Having installed some of our basic passing plays in Part One of this three-part series, it is time to turn our attention to the run game, as well as the play-action passing game. As a reminder, this three-part series on “my game script” was inspired by the great Mark Bullock, who you should definitely be following on twitter. These plays are designed to be run basically on any situation outside of third-and-long, and I love all of them on 2nd and 3rd and short situations.
“There was another time during practice when I acted pretty strange. We have running and passing drills. Of course, I would rather take part in the passing drills because they’re challenging. Matt and I kid about who is going to get stuck doing the running drill. In that drill, you stand there handling the ball to the running backs. Anyway, during this particular practice I wasn’t throwing the ball well and Paul told me to join the running drill.
‘“Goddamm it,” I screamed at Paul. “I always have to go down there.”
–Joe Montana “Audibles: My Life in Football” page 147
This will be the only time in my life that I will compare myself in any way to one of the greatest to play the position. But like Montana, the running game (or even worse, having to handle the “inside run” portion of practice) was drudgery. However, unlike Montana, I was quite possibly the worst quarterback in all of college football during the 1996-1999 time frame, so I spent a lot of time running that particular drill. You would think that the actual schematics involved would sink in at some point but basically, beyond knowing what plays we needed to audible out of, I simply wanted to hand the ball off and get out of the damn way.
This is a roundabout way of outlining how my knowledge of the running game came much later in life.
All of that being said, it’s time to have some run game stuff installed. At the outset, every offense should get both inside and outside zone plays into the playbook, and the Mark Schofield offense is no different, as we will have both. I do want to highlight three additional plays to incorporate, with the third being something more appropriate for the high school or college offenses. So, here’s a quick look at outside zone from the Patriots’ 2004 playbook:
Now here’s an example of the inside zone, from the 2008 Syracuse playbook:
Remember that part of this exercise is to set defenses up for plays later in the game. Here, as we will see, we will build in play-action passing off of the run game plays installed. Which brings us to Duo, which is a power-based run scheme that incorporates two (hence, “duo”) double-team blocks at the point of attack.
Duo is often confused for inside zone, and given the build-up to this section you can be pretty sure that yours truly struggles with identification at times. The best rule of thumb is that on Duo, the line works back toward the Will linebacker. Geoff Schwartz of The Action Network and other outlets has a great breakdown of that difference on his Facebook page, which you should check out when you can.
Another great breakdown of Duo comes to us from ITP’s own Ryan Dukarm, who broke it down in a piece on the Jets’ running game:
As we shall see, you can build in play-action off Duo to maximum effect.
Let’s face it: Everyone loves a well-executed wham block. Our good friend Michael Kist loves him some wham blocks, and his Philadelphia Eagles did too in their run to Super Bowl 52. Mr. Kist outlines that in this meaty piece that even contains quotes from legendary military strategist Sun Tzu.
One way I’ve seen teams incorporate wham blocks is in their inside zone package, which can be one of the variants of the inside zone running play that we alluded to earlier. Here’s a play that dates back to the Joe Gibbs/Dan Henning days of the early 1990s Washington Redskins: 40/50 Lead Nose:
Basically you get zone blocking rules up front but either a tight end, a fullback, or the H-back can execute that wham block on either a nose or a defensive tackle, based on the defensive front shown by the opposition.
Jet Sweep Mid Zone
Last summer when I was studying the Penn State offense in preparation for the year ahead, I became enthralled with what I termed the “triangle” aspect of their offense. Using quarterback Trace McSorley, running back Saquon Barkley, and tight end Mike Gesicki the Nittany Lions’ offense could stretch a defense in three different directions, from sideline-to-sideline.
One of their plays that stuck with me was their jet sweep/midline zone combination, that you can see here in two videos. The first shows the jet sweep, while the second shows the quarterback keeping the football:
Now the QB keep:
This play allows for a number of variations to be built in, such as a power/veer element to protect the quarterback, as well as any number of passing combinations for the quarterback coming out of the mesh. For example, one of the first big plays of the 2017-2018 NFL season, the Alex Smith touchdown pass to Kareem Hunt on opening night, came on All-Go Special Halfback Seam, which incorporates a seam route to a running back off of a jet sweep mesh fake:
That was borrowed by Sean McVay later in the year:
But the underlying element is a favorite of mine because it flips the basic structure of the zone read on its head. Typically the running back serves as the “vertical” stretch in this play while the potential quarterback run to the edge serves as the “horizontal” stretch. This design inverts that idea, using the jet sweep as the horizontal stretch while the potential quarterback keep is the vertical method of attack. Just one more thing for a defense to think about.
Play-Action Passing Plays
Now we can get to the fun stuff, at least in my mind. Here we’re looking at play-action passing plays, all of which I’m comfortable calling on 1st and 10, or on 2nd/3rd downs and 5 or less to go.
Hitch Tag / Slants Tag
The benefit of the inside zone play in the offense is multi-faced, and here we can start to incorporate the passing game as well as an extra element for the defense to think about. These two plays are often the most-recognizable, easily identified RPOs that today’s game has to offer. There is a reason for that: teams run them a lot because they can be pretty effective.
Here is hitch:
Here is slant:
On both, the quarterback has a pretty defined task: Isolate the read defender and make a decision based off of him. If he crashes, pull and throw. If he stays, give. Hitch is a bit different in that the read can be made pre-snap based more on leverage. If the defense walks a defender outside over that hitch route, then you’re likely giving the ball to your running back based on a pre-snap determination/box count.
These are plays that I truly believe can be run on Friday nights, Saturday afternoons and Monday nights, all with equal effectiveness.
PA Boot – Sprint 339 Naked
Followers of my work probably were waiting on this play to be included. It is a personal favorite of mine, from the basic concept down to the specific play identified here, but I love the idea of getting your quarterback outside, on the edge, with options in both his legs and his arm. Here we are going to go with Sprint 399 Naked.
I love the flow and structure of this play, from the quick peek at the vertical route, to the post/dig concept from the two backside receivers, to the chip-and-flat from Y that often ends up being the read. Of course, we all know what this is also setting up:
PA Boot Throwback
Again, my personal relationship with this play is, as has been documented, conflicted. But my job here is not to dwell so much on my own personal failures, but to construct a series of plays that for the other eight million quarterbacks that have ever played – or will play – the game, can be successful.
Seriously, I’m over it. Really.
But Y Throwback remains such a well-designed play that, building off outside zone and PA boot (as already included), it can be almost impossible for a defense to stop. In their run to Super Bowl 51, the Atlanta Falcons relied on this design and Matt Ryan enjoyed a great deal of success running it, often out of multiple-TE packages. Prior to Super Bowl 51, Matt Bowen included it as one of Atlanta’s “go-to” plays.
Between this and the basic PA boot, there is enough to keep a defense guessing from sideline to sideline. And if you have an athletic enough quarterback who can take off when the opportunity presents itself? Even better.
Pairing a multi-level high-low with run-action? Now you’re cooking with gas. There are a few ways to do this, but I love the Mills concept, with its post/dig combination to stretch the second-level and high-low a middle of the field safety:
If you really want to kick things up a notch, you can run this as NCAA Mills, which includes a shallow crosser as well. Here it is from a 2×2 alignment:
Now here we see this concept from a bunch set:
Of course, we are using these off of play-action, so you would expect to see something like this:
Either way, these designs use play-action and multi-level routes to truly test a defense from the line of scrimmage down the field, and they stress the eye discipline of defenders on the second- and third-levels. To truly spice things up, use this with some duo-inspired protection up front. As the wise Bobby Peters argues in this piece, “teams that use [Duo] recognize the need to have play-action off it because defenses that crowd the line with their linebackers could disrupt the timing of the double-teams. The run action lends well to the use of play action.”
Every season it seems a concept becomes more en vogue in the NFL, and if it was Y Throwback two years ago with the Falcons, it was perhaps the Yankee concept last season with teams such as the New England Patriots and the Houston Texans.
At its core, the Yankee concept is a maximum protection, two-receiver passing combination consisting of a deep post route an a crossing route breaking just underneath it:
Last season, the Texans did a great job by incorporating a bunch of “eye candy” into this play, but at the end of the day it was still a two receiver combination, the deep post and the deep crosser:
This is a great design to call on any down, in my opinion, but I love it on 2nd and short, because the run-action/deep-shot combination is almost always a winner.