Saturday, March 4, 2017

Using a Mirrored Zone in Goalline Situations

We all saw the play.  The play that will forever live in College Football lore.  Six seconds remained on the clock in the 2017 National Championship Game and the fate of two very good football teams hung in the balance.  Clemson rolled right into a Trey set with a strong back alignment and ran another pick route combination against Alabama's man-to-man defense and Hunter Renfro, the game's smallest star on the biggest stage, made an easy catch near the front pylon of the endzone to forever seal history, as well as Alabama's fate.  However, was it really what Clemson did, or what Alabama failed to do.  Now, I know what you're saying, "Duece, if you know so much, then why the hell aren't you on Nick Saban's staff?".  I get it, and yes in some ways you're right.  Second guessing, or playing the armchair quarterback (QB) is easy.  Yet in this case, it's so easy, anyone could see what was wrong with Alabama's defense schematically, and it had even been shown to them earlier in the game.  It game with 14 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, when Mike Williams caught a four yard touchdown (TD) pass from Deshaun Watson.  The formation was different, as was the play (somewhat), but the results were similar.  Below is a recreation of the TD pass to Renfro followed by the variation used to get Mike Williams into the endzone.

Yes, different plays, but the same results, and the same methodology to get guys open.  "Pick", or "rub" routes have been around in football since Moby Dick was a minnow (i.e. a long time).  These pick routes take advantage of over aggressive defenses that employ tight man-to-man coverage.  Out in the open field they are not as deadly as they are down inside the goalline and the reason is, sheer spacing.  Out in the open field a defender can recover and a five yard gain by the wide receiver (WR) isn't really that devastating a blow to the defense.  However, do that on the two yard line, and you have serious issues.  Really, inside the ten yard line, the defender is put at a severe disadvantage to the offensive player in that even though he may recover, the yardage he's giving up is just that much more precious once in this area of the field.

What really surprises me, is that Alabama Defensive Coordinator (DC) Jeremy Pruitt didn't adjust from his first mistake.  The first route combination that Clemson ran was a version of Smash, just reduced in route stem due to location on the field.  The other item of interest was that the outside receiver stemmed inside, in order to pick the defender, on his hitch route.  Mike Williams did not stem vertical, yet widened, in order to bring the defender assigned to cover him, into the stem of the outside receiver.  This created a natural "pick" or rub, that allowed Williams to come free into the corner of the endzone for an easy touchdown.

The final play, was a bit different, in that it was run into sprintout action instead of drop back.  It was also run into a Trey set, that featured both outside WR's off the line of scrimmage (LOS).  The route combination was also a bit different, yet featured the underlying theme of a "pick" route.  The combination is known to many as slant/arrow, and while Clemson's slant, looked more like a crack block, it was effective nonetheless in fooling the officials that a route was being run instead of a block being thrown.  Again, the outside receiver drives into the defender aligned inside of him, in order to create space for the inside receiver.  Both receiver drive off and attempt to get both Alabama defensive backs (DB's) on the same plane (this makes the pick or rub more effective).  The safety inside did a good job of cushioning back, while the corner on the outside actually is the one that gets run into by the outside WR.  However, the number one receiver creates enough of a "hump", that Tony Brown has to run over in order to keep up with Renfro, that he simply cannot make up the ground to cover the route.  The other thing is with Watson rolling to that side, it reduced the length of the throw and added the impact of perhaps Watson being able to tuck the ball and easily run for the score.  All-in-all the two plays were drawn up and executed very well by Clemson.

Now, when I say Pruitt made a mistake, I honestly believe that.  Number one, I'm not a huge fan of playing man on the goalline for two major reasons.  First the obvious reason that I've written about above.  In my opinion, there's not enough space to play man down in that end of the field.  The DB is always at a disadvantage, even if they press.  The reason is, the WR has a two way go almost automatically down here, because the DB doesn't have time to catch up.  Inside the ten yard line things happen almost too quickly for defenders to react.  So, with the sped up throws down here, that means the pass rush can be largely ineffective, which leads to un-harassed QB's that easily set their feet and make easy throws.

The second reason I don't like man on the goalline, especially against a QB that can pull it down and run it like Watson from Clemson, is that not all 11 eyes are on the ball.  When you're facing a QB who is a threat to run, you need as many eyes on him as possible.  I'm not saying you cannot play man-to-man against running QB's, but it's best to have a plan where you can get eyes on him, and keep him contained.  Going all-out Cover Zero man, in my opinion, does not do this.

