Spread Offense Run Plays – Creating Open Running Lanes for the Quarterback

An important part of implementing spread offense run plays is having an athletic Quarterback (QB) who can run read option plays. The fundamentals of the read option have been previously discussed at length in our series of articles called Read Option Football (Spread Series). The basic idea of the read option is that you use your QB to gain an extra number in the run game, so you can block 5 defenders with your 5 offensive linemen and read the 6th defender who is left unblocked. Despite gaining this extra number, teams can often struggle in running the football using the basic version of the read option (inside zone with a 4 receiver spread set) because all the responsibility is on the O-line to create open running lanes and you have receivers clogging up space on the edges of the field and being forced to make tough open field blocks to create space for the QB.

Houston Texans vs Jacksonville Jaguars (Week 17, Dec 31, 2018)

The 2018 Week 17 matchup between the Houston Texans and the Jacksonville Jaguars provides us with some good examples on how to create better running lanes for your Quarterback when running the read option. Although the Jaguars had a formidable defense and dominant defensive line, the Texans were still able to run the football on them by using several different variations to their read option plays. Texans QB Deshaun Watson finished the game with 66 rushing yards on 13 carries and 1 rushing touchdown, the most of any player on both teams and more than the entire Jaguars offense. This was achieved through the use of motions, arc blocks from the wing position, and using crack blocks to manufacture better running lanes for the QB to gash the defense.

Play 1 – Inside Zone + Arc

On this play, the Texans are lined up in a 2×2 wing formation with the wing on the right hand side of the formation and twins to left of the formation. The H receiver motions across the formation to fake a toss sweep and draw the defense’s attention and create confusion. The Wing arc blocks across the formation (please see our earlier article: Read Option Football (Spread Series) – Using Wing Attachments which contains many more examples of arc blocks and explains how they work) while the QB and RB run inside zone. The QB reads the EMOL (End Man on Line of Scrimmage). If the End sits or widens outside to cover the QB, then the QB hands the ball off. If the End crashes with his hips turned in to tackle the RB, then the QB keeps the ball and follows the arc block.

The first time the Texans ran this play, the End crashed in to tackle the RB, so the QB kept the football. The Arc block was executed perfectly on the Will linebacker and a lane was opened up for the QB to run. Also, the combination of the toss motion, inside zone path and read option meant that the offense could potentially attack in three different directions on this play, making it harder for the defense to read and react once the ball was snapped.

You’ll also notice that the Left Tackle (#70) fails to execute his zone block correctly, as the Nose Tackle (N) stunts into his zone and he must now block him instead of progressing to block the Will linebacker (W). As a result, the Nose Tackle is free to chase the QB, chewing up open space and making it harder for him to run the ball. If this was blocked correctly by the O-line the QB would have no one chasing him at all. Additionally, if the QB wasn’t forced to run a wider path by the Nose, he may have been able to straighten up 1 on 1 against the FS (#26) and make a move to beat him, potentially having an open run to the endzone or a much bigger gain.

The second time the Texans ran this play it was on the goal line and they were lined up in a 3×1 bunch squeeze formation with the TE (Y) in the Wing position. Unfortunately, they failed to get into the endzone to score. Once again, the End bites down to tackle the RB and the QB makes the correct read and keeps the ball. Unfortunately, the TE gets confused on his arc block and is running to block the safety (FS), when he should be running to block the linebacker as that is who he would normally block. This means the linebacker is left unblocked and is able to prevent the QB from getting into the endzone to score.

The TE gets confused because the safety is playing close to the box because he is on the goal line (a common thing that defences do). Either way, the safety is ALWAYS the unblocked defender on run plays, so the Wing should know he has to block the Will linebacker or the next defender inside the FS. In addition, the receiver who comes in motion on the fake toss ends up occupying the safety anyway, making it even more obvious who the TE should block. Even if the FS didn’t cover the receiver and chose to attack the QB, the QB would have been able to read this and throw the ball to the H receiver who would be uncovered.

A solution to this issue would have been to implement a crack block from the flanker (Z) on the linebacker (#50). You will see crack blocks in action later in this article.

