Drop the Bomb on Opposing Defenses



Explosive plays matter.  Other than turnovers, explosive plays are typically cited as the single statistic that is the best predictor of wins.  Good offenses generate explosive plays.  A common saying among spread coaches is “throw short to people who score.” While we certainly agree with this statement in par; unless we have an incredible talent advantage, it is difficult to be explosive if we only throw short.  Some years we have fast receivers.  Some years we don’t.  Some years we have receivers who can make things happen after the catch.  Some years we don’t.  As offensive coaches we have to make sure that we give our players a chance to make plays down the field.  To do this we have to find ways to manufacture vertical throws.  By using the term “manufacture” it should be pointed out that these ideas are created through play design, not simply by saying, “Johnny, you are faster than everyone else…go deep.”  While that tactic also has its merits, and we have been blessed on occasion with that type of player, it is not the norm for us.  When we create opportunities to attack vertically, not only can explosive plays be generated, but these down-the-field shots protect the rest of our offense.  Safeties and corners can no longer be as aggressive in run support or in robbing short patterns and eliminating quick underneath completions.

In a previous work for Coaches Edge Technologies entitled Quick Rhythm Option RoutesI discussed in great detail two routes packages we feel are cutting edge and applicable to many different offensive systems.  Both packages are ball-control passes that can get the ball out quickly but also provide the potential for big plays.  We will look at a variety of methods we have used to engineer explosive passes.  These passes are designed to create explosive play opportunities every time they are called, not just in the hope of the defense missing a tackle or a receiver making a great run after a catch.  The hope is that even when they are unsuccessful, these ideas can still put a defense on its heels.

Josh Herring

Introduction and Philosophy

In 2007 I fondly recall our team throwing the ball all over the field on nearly every snap.  We had a record-breaking quarterback who was a four-year starter and a veteran, physical offensive line.  We had two outstanding receivers who both went over 1,000 yards receiving, complemented by numerous role players who could block and catch the football.  Over 50% of our passing game was three-step gun dropback passing, often down the field with intermediate and vertical throws.  At that time, in rural North Alabama, very few teams threw the ball more than ten times a game.  Coverages were extremely basic.  A jailbreak screen had a high likelihood of scoring if called in any given passing situation.  For a “passing team” those were the days.  Things have changed.  Currently (at least in our state), most high school coaches have more time with their kids than college coaches.  Most teams practice all summer after a ten-practice spring training period.  High school teams participate in off campus OTAs with other teams during the summer which closely resemble the NFL training camp model.  Defensive tactics have advanced at an alarming rate.  In a given season we will typically see the following:  base 4-2, 4-3, 3-3, and 3-4 fronts (often with multiple combinations in the same game), blitzes not just from inside and outside linebackers but cornerbacks and safeties, and a dizzying array of pass coverages, including complex split-field combo coverages like those favored by the University of Alabama and TCU.  Pass rushes are better.  Defensive backs are better.  Blitz schemes are more exotic.  Coverage schemes are sounder, better taught, and refined through countless repetitions in summer 7-on-7 competitions.  Against better competition, if we intend to dropback pass 30 or more times a game…our QB is in for a very sore Saturday morning.

We want to create explosive down-the-field plays in the passing game like everyone else.  However, we have had to find numerous new ways to get those throws while keeping our QB off of his back.  We came to the realization several years ago after an up and down offensive season and numerous conversations with college and high school coaches, that we had to make some adaptations to our offense. Simply put, defenses were often willing to concede short throws on quick game and screens.  We began to face talented defenses that were willing to play a conservative base front that maintained overhang players on both sides and played soft coverage with a “don’t give up big plays” philosophy.  Going into a game, they had decided to force us into a “constraint” offense.  Constraint plays are plays which protect the base offense and serve as “counters.”  In discussing this problem with other coaches, we found that many of them were facing the same issues.  As an example, while much less common now than at the advent of the up-tempo spread era, here is a common case study in which the defense controls offensive tactics rather than the other way around:

Team A was almost exclusively a 2×2, 10 personnel spread team. When they started spreading people out, they found that it emptied the box, and they could run zone read effectively.  They had a very basic passing game and protected their read option running game with bubble screens.  Team B was good on defense.  They played a 4-3 Cover 2/4 defense.  They apexed their outside linebackers to collapse on the zone read and still stressed the passing game.  The outside linebackers were athletic and could cover.  When Team A threw bubbles and quick game to constrain the outside linebackers, Team B was in cover 2 and take it away.  When Team A became frustrated, they tried to throw four verticals.  Team B converted from cover 2 to cover 4 due to their read system and matched all four vertical patterns.  Team A could find no rhythm on offense.  They moved the ball at times but had difficulty creating explosive plays.  Team B was perfectly content in allowing Team A to throw bubble screens for 4 yard gains.  In the red zone, Team B clamped down time after time and ended up winning a close game. 

