• Offensive Strategies: Running Game

    Running Game

    The most basic philosophy in the running game is to outnumber the defense at the point of attack, create better blocking angles by formation and thus having a leverage advantage and finally run to where they are not. I believe Chris Brown at smartfootball.com tagged this ďNumbers, Leverage, GrassĒ when breaking down Boise.

    Before getting into the running game we must gain a basic understanding of defensive alignment and how the defense must remain gap sound in run support. Brophy has done an excellent job of explaining this over at his blog here. so I am only going to hit the highlights.

    First off every offensive formation will have five offensive linemen creating six gaps (outside the tackle, tackle/guard and guard/center gaps to each side of the line) for the defense to defend. The defense will typically answer with 6 defenders in the box:

    As more potential blockers are introduced into the formation the defense must answer by bringing more defenders into the box or risk being out numbered at the point of attack:

    Adding a fullback into the backfield creates a +1 blocker, in other words because of his alignment in the backfield he can potentially create an extra gap to either side of the offensive formation. Because of this threat the defense will respond by aligning one more defender in the box:

    If the defense is not going to align in such a way to defend all possible gaps the simplest answer on offense is to run right at them where you have a numbers advantage. Now, what happens when the defense aligns in such a way that they have one more defender than you can block? To start off this defender is called an overhang defender and is defined simply as a standing defensive end or linebacker or possibly a rolled down safety outside the box for which the offense does not have the means to block.

    Because the offense does not have the means to block an overhang defender it is critical for the offense to check away from the overhang player if they can help it and this will be the prime decision point for the offense in the running game.

    So how does the offense run away from an overhang defender and still make sure they are in a successful play? This brings me to the concept of play packaging.

    Play Packaging

    Play packaging is a way for the offense to marry plays together in order to take advantage of the defense. There are three different concepts in play packaging I will be covering:
    • Run/Run Check - this is packaging different run plays together so that based on the front you can check to the running play that puts you in the best possible situation.
    • Run/Run Motion Check Ė this is using optional motion in the running game to help supplement the called running play based upon the defensive front.
    • Run/Pass Check Ė this is another way for the offense to pick up 5 yards based upon the alignment of the defense by checking to a quick pass.

    The philosophy behind using these checks is first and foremost to play downhill, by putting blockers at an advantage either through numbers or leverage the offense is able to scheme in such a way to give itself a higher percentage of success. Secondly, by using a system of checks the offense is able to limit the number of things it must practice against and thus becomes more proficient in the plays called as you now only have to learn the reads for certain plays against for example a 1- or 3-technique. Third it allows the offense to have answers for defensive unpredictability by having built in answers for this unpredictability thus allowing the offense to check into positive plays or at the very least check out of negative plays. Finally, by having these checks in place the offense will force vanilla looks by the defense as the defense attempts to protect itself from being exposed.

    Run/Run Checks

    There are two ways to define the Run/Run check, you can dictate the play and choose a side or you can dictate the side and choose the play. By dictating the play and choosing a side you are able to utilize attitude plays where you ďfind a way to run itĒ; this concept also allows you to never run at an overhang defender. The drawback is that the play can get directed away from your best blockers or into the boundary. This type of concept is front driven which I will get into here in a bit.

    Another way to run this concept is to dictate the side and choose the play based on the defensive alignment. This style fits more of a multiple running attack and allows the offense to run behind your best blockers, the drawbacks here are that you can be forced into running at overhang defenders. This type of concept is Tight/Wide edge driven which I will get into here in a bit.

    Going further into the run/run checks we must now define ďAĒ and ďBĒ sides. The B-side is the side of the ball where there is a defensive lineman within half a man of the B-gap; in other words, a defensive lineman in a 2, 3, 4, or 4i alignment. It is called the B-side because the defensive lineman closest to the center on that side is likely responsible for the B-gap.

    The A-side then is simply the side of the ball where there is no defensive lineman within half a man of the B-gap; in other words, there is no 2, 3, 4 or 4i technique present. It is called the A-side because the defensive lineman nearest the center to that side is likely an A-gap defender.

    Why does this matter to the offense? Well typically certain runs are preferred to attack a certain look, for example to the A-side you would typically run Inside Zone from under center or QB Wrap from the shotgun, whereas to the B-side you would typically run Power O, Zone Read and for you Flexbone fans out there Midline.

    The next terminology I am going to cover is tight and wide edge for when you are checking certain plays to the same side, in other words you have dictated that you want to run the play to the right side and you want to choose the play that is best to run to the right.

    A wide edge refers to a side of a defense where the widest player on the line of scrimmage is an outside shade, a 5- or 9-technique.



    If on the other hand the furthest down lineman on the line of scrimmage is in a head-up or inside technique, a 4- or 4i-technique or a 6- or 6i-technique (sometimes referred to as a 7-technique) this would be referred to as a tight edge.


    6i- or 7-technique

    Again, why does this matter to the offense? A lot of the reach block plays (outside zone) work well versus a tight edge as the reach block at the point of attack happens more easily and gap block plays work better versus a wide edge as there is an easier kick-out angle for the backside guard.

    Motion Checks

    Within the running game motion can be used as a tool to solve some of the problems in conjunction with the other ideas Iíve covered. One of these tools is simply motioning a receiver across the formation that then blocks an overhang defender if an overhand exists to the call side, if there is no overhang defender there is no need to use motion.

    Here we could be running outside zone to the twins side, however there is an overhang, by motioning the wing TE we can take care of him.

    This type of motion would work by predetermining the side, choosing the best play that would allow for a successful run based upon the edge presented by the defense then motioning another blocker to handle any unexpected overhang defenders.

    Another type of motion which is typically used from a balanced formation will put a tight end or inside receiver in motion to the call side to be a kick out or bonus blocker. This is typically used against defenses that do not make a major adjustment to motion, allowing the offense to gain numbers at the point of attack.

    Here we could be running Inside Zone to the strong side, by motioning the wing TE we could gain an extra blocker.

    This type of motion is typically used in conjunction with A-side/B-side checks where the offense will choose the best side based upon the play called then motion another blocker to help supplement the run.

    Again this is typically not the best motion concept when defenses make wholesale when presented with motion.

    Run/Pass Check

    This type of check has a built in exploit for a defense that rotates a safety into the direction the offense wants to run. This type of check is particularly valuable with advent of fire zone defenses because in many cases the rotation of the safety will be a big indicator for zone dog or zone pressure type looks and in general you will want to have a conviction about running away from the fire zone, and certainly you want to throw routes that work away from the fire zone so you are isolating the SCIF player on the backside.

    Another concept that can be used within the Run/Pass check is one where we are looking at a specific defender, typically the in-between overhang player like that Will linebacker that canít quite decide if he wants to walk out and play the slot receiver or stay inside and play the run threat or a nickel player whoís trying to be half in the box/half out of the box. You will typically see this type of defender once you have established the ability to run the ball from spread sets and your opponent starts blitzing from the outside or manually takes control of him to help out their struggling run defense. Using this check the offense can take advantage of this player by again using the quick passing game:

    Or the screen game:

    Putting it all Together

    In my Pro-Style offense I generally only run five different running plays: Inside Zone, Outside Zone, Power, Counter\Misdirection and Draw. I believe these five plays give me the best ability to account for the different looks a defense could present while also providing runs for both the A- and B-Side as well as tight and wide edges.

    Before I get into how you can utilize these different plays within different offensive looks Iíll first cover how each play is used:

    Inside Zone is an A-side running play which can be run into either a tight or wide edge. When running this play your read is the 1-technique or A-side defensive tackle. If he flows play side you will cut the ball back underneath him, conversely if he stays inside you will run the ball right behind the guard to the play side.

    The Outside Zone play is a tight edge running play that can be run towards either an A- or B-Side. When running this play your read is the second down lineman outside the center (a shaded nose guard does not count). Do not read the outside linebacker. If the down linemanís helmet goes inside, turn the ball up field just outside of him. If his helmet goes outside, you will then read the next inside down lineman. If that helmet also goes outside, cut the ball back across his face. If his helmet goes inside, cut the ball up field between him and the first read.

    Power is a B-side run that can be run into a wide edge. This is a gap scheme and your aim is at the C-gap or the outside hip of the play side tackle that will have a down block on the B-gap defender. The backside guard should pull around and lead you up through the hole.

    I donít run the base counter play where the two guards are pulling as I do not like the angles of the down blocks when facing an over or under front. Now, if you want to align in Ace Big and the defense aligns in a balanced front by all means this would be a good play, instead I use the Counter/Misdirection plays out of Ace Ė Twin TE, Ace Ė F Pair Twins and Ace Bunch Base. There may be a few other plays that match these where there is only one lineman pulling with the second puller or kick out blocker being an H-Back or Fullback. This play is an A-side run that can be run into a wide edge. Just like Power this is a gap scheme and your aim is the C-gap or the outside hip of the play side tackle, unlike power however this is a weak side run whereas Power is a strong side run.

    The draw is a B-side run which is used as a change up in the passing game, tight/wide edge does not matter for this run as the offensive line is trying to invite an up field rush and lock the defender to the outside.

    Using Formations to set up the Defense

    Before you can begin to take advantage of a defense by way of formation you first must understand what their plan is. Does the defense formation match to stay gap sound, will they rotate a safety down versus two backs? How does the defense react to motion? What is the defenses plan against trips sets; do they rotate the coverage to the trips side? How does the defense play against Ace Big? Does the defense match personnel or do they simply walk a linebacker out or rotate a safety to cover the slot?

    Once you know the answers to these questions you can begin to formulate a plan of attack, so early on in the game you need to start to decode the defensive puzzle and if you donít get something you expect use the checks to put yourself in a good position, now as the game goes along youíll gather more information about the defense and may not have to use as many checks.

    With that said letís look at some of the ways you can use formations to take advantage of the defense.

    The simplest way you can start to probe a defense is to come out in I-Form Normal and pick your favorite running play. How does the defense react? Do they stay in a 2-high shell? Do they rotate a safety down and if they rotate a safety down is it to the strong side of the formation? Obviously if they stay in a 2-high shell you have them outnumbered to the strong side of the formation so keep running the ball at them. Use your checks to determine the best play available.

    If they rotate a safety down to the strong side are they playing a tight or wide edge to the backside? If they are playing a tight edge you are at an advantage as you now have an easy means to get outside and there is no secondary support (big gain possibly).

    Now that you know how they react to I-Form Normal find out how they react to a twins set, do they bring the corner over in man coverage? If they bring him over in man coverage do they rotate the safety down to the tight end side to stay gap sound? Again use your checks to put yourself in the best play available.

    Now that we know the answers here letís move on to Ace Slot, do they rotate the safety down to play the slot or do they stay in a 2-deep shell and walk a linebacker out or do they match personnel and bring in a nickle? Same questions with trips formations.

    If they walk a linebacker out is it a tight edge or wide edge to that side? If itís a tight edge run the stretch play, if itís a wide edge use power or counter/misdirection.


    This isnít a guide where I show you how to run these plays but itís merely a systematic approach to attacking a defense in the running game. This more to provoke thoughtís on how this approach may be incorporated into the system you already run as a lot of the concepts here will carry over into the spread or Flexbone offense, just the names of the plays change.

    I hope this approach will help you in your offensive endeavors.

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