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Posts Tagged ‘Offense’

Since Peyton Manning has come into the league the Indianapolis Colts have made a living off of play action passes. Manning uses the play fake better than anyone else to strategically move the linebackers out of position and create holes in the defense to throw to. Tight end Dallas Clark benefits the most from the run game and play fakes. The play action is so effective because the run play and the pass predicated off of the same play are almost indistinguishable from the snap until the time Manning pulls the ball back to throw.

Here is a play action series the Colts use all the time. The Colts love to run an inside read play. This means the O-line will kick out the defensive ends, and combo block the defensive tackles and linebackers, the back gets the hand off, finds the hole, then makes a cut and gets up field.

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The second play is the play action pass off of the zone read play; notice how similar the blocking assignments look. This is a max protection scheme where the tight end and back stay in to block. When the ball is snapped the defense believes they are simply seeing the same zone read play out of a flipped formation. The linebackers read this and attack the line of scrimmage. When Manning pulls the ball back the linebacker has vacated his zone in the standard cover 2 defense. The safeties will both go with the outside receivers because they have deep coverage responsibilities, as soon as Manning gets the ball ready and Dallas Clark (the slot receiver on the left side) clears the linebacker, Manning will hit him right in the seem of the coverage (red circle), typically resulting in a big gain.

The Colts also like to use the play action in goal line or short yardage situations because the defense anticipates, and sets up to stop, the run. Below is a goal line play the Colts use when Manning sees the defense committing to the run.

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Here the linebackers and strong safety are going to attack the run and vacate their pass responsibilities. Anticipating this, the Colts had called a play action in the huddle. The Colts are only going to send 2 receivers into routes on this play and leave the rest to block because the play action takes a little longer to develop, and the defense has 11 players attacking the line of scrimmage. Clark (the tight end) is going to release like he is trying to block the linebacker, as the linebacker fights past him and toward the line Clark will get to the back of the end zone, behind everyone else, and the work to the outside, away from the defenders.

The play action pass can be an outstanding offensive tool. If the run game is going well holes in the secondary will be greatly exaggerated and will be easy for the offense to exploit. A decent run game, and good play action game, will give the defense a catch-22 that can be almost impossible to handle.

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The offense has some great advantages in football. The offense dictates much of how the defense will line up (by determining the strong side of the field and where the eligible receivers are lined up), the offense dictates when the play starts, and the offense tries to dictate where the play will go. The New Orleans Saints do an excellent job of using their formations, alignments and personnel to force the defense into mismatches. They do this most commonly by passing out of running formations. The defense substitutes while the offense is in the huddle. They substitute based on who the offense has brought into the game and the down, yardage situation. If the defense sees the offense bring in a 4 wide receiver set, the defense will substitute their nickel package into the game to counteract that. When the offense keeps their running formation in the game, the defense has to leave their run stoppers (defensive tackles and linebackers) in the game, unless it is an obvious passing situation. If the offense can force the defense to keep players in the game that are less competent in pass coverage, they can create, and then exploit favorable matchups.

Here is an example of the New Orleans Saints creating, recognizing, and taking advantage of bad matchups. They use this play to get Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas into space and allow them to use their speed to make plays. This is an I-formation RB Swing Pass.

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As soon as Drew Brees gets to the line on this play, he knows he will be throwing the ball to running back Pierre Thomas. The defense is in a man cover 2 defense, with three linebackers in the game to stop the run. Both the cornerbacks are on the offense’s right side man-to-man with the receivers. There is an outside linebacker in man coverage on the tight-end and linebackers in man on both backs. The receivers on the right side of the formation are going to run a fly-post combination, mainly to clear out the sideline and take the safety down field. The right tackle will chip the defensive end, but will leave him basically unblocked. This leaves the right tackle free to get out into the flats and block the linebacker that is in man-to-man on Thomas. The matchup this play creates is putting a linebacker in a foot race to the sideline with a speed back like Pierre Thomas or Reggie Bush.

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Here is what the play looks like when it develops. The defensive end is left unblocked (red circle), but gets big eyes and starts thinking sack, effectively running himself out of the play. The linebacker covering Thomas knows he is in a foot race with Thomas, so he takes off toward the sideline. Here Thomas was able to beat him to the sideline initially, but as the defender began to over pursue, Thomas cut right off the right tackle and set up a great block on the linebacker. Since the receivers had run off the safety and cornerbacks Thomas is able to run free for about 13 yards before anyone even gets close to him.

Throwing the ball out of traditionally run formations keeps the defense on its toes and allows the offense to take advantage of poor coverage players having to play the pass. If the offense is successful throwing out of these formations and the defense tries to substitute a more traditional pass package (nickel or dime defenses), the offense can audible and run the ball on a now much smaller defense.

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Cornerbacks are at a natural disadvantage when in man-to-man coverage. They must react to the wide receivers, and try to predict which route they will run. In order to compensate for that, corners will often sit back, anywhere from 7-12 yards off the line of scrimmage. When that cushion starts to reach the 10 yard mark, coaches try to throw quick hitter passes with the idea that their receiver can catch the ball, make the defender miss an open field tackle, and get down the field for a good gain. The problem is that many coaches, especially at lower levels, will try to throw a short hitch route (2-3 yards down field). However, rarely do high school and small college teams have quarterbacks with the arm strength to be able to get the ball to the receiver in time for him to make a move before the corner can close the gap.

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If you really want to run a hitch route effectively you have to get the cornerback to turn his back to the line of scrimmage. The only way to do this with a big cushion like this is for the receiver to drive past the corner, selling a deeper route, then plant a foot in the ground and come back. The ball needs to hit the receiver right after makes his change of direction. This is the only way to get the corner turned around and out of position. If you throw a hitch in front of a corner like this the corner has the receiver in front of him the whole time and can read the play easily.

Instead of trying to throw the ball to a receiver while a corner closes from the other side, the wide receiver screen allows the receiver to back track and create more space, and it makes the throw a shorter, easier throw for the quarterback. Here is a sample wide receiver screen pass from a single back doubles left formation against a 3-5-3 defense with the outside linebackers up on the line (really it looks more like a 5-3 because the outside linebackers have containment responsibilities, this is a popular defense among high school and small college teams). A team may also bring the defensive tackle further inside and put the outside linebacker up on the ball, a step outside the tackle, this should not change any assignments.

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In this example, the quarterback will drop back to try and draw the outside linebacker and defensive tackle up field, then throw the ball where they were. The slot receiver will start out on the ball to give him a shorter route to the cornerback, and the outside receiver will start off the ball to make sure that the pass is easily caught behind the line of scrimmage (so the linemen can get down field legally). The tackle will get down field after showing pass to block to draw the outside linebacker up field on a pass rush. The tackle will block the defender that had the slot receiver in man coverage. This block should be made easier by the fact that the defender on the slot has his eyes glued to the slot receiver; as soon as he sees pass he will take a few steps in coverage toward the sideline. The guard will have the toughest block on this play because he is trying to seal off the linebacker who is lined up over his face. Hopefully, the linebacker will take a few steps back into pass coverage and the guard can at least get in front of the defender if he can’t manage to turn his butt to the sideline. The tight end running a vertical route will hopefully make the safety take a few steps to his left (offenses right) and should give the wide receiver a better gap to get through (the red lines). Then the receiver can make a catch running towards the quarterback, behind the line of scrimmage, and have a full head of steam to turn up field and start reading blocks. This gives the receiver an advantage over the hitch where he has to make the catch, turn, and make a move from a dead stop on a corner that has a full head of steam.

An interesting variation on this play would be to swing the running back out to the side of the screen pass. This would give you an effective option read on the outside linebacker who has contain responsibilities and is probably in charge of covering anyone who crosses his face into the flats. If the outside linebacker started to figure this play out and sit on the screen route then the swing pass would be open and the running back would be able to read the same blocks, simply catching the ball headed toward the sideline. Arm strength is not a factor because the quarterback is simply floating the pass out about 10-12 yards to his left.

The quick slant is another great way to take advantage of the big corner cushion, and give the quarterback an easy read and throw. This play is a single back trips left formation to help clear out the middle of the field for the receiver on the right side. This should help move the linebackers out of the way, keeping this a simple read for the quarterback. The defense here is the same 5-3 look from the play above (although, as stated above, the defense may bring the defensive tackle down to a 3 technique and put the outside linebacker/defensive end outside the tackle in a 5 technique, it just depends on the defense).
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This play is going to be designed as a quick 1-step or at most 3-step drop for the quarterback. The right guard and tackle will cut their defenders to keep their hands down and help create a passing lane for the quarterback.  Because the cut blocks are quick blocks, the quarterback will have to deliver the ball on the slant, maybe check to the back on the left, or throw the ball into the third row on the left side (the deep verticals will give him a receiver in the area to avoid intentional grounding). The two verticals on the left are used to draw the safety away from the slant.  The big cushion the corner is giving the receiver allows for the receiver to get a free release. Here, the receiver is on the ball so he will take one step down field, with his eyes down field to freeze the corner, then, as soon as he breaks inside the ball should be on its way. The pass should not be completed more than 4-5 yards down field, or else the cornerback will have a chance to get back in and become a factor.

