Stanford Play Action

One of my favorite offenses to watch is Stanford.  I admire how they pound the ball from various personnel groups and formations, and are able to get big plays in the play action game.

Below I will break down a few of the different play action concepts Stanford uses with unyielding success.

  1. Power Pass – Basic concept used by most teams in the country.  Stanford does this often to a Nub side, forcing the defense to condense down and defend a run heavy formation. This play aims to capitalize on a corner or safety getting over aggressive in the run game, and allowing the TE or back to get behind them. They bring the lone WR on a short motion, to make his drag route get across the formation quicker.  One interesting thing Stanford does is to release the RB on the flat route and leave the FB in to block.  Many teams slip the FB out and have the RB block on power pass.  The OL slides away from the play and the FB blocks the playside edge.  The RB fakes off tackle and attacks the front pylon of the end zone.

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In the clip below I break down a game clip of this play.

2. FB Wheel – From another run heavy formation, Stanford fakes to the RB and the QB sets up in the pocket.  The lone WR and playside TE attack vertically down the numbers and seam, this pulls the deep coverage with them.  The FB widens at the snap and runs a wheel route.  His route ends up following the vertical routes and he is able to settle in a wide open space cleared out by the vertical routes.  The backside TE works the middle of the field to get open as a check down option for the QB

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In the clip below I break down a game clip of this play.

3. 3 verticals Switch – From a heavy personnel set, Stanford uses the 2 TEs to widen the safeties and open up the middle of the field.  The boundary TE widens on a vertical route.  The field TE widens with his release and runs a corner route to occupy the safety over him.  The Wing (on the wideside) works vertically with some width, and crosses underneath the TE’s corner route.  This “Switch” or criss crossing gets him wide open

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In the clip below I break down a game clip of this play.

4. Wheel – In this concept Stanford fakes a perimeter run, in this case their Rb quick toss (with power influence blocking) .  By stacking the WRs by formation, they are able to cross their route stems.  The outside WR pushes vertically and settles inside.  The slot works wide like he is attacking the corner to block him, and then turns it into a wheel route.

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In the clip below I break down a game clip of this play.

5. RB Wheel – From a 2 back (splitback) set, Stanford shows inverted veer, or power read in the backfield.  The blocking scheme sets this play up.  They would often have the single WR crack the LB, and put the playside RB (in this case Christian McCaffrey) on the CB.  On this play action, C-Mac is actually running a wheel as the corner follows the #1 WR inside, and the safety flies up to aggressively force the run.

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In the clip below I break down a game clip of this play.

Conclusion: Stanford is able to protect their best run concepts by having answers in the play action game.  The play action pass concepts Stanford uses look just like their top run concepts, and are designed to attack specific defenders who are being overly aggressive, and vacating their pass coverage responsibilities in order to make plays in the run game.  Stanford’s play action game is efficient, and is a balanced mix of quick hitting routes, vertical routes, and wheel routes.  From the examples above it is clear that the wheel route in various fashions is a main concept in their offense and provides big play potential.  In the clips above Stanford was able to get big plays on wheel routes to a slot, a FB, and a RB.

 

Michigan Power Pass

The “Power Pass” is a play action flood concept used by most teams and is a valuable tool for a run heavy offense to take advantage of the defense’s aggressiveness in stopping the run game.  There are some variations but you will typically see a deep route from  a WR, an out breaking route from a TE on the playside, and a FB flat route from the backfield.  The QB and RB will sell a hard run fake to the play side.

This is a part of our base offense and we usually see a wide open TE or FB because of the defense’s reaction to what looks like a run play.

I saw Michigan run this type of concept early in the Citrus Bowl against Florida.  One interesting thing Michigan did was to run it from a heavy personnel group.  They were in what I call “Jumbo” which is 22 personnel (2 backs, 2 TEs, 1 WR).

By using a TE on the backside of the play (rather than an X WR split out wide) it allows a short drag route to immediately fill space vacated by the playside LB.

Here is a diagram of the play from double tight.

IMG_4525

In the clip below I give a brief summary and analysis of the play.  You will see the corner take the WR, and the safety play the Right TE on the out right.  The Sam LB triggers on the run fake but does an excellent job of recognizing the FB flat route and redirecting to cover him.  The Mike LB fills and continues to rush at the QB.  With the Safety and Sam covering other players, and the Will and backside secondary players trailing by alignment, it leaves a natural hole for the left TE to drag in to.

Protection:

There are different ways to protect power pass, many teams will pull a guard to sell the exact same blocking action.  Michigan uses the simplest and safest way to protect it by sliding their entire OL to the left away from the run fake.  This ensures gap integrity across the front from play side B gap to the QB’s backside.  The RB is responsible for picking up the play side edge pressure by blocking the DE after his fake.

Power Pass!

