The read option is an effective way of utilising your QB’s athletic ability to gain an extra number against the defense in the run game. However, the basic versions of this play can be defended by well-trained defenses and can limit the running success of your offense. By adding in unique variations to the basic inside zone concept, you can provide your offense with the tools they need to run the read option more effectively.
Inside Zone + Swing Screen
The play we will be discussing in this article is the inside zone concept with some attachments and variations. These plays all involve Wing attachments (please see our earlier article: Read Option Football (Spread Series) – Using Wing Attachments for a detailed breakdown of the different wing attachments). The most common attachment is an Arc block as this allows your offense to create better running lanes for the QB if they keep the football. This type of play design is discussed in more detail in our previous article: Spread Offense Run Plays – Creating Open Running Lanes for the QB.
In addition to these wing attachments, the examples we will look at in this article also have a receiver swing screen attached to them to create a triple option look for the offense. Normally when teams run the read option they will attach a bubble screen or hitch screen to the play to create a triple option look and the QB’s second read will be the slot defender. However, with the swing screen, the read man is pushed one defender outside to the CB instead of the slot defender. Also, with the swing screen, the offense gains the added advantage of a pre-snap motion which reveals whether or not the defense is in zone or man coverage. The addition of a motion in the screen attachment puts the CB’s and defensive backs in greater conflict, revealing the defensive coverage and giving your offense alignment advantages.
If the defense is in zone coverage, they will not follow the receiver in motion pre-snap, meaning that the offense can gain an extra number if the receiver motions from the opposite side of the formation. If the defense is in man coverage, they can lose track of the receiver if the receiver motions from and swings back out to the same side of the formation – creating an alignment advantage for the offense.
Play #1 – Inside Zone + ‘X’ Swing left
The first version of this concept came in the 2018 game between the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns. On this play, the Sooners are in a 3×1 formation with the Y in the Wing position. The H receiver lines up on the line of scrimmage to allow the flanker (X) to run the motion. The X receiver comes in motion pre-snap then swings back out to the flat post-snap. The Y performs an inside zone block and the H receiver blocks the slot defender. The RB runs an inside zone path and the QB goes through his reads. If the End crashes to tackle the RB, the QB will keep the ball and run. If the CB comes to tackle the QB, the QB will throw the ball to the swing.
The QB ends up keeping the ball on the first read, then runs out and reads the CB. As a result of the CB coming to tackle the QB, the QB throws the ball to the receiver running the swing route for a walk-in touchdown. This is a good example of putting the CB in conflict by making him the read man on the triple option. This is because the CB is basically responsible for covering the edge of the field while also being responsible for stopping outside runs. This means he is both responsible for tackling the QB (who is running to the outside) and covering the flanker, giving your offense the advantage because the CB can’t cover both.
Play #2 – Inside Zone Kick + ‘X’ Swing left
The next variation of this concept came in the 2019 game between the SMU Mustangs and Memphis Tigers. On this play, the Mustangs are lined up in a 2×2 formation with the second TE in the Wing/Fullback position. Once again, the H receiver lines up on the line of scrimmage to allow the flanker (X) to run the motion. The X receiver comes in motion pre-snap then swings back out to the flat post-snap. The Y performs a kick block across the formation in order to block the Defensive End. By implementing a kick block, the offense is creating a give/throw read for the QB. This is because they are blocking the End (who is the first read man) and eliminating the need for the QB to pull the ball and run. As a result, the QB only needs to read the CB. If the CB gets out-positioned by the motion (if it’s man coverage), is caught staring in the backfield post-snap or runs in to defend the run, then the QB pulls the ball and throws it to the swing route. If the CB stays outside to cover the swing, then the QB hands the ball off to the RB.
As you can see on this play, the CB overplays the motion and follows the X receiver across the formation pre-snap. This allows the X receiver to shake free of the coverage by swinging back out to the same side post-snap. The defender gets lost in the traffic and the X receiver is left completely uncovered for a walk-in touchdown.
Play #3 – Inside Zone Arc Crack + ‘H’ Swing left
The next variation of this play came in the 2019 matchup between the Clemson Tigers and Louisville Cardinals. On this play, the Cardinals are lined up in a 3×1 formation with the TE in the Fullback position (he could also line up in the Wing position and achieve the same result). Instead of the flanker (X) running the swing route from the same side of the formation, the H receiver comes in motion and runs the swing route from the opposite side of the formation. The X receiver performs a crack block on the safety and the Y performs an arc block. Once again, the QB and RB run inside zone, with the QB progressing through his reads.
Although the pre-snap motion would suggest that the defense is in zone coverage (as no one follows the receiver across the formation), the defense is actually supposed to be in man coverage but the slot defender messes up and doesn’t follow the H receiver across the formation, leaving him uncovered. Even if it was man coverage, the play call would still be sound. This is because in man coverage the CB would have followed the X receiver and taken himself out of the play. The second read would now change from the CB to the defender following the H receiver across the formation.
However, what’s interesting to note is that on this play, the CB over the single side flanker (X) blitzes the QB, making the read obvious and forcing the QB to throw the ball to the receiver running the swing route. If the defender covering the H receiver had followed him across the formation, then the defense would have been able to shut down this play with most likely a tackle for loss as they would have covered both the QB and the swing route.
Play #4 – Inside Zone Kick Crack + ‘X’ Swing Pump
This trick play came in the 2018 Week 7 game between the Arizona Hotshots and Salt Lake Stallions with the Hotshots running a trick play variation of the read option swing screen concept. On this play the Hotshots are lined up in a 2×2 formation with the TE in the wing position. The Y performs a kick block on the Defensive End. The H receiver is once again on the line to allow the flanker to come in motion. The flanker (X) comes in motion pre-snap then swings back out to the flat post-snap. However, the X receiver swings a little deeper to allow the QB to throw a backwards pass. The X receiver then throws the ball to the H receiver, who fakes a crack block on the Safety then releases out to the flat.
This variation to the swing attachment is effective as it helps keep defenses honest. If the defense begins cheating down to cover the screen, then you can hit them in behind with an easy throw and catch for a big gain or touchdown.
Improving the Read Option by Using Unique Attachments
Read option plays are the bread and butter of any spread offense and the extent to which your offense can use a variety of attachments will go a long way in determining your team’s success. As you can see in the examples above, the swing route is an effective triple option attachment to the inside zone concept. Not only does it allow you to see if the defense is in man or zone coverage with the pre-snap motion, but it also shifts the read man one defender outside (from the slot to the CB) and changes who you are attacking. This often catches defences off-guard and makes it easier for your QB to make a clear read. By adding this swing attachment to your offensive playbook in addition to other staples such as bubble screen and hitch screen, your offense is able to attack whichever specific defender they want to on any given play. By running a variety of these concepts, it makes it difficult for the defense to adjust to the read option.
If you have any questions or would like to add to this discussion, please feel free to comment in the section below.
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