There are some easy variations on this play as well. Once again, if the outside linebacker starts to read the cut block and begins to interrupt the slant lanes, swing the running back out to the other side to give the quarterback an easy check down and only requires him to read one side of the field. I started this play sending the running back away from the slant to keep the middle linebacker from moving with the back and getting in the way of the passing lane. Also, the inside vertical can be changed to a post, and the cut blocks can be turned into regular pass blocks if the quarterback wants to stretch the field to the left side. This will allow the quarterback to read the safety, if he picks to help on the post; the quarterback has a 1-on-1 on the outside, and vice versa. If both deep routes are covered, the quarterback can check down to the mid-range out, then check down to the running back in the flats, probably covered by an outside linebacker.

These are a few of the offensive concepts that can be used to counter moves made by an opposing defense. After the big cushion is beaten a few times with these easy throws, the defense may decide to play bump and run coverage, or switch to a zone defense, there are plenty of ways to counter these moves as well. Football is often described as a violent chess match; this is an example of some of the strategy involved.

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Adrian Peterson made one of the smoothest transitions to the NFL of any running back in recent memory. He immediately stepped into the league, and rushed for 1,341 yards. He also set the single game rushing record (296 yards) against one of the leagues best defenses, the San Diego Chargers with Shawn Merriman. He was able to do this so easily because he had already learned the skill that keeps most rookie running backs from thriving immediately, patience. Patience is not standing in the backfield until the play develops, it is the ability to figure out, before the play, how the play may develop and then, go through a block reading progression to decide which hole to cut through. Here is a play the Vikings used in 2007 against San Diego, it resulted in a big gain for Peterson (but on that day, most of his runs were big gains):

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This is a common NFL play. It is an all reach stretch read play from a single back formation. Basically, the entire line is going to try and reach the man to their left. The key to run blocking is giving the line easy angles on the defenders, hard angles need to have options to make them easier for the linemen. The hardest reach blocks will be the tight end trying to reach the outside linebacker, and the left tackle trying to get turned on the defensive end. Therefore, these lineman are given a decision to make. They will take their two steps outside and if they are still inside their man and cannot get the reach block, they simply turn their butts inside and drive their men to the sideline. This gives them a great advantage, they simply take the defender wherever the defender wants to go. As soon as the butts turn Peterson can go through his block read progression.

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Here is the play when Peterson makes his cut. The blocks in the blue circles are his first priority reads. If the tight end and tackle can reach the defenders then Peterson will stretch to the sideline, but if the defenders are aggressively pursuing up field, as in this play, Peterson will cut inside his blocks, which are now effectively kick out blocks. As soon as Peterson makes this decision his eyes go inside to the blocks in the green circles. These reach blocks are easier because they have more effective angles (down field, not just straight down the line). The left guard is going to make sure that the defensive tackle lined up over him does not cross his face, then the guard will try to get to the linebacker. By making sure the defensive tackle doesn’t cross his face (forcing the tackle to go behind him) the defensive tackle has run himself out of the play, the Vikings bet that Peterson can outrun a defensive tackle when given a head start. The center is going to get to the second level and decide which linebacker is the biggest threat. Here the backside linebacker came up field first and then started to pursue, allowing the right tackle to tie him up. So, the center will read this and help with a double team on the play side linebacker. Once Peterson cuts through the hole he is in a foot race with the safety, make the safety miss and it is a touchdown (the safety ended up catching him 20+ yards down the field).

Peterson perfected this ability to read blocks by running a similar offense at Oklahoma. Here is a closely related play that Peterson scored on while at Oklahoma:

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This is an I formation with two tight ends left (after the motion) off tackle lead. This play has a couple of combination blocks that Peterson will have to read. The key block here is both of the tight ends on the defensive end. The end does not have contain responsibilities, the outside linebacker will have that responsibility, so the end is a little more unpredictable. If the offense is lucky enough for the defensive end to stunt inside this will be a touchdown. The tight end off the ball will hit the defensive end until the tight end on the ball can turn his butt to the sideline, once this block is locked the outside tight end will come off the block and look for the inside linebacker on the play side.  The tackle and guard will be playing the same game, they are responsible for the defensive tackle and weak side inside linebacker. The center and weak side guard will be doing a cross block, once again because the guard will have a flatter angle and a better chance at cutting off the weak side linebacker. He does this because if the strong side linebacker hesitates and the left tackle thinks he can make it, the left tackle will go after the strong side linebacker since he is a bigger threat to the play. This gives the offense a double team on the biggest obstacle to this play. Finally, the fun block here is the fullback kicking out the outside linebacker. This will be an easy, fun block because the outside linebacker has contain responsibilities so he is going to move up field unblocked. As soon as he crosses the line he will get met by the fullback going full speed, this is an easy angle for the fullback.

