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Play-Action Passing From the Pistol

by: Kevin Krausz
Wide Receivers Coach Knox College
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The 2011 Knox football team saw many statistical improvements that reinforce we are heading in the right direction. Our rushing attack improved by 45 yards per game and we averaged 21.5 more yards per game passing. One result was our scoring offense doubled from 2010.

We run the Pistol and play-action complements the belly run play that we called 90 times last year. A simple play that we added this year that greatly impacted our passing game is play-action off of our belly run play. We completed 60% of our passes in this scheme. The concept and protection scheme can be run out of any offensive system that utilizes a pulling guard. We prefer using three formations (Figure 1) and their opposite formations with the tight end to the right. We used play-action off the belly 31 times, completing 21 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

For protection purposes, play-action (Figure 2) is always run to the tight end. We have run the play out of all of the formations diagramed and to their complementary formations to the right. Similar to the belly run, the Y and the playside tackle block down on the first man inside them. The playside guard pulls and looks for any pressure off of the edge. He has to think on his feet as a defender may run under him and remove himself from the play. We want to let that defender go and be a threat to the quarterback. The center to the quick tackle secures the backside gap. The tailback takes a lateral step, and runs a C gap path selling the fake unless there is an immediate threat. The quarterback reverses out and fakes a give to the tailback. The fake is on the move as the quarterback is sprinting to the perimeter. The quarterback has a run/pass option on the perimeter.

The routes are simple in that the number one playside receiver runs an eight-yard out route. Against a squat cornerback, he must release outside the CB. The number two receiver runs a corner route to a sideline landmark of which is 25 yards deep. His breaking point is 10-12 yards deep, depending upon his stride. He will then burst three steps before looking up to find the football. He looks up to keep himself on a deep angle instead of flattening out and allowing the safety to break on the route. His initial release is outside any man over him if there are two safeties high. The backside WR runs a post route.

We will also run this play out of our 3 Over/4 Over formation (Figure 3). This is our favorite formation to run Belly out of, and it allows us to gain an additional edge blocker with the H when running play-action. We lose the backside post, but that is a small sacrifice.

The unbalanced formation creates alignment problems for defenses. Draw it up for your defensive coordinator and have him align to it. I guarantee you will have an advantage on either the strong or quick side. Our offense is a run-first attack and the pass game works for us by being able to run the football. When we align in more traditional formations, we have noticed defenses lining up balanced and attempting to disguise blitzes, stunts and coverages longer. By aligning in an unbalanced look, defenses have to line up and play honest. This is important for us because the quarterback has to look at the front and secondary to choose which way to run the football and what play to run. He has a much clearer read when the defense has to align honestly.

To complement the belly play-action, we will add a corner post to our #2 receiver (Figure 4). We will do this when the safety is cheating the corner route. The play tells our #2 receiver to run a corner, but on his third step to the corner, he will release vertical through the safetiesí inside shoulder. He cannot get too far inside because the quarterback is sprinting to the perimeter.

Another adjustment we added as the year went along is a seam route by the H-back (Figure 5). This gets our H involved in the passing game. We like this when the safeties vacate the middle of the field, or when the backside secondary defenders are playing flat. The X and Z run their smash combination and the H releases down on the inside linebacker just as we are running belly. As he gets near the backer, he releases vertical and looks over his outside shoulder so that he can see the quarterback. The quarterback is reading the playside safety to make sure he is playing the corner route and not the seam.

Our belly play-action package is a simple pass and protection scheme that can be used in a variety of offenses. You will find that you will complete a high percentage of throws and be able to keep the chains moving. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions at


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