I know!! B.J. Raji's TD came on a zone blitz

June, 23, 2011
6/23/11
11:00
AM ET
Yes! Our vast contradiction police was quick to catch my latest apparent inconsistency, which this week appeared in Wednesday's post about defensive "Simplicity Score" and my distaste for the zone blitz.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Raji
AP Photo/Jim PrischingB.J. Raji's interception and touchdown return in last year's NFC Championship Game was a good example of success with pass-rushers in coverage.
Within minutes, @RyanBrown812 tweeted: "@espn_nfcnblog 'I've never, ever understood the allure of putting your best pass-rushers in coverage' Paging BJ Raji in the NFC Champ Game."

And Josh of St. Paul shipped this note to the mailbag: "I read in your 'Lockout '11: Bear, Lions Defenses in Focus' that you don't understand the zone blitz and 'never, ever understood the allure of putting your best pass-rushers in coverage as a 'change of pace.' All it is to me is a missed opportunity.' I am then wondering what you thought of B.J. Raji's interception/touchdown in last years NFC championship game? Was that a 'missed opportunity?'"

Look, there is no denying how important that play was and how surprised Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie was to see Raji in coverage. As Michael Silver of Yahoo! Sports detailed at the time, the Packers had never made that specific play call; it required Raji to take a quick step upfield as if he were rushing, then back up and defend a shallow crossing route. Cornerback Sam Shields blitzed in Raji's place.

Hanie threw the ball right into the hands of Raji, who returned the interception 18 yards for a touchdown. It was the eventual winning score in the Packers' 21-14 victory.

Obviously, the Packers couldn't have asked for a better outcome from that call. It doesn't change my overall feeling about zone blitzes, however. While it's more palatable for Raji to take two steps off the line, as opposed to Julius Peppers or Jared Allen chasing a tight end down the seam, I would still take my chances with Raji as part of the pass rush and Shields in coverage.

To me, a big play made by a defensive lineman in coverage is a relative aberration. Generally speaking, I want my best players doing what they do best.

My mistake was expressing such a definitive statement. Of course, there will always be exceptions and caveats and deviations from the norm. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers made a good call on the Raji/Shields zone blitz, and it helped send the Packers to the Super Bowl. Did it make me appreciate the zone blitz any more? Not really. For me, at least, it was just a reminder that there should be room for flexibility in any principle.

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