Combining quick passes and a shovel pass or shovel screen

I recently discussed the evolution in combined or “packaged” plays, which involve combining quick passes, run plays, and screens to best take advantage of what ever evolving defenses throw at offenses. Since describing the concept, I’ve seen an increasing number of NFL teams use it, including the Green Bay Packers and the New York Jets, to decent if unspectacular effect.

And most interestingly, a reader pointed me to a slight wrinkle on the stick/draw combination that Oregon under Chip Kelly ran in their spring game last year: a quick pass combined with a shovel pass. See the diagram and video below (note that the diagram is not entirely accurate; I drew the “stick” concept but Oregon actually ran “spacing,” which I like as a concept but like less for this purpose).

I point this out because I actually like the quick pass plus the shovel play more than I like the draw. The blocking scheme for the line remains the same: basic draw blocking, potentially with a fold technique, though you can also try to leave a defensive end unblocked if you’re willing to read him. But doing it as a shovel pass over the draw has a number of advantages, I think.

Specifically, the shovel alleviates the biggest problem with using the draw as the run play: it’s just a fraction too slow. Now, some of this improves as the quarterback becomes a better and quicker decisionmaker, but often, as seen in the diagram below, the draw is well blocked and there’s lots of space, but a defender who is trying to get to the quarterback is also able to get a hand on the runningback to stop him for a loss. The shovel lets the runner clear the wreckage by the quarterback and get upfield more quickly.

In addition, the shovel is probably safer because if there is a lot of penetration and the exchange is mangled, the shovel is a forward pass and thus an incompletion means only a dead ball. If the handoff on the draw is busted up there is increased risk for a fumble.

The downside to doing it as a shovel is the runner has to turn his back (or at least his side) to the defense, whereas a draw runner can keep his eyes downfield. But I think the timing issues solve a lot of that problem. All in all, it’s a good adjustment and I think really improves the efficacy of the concept.

  • Troy Coll

    In ’09 when Ol’ Brittfar was with the Vikings, they would run that Pump draw a lot where Farve would fake the one-step slant and then hand off to the RB. It seemed like it was a read, because he’d throw the slant if the WR beat the DB off the line. Sometimes it seemed like the WR didn’t even know he was running a route until the ball was in the air. Pretty effective. 

  • Will Veatch

    In the first game against MSU, Wisconsin ran a sprint out pass away from the offset RB.  The RB ran a shovel path underneath the unblocked DE to the rollout side.  Wilson read the end, kept the ball on the sprintout, and passed to the slot receiver.  The DE looked like he was able to deny the shovel and still get some pressure on Wilson (but not enough to stop the completion), but it was a creative way of using a back from the opposite side of the formation to occupy an edge defender on a rollout pass.  So, there’s one way to leave a rusher unblocked as you combine shovel with a pass play.

  • Dave

    With some of those cutups from the Air Raid teams, I’m not sure if the screens going in opposite directions (tunnel screen one way and hitch screen on the other side) are actually reads, or called in. Mike Leach had an article about his triple screen where they would run a tunnel, RB and one other screen (it escapes me now) at the same time, with the same blocking scheme, and one would be thrown to, which was called into the huddle. Doesn’t take away from your article, but I thought I’d point it out.

    Great article though, and would love to read more about the packaged concepts.

  • David Kilpatrick-White

    Chris has an article with video of Dana Holgorsen drawing up the Y-stick/draw packaged concept. If watch WVU or OSU over the past few season or hear him speak they are for sure reading it…just watching the film you’d have say either Dana has an uncommon knack for knowing when the LB will drop or step up, or the QB is reading it.

  • Bmalbasa

    Chris, I like the idea of using the stick concept instead of spacing; it makes for an easier read.  That said, I think spacing with a home route and the mini-curl might be a good answer against field pressure.  What I really like about the Oregon concept is that it answers a number defensive reactions.  The way I see it, if the DE crashes, the QB is in effect speed optioning with the arrow route, if the DE widens, he is shoveling, and if he sees blitz, he works the home route to the mini curl.  What strikes me is that Oregon ran it so well in the Spring game without making it a central part of what they do.  It seems to me that such a package would be difficult to date (i.e. better to marry).

    Thank you for following up on this.

  • steviejanowski

    On the first clip, shouldn’t that be illegal man downfield?

  • Bmalbasa

    The college rules have relaxed somewhat on the illegal man down-field regulation