The crack toss sweep and the double crack screen against an overloaded defense

No matter what offense you run, it’s important to have counters. In the video clip below, legendary offensive line coach Alex Gibbs shows his “crack toss sweep” counter to an overloaded defense. The idea is that, if you’re successful running to the power side of the formation, defenses will often overload that side, specifically by playing man coverage and flopping their cornerbacks to cover your two split receivers, thus keeping both the numbers as well as the better run support defenders to the strong side. One possible counter is the old counter trey play, which has the advantage of getting extra linemen at the point of attack but has the disadvantage of being slow. Gibbs shows (flip to the end for the film cut-ups) a “crack” toss where one of the wide receivers cracks down on the defensive end while the playside linemen pull and lead to the outside. It’s a great, easy to install changeup.

But as Coach Gibbs notes, it’s not quite as good against zone, a primary reason being that it doesn’t necessarily account for the linebackers as opposed to just the defensive end to the pitch side. Moreover, as fast as the toss is it’s not that quick. That’s why I prefer, instead of the crack toss, a “crack screen” play. This play is faster, which then has the added benefit of better numbers at the point of attack because the offense shouldn’t need to block the defensive end as he will be outflanked.

Compare this concept to the crack toss sweep above, where the receiver has to crack the defensive end (a difficult matchup, though he really just needs to get in the way) and the defense immediately knows the run play is going that way. By contrast, on the crack screen the defense won’t know where the ball is going as the quarterback drops back from the center (or from shotgun, as shown in a moment). It’s a good play.

But the real benefit comes if the defense tries to take away the swing or crack screen with that defensive end. An example of this came in the famous Patriots-Rams Super Bowl, as part of Bill Belichick’s strategy to neutralize Rams superstar-all-everything runningback Marshall Faulk (h/t Pressbox blog):

Although the Rams also had a screen to the other side that didn’t work, that’s still the right idea — I just wouldn’t go with a middle screen. Instead the best bet is just a slow screen to the other side. Note that it’s not a perfect constraint play because the fact that the defensive end took the runningback doesn’t open up something specific, but it is an effective — and simple — way to package these plays together.

The quarterback reads the defensive end: if he stays home or rushes upfield, he simply drops it off to the runningback on the swing screen. If he takes the runningback as in the video clip above, he continues dropping and looks for the “F” on the slow screen. The rules for the linemen are simple:

  • The tackle to the crack screen side releases flat down the line of scrimmage looking to block #1 from the sideline (typically the cornerback), as the two receivers are responsible for #2 and #3 from the sideline (not counting the defensive end).
  • The guard to the crack screen side’s job is difficult, as he must prevent immediate penetration to that side. Typically he steps to the swing side looking to cut off pursuit, but he must block the most dangerous threat.
  • The tackle to the slow screen side pass sets, forcing the pass rush to come from the outside.
  • The other guard and center pass set for two counts and then release flat down the line of scrimmage as they do on a normal screen play.
  • The slow screen runner pass sets for two counts, looking to actually make contact with a defender, and then slides off and turns his numbers back to the quarterback.

From a single-back set it’s still possible to use the double screen with a crack/swing screen to one side and a slower one to the other. But instead of a slow runningback screen, you simple run a receiver screen to the other side.

The rules are essentially the same except receiver screen rules are used to the other side: The slot receiver blocks out on the #1 defender from the sideline (the cornerback); the receiver screen side tackle pass sets; and the guard and center pass set for one count then release flat down the line of scrimmage and block #2 and #3 from the sideline, respectively. (As a practical note, I recommend only practicing this in one direction; flipping the play simply doubles the practice time required to get good at it.) Below are examples of the crack/double screen and then just an example of a receiver screen.

  • Teo

    Someone who does this a lot is Rich Rodriguez; there’s lots of west virginia/michigan film in which he has a swing screen on one side and a wr screen on the other. Cool stuff 🙂

  • Mr.Murder

    Al Saunders also does this, was a staple play of the KC Chiefs when he was there with Vermeil in the big rushing season for Preiest Holmes.

    Have that Gibbs clinic loaded. Was trying to get the LUu line drills from google video to load on my LG phone so I could show some players the techniques and drills in practice.

  • Grady

    It seems Meyer ran this type of play a few years ago. I remember Tate Casey, the TE, line up to the outside, go in motion, and crack the DE. It was marvelous to watch. I never did see it run much, though. I don’t remember too much about the play, but just Tate cracking down on some poor sap.

  • Mr.Murder

    The cutups you had(Houston or Tech vs. Longhorns) had a nice tunnel screen where the slot kickouts the corner and the tackle leads that way out afterwards. If they are in man it takes the two contain/alley players out and lets the screen target take it straight upfield.

  • Mr.Murder

    The cutups you had(Houston or Tech vs. Longhorns) had a nice tunnel screen where the slot kickouts the corner and the tackle leads that way out afterwards. If they are in man it takes the two contain/alley players out and lets the screen target take it straight upfield.

  • Plunkettr

    I remember the New York Giants (with Sean Payton as OC) ran a similar double screen play in the ’00 super bowl against the Ravens. Diagram is here- on pg 440. Video of game is also on youtube, look for the first couple possessions of the game.

  • John Butler

    I’m sure the 49ers cracked the DE on their toss sweep vs. the Saints.