Breaking Down the Run

MatchQuarter’s guide to breaking down your opponent’s run data.


Of the two play types, breaking down the run concepts is much easier than the pass break down. There is less individual player variance and most run concepts are blocked relatively similar across offensive playbooks. The front of a defense many times will dictate the types of gap and option plays a defense might see. When looking to break down the run it is important for defenses to consider what defensive schemes are showing up in their opponent break down. If the teams in a league or district all run similar defensive schemes then the breakdown will stay relatively true across opponents. It is when teams run different fronts that the run breakdown can give false tendencies. One thing a defensive staff must keep in mind is how offenses change run schemes when facing a four-down front and a three-down front.

In order to keep the breakdown streamlined and efficient, each data point must help the staff paint a clear picture of what the offense is doing. Much like pass concepts, each offensive type (Slot-T, Air Raid, Pro Spread, etc.) has a unique way of blocking traditional runs. Formations add to the variations in blocking schemes as well. For instance, in a two-back power, the offense may choose to “J” block with the H-back and down block with the Tackle, while another offense may insert the H-back as a lead blocker and out-block with the Tackle. Each play is Power, but a defense needs to know the difference in blocking schemes. Luckily, most offenses choose a single blocking scheme and stick with it (therefore, no need to tag the variation), but when doing self-scout, it is important to be able to sort the Powers altogether and the variations between them. Even a play like Counter can be run several different ways from a two-back scheme. Is the offense pulling the Guard and Tackle, or are they using the H-back as the fold player? Add RPOs and a defensive coordinator can have a lot of information on one line. A defensive staff must have a structured, almost scientific, way of breaking down an opponent. 

The Run Data Columns


In most cases, the data columns for the defense don’t change in relation to run and pass. For this reason, it is efficient to find uses out of each column. Adding columns may seem like a tedious process and adding more work, but on the back end of creating cut-ups and mining for tendencies, the extra columns can be invaluable. As always, the first column in the “offensive play” breakdown is the “Play Type.” In this case, the discussion is on the run data.


Much like the pass breakdown, the “Tree” column is used to separate the different types of runs. This column makes it easy to create cutups and determine if a team has a zone, option, or gap offense. When creating tags for this column it is important they don’t overlap with the passing data points. To keep things simple, one letter tags speed up the breakdown process and keep it efficient. Here are a few example of “Tree” labels:

  • Draw (D)
  • Gap (G) – Power/Counter/Fold etc. Anything where a lineman is pulling.
  • Option (O) – True options where the QB can keep it or pitch.
  • Read (R) – Any play that is reading a single defender.
  • Zone (Z)

One way to break it down, even more, is to have different labels for inside zone (IZ) and outside zone (OZ). With most offenses running some type of RPO, or “mix” play, the defense could even choose to label those with an “M,” but the defensive staff can use the “B/S Route” column to insert what screen or route is being run.


This is the money column and the one all defensive staffs must be on the same page with. Whatever a staff decides to call a play, that play name must be recognizable to the whole staff. Most coaches know what a power and a counter look like, but with so many teams using Slot-T and Triple Option principles in their run games, it has become harder to break down the run. There are many different offensive types and run concepts when it comes to “Read” plays. Some teams use Split Zone to set up an “Arc Read,” while others run Split Zone and then man block and insert the H-back into the backside gap like an inverted Iso.

Each play is different and thus gets labeled differently. Like the pass breakdown, it can become a convoluted mess if each play is called something different, especially when playing teams that run “Read” and option plays. In order to keep it efficient and simple, the “Play” column should be used to name the base play only (and the strength). Is it a Zone Read or is it just Zone? Is the H-back arcing or is he “walling” the edge to make it Split Zone? When the coach who is in charge of breaking down the run enters his data, the base play needs to be inserted. The following columns help break the play down and give the coaches a better idea of how the offense plans on attacking their scheme. When labeling the strength for traditional plays a staff would label the direction of the play, but in read and option plays, the strength label needs to be to the side the “read” is on. Example, if the offense is running zone away from the offense’s strength, but reading the strongside DE, the label for that play would be “Read (S)” because the offense is reading the strongside DE even though the OL is blocking weak.


The tag column helps streamline the “Play” column. For instance, if a team runs a Counter play and pulls the Guard and Tackle, the base play is still Counter and the “Tag” would be “GT.” If that same team runs a Counter but uses the H-back as the puller the “Tag” would change from “GT” to “GF” or “GH,” whichever the defense prefers. This column can also be useful when breaking down teams that run the Buck Sweep or any of its variants. By using the “Tag” column a defensive staff can quickly determine if an offense pulls the uncovered lineman or always pulls the same men. Another great use for this column is when teams use the “Arc Read” out of two-back. If the H-back is to the read side, the “Tag” column can be left blank or labeled as “SS” for “same-side.” If the offense runs an “Arc Read” where the H-back is away from the read side, the column can be tagged “Flip” or “Flop.” This keeps the base play the same (which streamlines data) and allows the defensive staff to dig deeper into tendencies by using the “Tag” column.

B/S Route

The “B/S Route” tag is a great way to tag the offense’s use of RPO screens or “pop” routes. Unlike a Play-Action play where the offense is still pass blocking (or passively run blocking), an RPO allows the offense to trigger the defense with run blocking (low-hat) and hit them with quick screens or pop passes. Most RPOs are pre-snap reads and are based off the “box” look given by the defense. In order to access an offenses RPO scheme, the defense must break the plays down by run and pass. From there, RPOs need to be labeled as “Nows” or “Mixed” plays when there is a pass and labeled as the base run when offenses choose to hand the ball off. If the defensive staff doesn’t label the run and pass as “Mixed” and separates them by pass (Now) and run (base label) an easy way to determine what run plays are being RPO’ed is to tag the “B/S Route” column with the route being used. This allows the defense to keep all the Zone Reads together (or Powers, etc.) and label the route concept tagged to the run. For instance, if a team runs a Zone Read Bubble and hands the ball off (or QB pulls it), the defense can tag the play as a Zone Read and insert “Bubble” into the “B/S Route” column. This keeps the runs streamlined and less convoluted.


Just like the pass breakdown, the “Target” column allows the defense to see who is getting the ball. This is useful versus option teams to quickly determine if the QB or the RB is getting the most carries (or to see if a “read” team is really reading the defense).


Being able to efficiently break down an opponent is an advantage great teams have. Find a championship team and there is probably a great opponent breakdown behind it. The point of any breakdown is to get enough data to view tendencies and patterns, but not too much to where a staff is chasing ghosts. A key to any breakdown is to make sure the columns being used give the defensive staff enough information without overwhelming the staff or convoluting the data. When using a program like Hudl, the columns have to be double-sided. The data columns must work for the pass as well as the run. In the case above, each column can be used to break down each play type without interfering with the other.

**Note: If your league/district is heavy in the option it might be beneficial to create a “GKP” column to keep track of the Give/Keep/Pitch data**

© 2017, | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

Looking for more on opponent breakdowns?

  1. Breaking Down an Opponent
  2. Down & Distance Data
  3. Building a Hit Chart
  4. Breaking Down the Pass

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