The modern Spread offense is nothing more than the natural evolution of traditional schemes found in most Flexbone or Wing-T offenses. The main difference is the addition of multiple wide receivers and the location of the quarterback (gun or pistol). Take the traditional double slot look of the flexbone, add a couple receivers as the slots and spread them out, back up the QB to five yards and an offense now has the Spread’s 2×2 look. The plays that run from this particular set look similar to the Flexbone’s veer plays, obviously with some tweaks. The Triple’s Dive Option is the Spread’s Zone Read. The use of a different formation and location of the QB changes the conflicts of the defense. Running from the “gun” backfield allows the offense to have a full field range of reads. Utilizing pistol or dot (UTC – under the Center) leaves half the field to read and an offense cannot use a RB stretch path to challenge the defense’s fits.
A different defensive approach must be taken when defending an offense that runs from the gun compared to a team that primarily aligns from the pistol or dot. RBs in a pistol/dot backfield are forced to go downhill. Many defenses spill gap runs when defending these “downhill” formations. The best way to defend a downhill running team is to make the play bounce (or spill). When facing a gun offense, defenses must adjust the traditional run fit rules because the RB can easily bounce the play wider than his initial aiming point. The field of vision for the QB is also affected by a gun alignment compared to play designs from a Pistol/Dot alignment. From the gun alignment, the QB has a full field of vision, and the offensive coordinator can choose from a number of defensive players to read. The pistol/dot alignment cuts the field in half, allowing the backside defensive players to be more aggressive to the ball (see image below).
Running from the gun allows the offense to attack a defense horizontally as well as vertically. The full plane attack by gun backfields forces traditional defenses to adjust the way it defends the Spread, primarily adjusting the play of the defensive ends. In a pistol/dot alignment the offense must attack the defense either vertically (downhill run/gap runs) or horizontal (wide zone/buck sweep/speed option). The full plane attack of the gun backfield allows offenses to run concepts where the offensive players have the option to attack downhill or stretch to the sideline, utilizing the whole field. These particular plays are known as Bash concepts, or “Back Away.”
The Evolution of the Bash Concept
Bash concepts, or “back away,” runs are becoming an en vogue play design to combating overly aggressive defenses, and the play’s concept directly conflicts with traditional defensive coaching. Traditionally offenses read the side of the running back when developing read/option plays from the gun. The modern Triple Option is no more than an Inside Zone, where the “read” side defensive end is unblocked, and a wide receiver screen serves as the pitch. The Zone Read (Bubble), in particular, has become the play most associated with the modern Spread’s run game. Defenses have quickly learned to combat this simple play by referring back to “old school” option defense: dive, QB, pitch (see image below). Once defenses made the adjustment offenses had to evolve to stress the conflict players and the defense’s option principles.
One particular evolution offenses implemented was the introduction of the pulling guard and the illusion of an outside run (stretch). Offenses began pulling the guard and creating what is known as Power Read. The blocking of the Power Read is similar to traditional Power except for the play side DE is unblocked. The read is inverted from a typical Zone Read play because the DE opposite the RB is actually the key. This inversion is the reason why some coaches also refer to the Power Read as Inverted Veer.
In the Power Read, both backs (QB and RB) are still going in the same relative direction just like Zone Read. The RB runs a stretch path to force the overhang LB to choose between fitting the pulling guard or chase the stretch action of the RB. Either way, the offense can dictate who gets the ball by reading the DE or the overhang LB. This double read plays on traditional rules of a defense: LBs read the guards and DEs spill pullers. A 10 personnel 2×2 Power Read is illustrated below:
One way to defend teams utilizing simple read plays is to cross-key the LBs. The term cross-key refers to where the LBs’ eyes are located at the snap of the ball. In a simple single-back gun formation, only two players can carry the ball, the RB and the QB. In a cross-key technique, the LBs will key the opposite back, or back away. In the illustration to the left, if the RB works to the Will, he simply folds into the “B” gap and receives the RB. In the case of Power Read, the Will fits upfield to collect the stretching RB. The Mike in this situation will mirror the QB, regardless of what the guards are doing. By cross-keying the LBs, a DC has secured the fits versus Spread offenses that utilize stretch paths by the RB, or simple Bash plays like Midline from the gun.
Cross-keying is useful when defending teams that use one-back Bash concepts. This is a simple adjustment that helps a defense against gun teams. The issue with cross-keying becomes evident when two backs are introduced into the backfield, and why two-back Bash plays are a beast to handle for any defense. The major issue in two-back Bash is, “Who has the QB?” If both backs are taken by the LBs, that leaves no one in the box for the QB. If the offense is utilizing an “H” or blocking back, the reads can become clearer because the offense is most likely not going to hand the ball off to the “H,” but a clever OC can use the “H” as a false read (or run the Shovel Option). If an OC knows the defense is reading the LBs through cross-keying, the OC will run the QB on gap plays from a split-back formation.
Where the evolution of the Bash concept has fully blossomed its potential is in the split-back formation. The beauty of the play is where the read can come from – either side. Like the pistol, the split-back formation can utilize its even box to dictate where the play goes. In the Spread offense (and in most offenses) the OC wants to attack the path of least resistance when running the ball, and in most cases will attack the “B” gap (open gap). Depending on who the offense wants to get the ball, they can dictate the direction of the Bash play by determining where the “B” gap is located. Feeding on traditional defensive structure, the offense can create an advantage in the run game by utilizing the split-back Bash concept.
Defending Bash Concepts
Traditional defensive fit rules do not necessarily translate to success against split-back Bash concepts. These particular concepts give the offense a distinct advantage and will attack the defense by using its own special rules. When defending an offense that uses Bash concepts it is important to force the play to stay in the box. The biggest concern for a DC is the stretch because the offense can easily out leverage the defense to the edge if reading the box LBs and both players are reading the guards. If cross-keying the LBs, both will flow with the stretch and no one will be home to take the QB (who has a pulling guard).
When defending teams that run from the gun, it is important to have calls built in to change the read for the QB. The main objective of a defense should be to make the offense left handed and force the weaker back to carry the ball. In order to defend Bash concepts, it is important to keep box integrity while setting barriers for the stretch play. One way to do this is with a “Hold” call for the weakside DE (or DE to the Nose’s side). A “Hold” call simple tells the weakside DE to climb to the outside shoulder of the QB instead of crashing down the line. This simple adjustment gives the box a natural wall and allows the LBs to fit a pulling guard or insert themselves into their respective gaps. Without a “Hold” call, the defense can be quickly out leveraged or outmanned in the box. The ideal situation for the defense is to set the edges and force the play into the box where the defense has numbers. This also allows the defense to keep its LBs reading the guards. Simply put, fit the box and set the edges for the stretch.
Fitting Bash Concepts
The key to fitting Bash concepts is to split the fits just like the offense as split the play (inside run/outside run). There needs to be a box set of players and players outside the box that can fit the stretch. Two-back Bash concepts are the most difficult to defend because the offense can gain a plus-one against the traditional fits of a defense. There are two main ways to read the Bash for an offense: the Mike (or an ILB) and the weakside DE. By aligning in a split-back formation, the offense determines the direction of the play, mainly identifying the open “B” gap and attacking that DE. Since the offense is in a split-back formation, this check is simple, find the Nose.
The reason the weakside DE is the main read is that in most defenses he is the dive player. With a play away, whether a simple Zone or Counter, the DE will crash down the line. This over-aggressiveness is easy to read and allows the two backs to quickly jet outside the box. Versus a 20 personnel set, the Will is aligned in the box as a 40. Even if he is hipped on the DE, he must read and react to the end man on the line (EMOL) and fit outside the lead blocker as the primary force player. Versus a simple Zone Bash, the defense has numbers, but against gap Bash plays, the Will can easily be vacated due to a pulling guard. Gap Bash concepts are even harder to defend than simple Zone Bash plays. This is due to the LBs fitting off the offense’s guards.
If the defense cross-keys the two RBs, both LBs will vacate the box. This helps if the offense is reading the DE, but a good OC will see both LBs rushing to meet the lead blocker and quickly switch the read to the Mike (or an ILB). When this adjustment is made, the offense has an even greater advantage in the box and the QB will run downhill unabated. Using traditional fits or cross-keying the LBs will not cut it against a good split-back Bash offense. The best way to defend these types of plays is to set the edges from a four-man defensive line and force the QB to run into numbers. The easiest way to do this is to give a “Hold” call to the DEs and let the LBs fit off the guards.
A “Hold” call tells the DEs to widen out and hold the edges of the box. Their main objective is to attack the stretching RB. The lead blocker in Bash concepts will bypass the DE because he is either the read or the offense assumes he will crash down. If the QB is reading the DE it will be a “pull” read and the QB will run into a plus-one box. Even if the QB allows the RB to keep the ball, the DE will be there to wrap him up in the backfield. The beauty of this adjustment is if the offense reads the Mike. The QB will give it to the RB with a DE waiting for him as he gets the ball. The DE’s path should be a vertical step and work to the mesh, aiming for the outside shoulder of the QB. The QB will be taken by the two LBs. By utilizing a “Hold” call, the defense has created a containment wall around the box and has numbers to deal with any pulling guards (or tackles).
The illustrations below represent both the traditional fits and a simple adjustment that can give the defense an advantage – a “Hold” call. In each picture the read is illustrated above the QB and if it is a “give” or “pull” read. In essence, the main objective is to create a simple way to combat Bash plays and force the offense to move away from them.
In the picture below, there is a clear advantage for the offense. Whether reading the DE or the Mike LB, the QB is going to get a “give” read. The main issue with the way a traditional defense fits is the numbers to the outside. With the DE crashing down the line, the Will is left to be the force from a 40. Some 4-3 defenses will leave him “hipped” on the DE, but by doing that the defense is exposed to gap plays frontside. The DS must make the Will right. If he is pinned by the lead blocker the DS will have to fit outside and chase the RB to the sideline. The Mike has to honor his open gap and read out of his fit being late support. See below:
The illustration below shows a “Hold” call. The weakside DE will close off the tackle’s down block and climb to the mesh. The aiming point for the DE is the outside shoulder of the QB and he will adjust as the RB comes across the QB’s face. The DE is responsible for the first threat, and in this case, that is the RB on a stretch path. The lead blocker is not taught to take the DE, therefore he is a free player and can go tackle the RB. The Will and Mike are now allowed to fit their gaps. The QB, if reading the DE will pull the ball into a plus-one box. If the QB is reading the Mike, he will hand the ball off to the RB should be tackled behind the line by the DE. Either way, the defense has the numbers.
With the addition of a puller, both LBs will flow to fit the gap (especially if reading the guards). The Will can read out of the fit, but he will be late support. As the image shows below, both options for the QB say to give the ball to the RB on a stretch. The image clearly shows an advantage for the offense versus a traditional fitting defense. The lead blocker can either seal the late scraping Will or head directly to the DS. Either way, the offense is gaining a huge chunk of yards on the defense. If the LBs are reading the RBs, both will vacate the box and the QB will have little to stop him as he follows his pullers.
By utilizing a “Hold” call, shown below, the defense can secure the edge of the box, eliminate the stretch, and have plus-one numbers on the counter play. The “Hold” call allows the Will to be quicker on his read since he does not have to worry about exchanging his gap with a crashing DE. If the frontside DE spills the Counter, the QB will bounce to a scraping Mike. The Sam can read out of the screen and fit the outside shoulder of the QB.
Below is an example of the DE following the pullers followed by the DE working to the upfield shoulder of the QB (“Hold” call). In the first play, the offense gashes the defense for a large gain. When the DE sets the edge of the mesh, the play is contained for no gain.
Power Bash fits relatively the same as the Counter Bash. Both LBs will pull with the guard and the frontside DE will spill. The issue, as with all traditional run fits, is the crashing DE. The defense has a one-on-one matchup with an alley running safety and the stretching RB. Most DCs will want to shy away from this matchup. See below:
Utilizing a “Hold call allows the defense to box the stretch. The LBs can now focus on fitting the Power. Both sides of the play have plus-one numbers and the advantage is back to the defense.
On the surface, two-back Bash concepts seem to be unstoppable. Whether the defense is utilizing traditional fits or cross-keying the LBs, the offense has a clear advantage. By utilizing a “Hold” call and forcing the play back into the box, a defense can gain numbers on the offense. The true objective of defending any “option” run play is to force the weak runner to carry the ball. Against two-back Bash plays this decision is made difficult because of the lead blocker(s) for both the QB and the RB on a stretch.
Most offenses are looking for the path of least resistance. Against any defense, this point of attack will be found in the open “B” gap. By utilizing “Hold” calls, the defense can adjust and muddy the read for the QB. Whether reading the DE or the LBs, a “Hold” call will keep the play in the box. Every DC in the country is trying to find ways to gain plus-one numbers against Spread offenses.
Another adjustment a defense can make is to drop the DS (or CB) near the box (Trap). Most offenses will not count him in the box fit, therefore he will be unblocked. This alignment also gives a quick force player on the edge in case the DE does not climb fast enough to the stretch. The “trap” alignment by the DS can also allow him to fold into the box if the QB pulls the ball. This ensures someone is there for the cutback. If interested in “trap” alignments by the secondary take a look at these articles:
- Using Split-Field Coverage to Counteract RPO & Check-With-Me Offenses
- 5 Tips For Blitzing From The Secondary
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