that means Kellen Davis will slide to take an edge rusher. Isn't this a task better off with the left tackle?
And you can mix it up. It doesn't have to be only the left tackle in man.
Here the right side of the line, including Nick Mangold is in slide to the right hand side. The left is in man. The Bengals line up somebody on both sides of Nick Mangold. Since he is sliding to the right, he has that guy. Who gets the guy to his left if he blitzes? James Carpenter has a man. He isn't sliding so it would theoretically fall to Matt Forte. Don't worry, though. He doesn't actually blitz.
This was extremely simplistic, perhaps overly so, but hopefully this will give us a good basis to start. Tomorrow I will try to hit on some more advanced concepts in protection.