Incorporating Run and Shoot principles into your option offense

By Will Veatch

        Option offense is a proven method of moving the ball on the ground, and its many forms have helped it stand the test of time. While option football has sometimes been regarded as a potent offensive strategy, it has, with a few exceptions, never been known as a great scheme for a quick strike or come from behind situation. This does not have to be the case. Run and Shoot principles have proven themselves highly adaptable to practically any offensive scheme, and option football is no exception. In fact, option and Run and Shoot are natural partners, because R&S principles are highly effective against zone defenses, and option football works so well against man.

Adapting to your game
        Not every option set can evolve into a true R&S formation (frontside trips with backside stretch) without shifting multiple players. For example, a power-I set will require at least two players to move to create trips. On the other hand, for every power-I there are two or three flexbones or pro-I sets, which can motion just one man to create trips. In any case, whether by motion or shift, R&S sets that give the defense problems can evolve from any formation.
        The purpose of this article is not to convince you to run the entire Run and Shoot offense in addition to your current scheme. The option, and especially the triple option, requires a lot of practice time to perfect, as does the Run and Shoot. You may find that you do not have the time to implement long motion and trips sets into an offense that is already nearly complete. That's fine - I hope you will still find something in this article for you. In the end you have to play your game; exactly what that game is will likely determine how much R&S you use.

A quick pitch for the double slot formation
        Before I go into the meat of this article, I'd like to present a quick word about a great formation, the wide double slot. While Run and Shoot principles can be used from any set, the double slot has a number of advantageous attributes for option offenses:

General positive features

Features especially favorable to option teams Basic Run and Shoot Principles
        The original principles of "Tiger" Ellison's Run and Shoot might be stated as:

  1. Spread the defense with alignment and threaten the pass defense with automatic passes.
  2. When the defense has backed three (or more) players away from the front, run the ball with all your players.
  3. Assign your receivers to areas in the secondary, but let them exercise flexibility in getting open.
  4. Always throw on the run, and practice scrambling until it is one of your best plays.
        When "Mouse" Davis revamped the R&S into the pass-first offense we know today, he kept these principles mostly intact. It's worth keeping in mind, however, that Ellison's original offense had four running series and just one passing series. His basic principles can be adapted to option football with ease.

  1. Spread the defense. This is old hat to option coaches, who better than anybody understand the value of putting "speed in space." Option football forces pass defenders to play the run, while the R&S requires natural run defenders to spread out and cover receivers. You may already have automatic passes in your offense, but if not, they should be the first R&S element you install, because they are the fastest and simplest way to attack weak defensive alignment. Nothing will go further toward spreading the defense than the knowledge that you will pass to an uncovered receiver at any time. Simply instruct your receiver to give a signal (such as adjusting headgear) when his man is too far inside and he is open for a sideline pass. On the snap the QB takes one step and fires over the WR's inside shoulder, while the WR runs a hard fade to the sideline at a 90 degree angle to his defender. Let the wideout make a different signal if his defender is too far off of him (how far is too far is up to you, but ~7 yards for an outside receiver is a good rule). In this case he will run hard back to the ball gaining perhaps just one yard into the defense before catching and turning upfield.[fig A]

  2. Run with all your players. This is even older hat. One pillar of option philosophy is that it uses all offensive players on all plays.

  3. Let your receivers get open with flexibility. In the modern (Davis) Run and Shoot, this principle is best embodied in the Choice route. Fortunately, this is one of the easiest R&S plays to install. The idea is simple: get your best receiver into one-on-one coverage, let him call the route based on his man's coverage technique, and get him the ball in space. Most coaches give the receiver four route options: a slant for a man playing less than five yards off, a fade for a man playing up in the WR's face, an out for a man off the line but inside, and a five yard stop for a man off and head-up. If your passer lacks the strength and/or accuracy to throw a ten yard out, you may still run the play with just the slant, fade, and stop.[fig B] A strongside choice route also makes a strong option pass. [fig C]

  4. Throw on the run. If you use pass-first options, your passer is already familiar with this skill. Throwing on the run only increases the stress on the defense, because the passer can always threaten to tuck the ball away. While you may never become as adept at scrambling as Ellison's passers, the scramble should still be practiced regularly, as it puts enormous pressure on the defense and can be a great source of big plays. Davis put a great premium on keeping a receiver in the frontside flat whenever possible (he managed to do it on all his basic passes except Switch). This gave the QB a clear read on a scramble: toss it to the frontside short man if the flat defender comes up, or tuck it and run if the defender drops.[fig D]

Figure A: Automatics

The two basic automatics are shown. On the right, the CB refuses to spread out so the SE runs a hard fade. On the left, the CB refuses to cover down so the SE runs a short.