In a clinic talk in 2009, I heard Mark Hudspeth remark that he had learned that a spread team, if always in a 10 personnel 2×2 spread look, is giving the defense the best of both worlds.  They can rally 7 and perhaps even 9 defenders against the run and drop 7 into coverage.  By relying only on box counts (or to use a more current innovation as an example – run pass combos), the defense can often dictate.  We believe there is a lot of truth to this.  We don’t want to be forced to check the ball down all game.  While our enthusiasm about run-pass combos is as devoted as anyone’s, there are times when we need “attitude” plays even as a spread offense.  We want to attack on every snap, whether in the run or pass game.  One of the things we hope to show is that teams which operate in a spread environment can use simple tweaks such as tight-end /wing sets and multiple personnel to benefit the rest of their offense without being overly complex.  For instance, it can be surprising how defenses respond to a two back set when playing a “passing team.”  We might even be in 10 personnel, but simply by aligning with a receiver in the backfield, we may automatically check to an 8 man front.

We are committed to trying to take a minimum of two downfield attempts per quarter.  In our way of thinking, down-the-field throws are constraint plays like screens.  We must throw them even when they are not working, because even when they aren’t working….they are.  Even unsuccessful screens can tire out a defensive line and make defenders run from sideline to sideline.  In a similar way, attacking downfield makes defensive backs (and coordinators) nervous.  Even an attempt that falls incomplete can create space for the short to intermediate passing game and make fast-filling safeties hesitate just a little more before committing to the run.

As a “spread” offense we have realized that changing personnel and/or using “pro-style” formations does not mean we have to change anything about our philosophy or scheme.  We are not going to be “put in a box” as to our style of offense.  While the ideas here are going to be shown as applied in a spread environment, most of them are applicable in any offense.  We have divided our deep ball package into a variety of categories.  Some are “attitude” plays where we are attempting to assert our authority and dictate to the defense.  Others are constraint plays that protect other parts of our offense.  We should note that in no way is this work a comprehensive study in attacking vertically down the field.  We certainly are not arguing that any of these methods are the best way to take deep shots.  The best way is what works for you.  Instead, we will look at applications within our offense and the thought processes that led to them.  Hopefully this will provoke thinking and reflection about how your own offense can adapt to attack vertically.

Our hope is that in presenting our philosophy and methods, you can find something of use for your offense, regardless of system.

On USA Football : Stressing dual responsibility defenders with play action

On USA Football:

During the last several posts, we have discussed establishing a base play, using formations, developing multiple pass concepts and creating counters off of the base play. A fully rounded attacked will include effective play action passes off of the base plays and counters.

We have several passing actions built off of our entire run game. This article will focus on how we pair our run game with a boundary flood concept. This is a single illustration. Within our system, we have created a structure that allows us to marry any run concept with any dropback concept. Our mode of play calling involves using wristbands. Previously, we used code words, but we felt that we wanted to be very clear in communicating what we want. While a play call may seem wordy at times, only certain blocks of the information speak to certain players. This mode can be done without wristbands as well. This will be a topic in future articles.

Stressing dual responsibility defenders

One advantage we have in this method is that we stress dual action defenders to the maximum. In giving a full run fake, a linebacker or safety who must respect the run first is given nothing but a run key from the entire interior of the offense. Read more

Learn more on this topic with interactive presentations and game video in 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays

Only interested in the chapter on Play Action?  Get it here for $4.99.

My book that gives every detail by position to run the stretch play (10.3 yd average) and details on structuring any offensive system is The Zone Offense:  Create A Structured System is also available for the iPad and Mac.



