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OFFENSIVE PLAYBOOK: Spread Offense Specifics

Now that we've gone over the spread offense at its most basic level, it's time to look further into the spread offense and some of the plays that make it so dangerous. These can range from basic running plays up the middle to plays that rely on deception and misdirection. Any good spread offense isn't complete without incorporating some of these elements.

Deception comes in the form of screens, from the backfield or out wide. It also comes in the form of a powerful play in the spread offense: the zone read. While a screen doesn't require much from a quarterback, zone reads and other routes in the playbook require both recognition and the ability to make the tough throw. As we've mentioned be fore, the spread offense is as effective as its quarterback allows it to be (with some help from the offensive line).

After the jump, the bread-and-butter plays in the spread.

Bubble screen


We've all seen this play in action at WSU and elsewhere. Last year, Nick Foles and Arizona made a killing using the bubble screen and for good reason. The play is essentially a low-risk pass that doubles as an outside run play. Instead of tossing to the back, the quarterback swings it out wide, opening up the field and giving the receiver only one defender to miss initially.

A bubble screen requires a slot receiver play side to be most effective. The split end has to be able to tie up the defense by tying up at least one man, if not taking two out of the play. 

Jailbreak screen


The easiest way to describe this is a reverse bubble screen. Where a bubble screen utilizes a slot receiver swinging out towards the sideline, a jailbreak screen has a split end breaking directly toward the quarterback. This should honestly be the easiest throw a quarterback ever has to make. His target is moving in a straight line coming right at him, with the throw only traveling a short distance. To sell the play, the split end fakes a step upfield before turning and breaking toward the middle of the field. As soon as he catches the ball, he turns it upfield and uses the blocks in front of him.

The jailbreak screen can be run effectively out of any set the spread has. If there's a receiver -- or two receivers in an empty set -- lined up inside the split end, they get up field to clear the way and block the man lined up on them. If the split end is alone on the play side, the guard and tackle -- and TE if they are play side -- pull to block. The blocking schemes change, but the basic idea is the same.

Slip screen


Sticking with the screen theme, this one uses a running back. It's the basic screen play everyone's seen a million times before. The screen play is like a draw, except the running back leaks out of the backfield toward the flat, using some deception along the way.

The play develops with the running back feigning staying home to block. The offensive line basically lets the man their assigned to block go, with pulling toward the direction of the play. The hope here is that the defense pins their ears back to get to the quarterback and fails to read the screen, allowing the back a free pass to the second level. With three linemen and the receiver on the play side blocking, the running back shouldn't really have to make more than one defender miss.

There's no set formation a slip screen has to be run out of. It can be used in a double tight, 3 wide, and 4 wide set. As long as the offense sells it and the defense bites on the fake, the play works. If the defense diagnoses the play and breaks towards the back, the quarterback can always throw it away. The play is typically all or nothing.

Seam routes


With so much going on in a spread offense, the seam becomes an area to be exploited. Typically, a defense can't man-up against so many receivers and routes going on at the same time. Playing some form of a zone becomes necessary to slow down a passing onslaught. From there, the seam opens up.

The seam route isn't a difficult one to run or recognize. The inside receivers, be them slots or tight ends, run directly up field through the seam in a zone defense. It's an inside go route meant to get in-between zone coverage assignments. The key is hitting the receiver at the right time. A deep seam needs to be hit right between the safeties in a cover two, about 10-15 yards down field. The timing needs to be right so the pass gets over the linebackers but before the safeties. If a quarterback can hit a seam route -- which is easier said than done -- it's usually there almost all day.

Zone read

The zone read is in almost every playbook in the country. It's a basic running play that relies strictly on the quarterback's ability to read one player on the field. It's run out of the shotgun and requires the quarterback to put the ball in the receivers grasp before decided whether or not to give it or keep it in the last second.

The running back comes across the quarterback in this play, passing directly in front of him. The offensive line leaves one man unblocked -- the defensive end on the side of the field the running back lined up -- to allow the quarterback to make the "read" in the read option. Everything keys off this one player. If the end stays home and holds containment, the quarterback hands the ball off. If the end crashes down the line, the quarterback keeps it and turns upfield to the space the end vacated.

From this basic play, a variety of different options are available. A basic zone read is as describe above. If it's a two back set, the play can be a zone read option, with the second back being the option pitch-man. If you're Oregon, slot receivers become the option pitch-man, making themselves available as the quarterback breaks outside. Want to use the read as a playfake? No problem at all. QBs can pass out of a zone read look, drawing the defense in and hitting an open man. Teams can even run an end-around off the zone read.

If you still aren't quite sure about the zone read, CGB did an amazing job explaining the way Oregon runs theirs. Go check it out.

Bottom line

I picked a small sample of plays to illustrate the versatility and power of the spread. Using screens as low-risk passing plays that double as a run keeps the defense honest while spreading the field. Exploiting a zone defense is also a must for any spread, as long as the quarterback can make the necessary throw. Finally the zone read has opened up a whole new form of the offense, giving teams like Oregon a use for the multitude of weapons they have in the backfield.

Plays like the ones listed above may seem simple, but they help make the spread go.