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Too Much Information: The Passing Game (Part II)

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Following the posting of last night's initial installment of my Sugar Bowl breakdown, 34hawk was kind enough to leave a comment directing our attention to Smart Football's look at the use of the "switch" in the Warriors' "Run and Shoot" offense. Previously, Senator Blutarsky similarly pointed the way to Chris Brown's examination of Run and Shoot concepts.

Since there is a lot of discussion of the Run and Shoot out there, and since the system is so relevant to the Bulldogs' upcoming game in New Orleans against a team coached by the Run and Shoot's most devoted disciple, June Jones, I thought I would interject into my pregame breakdown a brief look at the history of the Run and Shoot offense, with the caveat that this is just a bit of background and does not explore the system in anything like the detail offered by Chris Brown or Coach B's unofficial website of the Run and Shoot offense.

The first thing that must be learned about the Run and Shoot is that a coach must have an animal for a nickname in order to run the system properly. The offensive approach initially arose as the innovation of Glenn "Tiger" Ellison in the 1960s. Darrel "Mouse" Davis later deployed the Run and Shoot with great effectiveness at Portland State in the 1970s. As articulated in the pieces by Chris Brown linked to above, Coach Davis's concept originally involved identifying the defensive coverage and attacking accordingly. As 34hawk notes, this is based on the fundamentally sound premise of figuring out where the defenders are going to be and getting the ball and the receiver to meet up in the places where they aren't.

In his 1976 Portland State summer manual (as later reprinted in the A.F.C.A.'s Offensive Football Strategies), Coach Davis explained, "Our basic approach is to attack the defensive perimeter. We hang our hat on the sprint-out and sprint-out-and-set passing games." The Run and Shoot's basic formation is a one-back set with two receivers on each side of the formation.

The split ends line up between ten and eighteen yards away from the center. The slot receivers line up one to three yards outside the tackles and one yard off the ball (or, as Coach B notes, "as close as they can get away with"), with the lone back lining up behind the quarterback and three to five yards from the ball. Coach Davis indicated that his offense lined up in this double-slot formation more than 90 per cent of the time.

The direction and length of the slot receiver's pre-snap motion were indicated, respectively, by the first letter and the length or strength of the word used in the motion call. For instance, "red," "rip," and "roar" all indicate movement to the right by the wing slot receiver, with "red" being the shortest motion (to a spot behind the gap between the left tackle and left guard), "rip" being the intermediate motion (to a spot five yards behind the right split end's outside hip before turning and making a square corner upfield), and "roar" being the longest motion (in which he releases in a straight line up the field over the spot at which the Z receiver's outside hip was at the snap). "Lee," "load," and "loud" were the corresponding calls for leftward motion by the Y receiver.

On plays on which the motion back was moving to the right, the split end (Z) was to run a seven- to twelve-yard curl (depending upon how the linebackers dropped into underneath coverage) and keep himself in an open passing lane for the quarterback. The offside end (X) was to take up occupancy in the deep left zone and maintain his awareness of the defender playing him.

The onside slot receiver (Y) had responsibility for reading the first linebacker to the inside. If that linebacker blitzed, the slot receiver was to yell, "Hot!" and look for the ball to be delivered over his inside shoulder. If that linebacker dropped into coverage, the Y receiver either ran a hook route and slid to an open passing lane from the quarterback or attempted to stretch the deep coverage by running a post or go route.

The fullback's initial objective was to block the defender designated as "number three" in Coach Davis's system. (In Coach Davis's diagram of the pre-snap alignment, "0" lines up over the center, the two "2"s line up over the tackles, the two "3"s line up outside the tackles and slightly outside the slot receivers, the two "1"s are linebackers lining up in the rear of the gaps between the "2"s and "0," the "5"s line up in the defensive backfield over the split ends, and the "4"s line up in the secondary between the "5"s and behind the gaps between the "2"s and the "3"s. As Coach Davis put it, "We start by keying the number four man and throwing away from him.")

The fullback blocked number three, unless the number three defender dropped into coverage, in which case the fullback looked back inside for an oncoming defender to block. Then, Coach Davis explains, the quarterback took over from there:

Keeps his eyes on the number four man from the first step. He takes his first step at a deep enough angle that he could run in back of a right halfback lined up in a full house backfield. If the number four man does anything other than move toward the LOS, he goes immediately to the corner and keys him, as he has become the number four man. The quarterback's job is to throw away from the number four man and avoid the undercoverage. He will throw this pattern on his fifth or seventh step off the right foot on the run. (If going left, it will be the sixth or eighth step.)

If, as Chris Brown put it, "things fall apart" and the underneath coverage has taken away the quarterback's short- and medium-range options long enough for the quarterback to get beyond his seventh step or to begin scrambling, the onside split end (in this example, the Z receiver) breaks off from his curl route through the deep middle and, if he recognizes man coverage, flattens his pattern to make a straight line for the end zone. Under these same circumstances, the motion back (in this case, the slot receiver who lined up to the left side of the formation before the snap) also proceeds in a straight line, deviating only to get separation from the defender on his hip or to break in front of a safety rolling to the outside (in this instance, the right) deep third of the field.

This is the basic foundation for the Run and Shoot. The fundamental principles for defending the Run and Shoot were enunciated by Del Wight, then the defensive coordinator at Wyoming, in the Cowboys' 1988 summer manual (which was later excerpted in the A.F.C.A.'s Defensive Football Strategies). Coach Wight explained his premises in this fashion:

Our approach to stopping this offense is that we will "shoot" the Run and Shoot. In other words, we'll pressure the passing game and defend the option, draw, and screen with our front seven. We'll play good man-to-man cover and force the quick pass.

The defensive backs were to line up seven to eight yards deep, positioned straight across in order to allow movement to adjust to the motion of the receivers. In the case of a "rip" motion by the wing in the left slot, for instance, the onside safety would slide slightly to his left to cover the motion back and the offside safety (who had been lined up over the wing before he went into motion) would slide across to the middle to his left to cover the Y receiver.

When the quarterback rolled out, the front side linebacker was free to rush once he recognized that the play was a pass. His job was to put pressure on the quarterback quickly and force him into any lane possible; the front side linebacker was not charged with containing the quarterback. The defensive tackle lined up over the guard also could supply pressure on the quarterback, but the responsibility for containing the quarterback fell to the defensive end away from the rollout.

Coach Wight advocated lining up the defensive backs in the "invert" position before the snap, in response to which Coach Davis advocated remaining true to first principles: "read the number four and throw away from him." If the motion was to the right of the formation and the number four defender was to be found in the deep right third of the field, the quarterback was to throw to the motion back. If the number four defender was in the right flat, the quarterback was to throw to the Z receiver downfield.

That is the basic short course in the underlying precepts of the Run and Shoot and how to defend against it, although, as Chris Brown notes, June Jones has adjusted Mouse Davis's philosophy significantly over the years. In any case, those are the fundamental concepts in play, although (since I freely admit that I am not an "X" and "O" guy) it is a good bet that enough was lost in translation between the sources cited, my brain, and this posting that the foregoing contains misstatements and omissions sufficiently significant to warrant correction. I would be most appreciative if these errors were brought to my attention in the comments below.

Go 'Dawgs!