Getcha broom ready: the running back is about to sweep!!!

Just when you thought your years of learning vocabulary words were over, ChristiSunshine hits you with a brand new list.  I won’t be testing you, though.  If we lived in a simple world, I’d just tell you that Joe Runningback ran with the ball and gained X amount of yards.  If that’s all you’re interested in, then you’re good to go.  However, someone (or a few someones) got creative on us and developed a few terms to describe running plays.  So here it goes.

The easiest type of carries is called the BLAST or DIVE.  This is used on plays when the offense just needs a couple of yards for a first down.  The blocking fullback usually leads the way, clearing a path between an offensive guard and a tackle for the ball-carrying halfback, who has received the football in a handoff from the QB.

The COUNTER is a play designed to fool a defense.  One back runs right, parallel to the line of scrimmage.  The QB fakes a toss to him and turns to hand the  football off to the fullback, who wants to sneak through a hole between the center and either guard.

The DRAW is a play that is intended to make the defense think the QB is going to pass the football.  The O-Line behaves as if they are pass protecting by drawing back.  The QB drops back as if to pass, but hands the football off to the designated runner.  The running back must take off quickly to bust through the holes he anticipates at the line of scrimmage.  The offense wants the defensive linemen to come for the QB so they can push them aside to make way for the runner.

The OFF-TACKLE is the oldest run on the books.  This run is to the strong side, which means that the halfback takes the ball to the side of the field on which his team’s tight end (an extra blocker) lines up.  The halfback follows the fullback around the outside of the D-line and the fullback’s job is to block the outside defensive line.

A PITCH is utilized in a two-back formation.  The QB will fake a handoff to the halfback as he heads for the line of scrimmage.  Then the QB pitches the ball to the fullback as he moves to the outside.  The fullback chooses to take the ball to the outside or the inside at this point.  This is a versatile play.  It can go to the right or to the left.

The REVERSE is a play designed to trick the defense into thinking the ball is headed in one direction when their intention is send it the other way.  The QB hands the ball off to the halfback, who is running behind the line of scrimmage, parallel to it.  A wide receiver or flanker runs toward the halfback, who then hands off the ball.  The O-line blocks as if the halfback were the intended ball carrier in order to draw the defense away from the receiver.  The receiver runs the opposite direction of the one the halfback was running.  It is important that the defense believe the halfback’s handoff to the receiver is a fake.  Also, the weak-side defender must follow the halfback or he has a great shot at tackling the receiver.

The SLANT is just that…a route where the halfback slants to one side or the other, depending on which side of the field he lines up on.  The O-line clears the way by pushing defenders away from the running lane.

In a SWEEP, the QB hands the football off to the halfback.  At least two offensive linemen will head toward the outside of the line of scrimmage.  The halfback follows his blockers around the end of their line.  Sometimes the QB may fake a handoff to the fullback before the halfback sweeps to one side in order to draw the defense in the other direction.  The other option is to allow the fullback to serve as the leading blocker for the halfback.

The TRAP is a run route that is rarely used these days because most O-lines these days consist of big blocking men rather than quick, agile guys.  Much like the draw, the TRAP is used because most D-lines are quick to attack the offense.  On this play, one of the guards leaves his usual spot in order to give his defender access to the backfield.  The guard from the opposite side is then responsible for blocking this defender.  Timing is everything on a trap.  The ball carrier must get through his hole quickly.

Last, but not least, is the VEER.  More commonly used in college play, the VEER is for teams who have a quick-footed QB and a great ball handler.  The ball can be given to either running back, and the D-line dictates the direction of the play–the RB veers the opposite direction of the defense.

I hope that vocabulary list wasn’t too long and painful.  Coming soon to a blog near you:  the concept that football is a thinking man’s game.  It’s good to play like a girl!!!!

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Hit the Ground Running

I can’t believe how quickly this football season has passed us by.  And that I’m still talking about offense.  I had planned to post so much more by now.  It seems that life has seriously gotten in the way. 

Anyhow, enough about the passing game.  The running game can be equally exciting, especially when a running back (RB) finds or makes a hole in the defense and takes off toward the end zone.  Running backs are among the toughest guys on the football field.  These men take a brutal beating week in and week out.  They have huge targets on their backs because it often takes more than one defender to bring a good one down.  The RB is hungry to gain that extra yard because his team is depending on him for their success.  If you can run the ball three times and gain 10 yards, you have a fresh set of four downs to gain 10 yards and you’ve not run the risk of an interception or an incomplete pass.