Figure B: Choice Route

The classic backside choice route. The team's best wideout is left with 1-on-1 coverage and 1/3 of the field to work with. He signals his route choice to the QB with hand signals behind his back. Left HB and right SE clear out for right HB, who is the secondary receiver.

Figure C: Strongside Choice

Strongside choice route, run as option pass. The playside LB is option man. If he is heavily committed to stopping the option, the playside CB is on an island.
This play is especially effective after running the simple lead option a few times, and only requires the frontside receiver and linemen (and QB) to change assignments.

Figure D: Stretching Flat Defender on Scramble, Pt. 1

Basic paths of backs and receivers on Run and Shoot Go route.

Figure D.2: Stretching Flat Defender on Scramble, Pt. 2

Four seconds after the play started, the QB has not found a receiver and is attacking the line of scrimmage. The CB must now decide whether to guard the right HB or stop the running QB. The middle LB can become a factor here if he hustles, but he is generally out of the play after his pass drop.

Advanced Principles
        The advanced principles that Mouse Davis added to the Run and Shoot can also be incorporated into any option offense. These are:

  1. Isolate and stretch a zone defender. Let the passer read one defender and choose between two quick options based on the defender's actions.
  2. Flood zones with one more man than they can defend. The defense can always rush one more than you can block, so take it to 'em the same way on offense.
  3. Against man defenses, create space and let your receivers run away from their men. This principle has now been further refined with the growth of bunch sets, but that is the subject of another article.
        Once again, these principles can also be adapted to your option offense.

  1. Stretch zones. This principle is especially well suited to trips formations, but you don't need trips to stretch a zone and make a defender pick his poison. This speed option pass should be familiar to many option coaches. [fig E] The QB reads the strong safety/outside linebacker: if he moves out to cover the wheel, turn it up with the option; if he comes, hit the wheel.

  2. Flood zones. Without using a trips set, flooding can be done much more easily than stretching. Consider this flood pass with a dive fake. [fig F] If the linebackers are occupied by the fake, nobody will disrupt the backside receiver coming into the frontside zone. In case of a scramble, the passer has both a short frontside receiver and a lead blocker. With the fullback aligned close to the line of scrimmage in most option offenses, he can also be a valuable receiver. This fullback flood gets the diveback matched up on the middle LB against man defenses,[fig G] while this double smash gets the same matchup against any cover 2 defense. [fig H]

  3. Let your men run against man. Option offenses aren't likely to see much straight man defense, but in a come from behind situation man-beaters do come in handy. In addition to the flood passes mentioned above (which are effective against both man and zone), check Ted Seay's Wild Bunch for treatments of the Seam and Cross routes, both of which clear out space and let one man break away from his defender.

Figure E

This speed option pass is one example of a zone stretch without trips. The outside LB is responsible for either QB or HB on the option, leaving CB to choose between the SE's go and the HB's wheel. Even if the S comes over in time to stop the go, the CB may have both wheel and pitch. Another example of option football giving multiple opportunities for solid yardage.

Figure F

Backside flood pass with dive fake. Either LB could disrupt or cover the SE coming across to the frontside zone in the absence of the dive fake, but if the fake holds them then nobody is available to cover. This play is also good against man, where the backside CB must chase the SE across the field past three defenders.
Another example of the power of the option: an I-formation team without option wouldn't get nearly as much respect for a fullback dive fake.

Figure G

Against man defenses, this fullback flood will most likely result in a matchup with the middle LB, who is also reacting to the dive fake. The playside LB must respect the option.

Figure H

Against any two-safety defense, this double smash should result in a FB-MLB matchup. It may be beneficial to have a faster diveback for this type of situation, and/or to use motion to get the FB closer to the line. The FB may motion closer to the line himself, or he may be aligned close in an offset or blocking back location before the HBs motion out onto the line.

Forming and using trips
        If you decide to incorporate trips sets into your offense, you will create a whole new world of problems for the defense. The fact of the matter is: there simply is no good way to defend trips, especially when in combination with a running passer.

Defensive adjustment to trips Offensive reply
Overload zone, leaving 1 on 1 backside Backside choice w/best receiver
Overload zone and walk DE out to backside hook zone FB trap/dive/belly weak
Move man defender (S/LB) to trips side, leaving <4 in backside "box" Speed option weak
Blitz defense (FS moves down) Speed option strong, WR screen, Go or other crossing route

        Mouse Davis only used two strongside trips routes in his basic R&S package: Slide and Go. As long as the defense didn't know which of the two routes was coming, they couldn't defend either one without overcommitting to the trips side. Unfortunately, it is probably not feasible for an option team to incorporate Slide and Go into their offense without committing to running R&S as a significant portion of their game. Slide and Go, like the other three basic R&S passes, are adaptive plays, meaning that each play can take four (or more) forms, depending on the defense. This adaptiveness takes a fair amount of teaching and practice time, and without it these plays aren't nearly as effective. Nevertheless, there are plenty of strongside trips routes that can be implemented without adaptiveness and still give defensive coordinators headaches.
        As examples, consider the In/Slant combination, the Double Quick Out, and the Short route, as described in Ted Seay's Wild Bunch. (121 In/Slant, 114 Out, and 118 Short in that document) Note that 121 is diagrammed from a bunched alignment, but that this is not essential. I apologize for not diagramming these plays again here, but there's really no need to copy what's already available. Note also that even though Coach Seay reccomends some fine-tuning in terms of technique and reads versus different defenses, none of these plays really changes from coverage to coverage.
        When forming trips from double slot, the Mouse Davis Run and Shoot gained maximum benefit out of the long motion it required by watching the defense's reaction to motion and using it to determine the pass coverage. Depending on your base formation, you may or may not use long motion to form trips. Of course you may also choose to use long motion even if you don't have to, to give the offense a pre-snap read of the defensive coverage. Don't overlook the fact that your set may already have "near" trips, with one back behind but near the edge of the offensive line, as with a Wing-T's "strong" set or an offset-I. [fig I] "Near" trips is even more effective when all three receivers are fairly bunched and bunch passing principles can be used, but this form of spread trips can still cause problems for linebackers trying to cover a back in the flat.
        While moving a receiver from the backside is the most common method of forming a trips set, many other possibilities exist. [fig J] Consider moving your diveback or tailback out of the backfield if you think it will result in a favorable matchup. Your QB can also go in quick motion if another back is capable of receiving a direct snap and making the throw. Finally, consider using empty sets. Even if you end up seeing zone blitzes after a few games, you may still get the matchups you want while demanding extra practice time from your opponents. Best of all, none of these sets keep you from running option, because you can always motion a pitchback into position. Getting into and out of trips sets in unconventional ways puts even more pressure on the defense than trips can by itself.

Figure I

The offset I puts the FB a little closer to the line and further outside than normal, which can put pressure on the MLB to cover him. SE clears out slowly and TE creates traffic, ideally causing CB to choose between SE and FB. Though not a true trips set, this action can make the defense more pass-conscious.

Figure J: Some Ways to Form and Use Trips

In the top example, the TB motions out to one side, then across. This gives the offense the benefit of extended motion and its clues to the defense's strategy.

In the second example, the offense creates an empty set, then motions in a pitchman for an option play. Because empty sets often command man defense, the defenders will have a hard time playing their option assignments in addition to their receivers. While empty sets can invite zone blitzes, a double slot formation is equipped to deal with a zone blitz because the slotbacks can either run routes or pass protect.

The third example has the quarterback using quick motion to form a trips right set. The FB can now take the shotgun snap. A quick snap can leave a middle linebacker covering a speedy option QB, if he is covered at all.

        Option football is a proven way to fully utilize offensive talent, to put speed in space, to force pass defenders to play the run, and to dismantle man pass defense. As such, it has a natural partner in the Run and Shoot, which forces run defenders to play pass and makes short work of zone defense. While no team has time to implement two whole offenses, certain elements of the Run and Shoot can be combined effectively with almost any offense. Hopefully this article has given you some ideas, and only your imagination can limit how far those ideas go. Feel free to contact me with questions or comments.

Where Credit is Due:
        Certainly Ted Seay and his Wild Bunch offense deserve recognition for expanding and modernizing the capabilities of the Run and Shoot. The basics are available in the article of, but the full document, available at Coach Seay's forum home, is a much more comprehensive treatment.

        Al Black's book, "Coaching Run and Shoot Football," is excellent. Coach Black shows just how simple and powerful the R&S can be, and even includes a few pages of concepts involving a motioning pitchback.

        Finally, "101 Ways to Run the Option," by Tony DeMeo, includes a few pages of double slot information along with option plays from a number of other sets.

Play diagrams were made with Football Playbook from Jes-Soft