Dec 4, 2011; Tampa FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Adrian Clayborn (94) is blocked by Carolina Panthers tackle Jordan Gross (69) during the second half of their game at Raymond James Stadium. The Panthers won 38-19. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

NFL X's and O's: Offensive Sets and Plays 101

Last week, I did a story on “Defensive Line Techniques 101″ Which you can click on to open in a new window.

The idea is simply to let some of the younger and/or more “casual” fans have a place to go to look up some things they may hear but not know what they mean.

While I realize this is a Carolina Panthers website (I was only editor of the joint for a year, hello), I also know that some commonly-used terms might sound a bit alien to the uninitiated so I’d like to help clarify some of that.

Personnel packages

You’ll hear terms like their “11” package or their “22” package. There’s a very simple mathematical formula that tells you exactly what they mean:

The first number is the number of running backs. The second number is the number of tight ends in any given formation. Add the two numbers, subtract from five, and that remaining number is how many wide receivers in the formation.

So, a “12” package means one RB, two TEs, and 5-(1+2) = 2 WRs. Use this quick trick to follow some of the more technically-speaking commentators or bloggers on TV, the radio, and the internet.

Formations and positions

I won’t insult you by telling you what a quarterback is.

Oct 7, 2012; Columbus, OH, USA; Miami Dolphins fullback Charles Clay (42) makes a catch in between Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Nate Clements (22) and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (58) in the second quarter at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

An “H-back” is, however, a bit of a hybrid position. It’s part TE, part FB, and with a dash of WR thrown in, depending on the player. The H-back lines up next to the TE, but a yard behind the line of scrimmage so as not to “cover up” the TE, resulting in an illegal formation which I’ll get to next.

A guy like Charles Clay of the Miami Dolphins is a good example of an H-back.

I could do as many posts just on formations as anything else, but I’ll just cover the basic rules.

There’s a weak side and a strong side, and the strong side is the side that has the TE. In case of a TE on each side, the default “strong” side is the right side as most QBs are right-handed.

First of all, there’s the 5 OL guys. Easy enough. The rule book states you have to have seven guys on the line of scrimmage, however. Not six. Not eight. Seven and exactly seven.

the offensive tackles are the “outside” linemen of the OL group, but the tackles must BOTH BE “covered-up” – that is, one player must be on the line of scrimmage between them and the sideline, or it’s an illegal formation.

What this means is any WR (usually on the left side) MUST be up on the line. Interestingly, the weakside WR is, in point of fact, a “lineman.”

Weird, huh?

Jul 26, 2013; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) makes a catch during training camp at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

It doesn’t matter if there’s a TE or WR there so long as they’re on the LOS (line of scrimmage) and covering up that tackle.

This rule also begets the “slot receiver” – the slot WR can not be on the LOS, and is usually why you find smaller, quicker guys in this spot. Since they’re playing at least a yard off their defender, they have room to fake and jive and get a clean release without being re-routed by usually larger corners or a safety.

Wes Welker of the Denver Broncos is a prototype “slot” WR. Small in stature, but ultra-quick and the fact they play closer to the middle of the field gives them options that the outside guys lack due to that “extra defender” being the sideline.

The WR on the right/strong side actually plays a yard off the line since the TE will be up on the line, covering that tackle. Again, variations can be made – you can actually have an “uncovered” tackle so long as he reports to the Umpire as being eligible before the play.

What about some of the play names?

A play-action pass is a play in which the QB fakes a handoff to the running back, hoping to force the linebackers to stay in up close for a beat or two so that the receivers can break behind them for a hopefully big gain.

A “draw” play is just the opposite. It appears to be a normal pass play with the RB kept in as a blocker until a beat or two of delay is waited out. Then the QB quickly hands off to the back who is usually fairly deep in the backfield. The idea is to allow an aggressive pass rush to get penetration, but to hand off the ball so the back can run up the middle, past the oncoming rushers, and can get to the second level immediately.