Last, I was actually burned by something very similar early on in my coaching career.  It was in a district game, that was against a very big rival.  We had beaten this rival the year before, and NEVER in the 38 years these schools had played had the school I was coaching for beaten them in back-to-back seasons.  We had them on the ropes early in a 21-6 game, but they roared back on big plays, due in part, to the legs of a scrambling QB.  Being young, I cared nothing about playing zone on the goalline and so when the opponent got inside the ten yard line, we manned up.  All game long they had converted third downs at will with the bootleg.  The opponent's QB was a lefty, and they were rolling him out to the left every time.  They liked to run what I call "Ace Double Pro" (seen below) and the route combos they ran off the boot is shown below.  We were struggling with keeping him contained as he was such a good athlete.  By the time the game ended in a 24-24 tie, he had racked up over 100 yards rushing on us, mainly on scrambles.  Anyhow, we get into overtime and we have the ball first and score, but they block our extra point (you know where this is going don't you).  So they get the ball, and we have them at fourth and goal from the seven.  I decided to bring the OLB off the edge from the QB's right side.  This was also from the field, I just knew they were going to boot him out and give him the run/pass option like they had so many times that evening.  We had run this blitz on their last drive of the game and sacked him for a five yard loss.  Well, low-and-behold. they booted alright, but it was a boot keeper, in the direction of the fake.  They even ran the routes, like they were booting to the offense's left, but instead of the QB rolling to his left with them, he followed his running back (RB), into the endzone for a TD.  They made the extra point and the rest is history.  Now, one reason this worked, was of course, it was a brilliant play call (hell, it could've been improvised for all I know), but we didn't have enough people on that side of the football to stop the QB keeper because we were in man.  He ran off both my corner and my safety (they even had the tight end that dragged chip my OLB) because they were chasing routes.  After that a guy we had on staff, who was a very good coach came up to me and explained to me about the goalline mirrored zone he'd run at a few schools prior to his stop with us.  So, after the long awaited build-up, here's what we installed with great success after man-to-man cost us that game.

The Basics-Alignment

The basic concept for the mirrored zone lies in what formations you are defending based on personnel groupings.  For me, I based out of the 4-2 or the 4-3, but the concept is the same regardless of the defense.  The examples here are from the 4-3.

Since we are in the short end of the field, typically I used to let the amount of tight ends (TE's) dictate the alignment.  Since most of us see a lot of spread offenses, and many of which will even choose to stay in the spread, I'll start with 10 personnel.  With no TE's in the game, the defense will align with four down linemen in our traditional "Gap 4" concept.  Gap 4 is basically two 2I techniques and two 5 techniques.  The defensive line (DL) will align this way when in the goalline package.  The linebackers will take their traditional alignments with the Mike being in a 00, and the outside linebackers being in wide 50 techniques.  Assuming a two-by-two set, the safeties will align in hard inside leverage on the number two receivers and the corners will shade the outside receivers ever so slightly.  If the offense utilizes a three-by-one concept, then the defense simply slides over to adjust with the extra receiver.

If the offense chooses to add a TE to the mix, whether it be 11 personnel, or 21 personnel this doesn't change the alignment.  Now, the LB to the TE side will walk up and play a nine technique.  The remaining LB's slide to the walked up OLB and play a modified version of the Under Front.  The safety to the open side, if he has a receiver, treats it like a standard two-by-two set (see above).  If it's an open set, the the safety must align in a manner to take away both the slant, and set the edge of the defense.  The safety to the TE side of the formation must also take this same alignment.

If the offense adds another TE to the alignment, choosing to use 12, or 22 personnel, then both the outside linebackers will walk up on the LOS in nine techniques.  If the number two receiver is the second TE, then the MLB will align in a 00 technique over the center with both safeties treating their respective sides like that of a pro set (see above).  If the number two receiver is in the backfield then the safety will align in the first open gap as a LB.

Mirrored zone vs 22 personnel

Mirrored zone vs 12 personnel

Against three back sets, no matter the amount of TE's, both outside linebackers will walk up on the LOS.  Both corners will base their alignment on the that of the number one receiver.  The safeties will align in the box with outside leverage on the number two receivers (running backs) to their respective side, or align stacked behind the defensive end if there is no definitive number two receiver.

The Basics- Assignments

Since we are talking coverage, I won't elaborate on the DL in this article.  The mirrored zones are divided up as shown below.  The term mirrored is not something that is cliche or "catchy" either.  Defenders are to mirror the eyes of the QB on passing downs.  Here is a breakdown of each positions assignment within the mirrored zone system.

The mirrored zones of each defender


Corners are to do what their name says.  They are to protect the corner of the endzone to their respective sides.  They are to play the corner aggressively and passively rally to any inside throws.  When coaching the corners, have them be conscious of the fade and post corner routes.  Corners have secondary contain in the run game.


Against the run, or if the QB boots to their side, the safeties are responsible for the QB on boot.  The only time this isn't true is when the safety is aligned inside of an outside linebacker.  The safety and outside linebacker to each side must communicate who is force.  Against the pass, the safeties have their mirrored zone.  They will eye the QB, reroute any vertical stems by a receiver they are aligned over (if this receiver is detached) and will look to break on any inside cut by the number one receiver.  Should the QB boot at any time when the safety is force, he is to yell boot and contain the QB.  Making this call alerts the other defenders to slide their zones in the direction of the QB's boot.

Outside Linebackers

The outside linebackers have a mixed role when it comes to what they are asked to do in the mirrored zone defense.  If the outside linebacker is off the ball, then they are automatically a part of the coverage.  Their zones, begin inside the safeties' zones and extend to the edge of their alignment.  The assignment is similar to that of the safeties, but the inside cuts they look to protect are made by the number two receiver.  If a safety's alignment puts him inside that of an outside linebacker's, then the OLB must become the force/contain player.  This call is communicated from the safety to the linebacker and now the linebacker has no pass responsibility.

Middle Linebacker

The MLB, will adjust based on the alignment of the outside linebackers.  If both are off the ball, or both are on the ball, then the MLB will align in a 00 alignment over the center.  If one LB walks up on the ball, or leaves their traditional 50 technique alignment, then the MLB will move over in the direction of the OLB that moved (either up or out) to the first open gap he comes to.  The MLB's zone is the middle of all the zones created, and he is to protect for the QB draw.

Situational Analysis-How would this have helped Alabama?

Clemson had already shown that it was willing to run rub routes in the endzone to get their guys open.  This was evidenced on the Mike Williams TD catch prior to the Renfro TD.  Alabama is caught playing man-to-man (m2m) coverage in both situations.  The latter one, even looked as though they might even be trying to play some sort of banjo technique, but you can see on the snap, the defender's eyes immediately fixate on their respective receivers.  In the mirrored zone, receivers are only looked at to line up on, not to relate to.  Since the defense is at an advantage because it's working with condensed space, the defender's eyes must be on their main key, the QB.  If the QB takes the ball off the LOS in an attempt to pass, the defender will relate to the QB's front shoulder, and his eyes.  The QB cannot throw the ball where he's not looking, and where is front shoulder is not pointed.  Therefore, as the QB drops and his eyes scan, the coverage players, will react to the eyes first, and has the arm cocks to throw, will react to the turn of the shoulders.  If the QB's shoulders stay looking down the middle of the field, the defenders have no need to move from the presnap alignment.  They simply wait to break on the ball.  If the QB turns, to throw the ball more outside, then the zone defenders will begin a lateral shuffle in the direction of the upfield shoulder of the QB.  To the side the QB is throwing to, this will put defenders into throwing windows and away from this shoulder, it will keep defenders in a position to rally to the ball, but also be there if the QB reverse rolls back away to scramble.  If at any time the QB boots, the force/contain player must alert the defense to the boot, and attack the QB outside-in immediately.  Any hesitation allows for receivers to get open, and the QB to make an unimpeded throw.  As the QB boots out, the remaining defenders will turn and work to the middle of the next zone in the direction of the boot.

