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OFFENSIVE PLAYBOOK: Spread Offense 201

We covered the basics of the spread offense earlier, now it's time to move to the advanced course. While the basics covered the history of the spread and general philosophy, the key is in the details with this scheme. The specific roles of the players, routes run by receivers, and the use of a running game is what truly makes the spread offense dangerous.

In addition to the traditional spread, the modern version incorporates more advanced playcalling and requires the offense to make more complicated reads because of it. If the early version was vanilla ice cream, the modern version adds sprinkles, hot fudge, and all sorts of delicious toppings.

In order to do the scheme justice, it's necessary to examine both the basic spread and the more extreme forms that have emerged. Today's piece looks at the vanilla version in a little more depth. Tomorrow, we'll look at some at specific plays that have revolutionized the spread and made it so popular in the college game.

After the jump, a deeper look into what makes the spread offense and why it's so effective with a bonus look how going no-huddle makes the spread even more dangerous.



The routes run out of a spread offense are also created in an effort to spread the field out. Vertical routes by some with underneath routes by other receivers opens up passing lanes and forces the defense to choose. Do they drop back and let the defense beat them underneath or do they cover the underneath routes and risk getting burned deep? In the split second it takes to decide, it's too late. A defense has to be very assignment sound to cover a well-run spread.

Routes are spread out by levels. Break the field down into sections and you get the general idea. The levels are assigned in three sections: deep, middle and short. Deep is the area behind the safeties, middle is between the linebackers and safeties, and short are quick routes either behind the line of scimmage or just past it. A good passing attack in the spread aims to put receivers in each level.

Option routes -- or dynamic routes where the receiver chooses what to run based on the defense -- are less common in the spread. By combining routes and putting receivers in different levels, the onus is on the quarterback -- not the receiver -- to find the holes in the defense. A quarterback in the spread will likely always have an underneath route open, but a good quarterback should look downfield first before finding the outlet if nothing is open.

Rushing attack

A spread also doesn't mean the running game is non-existent. Every running play typically used in a basic west coast option is still on the table. The offense can run power plays inside the tackles, runs off tackle and around the end, or read plays out of shotgun. An effect of spreading the defense comes in the form of open running lanes up the middle. If the defense sells out to cover wide receivers all over the place, a simple draw play can turn into a long run.

Finally, the athletic quarterback comes into play. Spreading the field allows the offense to run sprint-outs and move the quarterback around to make plays in space. If the defense drops into a zone or follows the receivers while neglecting the quarterback, he can turn it upfield for some quick yardage. A spread forces the defense to cover so much space that virtually every option is on the table.


In a spread offense, the quarterback is very vulnerable. With increased splits outside, the linemen also increase their splits (the gaps between each other). In that regard, the offensive line needs to work together in harmony to keep the quarterback upright. Line calls and diagnosing the defense before the snap are key. Recognizing blitzes is also a must.

The line aren't the only personnel group charged with picking up blitzes. While the running backs are typically smaller, they must be able to pick up a blitz or at least chip a defender on their way out of the backfield. As the last line of defense, the running backs in the spread absolutely must be able to recognize a blitz and give the quarterback time to make his reads. Without a back that can block when called upon, the offense can quickly be thrown into chaos.

Blocking becomes so important in a spread because the routes take significantly more time. When the offense is sending receivers 10, 15, or 20 yards downfield, it takes some time for the play to develop. Sure the underneath routes are quick and easy, but the key is hitting those downfield routes and stretching the field. If the quarterback chooses to dink and dunk early, the defense will let him have it, knowing that only hitting the outlet receivers neutralizes the strength of the spread. Without time to set these routes up, the spread becomes less and less effective.



When most think of a no-huddle offense the two minute drill comes to mind, with an offense zipping down the field, getting up to the line and snapping the ball as fast as possible. In reality, this is an extreme example of the no-huddle. Most offenses running it as their primary scheme don't go ripping down the field. Instead, it's used to make the defense choose their personnel group on the first play in an effort to exploit it as the drive progresses.

By not huddling, an offense makes it hard for the defense to switch coverages and packages mid-series. The offense should be versatile enough to line up the same players in different formations, giving the defense different looks to deal with. If the defense chooses to come out in a base 4-3, the offense can spread them out and create mismatches. Using a no-huddle spread offense is all about creating mismatches while increasing the tempo above a normal walking pace.

Instead of calling the plays and changing personnel in a huddle, the offense does it all on the fly. They line-up, force the defense to get set, then look to the sidelines for a playcall based on what the defense is showing. Obviously this is not a fast process but if run correctly it should be much quicker than huddling and making changes there. If the original call exploits the defense, the offense can quickly snap the ball. If not, the sidelines will call in a different play before the snap. Even the timing of when the ball is snapped is dynamic and keeps the defense guessing. A defense simply cannot assume the offense will always look to the sideline.

Bottom line

Spreading the defense happens with both spacing and routes. Since these both lead to breakdowns in protection, the line and backs must be able to give the quarterback time to properly execute. The spread can be a prolific offense, but only if everything -- from blocking to routes -- is executed in the right way.

Up next, bread and butter plays in the spread. Specific route combinations, zone reads, and screens that make the offense go. We'll end with the spread as it pertains to WSU, hopefully putting the puzzle together to paint a clear picture.