Jan 12, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) hands off the ball to running back Ronnie Hillman (21) during the fourth quarter of the AFC divisional round playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens at Sports Authority Field. The Ravens won 38-35. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

A well-executed draw play can really force a defensive coordinator to dial back those blitz calls. The “Statue of Liberty” play is also a variation on a draw play, only with a bit more deception involved.

A “screen” pass is also designed to take advantage of aggressive pass rushes. Offensive linemen actually allow the pass rushers to penetrate past them while usually a running back is set up with multiple blockers for a short pass behind the line of scrimmage. You let ‘em through and throw it over their heads, and is another deceptive play call. However, screen passes are fairly easy to diagnose and you can see who isn’t fooled on the defensive side by who doesn’t take the bait to rush the QB.

Read-option or an Option to read?

With the more mobile and younger QBs in the NFL, and especially with teams like the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins, you hear the term “read-option” being tossed around, but rarely is it explained:

On a read/option play, the QB keeps the ball and runs left or right, depending on which side the play is designed to go to. The QB “reads” the defensive end, and has the “option” to keep it or pitch it to the back, who then stretches the play to the outside.

The key to this play is the defensive end. If he “stays home,” the QB usually pitches the ball to the running back. If that end vacates and follows the RB to take the pitch away, the QB keeps it and turns it upfield into the hole the DE just gave him by moving out of the way.

It’s actually a very simple concept, and one that I think is a fad along the likes of the single wing (read: WILDCAT) because quarterbacks are simply too valuable a commodity to use to run the ball more than a handful of times a game. RGIII ran a lot as a rookie and had several injuries as a result. While Cam Newton has run a lot in his first two seasons, his 250 pound frame helps him not be at a disadvantage in collisions with linebackers, but you STILL DO NOT WANT YOUR QB TO TAKE EXTRA HITS!

That’s why I think the “read-option” will become more of a fad or “gadget” play of sorts as teams begin to realize they would rather not have their star QB taking a lot of extra shots. Tim Tebow can run a lot and has the size (244 lbs) to absorb a lot of punishment. He successfully ran this play a number of times 2 years ago when the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in their playoff game, but since Tebow remains all the passing threat of Garo Yepremian, Head Coach John Fox could afford to run this style of offense.

Don’t expect to see the read-option flourish, however, for the very reasons I’ve listed.

Reverse or End-Around?

A reverse is a generic term for an outside/sweep run of some sort with usually a WR coming across behind the play from the side the play is being run to. The (usually running back) then flips, tosses, or hands off to the WR coming back and is considered a bit of a “gadget play.”

The idea of a reverse is to take advantage of over-pursuit by the defense – a bit different attack than taking advantage of over-zealous pass rushes.

An End-around is an older term but still sticks. The “end” is the tight end and usually involves a fake handoff to the RB going up the middle as the TE turns and runs behind both the back and QB, taking the actual handoff from the QB.

Part gadget play, part misdirection, it can really take advantage of rookie and/or inexperienced defenders on the side the play is being run to. Smart defenders read the blocks of the OL and chase to the opposite direction in which they’re blocking.

Dec. 30, 2012; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New York Jets running back Shonn Greene (23) during the first half against the New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Slant run

The slant is a basic run that usually gives the RB 3 options. A slant-right for example allows the back to cut inside immediately OR stretch it wide to go around the TE or head to the sideline, depending on how blocks and pursuit develops.

“Trap or Wham” play

The older term is a “trap” play; “wham” is the more modern “cool” term, but they’re pretty much the same thing.

The offense allows one of the D-linemen to be completely unblocked by design – at first. There’s nearly always a man in motion on this type of play OR a pulling guard. What happens is this “unblocked” D-lineman takes a step and is at first surprised by not being blocked. As he’s looking to go after the ball, that pulling guard suddenly appears to smack him at an angle – from one side more or less – so that both the angle and the pulling guard’s momentum makes it almost impossible for the D-lineman to win the matchup simply due to mass and inertia. A very agile, smart lineman can see this coming and, if he’s alert, can possibly dodge the blocker…the “trapping/pulling” guard…and remain in position to make a play.

