Saturday, December 31, 2011

My Ideal Offense

A while back over at MGoBlog, there was some discussion about what the ideal offense is. This started as a mailbag question for Brian, then migrated to the board where everyone described their ideal offense. I described my ideal offense as:

I would have an offense based off of a lot of option plays. From shotgun and pistol, I'd mix up Read Option, Veers, Inverted Veers, etc. on different linemen so they couldn't cheat  on it. I'd also throw in some speed option. I'd use Pistol, I Form, and Wishbone to do Triple options.

Passing would look like a passing spread with some WCO concepts mixed in. Particularly, pre-snap reads to determine WR routes. It might even be that a play call is actually 2-3 plays and the defense determines which to run.

The RB would be a Brandon Minor type where if he would consistently use the lower numbers in the box to break a tackle and run for another 30 yards. My QB doesn't need to be a burner, but needs to be mobile.  It's more important that he can throw accurately, can make good reads, and does really good fake handoffs for the options and PA. I'd have some utility-type players that can play multiple positions, e.g. TEs that can play receiver, HB, and occasionally FB as well.

There would be no-huddle with lots of pre-snap motion, a lot of times moving utility players around to completely change formations. Maybe we start out in Wishbone and then motion to 3WR shotgun or 3TE I Form.

I play a lot of football on my Xbox so this question has stuck around in my head for quite some time, especially since this is very similar to the offense that I run in the game (Option, Power, Quick passes). After a while, I realized that, using motion along with changing the dive and pitch backs, you can run almost any type of option play out of a single formation.

I sat down and did a lot of reading (Thanks, Smart Football) on lots of different styles of offense. I found out that there is a running offense very similar to what I had come up with in my mind: the Ski-gun. If you’ve never heard of it, that’s fine, because it’s only been around for a few years and is still only utilized at the high school level, as far as I know. Basically, Muskegon (get it? Mus-ski-gun…) High School used to be a standard triple option team out of the Flexbone (more on that later). It’s been a while since I did my research on it, but I believe that Muskegon was having a hard time passing out of the Flexbone, so they decided they needed to spread the field a bit and put the QB in shotgun/pistol to make it easier for the QB to see the field and make his reads. They, of course, needed to do this without getting rid of their offense in the Flexbone.

Enter Ski-gun. The Ski-gun is basically the Flexbone offense, but out of the pistol. For those unfamiliar with the Flexbone, it is a running formation based on the triple option used by Georgia Tech, Navy, Army, and a few other teams. It involves a dive back, about 4 yards behind the LOS, two slot backs (basically, speed backs) as wings on either side of the line, and two WRs covering the wings. It looks like this:

A good amount of the time, one of the SBs will go in motion behind the dive back. The ball is snapped shortly after the motion starts. The dive back heads toward the back of the guard in the direction of the motion. The QB will read the DE on that side of the line. If he goes for the dive back, the QB keeps and runs with the SB for a pitch option. If the DE stays to guard the pitch, the QB gives the ball to the dive back for what should be an easy 3+ yards.

The Ski-gun however looks more like a pistol spread. The QB is now 2 yards behind the center, with the dive back two yards behind him (he has not moved). The slot backs are now actually in the slot, 2 yards outside the tackles and aligned with the QB. That’s the only difference in formation. When the slot goes in motion, he runs straight toward the QB until the ball is snapped to prevent the defense from keying in on his motion. After the snap, he can continue his motion in front of the QB to be the effective dive back in a zone read triple option, or he can go the usual route for the veer triple option. Essentially, this is what you end up with:


This is the base of my ideal offense. Pistol spread with a slot going in motion on a majority of snaps, allowing for a variety of different types of option and power plays. There are a few things that I like about this formation to begin with. First, it’s completely balanced. Aside from the motion, there is no indication which side is the strong side. Second, Pistol keeps the QB’s eyes on the field during passes and allows the dive back to begin running straight at the line at the beginning of the play. Third, the motion or lack of motion allows for a small set of formations to be run out of one formation. Without motion, you have the obvious formation of Pistol Spread. Snapping the ball as the slot gets to the left tackle is like running out of the Pistol Weak Slot. Snapping the ball a bit later, allows you to run out of the Pistol Strong Slot. And waiting for the motion man to completely cross the formation moves you into a trips formation.

Once you look past the formation itself, the number of variations of option plays that can be run out of this are incredible. Have the motion man go in front of the QB and the RB go the opposite direction for a zone read triple option. Have the RB go in the same direction as the motion man to utilize the RB as a lead blocker. Do the same thing, but switch to a power blocking scheme instead of a zone scheme to run an inverted veer with a pitch option from the motion man to the RB (I thought up this play, then saw Nebraska run it against Michigan). This is intended to be the intro to an in-depth series into my ideal offense, so I will be going over a lot of these plays in the future.

Here are some videos of how Muskegon High School utilizes their new formation.

The Passing Game. Admittedly, the passing game is an afterthought in my offense. However, when I do pass, I don’t just want it to be 5-10 yards at a time. My thought is that there are 2 ways to spread a defense: horizontally and vertically. Essentially, there are three parts of the field.

The first is the box, which includes the entire offensive line, everything behind them, and everything within the first 4-5 yards in front of them, i.e. defensive line and line backers. Sometimes, you will hear announcers talk about 7, 8, or 9 defenders in the box. This is what happens when you don’t stretch the field. Forcing them to move outside of the box by throwing deep, or throwing/running to the sidelines pulls men out of the box and into one of the other two parts of the field

The second is the flats, which is the area between the box and the sidelines, including WRs, CBs, and any defenders covering the slots. Short passes or runs to this part of the field stretch the field horizontally. If you are able to pull a LB out of the box to cover a slot receiver, you then gain an advantage in the running game because they now only have 6 men in the box. Unless, of course, they put a safety in the box to replace him, which brings us to the third part of the field.