One of the best ways to help protect Power is to use the POWER PASS

or as Coach Gruden calls it, “Spider 2 Y Banana”

 spider2ybanana
This is a great answer as teams load the box, or crash down hard in an attempt to take away Power.  This play gets better and better with the more players the defense aligns on the LOS.  More guys on LOS, less guys who can cover. We even got some teams into an alignment where their end man had to take on FB as well as cover him man to man… that is like stealing, if he can stuff our FB he can’t cover him, if he can cover him, we are getting easy kick outs.  Either way we win.
Power pass
The route concept is a standard flood play.  WR clearing out.  a TE (or slot to twins side) running the medium route in the flood, and the FB chipping the DE on his way to the flat.
You can read this deep to short, or short to deep.  I have done it, and seen it done both ways successfully.
In my opinion what really makes it work is making it look identical to power.  So we block it the same as Power.  Playside down blocks, BSG pulls.  BST protects b gap.
The only difference is our pulling BSG needs to attack the C gap, rather than work up to a LB.  I need to do a better job coaching this up next season.
Our biggest problems came from back side pressure, usually frontside pressure meant the TE or FB was wide open and we hit it quickly.
One adjustment I have seen and will use int he future is to have the Rb cut back immediately after the mesh, to pick up the backside C gap.
You can use backside WRs to run backside drags, or attach another TE to help secure the backside.
I can’t stress enough how helpful the OL play is on selling play action.  We do not pretend to block power, we full on block power, we just don’t drive anyone past 2 yards down field.
Below are 2 clips of power pass, one hitting the TE, one hitting the FB.

This is just our base power pass that we install in spring ball.  We can run a variety of concepts off of power action.  The play stays consistent for the players in the box.
Power pass action works great to throw double posts, post/dig, verticals, or whatever dropback you hang your hat on.  We would release our TE/FB into routes as well as keep them in for max protection on certain concepts.
Power pass is a the perfect constraint when defenses start cheating.  I should have called it more times last season and it will continue to grow into bigger weapon in our arsenal.

 

Naked Concept

I want to share an awesome play action concept that was one of our best plays this past season.

Our Naked Bootleg Concept

I’ve run bootlegs before. We did some last season from a 100% 4 wide environment. At my alma mater we ran a lot of bootleg off of our criss cross action. This year I would say the Naked concept was cleaned up some because of the great work of Coach Grabowski..
If you haven’t picked up his ibook yet, do yourself a favor and get it. There’s a ton of information there that heavily influenced what we did offensively this year. We only scratched the surface this year, I plan to include more of his concepts this upcoming season.

The core components of the Naked concept

A vertical play side route… We used both the “K Route” (an inside stemmed corner) and a Go route. The K route is great because that inside stem helps sell the run action better to the Corner, thus opening up space behind him. We ended up going to a Go route at the end of the season because our K routes were getting sloppy and we weren’t getting deep enough.

A deep drag or out route… from a slot or a TE.

A backside post with a hard inside stem to not out run QB’s arm

A flat/DE control route – this route is the most important in my opinion. It is his job to control that back side DE… it is “Naked” meaning OL is full run flow the other way. He has to take an angle at the DE so DE thinks he will be blocked. This flat route runner can’t be in a hurry to get out on his route. If the DE is up the field, he will lose his route and block the DE so the QB can set up and throw elsewhere. This was something we struggled with. We need to do a better job of picking this DE up to avoid costly sacks.

The flat route can come from anywhere. Same side, across the formation, from an H back… even a TE.

From the 21 personnel offset pistol we used last year it would look like this

Naked to the TE side. TE in this case would run the deep out. We are trying to get 15 yards deep.

  Naked rt 2

Here we have Naked going away from the TE. He now has the drag, trying to get behind LBs and be at the other hash at 15.

Naked rt 1

Here’s some film with my horrible voice over. Only thing holding back my rap career is the fact that my voice isn’t deep enough.

One thing you will notice from the pistol is the mesh mechanics we used. I got this from Coach Grabowski as well. It is a reverse pivot, followed by 2 steps vertical, looking back at the RB, with open hand extended. This he feels, is the best way to sell the play action. We fooled a lot of defenses, and quite often our own coaching staff (if they didn’t hear the play call).
I am contemplating whether or not I want to keep the reverse out next season. I agree it sells the play action better, hides the ball well, but I felt at times, especially if it wasn’t a great snap, it slowed the RB and the timing of the play down a little bit.

I want to leave you with one last concept off of naked. I put this in late in the year, I really thought we would hit it for a big play but never did. It is a wheel concept. It’s drawn up below from Twins, with the TE and FB still doing the same assignments. The major difference is that I have the X running a deep post with the Z running a wheel route. I hoped the Corner would follow the Post, opening up a home run to our wheel route but the corners stayed very disciplined.

I am thinking it might be better to send X on a GO route to remove him from the picture, and hit the wheel route trailing him.

I think it definitely had big play potential, and I will continue to play with what route configuration works best for us on it.

Naked wheel

 

Cut up the day Finale: Cross/Boot

The last “base play” in our arsenal, and the final in post in my “cut up of the day” series is the cross concept.  It has got to be the most popular bootleg concept in football.  It is essentially the same as our Flood play but from a 2×2 alignment.  This concept is run at every level of football and from any sort of personnel group.

You end up with a Go/Clear out
a quick route in the flat (from spread it is a slow played out to sell the run look)
teams often use a TE, H back, or FB to chip block and then get to the flat

The backside slot or TE runs the deep cross over the inside LBs (who should be biting on play action)

We hit the out very often as the OLB covering him was often out leveraged due to his alignment and initial run read.  We were also able to hit the cross a few times when the OLB jumped the out, and ILBs sucked up on the play action, leaving a void.  Even against man the cross is a great concept because it is difficult to cover a speedy slot WR across the width of the field.

We sprinted to this concept, play actioned with sprint out pass pro
but my favorite way to run this concept was using a “boot” protection featuring a guard pull

I thought this concept worked exceptionally well for us because the guard pull added to the run action and in one game particular (where they had a DE who we simply could not block) this played slowed him up a whole lot.  He could no longer crash down when he read down block and blow up our guard.

Some of the clips feature a QB who began the year as our 3rd stringer! Starter got suspended a game, and he beat out the kid who was our backup all year during that week of practice.  The clips with #12 at QB were his first start at QB of his life.

I didn’t include it in the film but he even picked up a huge 4th and 4 conversion on this play with his feet when the defense didn’t bite on the run fake and flew out for pass.

I see this concept being a bigger part of our offense in the future as we begin to explore the use of some TE/H back stuff.

Play Action Pass Protections

After a Facebook Shout Out from Julien , I have decided to break down play action pass protections.

I have used each of these 3 pass protections in the past, all with success.  They are probably the 3 simplest/most common play action protections I have seen used.

BOB

The first is… our regular standard pass pro.  Many Air Raid offenses call this play as an 80 series play.  So if say 4 verts is 97 in our offense, this would be 87.  The OL bands just say 90, RB just does a little fake dive, QB sticks it out then drops.  This is the simplest form of play action pass protection we can do because there is nothing new for the OL at all.

We Stay in our regular BOB Pas Pro Rules
The next 2 pass protections can be used for straight drop back off of play action but I have mostly used them with roll out/boot type play action plays.
SLIDE
The first I will show is a full slide play action pass protection.  This was my main play action protection I used last year because we ran a lot of sprint out, so since we were already good at that, I used the same word on my OL’s wristband to tell them which way to slide and block.  RB just fakes across and picks up on the back side.
I use an “L” or “R” word to designate to my OL which way we are sliding on their wristband.
RB we use Flame – Fake Left
                  Fire – Fake Right
BOOT
The final play action protection I will use is a pretty standard “boot” protection.  I have seen countless teams run this from under center, and the rules remain the same in the spread.  I did not use this last year, but this was our only play action protection in the 4 years I coached in an under center Fly/Pro offense.
It works well because it is very similar schematically to a trap play we already ran, they just couldn’t go down field of course.  To the defense keying OL, it must have looked very similar to our base run play.
Boot Right:
  • RT steps in to B Gap
  • RG steps in to A Gap
  • C steps in to back side A Gap
  • LG pulls to block DE – Kick out or Log depending on DE’s action
  • LT steps in to B Gap
  • RB fakes across and blocks first thing off the edge of LT’s Butt
I would teach this protection as a concept and label it “Boot Rt” or “Boot Lt”

My favorite play action concept

I have recently received some private emails asking to discuss play action and goal line passes in the spread, so I decided to offer up my favorite play action pass concept.  I first began running this simple PA concept in a splitback fly/pro style offense.  Our bread and butter was criss cross counter trey and this was our play action off of that look.  We had a ton of success with it, and I wanted to get the same look out of our spread stuff at my new school.  I realized that I could easily do the exact same things out of a 2×2 set as I could out of our splitback set.

 

From splitbacks we would criss cross the backs, one slipped into the flat, TE ran a deep drag, SE ran a Go (basically just to clear out) and flanker ran a backside post.  These routes are easily converted into our spread stuff, we have merely moved the 2nd RB into the left slot position (H).

We fake to the RB going Right
Use standard Boot protection up front with the OL

X has a go but if he cant get on top of his defender he will run it at the safety, to take 2 defenders away
H has a 5 yard out
Y has the Deep Cross
Z has a backside post (with the option of curling it up in the MOF if there is grass)

Qb reads the Go first (this is just a homerun play we see pre snap)
his read really comes from reading from the out – to the cross

When we ran this under center every single time either the RB was wide open in the flat or the Y was wide open…  It was a great play for us.  I installed it last season with my JV team but didn’t get around to running it much.  Finally called it on a big 3rd down play, and got everything I wanted, deep coverage went deep with the X.  Flat defender jumped the out, so we would have had Y WIDE open on the cross… but he ran straight into one of the officials, fell down and never got back up.  I should have worked on it more so I would have called it more.

I think it will be a great PA concept for us this season and it is my favorite PA pass (both spread and UC)