Ok, so in the NFL Fan School, we’ve had a look at some of the more common offensive passing plays as well as the more common formations they use. Now it’s time to wrap up the offensive stuff with the running plays before we move on to the defensive side of the ball.
Although people keep saying that the NFL is a pass-first league (which it is), the running game is still as important as it ever has been but,perhaps, in a different way. This is simply because you can’t expect to win lots of games if you don’t have a running game and the defense knows what you’re going to do in any given situation. A good example of that, for me, would be the 2016 Detroit Lions. They had a good team but their starting running backs got injured and, although they made it to the Wildcard round of the playoffs, they struggled more and more as the season went on. They got knocked out of the playoffs by a convincing score of 26-6 by the Seattle Seahawks as their offense struggled.
So, the running game is still important, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Let’s have a look at some of the running plays a team’s offense could use.
Plunge / Dive
This is the most basic of running plays and is a straight ahead, brute force type of play.
All of the illustrations I have done are showing the offense in the “Pro Formation” but all of the plays we’ll go through here can, and do, have many variations and can be run from many different formations.
This play goes straight ahead through a hole opened up by the offensive linemen. In the illustration above I have the halfback (HB) running through a hole between the center (C) and guard (G) but it could be designed to go through a hole created between the guard and tackle (T) instead. Simply put, it’s a quick play up the middle in order to gain short yardage.
This is another of the more simple plays and is also one of the more common ones used.
This isn’t too dissimilar to the “Plunge” play above. In the “Off Tackle” play the running back runs around the end of the offensive line usually at roughly just outside the spot the tackle (T) started from. He is led through the hole, in my version above, by the fullback (FB), as usual when he’s in the backfield, but is also now led by a pulling guard from the left side of the line (weak side in this formation as it’s the side the tight end (TE) didn’t set up on). Another thing about this play is what the running back/halfback (HB) does when he gets to the end of the line. He has a decision to make as to whether he’ll cut up field (like in my version) or carry on running out a bit wider before cutting up field in an attempt to gain yards. This is where you need a running back with good vision and an ability to spot what’s going on in front of him. If no running lanes have opened up in front of him by the time he gets to the end of the line he might be better off going further out wide.
Normally this is another brute force type of running play.
In the “Off Tackle” play above I mentioned about the running back maybe having to go out wide looking for a hole to cut up field through in his attempt to gain yards. Well, the “Sweep” is actually designed to go out wide to get those yards.
As you can see from the illustration above, this play goes further out wide and the running back doesn’t try to cut up field until after he has got outside of where the tight end (TE) initially lined up. Also, you may have noticed that both the guards (G) from the offensive line have pulled from their positions in an attempt to create a running lane for the HB to use.
Again, this play too can go out further than my illustration shows depending on how the blocks are developing by the time the running back gets to where he’s thinking about making his cut.
Usually, you’d have your speedy running back in the lineup for this play as it can be a long way out to where he’s looking to cut up field and, once he does, a faster HB will stand more chance of exploiting the more open field on the outside.
Ok, back to running up the middle for this one. The “Trap” is designed to be exactly that, a trap for a defensive lineman.
What happens on this play looks pretty similar to the “Dive/Plunge” but it isn’t. Those plays are pure and simple short yardage, “Our guys are stronger than your guys” kind of plays where the running back will literally dive to get the yard or so needed, whereas this one attempts to keep the running back on his feet as he goes through the hole.
The guard (G) and tackle (T) on the side of the offensive line that the play will go to ignore the defensive lineman lined up in front of them and instead go up to block a linebacker or two (this all depends on how the defense lines up of course, but that’s one of the things that makes the game so incredible to watch once you have an idea of what’s going on). This defensive lineman will continue on his way untouched into the backfield until the trap is sprung. It is sprung in the form of the guard (G) from the left side (weak side) of the line taking him out and away from the action before he even knows what’s hit him! He kind of gets side-swiped by this pulling guard and it’s great to see when correctly executed as a hole suddenly appears and the HB is off on his toes up field. He has a chance of getting more yards due to the original guard and tackle blocking that little further downfield at the “2nd level”.
Yet another run that can go up the middle or to the outside but with a bit of trickery, the Counter is a misdirection running play.
This play is all about making the defense think it’s going to one side but it’s actually going to the opposite direction than the blocking would suggest.
The HB, in the example above, will start this play by taking a step or two to the right making it look like the play is going that way along with the offensive linemen initially making it look like they will block like it’s going that way. The HB will then quickly cut back the opposite way, once he’s got the ball, and head off that way. Hopefully, by the time he makes his cut the defense have been fooled into thinking it’s going to the right (in the example above).
Sometimes, just to help the HB a bit more, the guard (G) on the right side (strong side as that’s the side the TE is lined up on) will pull and block any defender who’s making his way into the backfield and could tackle the HB for a loss of yards.
Another of the trick plays an offense might run to keep the defense on their toes is the “Draw Play”.
Basically, this is a play that starts out looking like a passing play but ends up being a run up the middle.
At the start of the play, the offensive line will drop back and form a “Pocket” around the QB as they would normally do on a passing play. This is the first indication that it’s a passing play. The QB will also play his part in the trickery by dropping back as he would normally do on a passing play. In the example above I have the WR’s and TE going out on pass routes which further increases the likelihood that it is indeed a passing play. I even have the FB going out into the “Flats” for a couple of reasons. Firstly he is helping it look like a pass play but, secondly, he is causing the defense to move someone out from the middle of the field to where they can cover him if he does receive a pass.
Once all this is set up and we’re convinced it’s a pass, the QB will hand the ball off to the HB who has remained in the “Pocket” with him. By now the middle of the field on the defense’s side of the field should be more vacant as they are either trying to get to the QB or off down field covering receivers. The HB runs through a hole that should have opened up somewhere in the pocket and runs as far as he can up field.
This is a great play to see when it works well as it can go for lots of yards.
Keeping on a trick type of running play, I’ll end this post with the “Reverse”. A play that lends itself well to a speedy offense.
The Reverse is another of the plays that can be put into the misdirection category. It starts off with the QB giving the ball to the HB either via a handoff or toss pass (a bit like a pass in rugby). The HB runs to the outside as if he’s going out to run a “Sweep”. Whilst this is happening, the WR who is lined up on the side which the HB is running to is making his way behind the line of scrimmage towards the QB and HB. At the point which the HB and WR cross the HB gives the ball to the WR, again via either a handoff or toss pass. It is then down to the WR to put on the after-burners and get to the open field on the opposite side.
A vital part of this play working is that the defense has been fooled into thinking the HB is running to one side and then the WR being too quick for the defense and the adjustment they will have to make to get back to the other side of the field to stop him.
It is a play that isn’t run too often as there are too many points at which something could go wrong, such as the two toss passes/handoffs. The second of the two is usually done at speed and therefore at more risk of being fumbled.
A variation to the Reverse is the “End-Around”. This is different in that the QB hands the ball off directly to the WR which removes the HB from the ball handling equation. The WR will often start off in motion before the play starts as a way of getting closer to the QB and not having to run quite so far thus reducing the risk of the play being spotted and covered by the defense.
Offensive Plays and Formations Complete
So there it is, the offensive section of the NFL Fan School is complete for now. I’m sure I’ll add to it at a later date but, for now, that should get us started and able to figure out wants going on with the offense side of things.
Next, I’ll be going on to the defense with formations first followed by schemes.
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.