On AFM: Pairing Zone Read and Power Read to Attack Across the Defensive Front

Get my new iBook, The Zone Offense:  Create a Structured System

The read game allows the offense to attack the defense where they become weakest based on post snap keys. The power read allows for a gap scheme read concept that attacks inside and outside in one direction at the same time. The zone option allows for an A-Gap to A-Gap inside run that can hit front side or cutback as well as attacking the perimeter opposite the inside zone. The personnel we use gives us a fullback, running back and a hybrid receiver/running back in the backfield along with a dynamic quarterback. As seen in the diagram below, just two play calls allow us to attack the entire front.

PR ZBO.001

Read more

Read about developing an offensive system in my new iBook The Zone Offense: Create a Structured System. Learn more about our pistol offense in 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays. Both are full of dynamic content – diagrams, animations, presentations and game video and are available for the iPad or Mac on the iBookstore. 

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On AFM: The “Pop” Pass in Modern Football – A Simple Yet Effective Play

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As a young quarterback playing pee wee football, one of the first pass plays I learned was the tight end “pop” pass. It was a quick hitting play- action pass off of a dive play. From what I can remember we ran it from the straight-T formation made famous in Ohio by Woody Hayes. After faking to the fullback, the quarterback stops and fires the ball to the tight end who simply releases from the line of scrimmage and looks for the ball just after he cleared the linebackers who are filling downhill on the dive play to the fullback. It was a very short pass, yet the yardage it gained on the seam created in the defense allowed for big plays.

I don’t have my playbook from those years, but to my recollection, the play looked something like this:
straight t pop

This simple play remains effective today, and is making its way into spread offenses that use the read game. Teams are using it as a packaged run-pass option with the quarterback making his decision to give the run or throw the pass based on a post-snap read on the linebacker. They are also calling it as a pass to complement the power read/inverted veer and zone read plays….read more

Learn more about our Pro Style Pistol Offense in my iBook: 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays available for the iBook and the Mac in the iBookstore here:


One Stop for Your Offense Resources

Coaches Edge Game Planning System.  Save time and be more effective.

Coaches Edge Technologies. The Best Coaches. The Best Content. Interactive.

I’ve shared my notebooks of online resources over the past few months. As you spend the last few days of preparation before the season, you may be looking for a coaching point or video to help with your installation. This post provides a link to all of the resources I’ve posted. There are hundreds of links to presentations, analysis articles, clinic articles, forum threads, and videos. All links take you to information that is free.

If you haven’t done so yet, get a copy of 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays. It’s something that you will use as a reference both in and out of season because it’s loaded with offensive ideas and strategies. Get it here.

My articles on Pistol Running Game

Pistol Offense Resources

Diamond Pistol Resources

Power O Scheme Resources

Zone Running Game Resources

Play Action Resources

Coaching the Tight End Resources

Four Vertical Resources

Quick Game Resources

Tempo and No Huddle Resources

Game Planning Resources

List of my Clinic Articles
Creating an Offensive System gives you ideas for ow to go about putting together your system with specific regard to the language and terminology to create it. Discussion on all components needed for well rounded attack and fitting together all components for a fluid system is discussed.

Tempo and Procedures Part I. Setting up procedures to attack a defense. Gives ideas of how tempo can be used in an offensive attack. Details a procedure for sideline substitution.

Tempo and Procedures Part II. Discusses slowing down tempo at times to manage the game. Details no huddle procedures to slow it down, as well a purposes for huddling.

Tempo and Procedures Part III – Speed it up. Discusses ideas for multiple uptempo procedures as well as suggestions on how to become an uptempo offense.

A Multiple Run Game with Zone Schemes. Illustrates, with plenty of video cut-ups, different ways the zone game can be used. Gives a method for simply incorporating both read game and traditional hand off into your offense.

Methods for Teaching and Practicing Your System. Discusses how to make your practices and drills fit the needs of your concepts and schemes. Coaching the tailback in the stretch play is used as an example of how to set up drills and practices that give you direct game application.

Don’t Get Jumped in the Alley. Gives detailed technique with still shots, diagrams, and video on how receivers release an alley defender. Illustrates the importance of this technique in proper distribution and spacing of routes.

Using Tight Ends in Your Offense. Discusses many different ways a tight end can be utilized in your offense. Loaded with video. Quotes from Chris Brown and Andrew Coverdale. Details how to incorporate and coach the TE. Lists the Benefits and advantages of using a tight end.