An example of defending the boot is shown below.  The weak side safety sees the boot, alerts the defense and attacks the QB now!  The corner, to the side the boot is on, protects the corner of the endzone.  He can squeeze this route, but must always play it with outside leverage.  The LB's will hear the boot call, and sprint to work to the middle of the next zone in the direction of the boot call.  The safety opposite of the boot call works in much the same way as the other LB's.  The backside corner squeezes the dig route, keeping outside leverage at all times and thinking "throw back".
Mirrored zone vs the bootleg

Back to the final play of the National Championship Game (NCG).  When the ball is snapped, the outside receiver drives off into the defender.  This is because the defender is up in a press technique.  Corners in the mirrored zone never press, they always play off, even if the ball is on the one yard line.  Inside zone defenders will align with their heels on the goalline once the ball travels inside the five yard line, but they never press.  Renfro's catch was from the two yard line.  The corner in the mirrored zone would've been at least five yards off the ball in this case, with the safety to the inside having his heels at the goalline.  As the number one receiver drives off looking to pick the inside DB, this leaves the corner standing there with both the ball and the receiver coming to him.  It is much easier to defend and out cut from outside-in than inside-out because everything is coming to you instead of away from you.  Even though the corner is taught to protect the corner of the endzone, they are football players and are taught to break on the ball as well.  At the very least the throw would've been much more contested than if the defense were in m2m.

Another key to note here is that Clemson sprinted into this scenario, whereas on the earlier Mike Williams TD pass they dropped back.  Now, the play was pretty quick, but here's where the goalline zone really wins in this situation.  The corner is basically sitting and waiting for the ball to come to him.  Upon seeing the QB roll to him, the safety to the side of the sprintout would immediately attack, leaving a receiver looking to set  a pick with nowhere to go.  I know what you're thinking, but no, the outside receiver would not be open because the linebacker would've sprinted over to replace the safety.  Now, the QB has a hot defender coming off his outside.  Clemson utilized turn back protection so this would mean the running back had to make a choice, either block the DE, or block the blitzer, either way the defense has a two-for-one scenario here.  I know he who has the chalk last always wins, but let's be honest, what defense would you have rather been in?

Mirrored zone vs Clemson's final play
Sorry it's taken me so long to write.  Since the election, my business has been soaring (yes, I'm not a teacher).  I'm in the process of gathering some new information and coaching points on the Two Gap One Gap defensive line play as we speak.  May take me some time to get it all sorted it out, but be patient with me!


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Flexbone Featured Play-B Back Screen off Rocket Toss Action

Many of you watching the Army-Navy game saw this play help get Navy back in the fight, down 14-0 in the third quarter of their recent matchup.  This is not the first time this play has been utilitzed in the Flexbone offense, however you rarely find much on this play.  The reason is simple, it's a play that is on the fringes of the need spectrum in the Flexbone offense.  You don't really "need" this play, however it's a great play for the situation Navy was in.  It was third and five and their young quarterback (QB), wasn't handling the pressure of playing in his first Army-Navy game very well.  They needed to cover five yards, and had been doing so a myriad of ways throughout the game with little to no success.  Many of us Flexbone purists know that Rocket Toss is a great third and short to third and medium play call, especially if the triple option is struggling.  The beauty of calling the screen is getting the defense to over commit to a play that stresses them out to begin with, only to throw it in the opposite direction.  The B back screen off Rocket action is a classic counter punch to an overly aggressive defensive scheme.  Let's delve further into the scheme and break it down, position by position.

Play Side Wide Reciever (X in the diagram above)
The play side wide receiver (PSWR) is one of the mainstays of making the screen play off Rocket action work.  Normally, on Rocket away, this receiver is pushing hard across the field to cut off the near deep safety (NDS).  This is done to allow the cut back if the ball gets into the alley and the NDS overruns the alley.  The PSWR can in essence "pin" this defender in and allow the Rocket to cut back to the middle of the field (MOF), only once the ball has gone into the third level of the defense.  The first part to making the screen work, is coaching the run up well enough the defense buys the fake.  What I'm alluding to is the fact that many times you see WR's simply jog off the line and trot down field and do nothing when the play is away from them.  This cannot be the case on Rocket Toss as it does nothing to harm the defense when running the screen, and in fact, will make the screen easier to read.  The PSWR on Rocket Screen must run at the NDS with the same effort and relentless pursuit as if he were the backside wide receiver (BSWR) on Rocket Toss.

As shown above, the X receiver should attempt to block the NDS on Rocket Toss away, so therefor, when selling a deceptive play such as the Rocket Screen, this WR needs to be doing EXACTLY what he'd be doing if he were the BSWR on Rocket Toss.  What this block turns into is the crack block that secures in the inside edge of the alley being created for the B back.

Play Side Tackle
The play side tackle (PST), will scoop hard and flat for 2 steps, and then will release over the top of the defensive end (DE), and work flat to the outside and attempt to kick out, or trap the corner.  A key coaching point is for the PST to find the corner, as he may be in a few different places depending on the coverage being faced.  If it's a hard squat corner, the PST's path will need to be flat, and aggressive to that he can kick out the corner and make the alley as wide as possible.  If the corner is a zone corner, reading motion and bailing, then the tackle does not have to be as aggressive, and can work more down field, becoming more of a lead blocker for the back than a trap blocker.  If the corner is playing the WR in man coverage, then the tackle will need to turn up and in effect "log" the corner and pinning him to the inside.  In the video below, the tackle gets caught up and turned around, but saves himself and makes an excellent block on the corner.

Play Side Guard
The play side guard (PSG), is the same as the PST for the first two steps.  He should scoop hard down inside, then release opposite.  The PSG is generally the lead blocker for the screen, and will pick up the alley defender for the screen, which in many cases is a linebacker (LB) or rolled up safety (depending on what defense your facing).  The key coaching point for the PSG is to simply take the defender where he wants to go.  There is no right or wrong direction, as the back will make his cut off of the PSG's block.  The idea is to maintain constant contact, and not have the blocker lose his feet.  In other words, it's better to simply be in the way, than make a crushing block.

One point of contention with some coaches on this play is the PSG and what they do with him.  Many coaches I've talked to do not pull this player on the screen.  One main reason they give is that as we know in the Flexbone offense, the guards are both the "road graders" of the offense and are not really adept at pulling.  Most coaches said they didn't want to put a guy out there that wasn't capable of blocking in space.  This is really preference.  I always pulled mine, but you don't have to.

The center executes the same two step scoop, and then climb technique similar to the PST and PSG, but the center is looking to cut off any backside trash that is coming from the second level of the defense.  If nothing shows at the second level, the center should continue to climb and work on to the third level of the defense.  Again, a crushing block is not necessary here, just simply making a defender change course may be enough of a block to spring the play.

Back Side Guard
The back side guard (BSG) has been one that I've toyed with over the years with doing a couple of things, and it really depends on what you're seeing and how comfortable you are with your QB play.  In the early years of running this offense, I had the PSG simply scoop hard in the direction of the fake, looking to help vs. any blitz or stunt that I may have not anticipated.  The more I ran this play, the more I noticed the guard was more of a "traffic cop" doing nothing than actually help sell the play.  Later, I had the guard take a drop step and eye any backer on the action side for a blitz, and then pull around the back side tackle (BST) as he would if we were running Rocket Toss.  Now, of course, I don't teach a delayed pull on Rocket, but the defense never seemed to catch on to this subtle change, so we kept it in.  What I noticed was an even bigger jump by the defense, especially the LB's when they saw that guard pull.  The idea behind the peeking for the blitzer, is that there is a time, when the QB, will have his back to defense (i.e. when he's faking the toss to the motioning A back), so the QB would be vulnerable to the blitz.  The rule I gave the BSG was if you saw a blitz, or it looked as though they were going to blitz, simple scoop and pick up any blitzer.  The backside of this play is very similar to the reach concept some teams employ for their sprint out passing game.  If you choose to pull the guard, then he's really just "window dressing" in that all he's there for is to get defenders to over commit to the toss.  If you have him scoop, he does have an assignment and that would be to protect from his inside gap to his outside gap the first thing that shows.

Back Side Tackle
The BST, is very simple, he just reaches.  You can have him fight up field like he would on Rocket if you wish, it's really up to you.  The idea here is pretty much the same as the BSG in that when he's scooping, he needs to look inside-out for the first threat to the QB.  What really sells the play, is if the BST will actually turn his shoulders to the sideline, as if he were trying to rip outside of the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL) just like he would on Rocket, and then come square and protect, inside-out.  Since your tackles should be your more athletic linemen, they should be able to do this fairly easily.  If they aren't that athletic, then just simply have them scoop.

Back Side Wide Receiver
The back side WR (BSWR) is another position that is very simple to execute.  You can simply have him fire off and stalk block, or attempt to run off the corner.  Either method will work and this is based solely on your preferences.

