Reviewing the Play Action Vertical Package


by Chuck

Oregon will continue to take advantage of defenses through their vertical package off of the running game.

The pace of Oregon’s offense is insane.  Have you been to a practice in Eugene?  What teams like Oregon and Texas Christian can do in a five minute period is flat out amazing.  Imagine being a linebacker and starring at an Oregon backfield featuring Darron Thomas and LaMichael James.  Play after play snap to Thomas who rides the football in James’ stomach eyeing the backside of the defense waiting to handoff or run himself.  Speed kills and defenses know it.  The University of Oregon continues to recruit more and more athletic lineman that fit into their spread zone read attack.  Communication and athleticism up front coupled with incredible speed and ankle breaking quickness – Oregon’s running game is second to none.

Let’s take a look at a successful running scheme from the past, the power option.  The University of Nebraska lived by the option and eventually died by their inability to adapt into a game based around speed.  The option is an offense that relies on the defense making a mistake.  For example in a base 3-5 defense when facing an option attack certain players have specific responsibilities. The play side Dog (also could be called strong side or weak side Dog based on how the defense aligns to an offensive formation) is responsible for the pitch man.  The play side OLB would take the quarterback, and the defensive line would most likely pinch, while the inside linebackers would be reading the fullback or whoever is the dive man.  A quarterback has some simple reads that determine who will end up with the football.  First the defensive tackle, and if he doesn’t want to give the ball on a dive he will continue to the outside, now picking between pitching to the outside and running up field himself.  This attack can wear down an opposing defense.  The power or triple option attack utilizes big strong offensive lineman, a power fullback, and both a fast quarterback and tailback.  When a defensive player cannot complete his assigned task the option can go for some big chunks of yards up the field.

The option has been used a lot in the past as a base offense and is still alive and well in today’s college and high school game. However the option has changed a little from the old Navy and Nebraska days.  Now teams like to spread out the defense and use speed combined with power like Georgia Tech and Oregon for example.

Why did the power option die?  The answer is also why Oregon can score so quickly, through deception. Every once in a while you might see the mighty Corn Huskers fake an option and throw to a TE or even drop back and pass (eventually they transitioned into a 2 quarterback system one was featured as the “running” QB and the other came in to throw the ball) but good sophisticated defenses game plan for such scenarios and a pass play can be easily read by focusing on some simple cues (like a safety reading a tackles initial movements).  This is why in the NFL we never see the option being ran.  Defensive players are way too smart and savvy for even the likes of Michal Vick running an option.

The game is so big now and continues to evolve every few years. Oregon is currently on the cutting edge.  Preparation is critical and therefore being able to gain an advantage over a team by using the play action pass is a crucial component in Oregon’s aggressive offensive attack.

Here are some of Oregon’s 2010 rushing numbers to digest

LaMichael James29417315.921
Darron Thomas934865.25
Kenjon Barner915516.16
Team Total62937215.942

Now, looking at these numbers, if you were a defensive coordinator preparing to play Oregon what would you focus on?  The way the Ducks play is similar to the principle of the power option – let the defense decide who gets the ball and go with it, “take what they give you.”

As a defense you must play downhill and be able to account for Oregon’s speedy rushing attack. This creates a huge opportunity to take advantage of linebackers and safeties peaking in to stop the rush.

Fake the zone read and here comes the Oregon vertical passing attack!  Go back and look up some of your favorite games from the 2010 season.  Search for some game highlights.  See for yourself as we all did last year how open Oregon’s receivers were last year when running vertical routes off of a play action fake.

Again to the numbers

Jeff Maehl77107614.012
D.J. Davis4247011.23
David Paulson2441817.44

The most basic of all concepts is an object moving vertically at full speed will beat an object that starts in the opposite direction.  Let’s take a look at a simple vertical play action pass that Oregon runs.  This is not a complex play but it spreads the defensive secondary thin.  Especially against a 3 shell secondary (2 corners and a single safety) the quarterback can freeze the safety by the play action in the backfield and look him off to one direction or another, throwing the ball to a vacated area usually in the middle of the field.

Being a successful team isn’t about finding the weakness of your opposing defense and exploiting it.  That may force you to put your weakest foot forward.  You must know what you’re good at and do it!  Oregon is a phenomenal running team and with a veteran quarterback returning the boys in green will be able to strike quickly by mixing in their vertical play action passing game.

If speed kills then R.I.P Pac 12…the crown will stay in Eugene