The Basics of Creating a Multiple Pass Concept. Discussion of concept based teaching and its advantages in creating a multiple passing game that extends across multiple formations and personnel groups. Lists specific steps to conceptualizing a pass play. Naked/Play Action Concept is used to illustrate concept passing.

Adding a Wrinkle: Strategies for Movement. Using motion for specific purposes: changing gap responsibility, changing defender responsibility, taking advantage of a defensive adjustment, and creating total confusion.

A Process For Adding a Wrinkle. Adding wrinkles throughout he season in order to stay ahead of the defense.

Adding a Wrinkle: Attaching a Screen to Your Best Concepts. Adding a wrinkle by creating screens off of your most successful plays and concepts.

A Bag of Tricks. Specific thoughts on installing and using gadget plays. Video on different categories of gadget plays.

Stick-Draw Concept. A variation of the popular stick draw with the quarterback as the runner. Discusses the advantages of using the QB to run the draw.

Our Evolution of the Pistol Set. Details on how the use of the pistol has evolved for us and the advantages we have found in ball handling and footwork in the run game that have led to a more effective play action game.

Pin and Pull Sweep. Why we use the pin and pull and how it has become a very multiple scheme for us. Illustration with video of the different variations and applications of the scheme. Two important considerations when adding any play to an offense.

Adding Multiplicity with a Flexible Run Scheme: The Counter Play. Illustration of how the counter play can fit into a multiple personnel, multiple formation offense. Illustration of scheme with diagrams and video.

Sweep Action to Enhance the Inside Running Game. Illustrates different types of receiver sweeps that can be used with the inside running game. Points for how to incorporate receiver sweeps.

Supplement to magazine article: An Evaluation System For Your Quarterback. Make your QB evaluations objective by focusing in certain performance criteria. Use the system to help you make decisions on exactly what need to be done in practice to get your QB performing at his best.

Multiple Passing Attack with the Spacing Concept. How you can incorporate several concepts that many offenses teach separately into one teaching concept with variations to one player. The spacing concept can be used to create horizontal stretches of the defense and is high percentage.

Distort and Displace with Double Teams. Specific illustrations of ow to create powerful double teams in both zone and gap concepts. Includes teaching progression and drills.

Just Wing It. The advantages of using a wing in any offense. Includes plenty of video of the multiple of a wing.

Four Keys to Successful Four Verticals. Explains how concept based teaching, detailed route running, a consistent progression, and simple adjustments make this a powerful passing concept.

The Play Action Pass: Tying Runs to Pass Concepts. Shows how to create a more effective and multiple play action passing game by combining components of your offense in a simple way.

More For Less: Creating Drills to Maximize Practice Time. Receiver and QB Drills are used to show how to improve multiple skills within a single drill. Discussion of setting up drills to remedy certain technique errors.

Maximize Practice Time – Coaching the Big Skill Positions: QB, RB, TE, FB, H-Back. Different thoughts in getting more out of the big skills practice time and incorporating timing for the play action pass. Drills to work these positions on video.

Evolution of the use of he quick passing game. Discussion of the quick passing game and how it is being paired with other components of offense for a more powerful attack. Examples from Dan Gonzalez, Dub Maddox, Chris Brown and others. Plenty of video examples.

Using The Proper Tool: Pulling Technique. Explanation of what different types of pulls should be used for and specifics on techniques and drills for each.

More Bang For Your Buck with the Power Scheme. Illustrates how the traditional I formation blocking scheme can be used in multiple ways.

Play Action Passing Resources

Play action passing is a huge part of our offense. Being able to run the ball effectively and having a good play action game go hand in hand. Here are some resources from my notes on the play action passing game. Along with coaching presentations and articles, I’ve included good analysis articles that explain an offense’s plays with illustrated still shots, diagrams, and video. I have found a lot of statistical analysis which really shows the importance of having play action as part of the passing game. In most of the statistical analysis articles you will see that play action greatly enhances the team’s passing statistics and the quarterback’s rating. As an NFL coach recently told me, a good keeper turns into the same play that the QB was running in junior high and is easy to complete. Finally, I include a section of videos. All of the links in this post are to materials that are free.

Read my AFM article on tying the run and pass together here.

Read my AFM article on organizing a pass concept here.

Download my PowerPoint on keys to effective play action here.

View some of my play Action Cut-ups here.

