Now that the first two parts of the game script have been installed, it is time to address some concerns. To recap, in Part One of this series we installed some everydown passing plays as well as some designed shot plays down the field. In Part Two we installed our base run game, some run/pass option designs, and some play action passes. In Part Three the focus shifts a bit, first to third-and-long situations, then to the screen game, and finally our “have to have it” play, which we will get to at the end.
At the outset, a confession. I hate screens. This dates back to the dark ages of football, when I was still playing the game. (No, you jackals, I wasn’t wearing a leather helmet). But seriously, I hated the screen game. On running back screens you were basically supposed to lull the defensive linemen in and convince them they were getting an easy sack, and then absorb the abuse after dumping the ball off. Smoke screens? Those are not exactly easy to throw. Sure, a smoke screen to the left is pretty easy for a right-handed quarterback to throw, but throwing one to the right? That’s pretty hard when you’re operating under center. Which I was, all of the time. The shotgun wasn’t exactly “cool” or “lit” back in those days…
Despite my personal misgivings about the screen game, they are a necessary evil of the modern offense. For my money, the tunnel screen game is the best way to attack defenses. First, your more basic tunnel screen:
This is taken from Clemson’s 2013 offensive playbook, and I love this design. The play is set to go to the left, where the X receiver starts upfield for a step or two but then “works into the tunnel,” picking up blocks from the receiver on the wing, the playside guard, and the center. But this play has multiple options for the quarterback, something I believe is critical for today’s offenses. The QB also has a vertical route along the right side from the outside receiver, as well as a potential screen to the running back to that side as well. (There is some continuity here with Part One of the game script, where the Tunnel-Go design was listed as one of the early down passing plays).
Here is a variation of this, also from Clemson’s playbook, which pairs the vertical route with the tunnel screen, and puts the potential RB screen on the backside:
I really like this design, because by pairing the tunnel with the vertical route, there is always the chance you catch the defense with their eyes on the tunnel, opening them up for a big play on the vertical route.
The final tunnel variant combines play-action with the tunnel action on the outside. Here is one diagram of what this could look like, again from Clemson’s 2013 playbook:
It is important to note that as of the 2013 season, Clemson coached this design by instruction the quarterback NOT to carry out a play-action fake. In my offense, however, I’m trying to cut down on potential pursuit from the linebackers, so the QB is carrying out this run fake.
Now we can add in the running back screen game. If you are reading this piece you likely know that I watch a ton of football, at all levels of the game. Probably too much. This summer when I was scouting nearly 40 quarterbacks to prepare for the 2019 Draft class, I came across this play from Michigan State against Michigan, and I immediately noted it for a piece just like this one:
I love this design. The initial fake underneath to the running back gets lost quickly with the jet sweep action, making it seem that the potential inside run is the eye candy for the sweep to the outside. In reality, however, both are eye candy for the true nature of the play, the screen to the initial running back along the right side with blockers in front of him. I just love this design. Plus, we can pair this with one of the plays listed in Part Two, the Jet Sweep/Mid Zone. Again, some continuity with plays previously outlined, allowing us to set the defense up with previous plays with some of the designs used later.
Third and Long
Look, we don’t want to be in third and long situations, but chances are, we might find ourselves in a few as the season rolls on. So, we need to be ready for them. Now, some of the screens just outlined are effective plays to call on these downs with minimal risk, but as the wise sage Bruce Arians would say, “no risk it, no biscuit.” Here are two plays I’m looking to call when it’s time to sling it deep.
You might notice that these two plays, while different, have some similarity. Doesn’t matter to me. I love them both dearly.
The first helped win a National Championship for Alabama:
This is “Seattle,” from Alabama’s playbook and posted recently by Chris Brown on Twitter. This is basically just everyone’s favorite play, four verticals, run out of a 3×1 formation. I love pairing four verticals with a 3×1 formation because of the stress it puts on the safeties and how it changes their eye angles a bit. Running this design out of a 2×2 formation just calls for a defense to counter with Cover 4, which they might be doing on a third and long situation anyway. Then you are relying on a receiver winning a one on one matchup. Here, as you can see, the adjustments and conversions for the receivers allow you to attack both single high and two-high looks.
Now we can dip into the Air Coryell coaching tree to dial up a design that I started running back in high school and all through college, and you will note the similarities to Seattle as we can discuss on the other side:
I love the 585 design because like many well-designed plays it has an answer for multiple looks from the defense. There the boundary receivers run comeback routes, but have potential conversions built in to attack hard corners or Cover 2 looks, where they can convert the comebacks to corner routes. Against Cover 2, the QB always has the option to work the post route in the middle of the field to split the safeties, and against Cover 3 or Cover 4, you can expect those comeback routes to find some space working against the corners on the outside. Answers for everything. The conversions, and the ability to attack multiple schemes, make these plays similar and effective for an offense regardless of situation, but also on third and long instances.
Gotta Have It
Finally, the “gotta have it” play. This is the play that regardless of situation, time in the game, etc, if the offense needs a big play whether on a third down or in the red zone, this is the design that I will turn to. It comes from an old Jon Gruden West Coast playbook, but I’m looking to use this from a number of different personnel packages, either with 21 offensive personnel with two different running backs in the game, or 12 offensive personnel, where a tight end actually starts in the backfield, or even with 11 offensive personnel, starting a wide receiver in the backfield.
When the rubber hits the road, we’re calling Flanker Drive:
What I love about the basic design is that again, we have answers for anything a defense shows us, from the backside go route that the QB can peek against man coverage looks or when we see an advantageous matchup, to the inclusion of the flanker drive routes, where the tight end helps to create traffic for the Z receiver underneath. This route helped put Jerry Rice in the Hall of Fame (along with his famous hill workouts, but if you think I’m gonna try and duplicate that at the age of 41, you’ve got another thing coming).
My favorite part of this route design, though, is the corner route to the concept side of the field, with the receiver starting in the backfield, motioning to the right, and then running the corner route. You can imagine that as a key opportunity to get another advantageous matchup for the offense, or forcing the defense to pick its poison. This is something teams like the New England Patriots do often with players like Rob Gronkowski. Imagine starting Gronkowski in the backfield and then motioning him outside, forcing the defense to adjust or keep a linebacker on him, where he can then work his corner route against a player who might struggle to cover him in space.
Again, answers for anything.
So that’s it, my offensive game script. It has been a blast researching this and putting it together, and I hope you have enjoyed it. I’m now turning it over to you, to put together some game scripts of your own, and I’m starting with the wise Mark Bullock of the Washington Post and formerly of the NFL1000 project. This was an idea of his that I ran with, and the ball is now in your court, my friend.