Dallas Cowboys: Super Bowl shows importance of pressure, not blitzing

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Cowboys can learn a lot from the Super Bowl teams this year. Play-calling, 4th down aggressiveness, and motion are just a handful of items Mike McCarthy and staff should have been paying attention to on Sunday night.

But one lesson in particular seems extra noteworthy given the rebuilding state of the Dallas Cowboys defense: The ability to create pressure without blitzing extra players.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers pressured Patrick Mahomes 29 times on Sunday, the most in Super Bowl history. They did it, not by aggressive play-calling, but rather by an elite front-four.

The Dallas Cowboys must build a defense that can create pressure with its front-four

The Bucs defense only blitzed the Chiefs six times all game. That’s a blitz rate of just 11%. According to ESPN’s Stats & Info, 27 of those 29 pressures came with just a four-man front.

While this is hardly a new lesson, it’s an important one to note because it’s one that many teams often forget. Pressure is one of the most impactful things a defense can do to impact an offense. It leads to offensive mistakes and dramatic drops to passer ratings.

What it doesn’t do is justify blitzing. When blitzed, a typical NFL QB actually does better, not worse, in passer rating. More players rushing the passer means less players are in coverage. Windows become bigger and plays become greater downfield.

Sure, blitzing is a good way to increase pressure rate, but just because you blitz does not mean you’re going to actually get pressure. Smart quarterbacks and decent protection schemes can survive even the most aggressive of blitzes.

Pressures without blitzing is a growing trend in the NFL these days. We’re seeing pressure rates increase and blitz percentage decrease around the league. The Dallas Cowboys have never been a blitz-happy team and that’s clearly a good thing. The arrival of Dan Quinn and his familiar Cover 3 defense just reaffirms the Cowboys non-blitzing ways.

In Atlanta, Dan Quinn only blitzed at a 22% rate. That’s right in line with Dallas last year who blitzed 22.7% of the time.

The Dallas Cowboys two best players on defense are arguably DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. As edge players, the two are the Cowboys primary source of pressure each week. This tells us, at the very least, the Cowboys invested in the right spots – pressure players on their defensive line.

It also tells us the importance of having an elite front-four. If a team is going to lean on their front four as much as the Dallas Cowboys are, then it’s imperative all four linemen are good-to-great players. Coverage will win with quantity. Pressure will win through quality.

That’s not to say the pass-rusher is more important than coverage. As we’ve discussed before, good coverage is more associated with winning than good pass-rush. The Dallas Cowboys can’t neglect their secondary anymore than they can go cheap on the front-four. But by dedicating more players in coverage like the Bucs just did, they can keep windows small and find success.

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The D-line needs to improve in overall quality. Since they are tasked with creating pressure without the assistance of the blitz, they need to win match-ups at a higher than average rate. That means they require an investment of top-end talent.

Once again: More than four players rushing the passer lead to higher passer ratings. And seven players in coverage lead to decreased passer-ratings. That’s two reasons not to blitz.

If the Dallas Cowboys can add a proven veteran to man the defensive tackle spot and add then an elite pass-rusher in the draft (like we did in our most recent mock draft below), then this Dallas front four could jump to the top of the league in front-four generated pressure rate. And if they can do that they can keep the bulk of their players in coverage. That’s what the Bucs just did to KC and that’s what the numbers suggest teams should do league-wide.

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The Super Bowl showed the Dallas Cowboys how pressure, without blitzing, should be the ultimate goal and how important it is to upgrade their defensive line.

  • Published on 02/08/2021 at 12:01 PM
  • Last updated at 02/08/2021 at 08:57 AM