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Chalk Talk: How Jim Knowles’ Defense Generates Pressure



Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles brings with him over 20 years of defensive experience, and it shows in how he operates as both a coach and play-caller. In this edition of Chalk Talk, we’ll look at how Knowles manufactures pressure, as in using the base four-man rush that any generic defense uses but still finding ways to get to the quarterback.

Knowles frequently uses a four-man rush but incorporates different lineman movement in an attempt to create pressure. He uses stunts, especially in passing situations, to try and confuse the offensive line and get to the quarterback without sending extra rushers. A stunt, also called a twist, is usually a two-man action where the defensive players change places.

Here’s an example of a standard T/E stunt. In this diagram, the end’s job is to crash hard into the B gap in an effort to occupy the guard and influence the tackle to follow him. He’s effectively setting a pick on the defensive tackle’s man. The tackle preps the guard by acting like he’s on a straight rush and then he loops outside. The two can also exchange roles, with the tackle being the picker on the offensive tackle and the end becoming the looper to the inside.

Last year, Duke used the basic T/E stunt but would also twist their tackles for the same effect on the interior:

They would also twist their tackles outward, making them the outside rushers and the ends the inside threat:

They even used a three-man twist, where members of the line would loop over one another on one side:

Knowles has also shown on tape that he will get creative with his third-down pressure, often affecting the quarterback while only sending four or five. Here, the defense will bluff a double-A gap blitz, only to send four rushers and drop both defensive tackles into coverage in the middle of the field.

Or here they’ll have seven men in the box but only send four, generating pressure with a well-timed safety blitz (notice how the two defenders purposefully split the right guard and tackle, opening up a hole for the safety to rush through):

Knowles is smart with his pressure and doesn’t blindly send the house. Rather, he’s able to use deception as a major asset and still get the pressure he wants while having seven men in coverage. It worked well at Duke, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t be able to work for the Cowboys.


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