Play Side Slot Back
The play side slot back (PSSB), which would be the "A" in the above diagram, is also a "window dressing" player in that he's really only there to hold the defense with the fake.  The key for this player is DO NOT WATCH THE SCREEN!  Too often have I come in on Saturdays to watch game film and have us run this play only to see this player watching the screen.  It's not that hard to read that it's NOT Rocket when the pitch back turns and looks opposite the direction the play is being faked.  This back is the guy that sells it all.  Yes, the BSG pulling is a nice touch, but we all know our high school (HS) LB's and even though we think they are reading the offensive linemen (OL) like we coach them to do, they still do stare at the backs.  They also know, if you've been running Rocket successfully, how hard that play is to stop, and should be trying to get a jump on getting into their pursuit lanes.  If the slot looks any different than Rocket, then this may cause the defenders not to commit as much, which puts them in a position to get back and pursue the screen.  The coaching point you must work on here, is have the back fake recieving the pitch, and then he MUST turn up into the alley and run no less than five yards down field at full speed to get a positive film grade on this play.

Back Side Slot Back
Much like the PSSB, and the BSG, the back side slot back (BSSB) is a guy that's there to sell the Rocket fake.  On Rocket, this player would be running a traditional arc path, looking to block there NDS and open up the alley for the pitch back to run in.  The same must be true on this screen play.  The BSSB must execute his crossover and run technique, staying flat into the alley until the NDS commits and then attacking downhill  and looking to block this defender.  Again, a key coaching point for this player is to not look in the direction of the screen.  Sell his fake block, and make that safety or outside linebacker (OLB) commit.

B Back
The B back will do just what he does on Rocket Toss and cut off backside pressure by blocking the first defender to show outside the offensive tackle (OT).  What you want to teach the B back to do here is attack the defender's inside shoulder aggressively, and "chip" this defender long enough to give the QB time to sell the fake.  I usually tell him to chip block for a two count and then release the defender to the outside.  If for some reason, the path of the B back and the path of the defender necessitate a log block, then the B back must hold the block for one count longer (i.e. count to three).  I generally frown upon letting the defender wrong-arm us on this block, as it really shortens the edge to the QB, but the play is not dead, this action just needs to be prepared for, and the B back must understand how his block changes based on this change in attack by the defender.  As the B back releases the defender he is to simply turn around, and settle into any opening he can find, where this defender left from.  A key coaching point is to not allow the B back to "float" downfield.  It's alright if he works laterally, just not downfield, as of course, the pass must occur behind the LOS to be legal.  Once the B back settles into place, he should be looking for the football.  Once the ball is located, and caught, the B back should turn to the outside and get into the alley being created for him.  As he turns and runs into this alley, he should look to locate the PSG's block and cut off of that block.  He may cut inside or outside this block, but MUST NOT look to cut back opposite the direction the screen is going.  The idea is that the back should never work back inside the original alignment of the PST.  If the back tries to cut it back, it means a shorter distance that fooled defenders have to run to defend this play.  Once the B back makes his cut, he now simply runs to daylight, again, working to stay inside the alley being created for him by the PST and the PSWR.

The QB has to be the Blackjack dealer on this play.  He's got to slight of hand enough to sell the pitch fake, but keep his balance and wit about him to set up and drop back to set up the screen.  The QB should take his normal Rocket pitch steps, and make a fake toss to the motioning slot back.  The fake pitch is done by extending the arms out and simply not letting the ball go.  The key to the fake is not to be so long and drawn out that the defense gets a jump on rushing the QB and can sack him, but not so short that the defense isn't fooled either.  This technique takes some finesse and some refining, but don't over coach it if you can help it.  The idea is getting the ball off and into the hands of the B back.  The motion fake, the pulling guard, and the arc blocking slot are also helping to fool the defense, so keep that in mind as well.  Once the fake is made, the QB should then drop back two more steps as if to set up, and then add a third, shorter drop step and deliver the ball to the B back.  If the B back is covered, the QB should simply throw the ball at the feet of the B back.  Never take a sack on a screen.  Also, it is never a good option for a QB to scramble on a screen play either.  Throw the ball in the dirt towards the intended receiver and live to fight another day.

The ball should be delivered in a manner that it can be easily caught.  No need to drill the back with the ball.  If anything the QB should make a soft deliberate toss in the direction of the B back's outside shoulder so as to lead the back in the direction we ulitimately want the play to go.  This is another skill that you don't need to over coach.  All you have to do is tell the QB he's making a long handoff to the B back.  I'd be more crucial of his fake than I would be of the actual pass.