If a team has two RB’s in their backfield (behind the quarterback) when they are on offense, the one that is the larger of the two is the FULLBACK.  He is the guy who blocks for the HALFBACK, who is generally smaller, and the ball carrier.  Teams usually just have one guy they depend on to run the ball most of the time.  In general, fullbacks will catch the ball more often than they will run with it.  In the I-formation, you will hear the RB referred to as the TAILBACK. 

I have already mentioned that RB’s have to be tough.  These guys don’t get to take a down (a play) off when his team is on offense.  If he has to fake that he has the ball, then he must do some really good acting to make the defense believe it.  He must also be aware of what down it is and how many yards it is until the next first down.  If his team is behind, it is important for him to know when to go out of bounds to stop the clock.  He must also know how much time is on the clock.

It’s important for a RB to know who he is blocking on a passing play.  He needs to be familiar with his team’s passing routes in case he is called upon to be a receiver.  He and the QB are both responsible for knowing every play in his team’s playbook.  The difference between him and the QB is that the RB takes hits on almost every play.  (If the QB is getting hit on every play, it’s time to get a new offensive line, or a new QB…or both).  The RB is a tough guy who can think quickly on his feet and have good reflexes. 

Next time we’ll talk some about some common running plays.  Some of the names for them might surprise you!!!

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Passing Patterns

Passing patterns (or passing routes) can tell you a lot about an offense’s objective on any given play. If you notice a trend in the passing game, you may see which part of the field or which defensive players the offense is trying to exploit. You may also be aware that the defense’s objective is to stop the running game and that the offense may adjust their passing patterns to move defenders away from running lanes. I’m going to address several common passing patterns utilized in all levels of football.
The COMEBACK route is used when a team has a fast receiver. The defender will give the receiver about five yards because the defender wants to catch him. On this play, the receiver sprints 12-20 yards downfield and then turns to catch the football. This is generally a route along the sideline. The QB throws the football prior to the receiver turning to catch it. The receiver must know where the QB expects him to stop and turn.
The CROSSING pattern can be an excellent toll to use against man-to-man coverage because the receiver has the opportunity to lose his defender as he runs across the field. If the receiver lines up on the right side of the line of scrimmage, he can run forward for about 10 yards and then run left across the field, losing his defender with a shoulder fake or stutter step. This route uses two receivers, each lined up on opposite sides of the field. In my example, the receiver who lined up on the left side of the line of scrimmage and interfere with the defender as the two receivers meet. The QB passes to the intended receiver as the receiver runs right in front of the QB’s line of sight.
The CURL and the HOOK are two very similar passing routes. The curl is an 8-12 yard pass where the receiver stops and turns, taking a couple of steps back toward the QB before the pass gets to him. The HOOK is a 5-8 yard pass designed more for tight ends to be the receiver. The tight end makes the turn more quickly because the QB releases the ball before the tight end turns to receive it.
In a POST passing route, a receiver runs along the hash marks toward his end zone. He might hesitate, as if to turn, and then resume his run along the hash marks. The pass is 40-50 yards and this play will be utilized when one of the defensive players (usually a safety) is deep and the offense feels that a fast receiver can get past him. The hesitation in the receiver’s step may cause the safety to slow down, giving the receiver that extra step or two he needs to get past the safety. The QB throws the ball high enouch that the receiver can catch it without breaking his stride.
The SLANT is a route drawn for a receiver who is lined up five yards to the right or to the left of the offensive line. The receiver goes out about 5-8 yards then slants to the left or to the right at an angle towards the sideline across the middle of the field. This route is utilized against both zone and man-to-man coverage.
In the SQUARE-OUT route, the receiver runs forward ten yards then makes a sharp turn toward the sideline. The QB must get the ball to the receiver before he steps out of bounds.
The STREAK (or fly) pass is a 20-40 yard pass to a receiver on the side of the QB’s throwing arm. The receiver is lined up near the sideline and bolts down the sideline as fast as he can. The defensive player (usually a cornerback, who we’ll meet later) is often as fast as the receiver, so the pass must be right on the money. The purpose of this play is to back the defense up off the line of scrimmage since the QB sees that the QB can and will throw deep. The offense, in turn, will be able to complete shorter running plays. The QB must ensure that there isn’t a deep safety on that side of the field who can intercept the pass. If there is a deep safety, the QB will choose another receiver on the field.
A SWING pass is an easy pass to a running back who comes out of the backfield and heads toward the sideline. If the running back is unable to break free from the first few tacklers, he will probably head out of bounds.
The last formation is a SHOTGUN formation. Then San Francisco 49ers head coach Red Hickey put this formation together in 1960 because his team was facing the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), who were known for their pass rushing (going after the QB on passing plays). Hickey had his QB, John Brodie, line up seven yards behind the line of scrimmage in order to buy Brodie more time to release the football. This plan was successful and the 49ers pulled the upset on the Colts. The Shotgun formation is a sure sign to any defense that the offense is going to pass the football. The center must maintain accuracy in snapping the ball that far back to the QB or this formation will not work.

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…The bad, and the ugly

My guess is that what is really good to the offense might be really bad for the opposition’s defense.  And that opposition is looking for some bad and ugly to exploit.  We’ll look at the bad from both perspectives, starting with the offense.

One of the worst things that can happen to a quarterback, or any offensive player, is a fumble.  This occurs when an offensive player either accidentally drops the ball or it is forced out of the ball carrier’s hands during a tackle.  The ball can be recovered by the offense OR the defense.  If it is recovered by the defense, they have an opportunity to score.  If it is recovered by the offense, they may lose yardage.  Either way, a fumble does a great deal of damage to an offense.

An interception happens when a defensive player catches a pass.  This is one of the worst things that can happen to an offense.  The defensive team is given possession of the football and an opportunity to score, especially if they have a player who runs well on an open field.

Any quarterback will tell you that getting sacked is bad news.  A QB is sacked when a defensive player tackles the QB behind the line of scrimmage.  Because the tackle is behind the line of scrimmage, it is for a loss of yards.  This is why it is important that the offensive line does it’s job.  Every QB needs protection to do his job well.  And any defender will tell you that a sack is his holy grail.

A deflection is something QB’s hope to avoid.  When the QB passes the ball and a defensive lineman knocks down that pass with his hands or arms, it’s called a deflection.  The end result is either an incomplete pass or possible interception.  It is rare, if not impossible, for the offense to recover the football and gain yardage if the football is deflected.

QB’s must pay close attention to where they are in regard to the line of scrimmage.  If he forgets where the line of scrimmage is or where he is in regard to it, and he runs forward in an attempt to avoid a sack, he can be charged with making an ILLEGAL FORWARD PASS.  The resulting penalty is 5 yards from the spot of the foul and the loss of a down.

INTENTIONAL GROUNDING is a penalty that has one of three outcomes for the offense.  A QB intentionally grounds the ball if he throws it to the ground or out of bounds on purpose.  One of the outcomes can even be beneficial for the offense.  If an offense is out of time outs or it wants to stop the clock to save the time outs it does have, a QB will back up from the center after the handoff and ground the ball.  The only penalty in this situation is a loss of downs.  The other two intentional grounding scenarios carry serious consequences for the offense.

If the QB is in his own end zone and he either throws the ball out of bounds or to the ground on purpose before he is tackled, the opposing team is given two points (this is called a safety).  The offense then has to give up possession of the football and kick off from their own 20 yard line.  In the NFL, teams kick off from the 30 yard line, so this is a 10 yard penalty.

If the QB is more than 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and he grounds the ball on purpose because he is afraid of losing field position, he will be penalized for intentional grounding.  The penalty is the loss of a down and the ball being placed at the spot where the QB was standing when he committed the foul.  If the QB is less than 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage and he is called for intentional grounding, the penalty is 10 yards and the loss of a down.

Holding is a pretty common penalty overall in the game of football, but since I discussed it while talking about common offensive line penalties, I’ll let it rest here.  That being the case, TRAPPING is the last offensive penalty relating to the passing game that I’ll discuss.  Trapping occurs when a receiver gets help from the fround in catching a low pass.  Receivers must see that their hands or arms separate the ball from the ground when making a catch.  Trapping is a difficult penalty to assess because the actual catch happens in a split second, usually as the receiver is falling to the ground.  It often takes a review of the play to rule on whether the receiver trapped the ball.