The third part of the field over or behind the defense. This is everything beyond the box. Passing deep is the only way to attack this and opens up the field vertically. If you are able to complete passes more than 10 yards down the field, the defense will not be able to creep the safeties into the box to help stop the run. They also won’t be able to put them directly over the slot receivers to allow a LB to stay in the box.

It’s important to stretch the field in both directions because you want to spread the defense thin and prevent them from cheating to stop the run. This is like one of those triangles that you see where you can have two of the options in the triangle, but you can’t have the third. If you don’t stretch vertically, the defense can play close to the line to stop the run and the passes to the flat. If you don’t stretch horizontally, the defense can play the safeties back, keep the linebackers in the box, and have the linebackers drop back to cover the slots when they determine it’s not a run. If you can’t run, they will take everyone out of the box and shut down the entire passing game.

Anyway, when I began thinking about what was important in the passing game, I decided that the most important thing is to keep the playbook simple. My offense is based around the run and practice would need to be focused on that. Keeping the passing plays to a minimum and simple will allow for more time to be spent perfecting the running game. You are also running with your QB. You don’t want the whole offense to shutdown if he gets injured. Keeping it simple allows for a backup to come in and move the ball effectively.

The problem with keeping the playbook small is that there isn’t a whole lot of variation when you pass. I decided to see how other offenses deal with this problem. Specifically, I wanted to see if there were any concepts in those offenses that are essentially option through the air, where the plays change as the defense reacts. This would help keep the play count and complexity for the players down, but increase the difficulty to defend the plays. There are two offenses that I know of that specifically spread the field to pass. Those are the Air Raid from teams such as Texas Tech (while Mike Leach was there), Oklahoma, and WVU and the Run ‘n’ Shoot or Run ‘n’ Gun from teams such as Oklahoma State and Houston.

I first turned did some research on the Air Raid because I was more familiar with it. There were some things that I liked about the Air Raid offense, like Mesh, which involves the slots crossing to scrape the defenders, then sitting between zones, or continuing straight if it’s man coverage. However, the Air Raid offense seems more like a lot of different plays, which are slight variations on each other like X Follow, Y Follow, and Z Follow. Those involve calling the correct play before the ball is snapped. I would prefer more of a way to call Follow, then the alignment or the defensive play determines whether it’s X, Y, or Z.

I did some more reading on the Run ‘n’ Shoot and this appeared to be exactly what I was looking for. Basically, there are a few main concepts in the routes and plays are built around those concepts. Each of these concepts is one of the receivers reading the defense and running toward the weak point of that defense to exploit it. By adding, say, 4-6 passing plays to the playbook, you can effectively stretch the field vertically. The best part is that the Run ‘n’ Shoot almost always runs out of the spread look or trips and it started out by almost always motioning from one to the other. This means that many of the concepts like the motion man running to the flat for a hot route directly apply to my offense.

My Ideal Offense. So, my ideal offense is basically a hybrid offense that is meant to incorporate the best parts of the Flexbone Triple Option offense and the Run ‘n’ Shoot offense. The lone formation is the Pistol Spread with the QB 2 yards behind center, the dive back 2 yards behind him, the slots 2 yards off of the tackles and aligned with the QB, and 2 WRs covering the slots.

The QB is ideally an accurate, smart QB that is just fast enough to make a defense respect him if he keeps the ball to run. Excessive arm strength is not a necessity. Neither is raw speed, although he can’t be a statue. A few examples would be Drew Brees, Tate Forcier, Chase Daniel, Drew Henson, etc.

The dive back (D in my diagram above) would be somewhere between a Power Back and a Full Back. He needs to be able to break a tackle up the middle. This offense is going to give some one-on-one opportunities for the dive back and he needs to be able to punish that defender and get extra yards. A few examples would be pretty much any Wisconsin starting RB, Mark Ingram, BJ Askew, and Chris Perry (except bigger).

The slots are speed backs. They need to get to the edge, be able to catch, and handle one-on-one situations with DBs. Not only are they motioning, though, but they will be running a deep route a good amount of the time. There is also a fair amount of responsibility in reading the defense on passing routes and any potential trick plays, so a certain level of football smarts is required. This is where you put Fitzgerald Toussaint, Steve Breaston, and Percy Harvin.

The X and Z receivers are typical X and Z receivers. They need some speed, height, and jump ball ability. They are the main components in stretching the field vertically. This system is going to get them a lot of one-on-one matchups against CBs or safeties, so either being able to get behind them or being able to out jump them for the ball will be a necessity. Pick a star receiver and put him here.

There are about 3-4 read plays with motion, each with a few variations to get Triple Option, QB lead, or RB lead. There are a couple of running plays without motion like RB Draw, QB Lead Draw, and Veer. We’ll say there are 4-5 passing plays from the Run ‘n’ Shoot, Mesh from Air Raid, and, of course, the bubble screen. Throw in a few PA plays, which will look like an existing running play, but the routes will be one of the passing plays. All-in-all you are probably looking at 5-8 running plays, 6-8 passing plays, and 4 or so PA plays to give you 15-20 plays, all of which would be practiced to perfection.

As a spread team, they would always be in no-huddle. Everyone reads the plays from the side line. If you want to hurry up, you hurry up. If you want to kill some clock, walk to the line and take your time getting set.

The Plan. As I briefly mentioned, my goal is to make this into a series. I plan on going a little deeper into the concepts of my ideal offense, maybe a little history and evolution of some of the concepts, then diagramming a new play concept in each post. I’m thinking it will end up being about 10 posts long. It really depends on how much I plan to cram into each one.

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