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Here is the read progression once again for Peterson. Here he only going to have one initial block to read The fullback will have the outer most defender. Once the fullback hits the defender and makes it obvious that he will kick out the defender Peterson cuts up and starts reading his secondary progression. When Peterson sees that both of these blocks have successfully sealed their defenders to the inside he makes a break through the hole and to the sideline, once again in a foot race with the safety (since it is college, Peterson easily outruns the safety).

Peterson’s  above average acceleration ability gave him a tool to be more successful, sooner, than most backs. However, backs come into the league every year with great acceleration. Peterson’s ability to go through block read progressions made his transition to the NFL much smoother than most back’s.

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Tim Tebow has had outstanding success (including a Heisman trophy) during his career at Florida under Urban Meyer, both through the air and on the ground. The key is the advanced reads he is able to make within the spread option offense. The wide spread formations clear out the middle of the field for Tebow’s middle options and when defenses load the box, Tebow is able to read a run option and pull the ball back to make a throw down the field.

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This play gives Tebow the option to read the outside linebacker on his left. If the outside linebacker comes up field, Tebow pulls the ball down and rolls out to the left. The outside linebacker will have to stop, make sure Tebow still has the ball, then change direction and give chase to Tebow, this gives him plenty of time to read down field and make a throw.

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Here Tebow sees the cornerback on the left follow his receiver in motion to the slot position and knows that he has full man coverage, no safety help anywhere, and both outside linebackers will be blitzing the from the edges. As soon as Tebow receives the snap his eyes will focus on the outside linebacker, he will put the ball in the running back’s gut, then once the linebacker commits to the run option, Tebow yanks the ball back and sprints to the sideline. Once Tebow is outside the linebacker he is looking down field to see which receiver has beaten their man. Since there is no safety help, as soon as a receiver gets a step Tebow is going to fire. He also knows that because there is no safety help his first read is the deepest route and he will check down from deep to middle to shallow. This read is made easy because the receivers are running parallel at varying depths.

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Here is the play as it develops, the outside linebacker is not a concern as a pass rusher despite being left unblocked because he committed inside to the run option, causing Tebow to pull the ball and roll out. In this situation the running back and tight end have both beat their men and are open, but Tebow’s first look is to his wide receiver running a deep out. As soon as Tebow sees the corner playing the receivers inside shoulder, he knows that he will throw deep when the receiver comes out of his break.

Tebow is not just a threat throwing the ball in this spread option offense; he also makes a living as a running threat in the ground option game. Here is a unique double option that Florida runs:
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This play is very unique; the running back to Tebow’s right will take off immediately after the snap and run to the sideline before cutting up field. Meanwhile, the slot receiver that has motioned to just behind Tebow will run even with Tebow right from the snap. Here Tebow will initially read the outside linebacker on the right and decide to pitch to the slot or keep the ball. If the linebacker runs to cover the pitch man Tebow will cut up field, this is basic option football. But, Florida runs a unique variation where once Tebow passes the initial read he immediately focuses on the corner moving up field. If this corner sprints at Tebow, he can pitch to the running back who, because of his wide angle is now even with Tebow after the initial read. In most cases, the cornerback will either be lost if he started chasing the receiver in man coverage, or will react too slowly to force Tebow to pitch the ball.

Florida does an outstanding job of using the option to put the defense in no win situations. They have many plays where Tebow can handoff for a run or pull back for a pass, giving him the ability to take advantage of any look the defense gives him. These multiple threats in this offense are what have lead to Tebow’s outstanding numbers over the past two seasons.

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Both Steve Spurrier and Mike Leach have been refered to throughout their careers are mad scientists because of their ability to engineer explosive pass offenses and exploit almost any weakness of a defense (Spurrier was able to do this much more effectively at Florida when he consistently had better caliber quarterbacks). By creating unfavorable matchups or stretching zone defenses both coaches are able to move the ball seemingly at will.

Mike Leach

Leach runs an offense that emphasizes the ability to put the ball anywhere on the field at anytime. He likes to go deep early and often and make 3rd and 8 conversions look easy. Here is a simple example of Mike Leach giving the quarterback the ability to read the defense and overload zones:

This is a play that Texas Tech ran against Iowa state last year. The quarterback approaches the line and is able to read pretty quickly that the defense is going to be playing a cover 2 zone defense but they are using man coverage on the widest receivers on both sides. The quarterback is then able to immediately know that he will only have to watch two players on the defense to decide where he is going with the ball and within a second of the snap, he should know exactly where he is going to throw. The quarterback will be reading the outside linebacker and safety on the left side of the field.

