Marcelo Metzelar - Contributing Writer
This week’s AFT Play of the Week comes to us from Arizona via Green Bay. In just the fourth play of the game, Green Bay’s Justin Billiot faces some serious pressure from the Arizona defensive front three. He finds a semi-open BJ Hill. A few steps into Hill’s catch, Rattler DB, Devontae Merriweather punches the ball out causing the ball to fly forward into the sticky hands of Phillip Henry for the first turnover of the game.
Though many would think this was a lucky play; this was a well-executed play that good defenses are trained to do in their every day drills. From the coverage, to the pursuit angles, the punch out and the successive interception; these are all taught techniques.
The play begins with the pass rush. Indoor football is designed to be a pass heavy league, as the trend in all football is. Regardless of how good the defensive secondary is, the pass rush is the strongest factor in developing good pass defense. Because Indoor Football limits the types of blitzes, the front three must be overpowering – and the Rattler’s defensive line was just that. All game long, the Arizona defense held the Blizzard to under 250 yards of offense, under 50% completion percentage, three interceptions, and a sack. Play of the Week #1 started with defensive line play.
Once the catch was made, Merriweather leaves his coverage responsibility to help tackle the Blizzard’s Hill, taking a pursuit angle that forces Hill to continue lateral movement versus vertical movement. BJ Hill has good speed so just before he runs out of reach, Merriweather punches the ball out. Running backs are expected to have the speed to run away from defenders and to be caught from behind will result in some teasing from colleagues. Defenses are taught to punch the ball out especially when coming from behind. Had Merriweather been in front, he would have made initial contact on the ball. As seen in the video, the punch works and is redirected upfield.
In man coverage, DBs are not just required to eye the man they are covering, but to keep their head on a swivel, meaning to constantly switch back from their man to the QB back to their man. Henry’s WR ran a clearing route which vacates the shallow area giving Hill the space to run, and it was this area Merriweather was trying to cover and aid in the tackle when the ball flew into his hands.
Even after the interception the defense continued with their training. Though, inaudible during the game, defensive players call out “OSSKEY” whenever an interception is made to alert the rest of the team that, “You need to block for me.” One nearby DL was able to make a block until ultimately, Billiot was making a touchdown saving push.
This play was no accident. Time and effort are put into each practice to perfect these techniques. Individual periods are spent and catching tipped passes, taking proper pursuit angles, forced fumble drills, and pass rush techniques are all part of the everyday repertoire of winning defenses, and that is why Arizona makes its perennial run for the championship every year.