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Film Study: What Fuels Pitt’s Potent Pass Rush?

Film Study: What Fuels Pitt’s Potent Pass Rush?

Welcome to the PSN Film Study. In this space, we’ll break down some of the big plays and tactical mismatches from each Pitt football game.

If you’re new here, I tend to build onto concepts I’ve already explained in the past at times, so if you feel like you’re missing something, the archive is a good place to check.

Pitt’s defense has been among the best in the nation statistically through three games this season, shutting down rushing attacks and limiting total yards among the best in the nation.

But what has really made the Pitt defense special and so difficult to game plan against is their ability to both stop the run and rush the passer.

Louisville running back Javian Hawkins had 78 yards on 13 carries in Pitt’s win over the Cardinals on Saturday. Seventy-five came on one play. The rest of the day, the Louisville star carried 12 times for five yards.

At the same time, Cardinals quarterback Micale Cunningham was running for his life. He was sacked seven times and hurried another five as the Panthers completely dominated the line of scrimmage.

Part of that was Pitt’s dominance in the run game putting Louisville far behind the down and distance markers. What was the other part? Successful blitzing? Schemes to disguise pass rushers? Coverage? Pure one-on-one dominance?

Let’s take a look at the film:

Here’s a three-man rush in Pitt’s Delta package, where Pitt held all three linebackers close to the line of scrimmage, somewhat disguising the pass rushers. But the left tackle had to know that Patrick Jones II was coming off that edge, and he just never had a chance at stopping that bull rush.

This is a four-man rush, where David Green and Keyshon Camp both get free in the middle, forcing Cunningham to step up. Spying linebacker SirVocea Dennis collects an easy sack. Nice coverage down field here, as well, though there was open receiver on the far sideline that Cunningham never had time to find.

Another four-man rush, this time with tackles Camp and Green stunting. The back tries to chip the looping Camp, ends up cutting his own blocker and forces Cunningham right into Green’s arms. This is another rush with a wrinkle, but mostly really poor blocking by Louisville, who somehow lost a two-on-three on the inside.

Here’s another third and long with Pitt’s Delta set on the field. It’s a three-man rush, with one player held for the back and another for Cunningham. When the back sets up in a blocking posture, Camp joins the rush, making it four on six. That’s not good enough, as Rashad Weaver torches the right tackle, forcing Cunningham to step up and linebacker Phil Campbell III, who was left to watch the quarterback is waiting.

Here’s another Delta look, this time on a second down right before the end of the half. It’s a four-man rush with Chase Pine as the extra attacker. Pine crosses in behind Camp on a loop, but both Jones and Weaver beat their men, collapsing the pocket before Jones’ second effort brings down Cunningham.

Play action seems like a bad idea. Pitt adds two crashing linebackers to the four-man front and Louisville’s entire line is overwhelmed here. A tight end one-on-one against Weaver? Come on. Cam Bright and Jones both beat tackles one-on-one, as well. This is a combination of individual dominance and poor play design by Louisville.

This is the Delta package once again. This is a feigned blitz, with Campbell looking like he’s going to rush, but he actually checks and takes the back. Dennis rushes and the back stays in, making it four on six, and he actually does a nice job of picking up Dennis. No matter. Camp and Weaver melt the right side of the Louisville line, and Weaver does a nice job of disengaging to collect the sack once Camp flushes Cunningham.

The conclusion? Pitt is not blitzing to get its sacks, with all seven coming on three- or four-man pass rushes. After that, it seems that the combination of getting opponents in unfavorable third downs, and the slight misdirection the Delta package creates have helped, but Pitt’s pair of defensive ends also look pretty much un-blockable at times, regardless of scheme.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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