Here is the same play with the receivers in their routes. As you can see, the outside receivers had man coverage from the cornerbacks, so they simply ran streak routes down the sidelines to clear out the zones underneath. As soon as the wide receiver on the right side begins to fly down the sideline the safety on the right side has to start to move towards the sideline to keep his cornerback from being stranded one-on-one with the offense’s number 1 receiver. When the safety on the left side sees his fellow safety vacating the middle he knows that he will have to cheat over and take the slot receiver on the left if he runs a vertical seem. Therefore, the safety on the left will begin to backpedal anticipating the slot receiver running vertically since that is how his comeback route initially looks. The outside linebacker on the left side will also see the start of the comeback and read it as a vertical which tells him the safety should have the slot and he has to move towards the line to cover the drag route coming from the right side.

The quarterback is now able to read the outside linebacker on his left side moving toward the the underneath drag route and he can see the safety on his left slowly stepping backwards to honor the possiblity of the vertical route from the slot receiver. The quarterback now knows after the first two steps the defenders make that he is going to throw the ball to the slot as soon as he begins to make his cut to comeback. You can see in the diagram exactly how the offense is able to cause defenders vacate their zones and open up holes. The beauty of this play is that if the safety on the quarterback’s left reads this play correctly the second time this play is run and moves toward the slot the offense is at even more of an advantage. The slot receiver has the ability to read the safety and run the vertical route if the safety reads the comeback:

Here the safety on the offense’s left reads the comeback and comes flying up field to undercut the route, the slot receiver reads this and fakes the comeback and then turns his route into a skinny post. At this point the quarterback sees that his receiver will be wide open running down the middle of the field unless the safety on the right moves to the middle of the field to cover him. This then leaves both his wide receivers in single man coverage with no help over the top, the ideal makings for a big play. Mike Leach gives his quarterback the ability to throw a deep ball to the sideline and give his receivers a chance to make a big play. The worst case scenario here is that all downfield receivers are covered and the quarterback will check down to the running back and toss the swing route out to the side, this gives the running back the ability to get the ball in the open field and try to make the first linebacker miss.

Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier’s offense is predicated on loosening up zones and tricking certain players into making incorrect reads, thereby leaving holes in the zones for quick passes.

In this example, from South Carolina’s spring game a few years back (seen here, Spurrier calls it “5 semi”), the defense is in a very traditional 4-3 defense running a conventional cover 2 with a 4 man rush. The quarterback sees the cornerbacks apporaching the line right before the snap and knows that he has a cover 2 with the cornerbacks playing the flat areas. He also knows that the safety is responsible for any thing deep on his half of the field so the safety will be very cautious to come up the field unless he is sure that the receiver is commiting to an underneath route. In this case the quarterback knows that the gap in the zone will occur between the linebackers and the safety on the left side.

Here you can see that the slot receiver running the quick out draws the cornerback outside. The outside linebacker on the offense’s left does not see the wide receiver on the outside once the receiver starts downfield and immediately focuses on the running back coming out of the backfield to the flats, as the running back crosses the linebacker’s face the linebacker moves upfield vacating his hook-to-curl zone. The wide receiver locates this vacancy as soon as he comes out of his break and moves at the vacancy then immediately looks for the ball, knowing it will have to be delivered quickly before the safety can realize there is no deep threat on this play and move up to cover the receiver.

Another staple of the Spurrier offense is trick plays. Here is an example of a trick play Spurrier ran against Mississippi State. He had set up this play by running wide receiver screen successfully a few times earlier in the game.

Here the defense is in man to man coverage with one safety over the top. The offense knows this as soon as the wide out on the right side goes in motion to left and is followed by the cornerback. The quarterback is going to throw a wide receiver screen to the widest receiver on the left side and the motion man and tight end are in charge of picking up the cornerbacks as they read the screen and fly up field. The running back is going to come to the line and pretend to pick up the defensive end but he will slip off this block and run a fly route down the right sideline. The wide receiver that caught the screen is going to turn and throw the ball to a wide open running back. This works because the entire secondary reacts to the screen and the safety is tricked into thinking the running back is actually blocking the defensive end in a pass protection scheme. The result looks like this:

Both of these coaches are great offensive minds and have their own area of specialty. Leach has the ability to score from almost any area of the field by exploiting whatever the defense gives him. Spurrier has the consistantly hit on short passes and then catch the defense sleeping or being overly aggressive and score at crucial points in the game.

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