Spread Offense Run Plays – Using Condensed Sets to Attack the Defense

One dominant philosophy when running the football in the spread offense is to align in 3 or 4 receiver sets to spread the field. This allows for light 6 man boxes and opens up the read option game, where 5 can be blocked and the 6th man read. Attach some perimeter screens or pass plays to keep the defenders in conflict and you have yourself a potent offense with built in answers. Interestingly, condensed sets are far less used but they can also be very effective for running the ball, putting defenders in conflict and getting the ball to your athletes in space. The Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots in the 2017 opening game is a great example of how to use condensed formations to attack the defense.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. New England Patriots (Week 1 Sep. 7, 2017)

The opening game of 2017 NFL season crushed all the preseason hype around a Patriots team that were supposedly meant to go 16-0. Chiefs won 42 – 27 and ended the game with 185 yards rushing on 27 rush attempts, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. Rookie RB Kareem Hunt had 148 rushing yards on 17 attempts, 1 rushing TD and averaged 8.7 yards per carry in his NFL debut. These numbers were achieved by running a handful of run plays almost exclusively out of condensed sets. The plays covered in this article include the shovel option, outside zone packaged with bubble screen and a power toss. The Chiefs also ran some stretch plays from under-center and pistol formations, and some counter plays but I won’t be discussing those plays.

Run Play 1 – The Shovel Option

Now I know the Shovel Option often results in passing yards but for all intents and purposes it is really a run play. The Chiefs ran a variation of this play 10 times in the game and their only rushing TD of the day occurred on this play. The most utilized version of this play was the triple option variation out of a 2×2 condensed set. The RB runs a pitch path while the TE/Wing trails underneath for the shovel pass. The QB reads the DE and pitches either to the RB or TE/Wing. The WRs to the RB side block to the outside and try to seal the defenders inside in order to create a clear path down the sideline for the RB.

Here it is pitched to the shovel receiver

Here it is pitched to the RB for a TD

The next most utilized version of this play was out of a full house set with balanced TEs. The play is run as a power read (inverted veer) with the play side RB and TE blocking for the sweep path. The backside TE trails for the shovel. The WR aligned behind the QB runs a triple option path to hold the backside defenders. Once again, the QB reads the DE to determine whether he should hand it off to the RB or pitch it to the TE.

Example of a handoff to the RB

Same play but this time pitched to the shovel

Another variation also used the power read (inverted veer) backfield action but was done out of a 2×2 condensed set.

Here the ball is pitched to the shovel

Here it is handed off to the RB

The last variation was a pick play attached to the shovel pass. The RB would run a flare to the flat and the play side receivers would run interference (pick) with the defenders. The backside Wing trails for the shovel. QB reads DE again and either throws to the back in the flat or pitches the ball the trailing Wing. Personally I would attach a flare screen instead of trying to pick the defenders. However, in the NFL the receivers can’t block more than 1 yard down field on screen plays this may explain why they run it as a pick play instead.

From the Endzone view we can see the ball should of went to the shovel as the end widened

Run Play 2 – Outside Zone + Bubble Screen

On this play the Chiefs align in a trips bunch condensed formation on the backside. The receiver on the play side aligns normally. The 3 receivers in the bunch execute a bubble screen, the receivers “arc release”, getting wide to protect the bubble receiver and create a lane down the sideline. The OL and RB run outside zone. The QB reads the backside LB, if he expands to the bubble the QB hands off the ball, if he fills in the run the QB throws the bubble screen.

Run Play 3 – Power Toss

The Chiefs most explosive run, a gain of 58 yards, came on a power toss play. They called this play when the Patriots had started to align in a bear front. They aligned in a condensed trips bunch set again, using 3 TEs to set the bunch. This time the outside 2 receivers (TEs) in the bunch down (cracked) blocked each defender inside of them. The inside TE in the bunch pulled around the edge as did the play side tackle. The rest of the OL block Outside Zone. The QB simply pitches the ball to the RB who now has the sideline with lead blockers in front of him.

Variation in Spread Offense Run Plays

Running these types of plays out of condensed sets still has the same underlying philosophy of many spread offenses it just occurs a little differently. In normal 3×1 or 2×2 sets the offense aims to spread the field pre-snap in order to get fewer defenders in the box and still have the ability to get the ball on the perimeter. In condensed sets the offense still spreads out the defense, it just occurs post-snap. The beauty of condensed sets is that you can often get your fastest players out in space and the defenders have to cover a lot more ground. Now if you employ the use of both normal and condensed sets you are adding a lot of variation to your play calls and forcing the defense to adapt.


photo credit: Brook-Ward <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/57915000@N02/29494622864″>Tyreek Hill Scores</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>







  1. Very interesting. For someone like me who does not know a lot about football plays, having the video clips along with the diagrams proved very useful. I really had no idea what a condensed formation was till I read this article.

    • Hi Elden,
      We’re glad you were able to learn something new about offensive formations. It’s also good to hear that the diagrams and video clips make it easier to understand as they take a while to put together. Thanks for your feedback!

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