Misdirection Football Plays – Using Bunch Formations to Manipulate the Defense

The use of misdirection football plays in the form of trick plays and reverses can prove to be an effective way of confusing and moving defences to open up space for easy gains and scoring opportunities. The use of bunch formations can improve the effectiveness of these misdirection plays by condensing the defense pre-snap and opening up more space to the edges of the field. This puts defences in difficult positions to stop your offense by out positioning them, which creates opportunities for big gains and socring plays. Bunch formations also make it easier for your offensive players to move from one side of the formation to another which often catches the defense off guard.

WR Reverse (Feed Me)

The play we will be discussing today is called either a Wide Receiver Reverse or a Flanker Reverse and involves a play action fake to the RB one way, and then tossing it to the flanker the opposite way on the reverse. The TE performs an Arc block for the receiver running the reverse path to help win the edge and create more room for the receiver to run (please see our earlier article: Read Option Football Spread Series – Using Wing Attachments for more information on Arc blocks from the wing). Normally it would be ideal to also release the playside (the side which the reverse is going to) Guard and Tackle to the second level – leaving the two playside defensive lineman unblocked and running to seal the edge against the linebackers on the second level.

When we ran this play in our team, which was a no-huddle spread offense, the signal and name for this play was “Feed Me” so that’s what I will call this play throughout this article. This play in particular is good against man coverage defences and teams which have good defensive lines that are difficult to stop as this play works to create both misdirection against man coverage and also eliminates the defensive line from the play almost entirely. If the D-line wants to get involved you are forcing those fat boys to run sideline to sideline (and a few of these types of plays will make them gassed very quickly).

We often came up against 1 high safety man coverage teams, so we found it more effective to assign the single side receiver to block the safety and prevent them from running over to shut down the reverse. The CB would follow the receiver as he would be in man coverage and take himself out of the play. The receiver would then be able to block the safety. This means that the offense can gain a numbers advantage as the single side receiver can effectively take care of two defenders while clearing out space for the reverse.

Play 1 – Feed Me

On this play the Packers are lined up in a 3×1 bunch squeeze formation (please see our earlier article: Spread Offense Pass Plays – Using Condensed Sets to Attack the Defense for more in depth analysis on bunch squeeze formations). The QB fakes the ball to the RB who is running an outside zone path and then tosses the ball up to the flanker (X) on the reverse. The (Y) arc blocks across the formation to help seal the edge and lead block for the receiver running the reverse.

You will notice that the Packers leave the single side receiver in the spread position instead of squeezing him in close to the box. This leaves the CB in the way of the X (#11 Trever Davis) who is running the reverse path. You’ll notice that Davis gets wrecked by the CB (#24 Nevin Lawson) who picks him up and body slams him into the ground. This could easily have been avoided by squeezing up the single side receiver to the box, and having him run the CB off and go block the safety downfield instead. This would clear out all the space to the edge of the field, allow the receiver to keep running and avoid getting wrecked by a defender who doesn’t even need to be there.

On this play, the Buccaneers are lined up in the same formation, leaving the single side receiver out in a spread position. They run the exact same play as the Packers did in the previous example. However, this time the single side receiver is able to win and maintain his block on the CB and prevents him from affecting the play. Also, the offensive Guard and Tackle get a good release and climb to the second level to seal off the linebackers. This play resulted in a 14 yard touchdown to Bucaneers receiver Desean Jackson. Once again, I would argue that the Bucaneers are making it harder for themselves by having the single side receiver spread out and forced to maintain a long block against the CB. If you are able to clear out space by not having defenders in the way to begin with, then you should always try to do that.

On this play the Bears are lined up in a 2×2 wing formation with the wing on the right hand side of the formation and the receivers lined up in the spread. The H motions across the formation into the same spot he would be in a bunch squeeze formation, then he runs the reverse path once the ball is snapped. This motion also reveals that the defence is in man coverage pre-snap as the defender (#20) follows the H receiver across on the motion. The (Y) arc blocks across the formation to help seal the edge and lead block for the receiver running the reverse. Something different that the Bears do is that they fake a RB toss instead of an outside zone handoff, this is just window dressing for the same concept – the offense is showing the defence a different look but really they are just running the “Feed Me” concept. This helps to keep the defense guessing and make it harder for them to know what play you are running.

Play 2 – Feed Me Pump

A pump is what we call a play fake. For the “Feed Me” concept, the offense is faking the reverse concept and running a play action pass off of it. On this play, the Rams are lined up in a 3×1 bunch squeeze formation. The QB fakes the handoff to the RB who is running an inside zone path and then sets up to go through his pass reads. The Y fakes an inside trap block and sets up in pass protection. The flanker (Z) fakes the reverse path, then breaks back out to run a swing route. The H receiver runs a post then breaks out to the corner while the X runs a deep drag/over route across the formation.

The important thing to notice here is that the fake reverse swing by the Z is effective in creating misdirection, especially in man coverage, because the defenders are forced to react and follow the reverse to shut it down on the other side of the formation. As it is difficult for them to see the receiver behind the offensive line, they usually just assume that he is coming around to the other side of the formation. The receiver on the other hand has free movement behind his offensive line and can easily break down and slip back out to the same side, creating massive separation for an easy completion and giving themselves the entire half of the field to work with. This play resulted in a yard touchdown to Rams receiver Robert Woods.

This variation to the “Feed Me” concept is effective especially if you set the defence up with the initial version of the play where the ball is handed off to the reverse. They will be expecting the reverse and will be vulnerable to a play fake – then you hit them with the pump.

On this play, the Falcons motion into a 3×1 bunch squeeze formation with the TE lined up in the wing position. The motion from the TE (Y) allows the offense to see whether the defense is in man coverage pre-snap or not. As the SS follows the Y into the box, this indicates that the defense is in man coverage. The QB fakes the handoff to the RB who is running an inside zone path and then sets up to go through his pass reads. The Y fakes an inside trap block and sets up in pass protection. The flanker (Z) fakes the reverse path, then breaks back out to run a swing route. The H runs a deep drag over the formation while the X also runs a deep drag underneath the H receiver – this is to create a pick to get the X receiver open.

A pick, otherwise known as a rub concept, runs defenders in man coverage very close together in the hope that they collide with each other and take themselves out of the play. This is exactly what happens on this play and it leaves Falcons receiver Julio Jones (#11) wide open for a free touchdown. But the QB doesn’t throw the ball to Jones, as once again we see that the defense has over committed to the reverse and vacated all the space to the right hand side of the field. This leaves the flanker (Z) wide open for an easy walk-in touchdown.

Play 3 – QB Feed Me

Any play tagged with “QB” in the name means that the ball is going to the QB on that particular play. The final variation of the “Feed Me” concept involves a throwback screen to the QB. The reverse is carried out like normal, although the playside Guard and Tackle do not release up-field to block the linebackers at the second level so as to not give away a penalty for illegal blocking downfield. The QB fakes the handoff to the RB and then tosses the ball to the flanker (Z) running the reverse like normal. The Y executes the arc block, but does not release up-field and instead sets up in pass pro for the Z running the reverse. The Z then throws the ball back to the QB who has a convoy of blockers out in front of him with the offensive lineman and RB.

This play is effective in drawing the defences attention and moving them away from one half of the field and clearing out space for what should be a steamroll for a first down or easy touchdown. They will be scraping across to shut down the reverse and will be out of position to effectively deal with a screen to the QB.

Using Bunch Formations to Make Misdirection More Effective

As you can see, misdirection plays are effective in manipulating the defense and opening up space for your offense to make big plays and create scoring opportunities. Condensing the entire defense into the box creates a lot of space on the edges of the field. Also, this eliminates the risk of receivers who are lined up in spread missing blocks and letting defenders get in the way of the play. By adding variations and window dressing to these trick plays, you can put the defense in difficult postions to shut down misdirection plays by keeping them confused and putting defenders in conflict by taking advantage of their tendancies.

If you have any questions or would like to add to this discussion, please feel free to comment in the section below.

Feature image photo credit:

photo credit: Brook-Ward <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/57915000@N02/45624198412″>Matt Ryan</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>




  1. I hope you enjoyed this article!
    Please join in the discussion by commenting below, we’d love to hear your thoughts, questions and feedback.

    • Hi Mercedes,

      Thank you for your kind words, we are happy to be providing detailed information on offensive football to help coaches and players score points and win games.

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