Advanced Trends in Packaged Reads and Concepts

This article is by Patrick McCarthy. You can follow him on twitter at @patdmccarthy. Any and all questions are encouraged. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he played and coached in France and Sweden while also coaching at St. Thomas Aquinas HS (KS) and Neenah HS (WI). Since then he has coached at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Southwest Minnesota State University, Culver-Stockton College and most recently as the Head Coach of the Kuwait Gridiron Football National Team.

Decisions, decisions

This spring I had the opportunity to visit the practices of several college programs in the Midwest. My primary focus was on the offensive side of the ball, and a recurring theme with all teams (and has been noted before) was the proliferation of read run plays and how they are packaged with other concepts, whether run or pass. Many of the following plays are in a similar vein as attaching a run play toStick’. The majority of teams also pair these concepts with an up-tempo no huddle while giving their quarterback the freedom to take any of the options or check into another play. Multiplicity within one play call through packaged concepts and the willingness for Coordinators to let the players on the field determine what the defense is giving them for the taking appears to be the direction that offenses are taking in the foreseeable future. Another interesting trend was that an increasing amount of teams are incorporating gun run concepts into non-traditional spread personnel groups (21/12 personnel groups) and out of the Pistol backset.

Many of the advancements of the sport in the last 10-15 years have been based off of the zone read, subsequent adjustments — reading the defensive tackle, or the linebacker (which I will call Key for clarification for the duration of the article) — and the defense’s response in the ever evolving battle of “who-has-the-chalk-last-wins.”

Below are some wrinkles off of the Read/Key concept packaged with other schemes that I encountered this spring.

The first play that we’ll look at is not a packaged concept, but instead simply an adjustment off of the zone read. Of little consequence is the Pistol backset as far as scheme — the thought process for coordinators is that it allows the Back to get downhill easier as well as masking any potential tendency tip-offs based on backset.

What is of interest is the Fullback taking a path to kickout the End then bypassing him to block the force player. This path by the Fullback counteracts the scrapeexchange by the End and Linebacker while also being sound against teams that look to spill on a kickout block. (See also here.)

The next play is not earth-shattering, as it simply adds a bubble screen as a pre-snap sight adjustment to the zone read with the “pitch” or “third option” being a bubble screen away from the zone. With the offense in 10 personnel, most defenses would like to stay in a two-high shell, but the horizontal stress of seven blockers and four possible ball carriers make that difficult.

The first iterations of the zone read were primarily inside zone with the quarterback as the backside constraint occupying the defensive end. As offenses and defenses have evolved, there have been more plays that stress the frontside of the defense. Building off of this teams have begun to implement a Fly Sweep/Quarterback Stretch to the same side. While I don’t think it will become widespread, this spring I saw film of a the Back being used as the dive and pitch on the Stretch Key-Option. I am not sure what the read progression is, and I would be hesitant having it as a mainstay in my playbook, but it is certainly an intriguing concept.

The majority of runs can be classified into either zone schemes or gap schemes. For simplicity, zone schemes have no pullers while gap schemes have one or more pullers. In the last couple of years Read concepts have been introduced into gap scheme plays as well, such as the InvertedVeer / QB PowerO Read. Below is that concept paired with a swing screen to occupy the end, as opposed to occupying him with a fly sweep.

This same QB Power O / Swing Screen pairing can be easily adapted to incorporate the Key concept as well. Out of 20 personnel, the Fullback kicks out the End while the removed linebacker (Sam) is the Key. If he expands with the Swing Screen, the quarterback runs the Power. If he fills inside, the quarterback flips the ball to the runningback in the flat.

While there is nothing revolutionary in any of the above, the continued evolution of concepts and varying personnel groups packaged together, which will inevitably be merged further with adjustments and modifications we haven’t even guessed at yet, is itself revolutionary — as football strategy is always in a constant state of revolution with itself. And this fall, expect those recent mainstays, the zone read and the key series, to continue to be a central part of that eternal revolution.

  • Scott Dangler

    Thank you for the informative post.

    What mechanics do you teach to the QB regarding the swing screen?  Does he step to the Power or is the read totally pre-snap?  Is is a throw, an option-type pitch, a fly toss?

  • LonghornScott

    Great stuff.  The manipulation of the edge of the box seems to be at the heart of the contention right now.  The h-back role is becoming more and more central to that plan.  It’s interesting that while it’s true that the way the diversity in the run game is being developed allows for a lot of overlap for the offensive line: they still have the same zone and gap series, it’s also true that the fullbacks, h-backs, and tight ends are getting more and more on their plates.  What I love is that the guy on the roster who is willing to knock the snot out of anyone you put in front of him is being valued again.

  • Always topical but when using the “bubble” as an example the diagram should match the video (3x vs. 2x ???) c`Mon man !

  • NoHuddleAirRaidForTheWin

    “What I love is that the guy on the roster who is willing to knock the
    snot out of anyone you put in front of him is being valued again.”

    That guy has always been valued, it’s just that they have been valued almost exclusively on the offensive line for the last 10-15 years rather than at the skill spots and the offensive line.

  • Scott –
    I have not been part of a staff where the Power O Read/Key was implemented with any regularity. Different schools that I visited this spring had different mechanics. Some would set up to throw the swing, some would take a power path with the QB and he would jump toss it backward as a mix somewhere between an option pitch and a true swing pass. Essentially it was a matter of personal preference and coaching style in conjunction with the type of offense. Some want to run the power until the defense takes it away, others want to throw the swing until that is taken away. From what I saw the QB’s read was post-snap, but depending on the skill level it could easily be incorporated as a pre-snap read.

    I apologize for the vague answer, but it does vary from team to team. 

    Thanks for reading and contributing. 

    – Pat

  • salt_bagel

    The action where you fake to the back and then use the same guy as the pitch man was used by Nebraska several times a game through the second half of last season. It seemed to really confuse perimeter players and open running angles on the outside. 

  • Think the F Go and using a front side bubble will force the defense to commit horizontally better and confuse their assignments on the perceived kickout blocker who becomes a receiver. Best thing about it he can always plant his foot like a Stick route if it is F Option and get the kind of yards you like from a handoff. These plays seem to hide some of the deep alley force commit ability, in the way a vertical stem challenges pattern read help to a defense at the deep level. They prevent fast rotation over the outside so that corner can’t jump into the mix. These new series make a nice item to outflanking a defense, the more ways you can do it, the better results, because it hides you attacking the same defensive structure. Similar to the same way he showed Stick and Smash on Y Stick/Y Corner working that outside quadrant. Malzahn used a sniffer back like that final play diagram, and Green Bay has in the Pros. Keeps a good protection item against interior blitzers and can disguise some their pull keys.

  • Why not read and key both? Use an influence block by having the FB work outside the end’s shoulder, forcing him to widen despite having stepdown rules. The end can run self off the front side and let you get a key blocker on the ‘backer at the same time. He has to step down because you walled the front on angle block rules. The ball is deep enough to read around a false step by the end. You still have a screen outlet if he tracks to  the keeper.