Game Planning
Another segment of the Featured Play series is going to be game planning these plays.  It does us no good to know how to run a play, if we don't know the best time to run said play.  Rocket Screen is a play that, in a few ways, is like a well-timed trick play.  Now, it's not as gadgetey as some trick plays, but you must admit, the more you run it, the worse the outcome is.  Rocket Screen is more like a well-timed reverse.  Not only is it well-timed, but it's well calculated also.  When looking back at this past season's Army-Navy game, one will see that Navy didn't run all that much Rocket in the game, but did run it enough.  What was key, was Army's reaction to Rocket.  Army sold the farm to stop this play.  Army and Navy also know each other VERY well, so Army's defense knows when a Rocket Toss play is potentially going to be called.  Third and five is an excellent down to run Rocket on.  What should've given away the play to Army was the timeout just before they ran this play.  Whether the initial play call was Rocket Screen or not, I think as a defensive coordinator (DC) you have to be aware when a team takes a timeout when these two situations align:

  1. It's third or fourth down
  2. The team your facing is against the ropes
Navy was desperate to get some sort of offense going, and the Rocket Screen provided it.  Navy's OC, Ivan Jasper had to have been watching how Army was reacting to, not only Rocket, but other wide run plays Navy had been attempting to run throughout the first half of play.  I think the call for the screen had actually been made in the locker room at halftime because of what they were seeing out of Army's first half defense.  The situation presented itself and Navy hit Army at the right time.

So where does this lead us in our quest for when to call Rocket Screen.  Well, the answer to this question is tricky, because it all depends on the success you're having with Rocket.  If you haven't run Rocket well, or haven't run it much, I see no need to run a play that isn't going to fool the defense very much.  With a play like this you're looking to, at the very least, secure a first down.  That being said, you're really wanting this thing to go the distance because of how thin Rocket Screen spreads the defense (it truly makes them defend all 53 1/3 yards of the field).  

So, assuming Rocket has been a staple of your run game, I'd look to run this play in a critical situation in which you think:

  1. You cannot make the yardage you need with Rocket due to the defense getting more acclimated to defending it (i.e. they are over committing to defending Rocket Toss)
  2. You feel you cannot throw sprint out, three or five step and get the same result.
  3. You feel you cannot protect your QB long enough to get the ball down the field with either sprint out, three or five step passes.
With a "when to run it" there must also be a "when not to run it" as well.  I would not look to call this play in the following situations:

  1. Early in the game.  Most times when I've seen Navy run this, it has been in the second half.  That is not an "always" rule, but generally that has been when they seem to take this play off the shelf.
  2. When the defense is not over committing to stopping Rocket Toss.  This is simple math.  If you look at the Navy situation, and it's third and five, and on the last attempt at running Rocket you gained 9 yards, why would you not call Rocket again?  This is also a "feel" thing as well you have to have.  You know when you've run a play and gained yards and it seemed easy, and when it seemed difficult.  If the previous attempt was difficult, or your ball carrier simply made one hell of a run, I'd consider calling the screen, otherwise just run Rocket.
  3. On the goalline.  I've been a mixed bag when it comes to screens on the goalline.  I've had success with them, but more often than not the defense is in closer proximity to the QB, and the reduced field makes the deep ball harder to be a threat, so screens lose their value the closer you get to the goalline.  However, playaciton screens, such as Rocket Screen, keep their value in that the field width never changes, and Rocket Screen stretches the defense across this entire width.  Again, though, a lot of moving parts down near the goalline makes me a bit nervous.  I wouldn't say never, but I'd really have to be feeling my inner riverboat gambler to call it in a goalline situation.
  4. If the defensive line (DL) are playing heavy read techniques.  If you are getting a DC that is using a lot of squeeze and spill concepts with his DL, then you might want to think of something else.  A DL that plays a lot of read techniques, or "hands on" techniques and are very disciplined are going to hard to run a screen against no matter what offense you run.  
None of the above are an end-all-be-all to the calling of an offensive play.  If you're reading this, I'm sure you have an idea on play calling.  I'd call this more of a guide than a cookbook.  Offensive play calling comes down sometimes to gut feelings based on careful film breakdown and study.  

Hopefully this post will be a springboard to future feature play posts that will shed a more in-depth guide than my original Flexbone playbook posts did.  You probably won't hear from for awhile, I'm not planning on any sort of schedule for these, they are just sort of "when I feel like writing" types posts, but hopefully they'll be helpful.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!