The defense has one penalty (other than holding) that affects how they defend passing plays.  ROUGHING THE PASSER is a penalty that was designed to limit a QB’s chance of injury.  Defensive players must do what they can to avoid contact with a QB after he releases the ball.  It is not easy for a defender to stop once he is in motion, so he may take one step once he sees that the football has been released.  If he hits the QB after that first step, the referee can penalize him for roughing the passer.  This is a 15 yard penalty and automatic first down.  This penalty is hard to assess unless the defender obviously hits the QB late, so it may not always get called precisely on that second step.  It’s not easy for a large lineman to get stopped when he is coming at a QB full speed ahead.

Next up:  passing patterns.  I’m learning a lot and I hope you are too!!!!

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The Good…

In my last post, I said we’d address the good, the bad, and the ugly off the passing game.  I have decided just to stick with the good because the bad and the ugly really deserves a blog unto itself.  So I am going to start with three things receivers should be doing in order to perform well on the field: line up on the line of scrimmage with the proper stance; use proper form to catch the football; and learn how to beat man-to-man coverage.

The first thing a receiver must do is learn the proper stance when lining up on the line of scrimmage.  I have heard it compared to that of a sprint runner in the starting blocks as he prepares for a race.  The difference is that a wide receiver remains in an upright position with his right foot about 18 inches behind his left foot.  He should be leaning forward enough to be able to explode off the line of scrimmage when the ball goes into play, but not so far forward that he is unable to keep his square to the ground.  A good wide receiver never changes his stance from play to play.  He doesn’t want to let the defense know if the play will be a running play or a passing play.  There must also always be seven players on the line of scrimmage.  The flanker lines up one yard behind the line of scrimmage.  It is usually a good idea for a receiver to double check with an official that he is lined up in the right spot.  A receiver may be lined up far enough away from the QB that he cannot hear the QB’s signals.  Therefore, he must watch for the ball to be snapped into play in order to know when to go into motion.

Catching is fundamental to a receiver’s game.  A good receiver wants to watch the ball as it drops into his hands, almost as if he has tunnel vision.  Therefore, his hands should be extended slightly in front of his body with his hands cupped in front of his face, almost in the shape of a W.  If a receiver catches the ball close to his chest, it may bounce off his chest or shoulders and out of his control.  Sometimes the football is thrown below the receiver’s waist.  If that is the case, the receiver should hold his hands out as if he is being handed the football and overlap his pinkies.

Finally, a good receiver knows how to beat man-to-man coverage.  This style of coverage is where a defender stays with the man he is guarding, no matter where the receiver goes.  The defender will do what he can to keep the receiver from running his route and catching the ball.  One way of doing that is to knock a receiver out of bounds because it is against the rules for a receiver to come back in bounds and catch the football.  A receiver should keep his hands up to keep the defender from being able to touch his chest.  He must break free from his defender and can do so using one of two techniques.  The first is called the DIP AND RIP–he dips his shoulder and rips past his defender.  The other technique is called the SWIM TECHNIQUE.  Instead of dipping, the receiver puts his hands up as if he were going to box his defender.  Then he tries to knock his defender’s hands away while going in the other direction.  He uses a freestyle stroke with his free hand to try to push the defender behind him.  The danger here is that the defender will catch the receiver’s arm and hold him under his armpit, preventing him from gaining yardage.

Next time:  the bad and the ugly….

 

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Air Force

I LOVE going to football games when the fall air is crisp, the sun is out, and the quarterback send the ball sailing down the field.  There are no words to describe the excitement (or disappointment, depending on which side of the ball your team is on) as a quarterback cocks his arm back, releases the ball, and finds his receiver in the end zone to pull his team ahead of the opposition.  Even more exciting (or disappointing) is when the quarterback is picked off, meaning the ball is intercepted by the other team’s defense.  As a fan of a team that has been referred to as “quarterback university,” I LOVE the passing game.  For better or for worse, just one pass can change a game.

Timing is a huge issue in the passing game.  A quarterback must know where his receivers will be and when they will be there.  His offensive line must also protect the quarterback long enough for him to find and reach his target.  He needs at least a couple of seconds of good protection in the pocket to execute his play well.  As a kid, I always thought that a quarterback would just automatically throw the ball up in the air and someone would find it and catch it (or not).  But the passing game is really pretty complex.  Sometimes the intended receiver is unable to reach his spot or run the route that was pre-determined because he is being successfully blocked by the defense.  The quarterback must have a good eye to find another receiver who is open to catch the ball.  Sometimes the offensive line misses its assignments and the quarterback is under pressure to throw the ball.  The receivers may have to adjust their routes to get open or to catch a ball that has been poorly thrown.  The quarterback may have to decide when to get rid of the ball just to avoid being sacked and sucking up a loss of yards.  (A quarterback who has been “sacked” has been tackled while he is in possession of the football).