The third time the Texans ran this play they were lined up in a 2×2 formation with two TEs lined up in the TE position on the right hand side of the formation. The Y arc blocks to the Will linebacker, while the flanker (Z) arcs blocks towards the CB. This creates a mismatch with a bigger and stronger TE blocking a smaller CB and allowing the offense to get better blocks on the edges of the field. Once again, the End crashes down to cover the RB so the QB keeps the ball.

You may notice that the Right Tackle (#74) fails to move off his double team and block the Mike linebacker (M) – which results in the Mike scraping over to tackle the QB and prevent, restricting the offense to a pickup of only 4 yards and preventing what would have been a much bigger play for the offense. When running Inside Zone, it is crucial for the offensive Tackles to get off their double teams in order to block the linebackers at the second level and create a clean lane for the QB to run through.

Play 2 – Speed Option + Shovel

On this play, the Texans are lined up in a 3×1 bunch squeeze formation with the TE in the wing position. The RB motions to the other side of the QB pre-snap and then runs a speed option path. The Y runs a shovel underneath and the O-line run a power blocking scheme. The QB reads the End, if he crashes in to cover the shovel path, the QB keeps the ball and reads the next defender. If the next defender runs at the QB, then he pitches the ball to the speed option. If the next defender widens to cover the RB, the QB will keep the ball and run. Normally, the pulling guard is supposed to block the Will linebacker to the playside. However on this play the End crashes in so hard that he engages with the pulling guard to prevent him from climbing to the second level to block the Will linebacker. This leaves the Will linebacker free to come and tackle to QB. Additionally, the FS widens out to cover the RB on the speed option path, so the defense essentially has this play covered and shut down from the beginning.

However, because the Will linebacker vacated his space behind the line to chase after the QB, the QB could have pitched the ball to the shovel on the inside as the TE had a free running lane to the endzone and the End was no longer a threat as he was engaged with the pulling guard. Luckily the QB was able to make the defender miss and get in for the score.

Play 3 – Inside Zone + Arc + Crack

On this play, the Texans are lined up in a 3×1 wing formation with trips to the right hand side of the formation. The QB and RB run Inside Zone while the TE arc blocks across the formation. The flanker (X) performs a crack block on the Will linebacker, this pushes the arc block to one defender further out (meaning that the Y is now responsible for blocking the CB instead of the Will linebacker). The crack block is effective because it helps seal the edge and prevents linebackers from scraping across to make a tackle of the QB if he ends up keeping and running with the football.

The second time the Texans ran this play, they motioned the Y into the wing position and snapped the ball while he was in motion. Whilst this is a slightly different variation, I would warn against it’s overall effectiveness, as it draws the Will linebacker towards the playside and closer towards where the QB is running the ball. This puts the defender in a slightly better position pre-snap and makes it easier for him to chase down the QB and prevent a big play. The Will ends up making the tackle on the QB.

Improving Quarterback Success with Read Option Run Plays

As you can see, there are several ways that you can improve the running success of your QB when using read option run plays. By adding motions, arc blocks from the wing and crack blocks from the flanker positions, your offense is able to create open space and clearer running lanes for your QB. As always I encourage you to implement as much variation as possible to your play calls, using different elements of window dressing to constantly give the defence different looks even if you are essentially running the same play, such as inside zone. The more variation you have with your formations and attachments will allow you to continue opening up running lanes for your QB, as well as making it easier for your offense to move the football and score points.

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: Keith Allison <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/36683527075″>Brett Hundley</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/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.

  2. I loved this article as it was so well put together.
    Even though I live in the UK and we don’t really have much of this type of football, as a sports science graduate, i get the principles and tactics you outlined.
    Good job !

    • Hi Cashain,
      Happy to hear that you enjoyed strategies and concepts discussed in this article. The NFL plays several games each year over in the UK and the 2019 season just started. I would encourage you to check out a live game if you have the chance as it is such a great atmosphere and exciting to see the professionals play live.

  3. Amazing depth of research and description. You obviously have an impressive mastery of football strategy! My brothers and cousins all played sports growing up, mostly football. I know this article would give them a lot to talk about. Thanks for posting!

    • Hi Cathy,
      Thank you for feedback! We always try to provide accurate and logical information and coaching in all our articles. Nice to see that football was part of your family growing up, it teaches a lot of important life lessons and skills. We have lots of other articles throughout our website if they’re interested to learn more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *