Only four plays in football?

While reading through some old defensive materials, I came across this quote:

Not sure which one this was

There are only four plays in football and they happen in this order:

  1. Perimeter Run
  2. 3-Step Pass
  3. Pass
  4. Inside Run

Agree or disagree? Is that helpful to think of things in that way, particularly as a defensive coach or player?

  • Disagree, completely. Inside Zone is a completely different animal than 1 Back Power. Run fits change. The puller creates a +1 and a new gap on the play side in the power. Both inside runs, both should be run inside, but not the same. 

    There are a limited number of things a player’s key can do – for example, a defensive lineman only needs to defend a block to, reach, block away (down) or pass set. But to say that every overall offensive scheme only has 4 plays is a little much.

  • Disagree, completely. Inside Zone is a completely different animal than 1 Back Power. Run fits change. The puller creates a +1 and a new gap on the play side in the power. Both inside runs, both should be run inside, but not the same. 

    There are a limited number of things a player’s key can do – for example, a defensive lineman only needs to defend a block to, reach, block away (down) or pass set. But to say that every overall offensive scheme only has 4 plays is a little much.

  • smartfootball

    I don’t disagree, but I did think it was thought provoking. I agree with you about gap/power schemes being a totally different animal for run fits. But I wondered if it wasn’t still a useful way of thinking of what an opponent is doing, or even what they are trying to throw at you on a down-to-down basis. My big concern is option, whether true triple option or the spread/read hybrid things. And I do think it puts the test to “pro-style” teams with hundreds of plays that really and truly do only those four things. But maybe it’s not helpful enough of a mental framework to be of any actual use. 

  • Tom

    What about screens?

  • Mike Corona

    I think with the current evolution of offensive football, the rising philosophy is to tend towards calling plays that contain multiple methods of attack. As offensive coordinating is very much akin to being a risk-manager (tip ‘o the hat to you, Chris), this type of philosophy is as close to a perfect investment as is currently available; the perfect play-call. With this in mind, it is no longer about attacking one space, its about attacking the open space – whereas a single play-call can encompass 1-step and 3-step throws, long with an inside or outside run.

    If you accept this, then as a defensive coordinator, it can no longer be about defending the inside run or the outside run or quick vs. drop back on a given play, it has to be about corralling the offense into only one or two (out of three to possibly four) of those ways to attack space. That can be very difficult.

    But if your dline is much better than their oline, schemes matter much less. Either way.

  • Nelson Gifford

    If you really wanted to be concise, the offense can really only do two things: Run or Pass.  To begin to distinguish between the types of runs or passes leads everyone done the path of convolution (that can inevitably take us to the town of confusion).”

    The intention of the author in that regard must be taken into consideration.  Is this simply a trite re-hash of football is a game of “blocking and tackling” (No, kidding! Here I thought we were ice fishing) or is it directed at coaches to learn to break the game down to it’s essence without distilling it to a cliche.

    Players, not coaches, are the ones who ultimately matter when it comes to understanding the components of football.  This means that whatever the coach teaches, it must be level/skill appropriate.  If I’m coaching youth football, teaching players to distinguish between a run or pass may be all I can and need to teach in order to be successful.  As my players increase in skill and and experience, so to should my analysis of the game and coaching concepts.

    When placed in the appropriate context, the author is spot on.

  • delguapo

     It’s important to note that the quote in question was referring to the the defensive backfield, not the entire defense.  In that light, inside run is the area that is least critical for perimeter players to be involved in.  To speak to your point on option, if you’re perimeter defenders play the dive, no one will be on pitch.

    I think it is a list for defensive backs that could be stated differently as:

    1.  show up against the run if you have force
    2.  if we cannot read the 3 step drop, we’ll never get off the field (particularly in college and above where even mediocre teams can complete 20 stop routes in a row).
    3.  defend the pass
    4.  once you’re sure it’s none of the others, rally to the ball on inside runs

  • CleanXMen

    I agree completely- for things like the inside zone or packaged concepts like sticks and a draw attached to the end of it- well, who says you can’t call multiple plays on a single down. The inside zone could be considered a perimeter run and an inside run, perhaps? No different than a sticks/draw being a 3 step pass and an inside run. 