Those are most of the running plays other than the obvious sweeps and dives. Now, on to some pass patterns:

You DIG it?

The “dig” route is the same as a “square-in” where the receiver heads straight downfield for a set number of yards, then takes a 90-degree turn inward to the middle of the field, running parallel to the line of scrimmage. It’s a very effective route against zone coverages, as the QB can simply wait until the WR hits a hole in the coverage and an accurate QB puts the ball right in that window. The drawback is that it leaves a WR open to being “blown up” by a safety or other close-by defender right after the catch is made. Anquan Boldin is known for making his living going across the middle like this. Not all receivers will do it, but guys like Michael Irvin got into the HOF running this route (and the slant) fearlessly and effectively.

Hitch or hook?

A “hitch” pattern is the same thing as a “hook” pattern. Here, it starts out the same as a “dig” route but instead of turning to run across the field, the receiver does a “180” and simply stops and shows the QB the numbers on the front of his jersey. It’s a timing route as the ball should be airborne BEFORE the receiver breaks back. On a well-executed hook/hitch pattern, the ball should be almost to the receiver by the time he turns. He simply has to put his hands up and snatch it. This type of pass works best against man-to-man coverage, as someone in a zone could be lurking right there to pick it off which is why pre-snap reads are so important.

Dec 6, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders former tight end and pro football hall of fame 2002 enshrinee Dave Casper during the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Coliseum. The Broncos defeated the Raiders 26-13. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Ghost to the Post

A “post” pattern is where the receiver runs straight but at some point breaks inside and runs to the goalpost…thus the name “post” pattern. The Oakland Raiders’ Dave Casper made this pattern famous on his “Ghost to the Post” reception in a 1977 playoff game against the then-Baltimore Colts.

Capture the Flag in the Corner and Fade

“Flag” or “Corner” routes are usually a double-move type of route by the WR. He starts straight for a few yards, breaks in like he’s running a post pattern, but breaks it back to the corner so the QB can hit the open spot in the back corner of the end zone as long as the defender is behind the receiver. A well-thrown post/corner/fade route is nearly impossible to defend, which is why it’s so popular.

The term “fade” is used more often inside the red zone but it’s just a slight variation on the longer flag/corner route.

Ezekiel saw the Wheel. This is the Wheel he said he saw.

“Wheel” routes are long-developing routes that can get a running back on a mismatch against a linebacker going deep. Generally speaking, the RB runs out to one side as if running a flare or swing route (a short pass amounting to a long handoff out wide), but instead continues to run a curved route back upfield and to the inside.

Sometimes the wheel route is combined with a “rub” route – where 2 receivers cross their patterns hopefully to cause defenders to stumble in traffic – and get open that way.

Tricks blockers use

If facing a particularly fierce pass rush or great pass rusher in particular, there’s one trick offensive coordinators may use to help negate that rush: the Chip block.

“Chip” blocks are not to be confused with the now-illegal “chop” blocks. “Chop” blocks are when a lineman goes for the other’s knees and I’ve always thought it to be a dirty, dangerous play. The NFL now agrees, as too many season-ending injuries have resulted from such low blocks.

A “chip” block is a lot less nasty but can be every bit as effective. What an OC might do is pull in his WRs a lot closer to the formation and as soon as the ball is snapped, that interior/slot WR – or a TE playing a bit wide – simply closes the distance to, say, a JPP or JJ Watt or whoever is abusing their QB, and pushes him with one hand before going out into his pass pattern.

This very simple technique is very effective because it causes the D-lineman to lose his balance just a bit, and that’s all a tackle or guard needs to really clobber the guy and negate his pass rush for that play. The Philadelphia Eagles did this a lot under Andy Reid, so watch the Kansas City Chiefs this year to see if that’s still in Reid’s game-plan.

It’s a copy-cat league, so watch those close-in WRs in ANY game with a tight formation like that on a passing play. You’ll see what I mean, eventually.

Follow me on Twitter @Ken_Dye

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