My post on General Bootleg Quarterback Principles

Play action is explained, diagrammed, and shown on video in my iBook 101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays available for the iPad on the iBookstore here.

Dub Maddox-Set-Show-Snap-Sell. Must watch on how to teach play action fakes. We use it at BW.

Get Coaches Edge cutting edge resources.  Text, diagrams, animations, and game video all in one product:

101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays:  Play Action iPad iPhone More Info

Herring Snippet Covers.001

Explosive Offense:  Manufacturing Vertical Shots iPad  More Info

101+ Read Game Plays    iPad   More Info (includes read game PAP)

101+ Pro Style Pistol Offense Plays  iPad   More Info (large PAP section)

Smart Football/Chris Brown

Play Action – Better Pull a Guard

Green Bay and the Dig Pattern

Jimbo Fischer Bootleg

Manufacturing Big Plays in the Passing Game

Analysis Articles

Redskins Best PAP

Giants Play Action

Ravens PA vs Giants

Patriots PAP


Houston Texans 2012 PAP


Broncos Bootleg

Texans Signature Play

Oregon Play Action

Boise St complimenting Power O with PAP


Stanford PA off of Power O

Ohio St 2011

Cincy Bearcats

Zone Bootleg

Clinic Articles and Presentations
Ron Jenkins Play Action Mechanics

Fundamentals of Play Action JA Polk

Top Gun QB Academy PA Fundamentals

Andrew Coverdale PPT includes PAP

Bill Walsh – Controlling the ball with the pass

American Football Monthly- Paul Markowski

American Football Monthly – Rich Hargitt

Complimenting the rushing play with a play action

Pistol PA Downloads

Dennis Erickson – One Back a play Action, Miami 1993

Play Action off of Jet Sweep

Play Action with Curl and Scat concepts

Spread Offense Counter GT PAP

Mount Union PAP

Ted Seay- Bunch Play Action from Double Wing

Coach B Dud

Jay Wilkinson- Jenks Bunch, covers some PAP

Youth Double Wing Passing Game

Shotgun Wing T Play Action

Wishbone Play Action

Naked-Using Receiver Motion

Passing Game- Bootlegs

Bootlegs-QB reads made simple

Wing T Waggle

Spread Offense Bootleg Series

Bakersfield HS Pistol Play Action

Wing T 48 Pass

Defending the Bootleg

Backside safety vs play action

Statistical Analysis

NFL PAP Snapshot

Cowboys PAP

Bears PAP

NFC West

Seahawks PA

Cowboys-Play Calling and the Illusion of Offensive Balance

2012 Play Action, Defense

2012 Play Action, Offense

Cowboys PAP rate increasing

Running the Numbers

Redskins use of PA


49ers play action

Play Pass-Selling the Fake

QB &RB Action

QB footwork Draw Action Pass

Cal Play Action Money Concept pt1

Cal Play Action Money Concept pt 2

Cal Play Action Money Concept pt3

Ga Tech Inside Veer PAP

Play Action from Ski Gun

Play Action Pass Protections

PAP off of Jet Sweep

PAP from Power I

Wishbone PAP

Option Central PAP off Jet Sweep

Wildcat Naked

Wildcat Jump Pass

Fishduck: Oregon PA

Fishduck: Oregon Sweep/PA

Ohio St Zone Read PAP

Alex Gibbs Keepers

Tony Demeo Video Cuts
Frontside Post Wheel

Backside Post Wheel

Boot from trips

Frontside Stretch

Backside Stretch

Stretch with Triple Action

On AFM: Coaching the big skills: QB, RB, TE

In my column in August 2012, I discussed the evolution of the modern tight end, gave examples of how a tight end or h-back could be utilized in a spread offense, and gave suggestions of how to begin integrating this position into your offense.
Read that article here.
We are constantly looking for ways to become more efficient in our practice and getting as much as we can out of our individual and group periods. We use different variations of periods and try to add components and skills as we see fit. One area in which we were able to do this was by incorporating our tight end and h-backs into our period which we normally worked quarterbacks and running backs together.
One drill we do each day is called “run timing.” Typically, the period we work this in is during a 5 minute block during extra point and field goal practice. We take our running backs and quarterbacks to midfield and work all of our footwork, mesh points, and aim points. The quarterbacks work on the specifics of carrying out their fakes…read more

Learn more about our pro style pistol offense in my iBook which can be purchased from your iPad here: