Seven Ways to Run Your Favorite Play Over and Over

One of the benefits of the West Coast Offense was the many ways in which play callers could line up an offense and run the same scheme 50 times without ever doing the exact same thing with regards to formation and alignment. It’s a facet of the offense that is often under appreciated or misunderstood, but the good news is that you don’t have to have a 300-page playbook in order to have the same ability to keep your opponent on edge while consistently putting your players in comfortable situations.

For demonstration’s sake, we’re going to take a look at two of the most common plays in football, the power play, and the flanker drive concept. Almost every team in professional and college football runs some form of these two plays, and using a pass and a run play allows us to explore both sides of the coin and use specific, tangible examples.

Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady are masters of creating deception using a recurring series of plays in the Patriots offense.

Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady are masters of creating deception using a recurring series of plays in the Patriots offense.

Of course, the more specific you get with your examples and the more specialized your offensive scheme is, the more ways you could come up with to add to this list. This is neither a comprehensive list, nor is anything on the list considered ‘groundbreaking,’ but it’s always good to have a starting point for discussion when it comes to keeping things simple.

The emphasis isn’t on the details of the individual plays themselves, but instead how they fit together. It should also go without saying that sometimes all seven of these may not fit your game plan. It can sometimes be advantageous to avoid certain formations and motions, and if you’re fortunate enough to be overwhelmingly more talented than your opponent, you probably don’t need more than one way to run the ball up the middle.

1. Run The Play

The first and most obvious way to run any given play on the call sheet is to, well, call it. It doesn’t get any simpler than that. In this first section we’ll go through some of the specifics of the play, then follow that up in each subsequent section with ways to complement the original play.

Pass – Drive

In this example we’ve got the offense running a classic Flanker Drive concept out of a one back set, with a wing aligned off the line of scrimmage, and the Z receiver split out wide enough so that on cue, he can come in short motion and get into position to run the drive route underneath. The tight end and the wing should create a rub on the corner chasing the drive route, and the X receiver should be ready for the deep ball against any kind of one-on-one coverage. The basic cross at ten yards is timed up to come open in case the defense clutters up the middle underneath, and the corner route provides a good answer against a cover 2 look, finding the opening between the safety and the corner. Finally, the running back runs a check down into the flat.

The basic "Flanker Drive" concept.

The basic “Flanker Drive” concept.

 

Run – Power

In the diagram below we’ve got a standard power play drawn up against a 4-4 defense. Some people prefer to block out on the defensive end with the fullback and send the tight end up to the strong safety/overhang guy, but this is the version of the power play I’m personally most familiar with. The quarterback opens up, reversing out and handing off the ball to the tailback who attacks the A-gap, and it’s the job of the playside guard and tackle to create movement on the three technique, and open up space inside.

The basic power play against a typical 4-4 defense.

The basic power play against a typical 4-4 defense.

2. Run the same play at a high tempo

This is another simple idea, where you line up so quickly that the defense doesn’t have a lot of time to recognize that your pre-snap alignment is similar to how you’ve lined up before. This need not be done immediately after running the exact same scheme the play before, but can be added in as one of your “speed-dial” calls in the game plan. Running an offense at an especially high speed adds an element of deception in itself, since you can take away the time they have to make any adjustments and recognize the similarities from any previous plays.

Pass – Drive

Note that the Z receiver is lined up in a tighter split than before, because he is standing where he would’ve ended up if the offense had put him in short motion toward the tight end so he could be in better position for the drive route. When running in super-fast tempo, there is no time for the offense to send a man in motion, so many teams just line the motion man up where he was supposed to end up and snap the ball, which ends up giving the defense a slightly different look to worry about.

The offense lines up quickly and runs the Drive play.

The offense lines up quickly and runs the Drive play.

 

Run – Power

Not much changes for any player’s assignments, since there was never any motion on this play to begin with.

Power 1

 

3. Line up in a different formation and motion to a more suitable set

Give yourself an excuse to line up in as many formations as possible, especially early on in the game when you’re still trying to get a handle on what kinds of looks the defense is giving you. If you have multiple ways of calling your team’s favorite plays, you get the benefit of making the defense show their intentions early, while setting your players up for success by putting them in situations they’re comfortable with.

Pass – Drive

As with any kind of motion, the movement by the Z receiver across the formation allows the offense a glimpse into what the defense has planned for that play once the ball is snapped. Depending on how the defenders react, it may make sense to line up in that same formation again, without motioning away from it.

The motion across the formation can be used to force the defense to show their intentions.

The motion across the formation can be used to force the defense to show their intentions.

Run – Power

In this specific situation, motioning the Z receiver is a low-risk, high-reward strategy. It’s very unlikely that the defense is going to show you something unexpected when moving from a Twins look to a normal offset I formation, but in the process you give the defense another look to worry about, and the movement may get an individual defender to over-compensate and end up out of position against the power play.

The offense starts out in twins and motions the Z receiver across the formation.

The offense starts out in twins and motions the Z receiver across the formation.

4. Line up in  a different formation with the same structure

The word ‘structure’ is used very loosely here. It can mean any two formations with the same number of receivers to each side, like comparing two 3×1 formations. Changes may be made in the exact alignment of the receivers themselves in relation to one another, but as long as the players have the ability to carry out their assignments successfully from where they’re lined up, the formation can be used as part of the game plan.

Everything should be examined in context. The complementary formations you use should fit in somewhere with the rest of your game plan, or at least with what you’ve shown on film. In other words, if you’re not a team who throws the ball very well, then you may only see a marginal benefit at best from lining up in a four wide receiver set.

Pass – Drive

Here we see an old favorite of Bill Walsh, splitting the tight end out a couple of yards and putting the 2nd tight end or halfback off the line in between the tackle and the tight end. The unique alignment to the tight end side can give defensive coordinators problems, especially when it comes to staying gap sound and choosing where to line up the defensive end in relation to the tight end.

The offense motions to a true bunch set that will provide another dimension to the Drive concept.

The offense motions to a true bunch set that will provide another dimension to the Drive concept.

Run – Power

In this example, the offense lines up in a 3×1 set, but all that really changes is that the fullback/H-back moves closer to his assignment and is aligned just off the hip of the tight end, so he turns into a wing. He creates an extra gap to the strong side to be concerned with, and it’s another way for the offense to disguise their true intentions.

The offense moves the fullback/H-back up closer to the line of scrimmage.

The offense moves the fullback/H-back up closer to the line of scrimmage.

5. Line up in a different backfield set

In many ways, this is a continuation of the last point. As long as the players end up where they’re supposed to be, you have a lot of flexibility in where you line them up. When it comes to pass plays, putting an extra back in the backfield can help him avoid any disruption of his route by defenders, and is a way to create a clean release for him off the line. In the run game, there are all kinds of ways to vary your alignment in the backfield in such a way that you still have the ability to run what you like. Lining up in the gun gives the defense a whole new set of problems, which will be discussed further below.

Pass – Drive

As was stated above, putting the receiver running the corner route into the backfield is a good way to structure the play so that he is not held up by defenders at the line who are trying to disrupt the route. This tactic is used by offensive coordinators to create a ‘bunch’ concept without actually lining up in bunch sets, hoping to pull a fast one on the defense and catch them off-guard.

By lining up in an offset I formation, the offense presents an extra run threat for the defense, while keeping the same basic 3x1 structure in the passing game.

By lining up in an offset I formation, the offense presents an extra run threat for the defense, while keeping the same basic 3×1 structure in the passing game.

Run – Power

Lining up in a back set out of the gun presents a whole new set of challenges for the defense, and may very well force them to change up their responsibilities. This is especially true if you’re an offense that runs some sort of option play or zone read out of the gun. The defensive front has to account for the possibility of the quarterback taking off around the edge with the football, so they’ve got to plan for it by making specific checks at the line of scrimmage.

The split backfield set allows the offense to run the same play but present the defense with a whole new group of threats to worry about.

The split backfield set allows the offense to run the same play but present the defense with a whole new group of threats to worry about.

6. Add a separate concept to the other side of the formation

Combining two different pass concepts in the same formation isn’t anything new, but it’s important to give thought to which ones are paired together, so that they complement one another. As far as the run game goes, even putting a single receiver hitch route to the opposite side of the play can go a long way in stretching the defense horizontally.

Pass – Drive

This is one of the most popular ways to run the Drive concept out of a 2×2 set. In simplistic terms, the offense is just moving the corner route from one side of the formation to the other, however it has an added benefit of clearing out the underneath coverage to where the Drive route ends up. This results in creating a miniature flood route to the slot side of the play, and gives the offense more options in case of zone coverage or personnel mismatches.

Adding a sail concept to the backside of the formation gives the offense additional answers in case of zone coverage.

Adding a sail concept to the backside of the formation gives the offense additional answers in case of zone coverage.

Run – Power

This is a pretty simple addition to the backside of any two-back run play from under center. What really sells the play is the reversing out by the quarterback as if he’s going to turn around and hand the ball off, when in fact he’s just timing up the three-step slant by the receiver, who should just be coming into the slant window to replace the linebacker coming downhill to stop the run. Often times simple plays like this one can result in big gains.

The QB will open up and complete a 360 degree pivot which times up with the three-step slant from the X receiver.

The QB will open up and complete a 360 degree pivot which times up with the three-step slant from the X receiver.

7. Add a pass action to a run, or a run action to a pass

This may be the simplest one of all, since it doesn’t require a changing of any assignment other than the quarterback and the running back. In the case of a pass-action run, the footwork may need to be changed up a bit for the ball carrier, so that he times up his arrival at the mesh point with the pump fake by the quarterback.

Pass – Drive

In this scenario, the offense has added a simple play fake to the Drive play. Assuming the offense has a history of running some kind of downhill play, like inside zone or the power play, out of one-back sets like this one, it’s a really easy sell for the defense. As you can see, if the back doesn’t encounter any defenders coming free through the middle of the line, he still has the ability to leak out to the flat, just like before.

Adding a play fake to the Drive concept creates a whole new set of problems for the defense.

Adding a play fake to the Drive concept creates a whole new set of problems for the defense.

Run – Power

It’s not necessary to change up the backfield alignment on this play, but for the sake of demonstration the play is drawn up out of a pistol set. The quarterback pump fakes toward the X receiver running the smoke route, and then reverses out to hand off the ball to the tailback. The tailback takes an extra stutter step in order to time up the exchange properly, just like it was stated above. It should also be noted that the quarterback also has the ability to throw the route when appropriate, especially when given a wide cushion by the corner.

The quarterback pump fakes to the backside receiver and then hands off on the power play.

The quarterback pump fakes to the backside receiver and then hands off on the power play.

Conclusion

This is not a complete list, but it’s a starting point for any offensive coordinator who wants to find ways to keep the game plan simple while adding elements of deception to keep the opponent off-balance.


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