    But ultimately, thought there are two options on the play, or three or four, or whatever, you are in the end only running one. 

    Thanks for positing this, Chris! Simple- but I think, anyhow, it makes a lot of sense, from the point of view of what the defense has to stop, and from the offense’s perspective of knowing this., 

  • Kevin Didio

    I understand that these are not the only 4 plays in Football.   I consider them to be the 4 basic concepts for predicting an offense. As a coach- sometimes it is good to keep things simple- from a defensive standpoint you can use these 4 plays or scenerios to pu t your defense at ease and remind them that ” hey you got a 25% chance of being right on any play!” 🙂

  • Alex Gibbs zone conversation. There’s wide zone, there’s tight zone, there’s play passing. Add quicks, dropback passing, and screens. Six plays.

  • S. West____

    Agree – although I would  add roll-out/bootleg/naked type passes in there as well.

    I am a HC/DC and at the HS level you see so many different offensive schemes in a season – some without benefit of much (or any) tape at times. I do less of defending specific plays and more defending certain ‘gaps’ or areas of attack.

    It really doesn’t matter to me as a DC if you attack the C-Gap area with a simple ISO/Lead, Power/Counter, or G-scheme (where playside G pulls & kicks). My DLs rules do NOT change, my LB fits remain the same – we coach aiming points on the RB (Force – outside shoulder, Plug – inside shoulder, Cutback – scrape…slow)

    No matter how you attack that gap/area that is what you are still doing. How you attack it can make a difference, but its mostly based on match-ups and you personnel. 

  • Jim_Urban

    You can break it down even more simply (there are only two types of plays: run and pass). Or, you could break it down in more ways than Benjamin Buford Blue (Bubba from “Forest Gump”) breaks down shrimp. In the end, I don’t think it really makes a difference from a practical standpoint.

  • zkinter36

    Although trying to say that there are only four plays in football is kinda ridiculous in a literal context, it is helpful from a defensive standpoint to categorize plays in a manner that facilitates reads.

    Run Reads:

    Pass Reads:
      5 step/7 step
      3 step

  • Paul Meisel

    I like Alex Gibbs’ six plays, plus option, which can go inside or outside.

    I really don’t think pulling lineman and man blocking, vs. zone blocking, matters a lot in terms of broad planning.  It does matter a lot when you are getting to specific reads and fits for linemen and linebackers.

    Just like the defense can play 2 gap or 1 gap or a hybrid, the offense can man block or zone block.  But before they do, they have made a decision to run the ball and to which part of the line.

  • Think this is arriving at the conclusion for the Holgorsen method. He found a way to conflict those four keys and their progressions with the way his system isolates force and essentially attacks both run and pass responsibilities for said player. The next step, where Dana’s team delivers big result, was a way to anticipate rotations as a response to helping those two calls and make certain that the third part of the option is secure and/or scores big. The old option you pitched, sometimes blindly, for how a defense exchange/spilled when working with force. You could get fumbles and always got the QB hit, the new system runs the passer less frequently but for good gains and gets the ball away before hits get near. Then
    Mahlzan gets this huge fullback read who can throw and see the entire field, and combines new concepts by changing one traditional player on reads or checkdowns(back to Air Raid/BYU special calls in how they evolve). Suddenly Gus increased the stress placed on assignment defense to new levels, in similar ways.  The fact the calls consist of combined concepts means execution in any one phase can remain fundamentally sound.

  • eccdogg

    Right, this was refering to keys for defensive backs.  In that context I think it is pretty valid.

    What I find interesting about that Wake playbook is the way they play thier quarters coverage.  If you read the assignments it looks like vs the run the safety away from the play rotates to the deep middle.  So they play quarters agaist the pass or pass actions and 3 deep against the run or run actions.

  • stanbrown

    There are really only 3 plays — run, pass, kick.  Of course, there are only 2 kinds of coaches — dead, alive (or employed/unemployed). 

    The 4 play division is meaningless drivel.