The players that are most widely used to catch passes are tight ends and wide receivers.  Although their name implies differently, running backs are also widely used as receivers as well.  Attributes of a good receiver are good hands, sharp concentration skills in the face of adversity, courage in the face of opponents who want to take him down, and strength as he faces the physical aspects of his job.  Receivers are expected to block defensive players on plays where they are not the intended receiver, or when running plays are utilized.

Tight ends are players that may not be as fast and agile as wide receivers.  They line up on the offensive line and are expected to block big defensive players on many plays.  These double-duty players have the build of an offensive lineman and really good tight ends also have the agility of a wide receiver.

There are generally five receivers on the offense:  two running backs, two wide receivers, and a tight end.  You may hear the wide receivers referred to as X and Z receivers.  The X receiver (AKA the “split end,” which is a good thing in football and has nothing to do with hair) lines up on the weak side of a formation.  The Z receiver is also called a “flanker” and he lines up on the strong side of the formation.  So who is the Y receiver?  He is the tight end or the receiver who replaces the tight end on the line of scrimmage. 

Here is a diagram to illustrate where these guys line up.

X                         OOCOOY

                                 QB                    Z

                                              FB

                                HB

X,Y, and Z represent the respective receivers.  The C on the offensive line represents the center.    The FB (fullback) and HB (halfback) are the two running backs.

Next time, we’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly of the passing game.

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Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

Like all of us, offensive linemen get caught doing things they are not supposed to do.  As in life, some of these mistakes have consequences.  In football, sometimes these consequences come in the form of penalties.  There are some common penalties that offensive linemen may commit at some time or another.  BTW, a penalty is called by officials when they throw out a yellow ‘flag’ onto the ground.  These penalties may be called on the defense as well.

I would bet that HOLDING is one of the most frequent penalties the o-line incurs.  HOLDING should get called on ANY player who grabs another player’s arm or jersey.  It could even get called on a player who tackles another player from behind.  Players can use their hands, so that’s not the issue.  However, any player who is blocking another player should keep his hands in the opposing player’s shoulder and chest area, near the numbers on his jersey.  In the NFL, the penalty for holding is ten yards from the line of scrimmage (this is the boundary between two teams as they are lined up prior to the snap of the ball, determined by the tip of the ball closest to the offense).  In the NCAA, the penalty is ten yards from the spot of the infraction.  If it occurred behind the line of scrimmage, the ball is placed ten yards from the line of scrimmage.  In high school football, the ball is placed ten yards from where the infraction occurred.

ENCROACHMENT is another common penalty for the O-line.  If a player crosses the neutral zone (the area between the two tips of the football) prior to the ball being snapped to make contact with another player.  The penalty is five yards and the down is repeated.

An offensive lineman should have his position set prior to the snap of the ball.  From this position, he is not allowed to move.  If he does, he should be penalized for a FALSE START. The penalty is five yards and the down is replayed.

Another common penalty is when an offensive player positions himself over the line of scrimmage, hoping to gain an advantage over his defensive assignment in blocking, although sometimes he may not be sure exactly where he should be lined up.  OFFSIDE may be called if a player leans forward over the line of scrimmage, or places his hand in the neutral zone.  The penalty is five yards and the down is repeated.

There is only one player who lines up on the o-line (and he is not on the field for every play) that is an eligible receiver on a passing play.  That would be the tight end.  The o-line is responsible for blocking for the quarterback, running backs, and wide receivers.  If an offensive lineman has crossed the line of scrimmage for any other reason, he should be penalized as an INELIGIBLE RECEIVER DOWNFIELD.  The penalty is five yards with a replay of the down.

CHOP BLOCKING is a penalty incurred  when a lineman blocks another player below the knees.  Sometimes one player will hold a player by the shoulder while a second tackler aims below the knees.  This is an especially dangerous situation given the risk of injury.  The NFL thinks so as well, and penalizes CHOP BLOCKING 15 yards.  CLIPPING is a 15 yard penalty as well.  As with chop blocking, this is a hit below waist level also.  However, clipping is a hit from behind.

Any coach hates to see his team make mistakes, particularly those that cost them several yards.  It’s the offense’s job to move the football forward, not backward.  And on that note, next up are the receivers and the passing game.

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