Musical Chairs: Packaged Plays and the Evolution of “Option” Football

This article was written by Keith Grabowski, offensive coordinator at Baldwin Wallace University. You can follow him on twitter at @CoachKGrabowski, and see his monthly columns at American Football Monthly, where he posts new articles on the first and third Tuesdays of each month.

pistol-cropThe option play has gained a resurgence in football with the popularity of the spread offense. Relying heavily on the run, option football forces a defense to be disciplined and play their responsibilities. It’s still a very sound way to attack defenses, but requires a commitment to running those base plays over and over. The spread has allowed teams that attack with option and to carry an effective passing attack that utilizes the spread to get the ball to players in space. The zone read and bubble have become a staple for spread option teams as well.

Option is no longer limited to teams who utilize the traditional dive back, pitch back type of runs. Two-in one plays or packaged plays are the new trend in offense that has the stick-draw concept at the forefront of this trend. What teams are finding ways to do is to isolate a defender in space and make him be in two places at once which makes one of those spaces a clean void to attack.

It’s no longer limited to receivers running bubble or spread formations. The quarterback doesn’t necessarily need to be the runner any more in these new option plays, but as with the traditional option, he must be a great decision maker and execute the plays efficiently.

Having a running quarterback is a bonus, because he can makes some of these types of option plays attack a little cleaner that having to read for a pass and then execute hand-off mechanics. We found this true with our version of the stick-draw play that allowed our quarterback to be the runner.

The video below shows how we isolate the linebacker, allow the quarterback to keep his vision, and attack the void in the defense with either a pass or a run. More on our version of this play can be viewed here.

Offenses are beginning to do more things outside of the stick/draw, stick/screen and zone bubble realm. For example, take a double tight, double flank formation against a 4-3. With 3 linebackers between the tight ends and two-high safeties the flat has a void that can only be filled on the snap of the ball by a rotating safety or a linebacker leaving the tackle box. Baylor had some interesting wrinkles in packaged plays when Robert Griffin III played for them in attacking this type of defense. In an outside zone read play that makes RG III the decision maker, but not the runner, he executes a read on the backside defensive end and linebacker who are the nearest defenders to the tight end into the boundary. In this play the wide receiver takes a forced outside release vertical route to take the corner out of the play.

The tight end works through the outside shoulder of the defensive end and runs a flat route. If the defensive end widens, the quarterback gives the ball to the running back on the zone play. If the defensive end closes on the run RGIII pulls the ball and throws it to the TE open in the flat. The play relies on the defense playing the run and leaving the boundary flat open. Defenses can have an answer to stop this by rolling a safety to the boundary flat, but that leaves them vulnerable in other areas and in effect they are rolling away from where the ball is being run which is less than ideal for them.

The linebacker can’t play the run and cover the flat at the same time, and the QB reading him can make him wrong however he reacts. It’s the 12 personnel equivalent of running the zone-read-bubble. The below clip shows an example at the 5:48 mark.

We have experimented with some of these ideas as well. Our version of this is below. The wide receiver should have executed his force outside release and take then corner out.

Packaged run with a Rhythm Throw. Though I’m not sure the play immediately following on the clip has a built in constraint or is just a called play action, it certainly presents another possibility in the realm of packaged plays. Package a run flowing hard one way with a receiver working a quick rhythm route in behind a linebacker who is being pulled to his run fit on the other side. Baylor pulls a guard on this play, but it could be done with wide zone blocking as well. That linebacker cannot flow and stop any kind of cut back and play the void behind him. The offensive line can fully block the run and not be illegally down field because the ball is out very quickly. The QB simply needs to read the backside linebacker. This idea of packaging a rhythm throw with a run that pulls linebackers away from that route has many possibilities.

More possibilities. We used some of Paul Boudreau’s “Leave Two” concept this past season. Many college and pro teams are using this play. The whole idea of having a packaged play is that it allows you to have a built in answer on that play rather than seeing from the press box that they didn’t respect the naked fake, for example, and then calling naked on the next play. That goes into the chess match part of coaching. They may have seen from the box that they didn’t defend the naked fake well and do something anticipating your call. What a packaged play does is make the defense wrong in that play, not the next one.

In the video, the tight end ruins a flat route on the snap of the ball. The offensive line pushes their zone combos one man further leaving two defenders on the backside for the fullback. If the end gets upfield the fullback will pull through for the linebacker. The quarterback is executing a naked fake after the hand-off. Obviously, if the coaches in the press box see the end crashing, a naked will be called very soon. The first play on the goal line is an example of this concept, as is the play at 2:52 in the open field that the Falcons run with much more success.


The play action and naked off of this run is very effective as well. Here is a naked pass off of the “leave two” zone play.

The leave two zone concept was a play we ran in 2012. We did experiment with the idea of packaging this play as a read of the flat defender, and we believe it has potential. This was simply a “what if” we had in practice and told our quarterback to read the flat defender to see what happened. In this example our quarterback gives the ball to the running back, but he is reading the flat to see if the defense has anyone there to defend it. Two defenders react out allowing our running back a clean lane. We don’t have any video the throw off of the play, but obviously if the defense wants to sit in the box on the run, the quarterback can make them pay.

The limits to this seem only to be a coach’s creativity in finding ways to make a single defender wrong no matter what the defender does. Like the traditional option, these plays do require repetition and sound execution by the quarterback. The advantage seems to be that the reads are very clean, and the quarterback doesn’t have to take a hit in the execution of the play. Now the drop back quarterback becomes even more dangerous in executing the run game when it is packaged with some type of quick throw.

Follow Coach Grabowski on Twitter @coachkgrabowski

  • davecisar

    Great stuff as always- at the youth level- we take out the first option- it is called based on what we see the defense consistently doing, the second option is the QBs decision- and yes many of these are pass plays off of initial run action. Has been very effective out of the SIngle WIng

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