Video: Paul Johnson Play Action Pass Rules For The Triple Option


Paul Johnson is the best play caller in America, and that’s something I’ve been saying for a while now. While it’s true that Georgia Tech makes their living in the run game, it’s impossible to ignore the success they’ve had in the pass game, especially using play action.

This offense of his has been fine-tuned through decades of tough, brutal competition at several different levels of college football. There’s not a lot you can show him that he hasn’t seen already.

Defenses have tried all sorts of creative ways to disguise their intentions. Everything from loading the box, to rotating an extra defender down low just before the snap, and all kinds of other trickery. Still, Johnson and this Georgia Tech offense usually find a way to keep them honest, through some kind of misdirection, or even more dangerous, through the play action pass game that he’s designed.

People often forget how successful Johnson’s teams have been throwing the football. Though a lot of it has to do with the talent he’s been able to acquire, Johnson himself deserves a good amount of credit as well. He’s managed to come up with a scheme that manages to put his athletes at receiver in positions to be successful against the secondary.

The Paul Johnson Play Action Rules

In the picture below, we see his play action pass rules that he describes in his clinic video (link).


There are a lot of things about his approach I really like, but let’s go through three of them.

Easy Terminology

In one example in the video below, Johnson talks about his terminology that he uses during games to call play action passes that are tied in with their base run plays.

For example, this offense is built around plays like the basic triple option, which they call “12.” To call a play action pass off of that backfield action, all he has to do is plug in ‘3’ at the beginning of ’12’.

You can tag whatever pass scheme you want to the end of the play call, but the ‘3’ tells the offensive line to aggressively protect for the pass instead of getting too far downfield on the run play.

As a result, the players spend less time memorizing jargon and more time getting good at the fundamentals of their position and their assignments.

Speaking of play action passes…

Have A Play Action Concept Off Of Every Run Play

It’s extremely important that you’re able to threaten the defense and keep them guessing until the last possibly moment. Johnson is a big fan of having play action passes off of every run play in the game plan for this exact reason.

The end result is that while the quarterback and the other men in the backfield are going through all their assignments and following the paths they’ve been coached up on, and for the first few seconds of the play, the defense may have no idea whether it’s a run or a pass, or even who has the football.

This is exactly the point behind making all your run plays and play action concepts look identical, at least in the backfield, and it’s also why, even though Johnson doesn’t do it here, a lot of offenses love to pull a lineman (or two) to really sell the fake.

Cut The Field In Half And Make Things Easy For Your Quarterback

You can create a bunch of complicated rules for what your quarterback is supposed to look at, or you can limit the size of the field and what the amount of decisions he has to make before throwing the football.

Johnson prefers to do the latter. The quick and easy reads this offense is built around means that it’s a lot easier to coach your quarterback up on everything you need from him, and the ball ends up coming out a lot quicker.

The Paul Johnson play action is all about simplifying the reads, and he does a great job of teaching in the simplest terms.

In the video below, Johnson talks about the reads for the passing game and how he can call certain pass plays to make it easier on the passer, giving him a simple decision to make. When you’re playing a tough opponent, finding ways to manufacture enough high-confidence opportunities is key, especially when you may be overmatched talent-wise.

Closing Thoughts

Of all the videos I’ve ever bought, this is one of my favorites. The Paul Johnson play action is a seemingly complex topic that, like the triple option, is reduced to a few basic principles that anyone can understand.

I can’t recommend this enough.

Buy A Copy Here

Let’s talk about X’s and O’s

If you love reading about X’s and O’s, then you should do yourself a favor and follow my other blog

If you’re tired of me going on and on about coaching philosophy, film breakdown strategies, and all the other boring stuff that I find really interesting, I highly recommend checking it out.

On the other hand…

If you like what I’ve been writing about lately, you should STILL check out

(Trust me, I know the guy who runs it and I’ve heard a lot of good things)

I’ve started breaking down drives with a new play diagram each day, kinda like how my new book breaks down every one of the Panther’s drives from the Super Bowl.

Lately I’ve been talking about Baltimore’s Offense against the Patriot Defense.

Between an elite defense and an elite(?) QB in Joe Flacco,  there’s something for everyone!

Click here to start with the first play in the drive

(Don’t say I never did anything nice for you.)

– Alex Kirby

The Jay Leno Method for creating opportunity

I’ve never been much of a Jay Leno fan. (Personally, I always thought Letterman was much better.)

Still, there’s one thing I’ve always respected about the guy though, and that’s how he approached his business.

In an interview a while back, Leno told the story of how he broke into the comedy business, before the days when you could post a funny video on YouTube and get a million views:

When I got started in Boston, I would go into bars with a $50 bill, and I would say, ‘I’m a comedian.’

‘We don’t hire comedians.’

I go, ‘Look, here’s 50 bucks. Lemme go on the stage and tell some jokes. If people leave, you can keep my 50. If I do OK and I get some laughs, gimme my money back.”

It cost me about 300 bucks over the long run, but for the most part it was either:

“Yeah, kid, you’re funny, here’s your money back, but we don’t do that here.”


“That was OK, come back Wednesday.”

A couple of things…

First, he found a creative way to get his name out there.

Leno was creative about manufacturing his own opportunities in the business he so desperately wanted to .

He didn’t wait for someone to call him, he went out and found ways to not only get his name out there, but get experience doing what he wanted to do.

Second, he offered the business owner a no-risk proposition:

  • If he went up there and bombed, the bartender got paid $50.
  • If he did well, the customers got some entertainment and came away with a good experience, and the owner has another name on his list of entertainers to hire sometime down the road

So what does that mean for you?

There are literally thousands of coaching positions at the high school and college level across the country, even more if you include middle school and youth football, and more than that if you count all the different leagues that play football outside of America. (There are a lot more than you may think.)

There is no shortage of opportunity out there in the coaching business, but the first step to getting hired is to get your name out there.

This goes all the way back to what I talked about a couple of weeks ago: If you’re not already well-known in the coaching world (or whatever business you’re in), what are you doing to change that?

It the answer is nothing, you’re falling behind.

Since I wrote about different ways of advertising yourself, I’ve connected with several people who’ve told me how they’ve used social media, blogging, and similar methods to do just that. It’s not just that these guys stood out once they sat down to interview, they got the interview in large part because of what they were doing to promote themselves.

Remember: Always be advertising!

By the way, let no one say I don’t follow my own advice…

How do I get my name out there? I write books.

So far, people seem to like this one about how Wade Phillips and his defense managed to shut down Cam “Superman” Newton in the Super Bowl.

Here’s what I need you to do:

1. Buy the book

2. Read it

3.  Tell me what you think

CLICK HERE to get your copy instantly!

– Alex Kirby

Why you should throw to guys out of the backfield more

Chip Kelly’s offense was inconsistent at best during his final season in Philadelphia, but what success he did have had a lot to do with incorporating the backfield into the passing game.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a simple “nickel-and-dime” approach to offense, but actually it’s a great way to maximize the personnel advantages he had at that spot in the roster.

But why?

The best possible matchup for a lot of offenses, at least in terms of pure speed and athleticism, has been their running back against one of the linebackers on the other side of the football.

1. Makes it very tough to press or disrupt the route

When you line a guy up at the line of scrimmage, you make it a whole lot easier for the defense to bump him, press him, or otherwise harass him as he’s getting to where he needs to go.

Even if you’ve got a guy who is a lot more athletic than the defender across from him, he can still manage to disrupt the route and cause trouble for the guy as he’s trying to get off the line.

2. Gets one of your best athletes matched up on one of the least-athletic defenders on the field

There are no “bad” athletes in the NFL, including at the linebacker spot, but at the end of the day, it’s all relative.

Compared with the corners and safeties on the field, linebackers can have trouble covering many of the speedy and quick slot receivers and running backs in the league.

This is why guys like Luke Kuechly are so important to the success of a defense these days, because a middle linebacker with that kind of range and closing speed is a great equalizer, and eliminates much of the threat out of the backfield

If you’re not coaching in the NFL at the moment, that athletic advantage is probably even greater.

3. Creates opportunities for players coming open across the middle

If you want to stop a team from throwing routes out of the backfield, fine, but that just means you’re in danger of giving up plays somewhere else, especially in the middle of the field.

You can either play man coverage, which probably means your linebackers will end up matched up on them and clearing out the middle, or you can play zone, which in a lot of cases, ALSO means the linebackers will be matched up on the back because of pattern match rules.

PS – I’ve got a new book out.

(I know I’m biased, but I highly recommend it)

Get it HERE.

What I learned from Wade Phillips

Crazy game last night huh?

I wasn’t watching, but my Twitter timeline exploded while I was writing this post, so I assume things were pretty exciting.

I was still going back through all the little details of the Super Bowl game film, because there’s so much to analyze, especially from the Denver Defense.

Wade Phillips has had the luxury of working with some tremendous players during his long career, but anyone who’s ever coached before can tell you, working with talented players isn’t always the cakewalk it’s made out to be.

Yet, somehow, a Wade Phillips-led defense always seems to meet or even exceed expectations.

In a world where it’s news when a team performs exactly the way they’re supposed to, that’s a big deal.

So what’s his secret plan, his big idea that no one has ever thought of before?

Build your scheme around your the strengths of your players, and then let them go play football.

It’s amazing how often people forget that football isn’t played on the chalkboard, and that a “bad” play call can succeed if your guy is better than the other team’s guy.

It’s a player’s game first and foremost.

Wade Phillips starts with a basic framework, a few base fronts that he can use against just about anything, and lets his players go play and pursue the football.

It sounds like a cliche, but if you look at this year’s Super Bowl film, you won’t see a lot of deception from the Denver Defense. For the most part, what you see is what you get.

Now, there were definitely a few wrinkles throw in to give Cam Newton some confusion at certain points in the game, but those disguised coverages were made even more effective because of how rare they were.

The thing about keeping it simple is that once you’ve established that basic, one-size-fits-all framework in your scheme, you have a lot of time to perfect all kinds of wrinkles to complement it, and your team becomes more deadly overall.

Specifically, just like last year with New England’s incredible performance in the Super Bowl, Denver made it really simple for the guys up front. Carolina came out with all kinds of shifts, motions, unbalanced line formations, and more, but for the most part, very little changed for the guys up front.

But how exactly did they do it?

I talk all about it in my latest book, where I break down all 16 drives of Denver’s Defense taking on Carolina’s Offense in the Super Bowl.

CLICK HERE and get it now.

Carolina’s Offense vs Denver’s Defense in the Super Bowl

I know it’s Monday, but I’ve got some great news…

The first issue of the Every Play Revealed Newsletter is now available!

I wanted to really study Denver’s defense and how they managed to shut down Carolina’s offense in the biggest NFL game of the year, and I learned all kinds of interesting things that I put in this first issue, including:

  • How Denver disguised their coverage in key situations to confuse Carolina’s offense
  • The complex and interesting Carolina run game
  • Breaking down the Panthers offensive audibles
  • How the Panthers designed their formations to create lots of space for their elite tight end Greg Olsen
  • And more!

All 16 drives of Carolina’s offense taking on Denver’s defense have been analyzed and broken down for this first issue.

This is the kind of breakdown you can’t find anywhere else!

CLICK HERE to get it now!

Taking notes on film (and some zone read cutups)

Screenshot 2015-11-14 at 12.35.01 PM

I believe strongly, some might even say religiously, in drawing up what you see on video, in addition to whatever notes you take, because of all the benefits it brings.

I have a lot of reasons for this, including the fact that it forces you to watch the film over and over again, focus on the little things, and I’ve always believed that the physical act of using your hands to draw something creates a bigger impression in your mind, and lets you retain a lot more.

It just so happens, I was right about that last part.

As it turns out, according to a recent study, students who take notes by hand have been shown to retain more information than those who take notes in class on their laptops.

There really is something to the idea that the physical act of writing (or drawing) that creates a stronger and more complete impression in your brain.

Trust me, it can be very mentally exhausting to take detailed notes, but if you’re really interested in learning more about football, I don’t know of any better way (Though if you happen to have a better way, I’d love to hear about it).

So with all that in mind, here’s something else to draw up (and maybe steal a few ideas from).

Since so many people loved the power read clinic video from yesterday’s email, I thought I’d share some more offensive cutups I found on YouTube, this time from Appalachian State’s zone read scheme.

PS – I just put the finishing touches on the breakdown of Denver’s Super Bowl defense against Carolina, and can’t wait to share it with you on Friday.

-Alex Kirby

The Minnesota Power Read Play

Jerry Kill is one of those guys who just never got the credit he deserved for being a rock-solid football coach, and a great teacher of the game.

No matter where he went, he won, and was always great about incorporating new ideas into the way he did things.

This video is a perfect example of just that.

Someone was kind enough to put the clinic presentation on YouTube, complete with diagrams and film, so obviously I needed to share it with you guys.


PS – You wanted more play-by-play style breakdowns, and I listened.

Guess what?

Now they’ll be coming each month.

Instead of breaking down an entire game, I’ll be breaking down one team’s offense against the opponent defense so that I can bring you a different scheme each month.

I’m releasing the first issue of my “Every Play Revealed” newsletter beginning this Friday.

In this issue, I’ve broken down exactly how the Denver Defense shut down Cam Newton and the Panthers in the Super Bowl, breaking down every play of Carolina’s Offense vs Denver’s Defense.

I’m really excited to share what I’ve put together.

Stay tuned!

– Alex Kirby

I loved this book on college football X’s and O’s (And you will too)

Let’s be honest, most of the stuff being passed off as football “analysis” by the mainstream sports media is complete crap.

And that’s the nicest thing I can say about it.

This is just one of the reasons why I’m convinced giant media companies like ESPN will become less and less important over the next decade

Well that, and the fact that their subscriber numbers are in a complete nosedive right now (but I digress).

Compare the kind of mediocre and uninteresting commentary you’ll get on TV with the guys over at Inside the Pylon, who if you haven’t been paying attention, are putting out some of the best X’s and O’s analysis anywhere online.

A couple months back, they decided to release their first book, written by Mark Schofield, called 17 Drives.

I gotta tell you, I absolutely loved it.

Schofield put together a breakdown of 17 of the most interesting and significant drives of the 2015 college football season, including:

  • The exciting drive that Oklahoma put together in Week 2 to tie up the game late against Tennessee
  • Michigan State’s drive in the final moments of the Big Ten Championship to hand Iowa their first loss of the year.
  • Alabama’s drive to seal the game against Clemson in the National Championship

Football season is still months away, and for those of us (like myself) who aren’t interested in watching NFL Draft coverage, this book is the perfect way to hold you over until the fall.

There are over 300 pages of diagrams and notes on football strategy, and it’s the kind of thing you can re-read over and over again to pick up new details.

As I told Mark after reading it, this book will force me to step my game up in my own football writing.

(Nothing wrong with a little healthy competition after all)

If you’re an X’s and O’s fanatic, 17 Drives is a must-read.

Get your copy now.

-Alex Kirby

Always Be Advertising

Want to move up in the football business?

Let Nick Saban explain how he made his decision to hire a new assistant coach.

Saban was talking the other day about how found his new assistant offensive line coach Brent Key.

What stood out to me was that Saban interviewed the guy three years ago, but didn’t hire him because he didn’t feel like it would’ve been a great fit for the staff. Still, he was very impressed with Key and kept his name on a list for the next time a position was available.

The end result?

Saban didn’t hire him until THREE YEARS after the first interview!

In other words, Key made such an impression on Saban that the next time he was looking for an offensive line coach, one of the first names to pop into his head was Brent Key.

That’s what advertising is all about, folks.

Executives at Coca-Cola aren’t expecting you to bolt out the door and buy a Coke the moment you see an ad on TV.

Nope, they want to make such an impression on you that the next time you’re thirsty, the first name you think of is “Coke.”


In the old days if you were just breaking into the business, you had to hope that the head coach knew enough people who might need someone like you.

Now, thanks to the internet, it’s easier than every to get your name out there.

You’re really only limited by your imagination, but here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • Start a blog and talk about what you know
  • Write a book on a football topic and self-publish it.
  • Contribute valuable information to a message board regularly and become a trusted name
  • Start a Twitter account and post video clips of you breaking down a play
  • Start a podcast and talk about football-related topics


The next time someone is looking to hire a new coach, you want your name to be the first one that pops into their head.

There are plenty of ways to do it, but if you’re looking to stand out, get online and get your name out there.

Speaking of advertising…

I’ve got a newsletter coming out soon, where each month I break down an offense against a defense in college or the NFL, “Every Play Revealed” style.

How did Wade Phillips put the clamps on Cam Newton and the Panthers offense?

Find out when the first issue of the Every Play Revealed newsletter comes out on April 1st.

(The anticipation is killing me)

– Alex Kirby

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