Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spread Offense Run Game Answers vs. The Blitz

Written By Joe Dailey

Today’s discussion will revolve solely around handling the zone blitz in the run game. This has been a very popular topic and I have seen a number of ways people go about handling the blitz. For this discussion we will focus our conversation on the Zone running scheme out of a 2 by 2 formation versus various zone blitzes.

We are all familiar with the interview Rich Rodriguez did for ESPN explaining some of the things they did at West Virginia. If I remember correctly, the reporter interviewing Rich Rodriguez pointed out four distinctive things West Virginia would do on any certain play.

Those being:

1) Hand it off to the back
2) Read the Defensive End.
3) Read-Option with a back
4) Throw Bubble

These are all valuable answers to counter act what defenses are doing to handle the spreading of their defenders. In the video, Rich did not get into great depth schematically on what they will do versus zones blitzes and other situations. I’m sure if he wanted to; he could have done so with great depth. In the absence of his explanation I have proposed a simple solution to handle different types of zone blitz encounters that an offense will face in a given season. Note this is not the best way or the only way to solve some zone blitz problems, but it provides an offense with some decent solutions to the blitz.

The main goal in the Spread Offense, philosophically, is to consistently take advantage of what defenses lack to defend. By this, I mean what can we do schematically to spread a defense thin and ‘gut em’ down after down? And what can we do to counteract their zone blitz packages with minimal effort and communication in the run game? In order to be effective running the ball in the spread offense, you need to have sound answers versus pressure in the run game.

Through research, trial and error, I’ve come to find there are some simple answers to handle the zone blitz in the run game that will allow offenses to stay on course of positive yardage play after play. These answers came to life after simply applying some “common sense” protocol to handling the blitz.

Answer’s to the Blitz

After watching hours and hours of film, reviewing some of the notes I’ve taken over the years, reading books on handling the zone blitz and watching numerous clinic tapes on handling the zone blitz, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can build in answers to the blitz without whispering a single word. You ask how? Simple! By teaching your players to play with their eyes! Sounds cliché? Well it’s true!

As the son of a coach I remember growing up hearing “a smarter player is a better player!” I can remember to this day when I first saw this saying come to life. I was a high school Quarterback in the late 1990’s as a freshman. It was my first varsity game. I played the entire season on the freshman squad and was moved up to start at Quarterback for the varsity teams’ last game of the season. All week long I remember preparing for this game as best I possibly could. My pops watched film with me and we studied the opposing team’s defense tirelessly. Game day came and I was crazy nervous. We received the ball first and took it down to the opposing team’s 30 yard line. Since I was a freshman playing Quarterback for the first time, we expected blitz a lot. On the very first play we came out in 11 personnel in a 2 by 2 formation. We had a toss play strong called but there was an audible out of this formation in case we got pressure. Guess what that audible was? Bubble! The weak side linebacker over the slot walked up to the line of scrimmage and assumed his blitz position. The slot receiver and I signaled to each other the bubble sign and at the snap I threw the bubble and the receiver took it 30 yards for a touchdown!

With that said, let’s get to the solution for handling the zone blitz in the spread running game. I am a big advocate for the Zone running scheme out of the shot-gun spread offense. It gives the offense a solid blocking scheme which will never change. It is a scheme that you can’t ware out. It’s simple for the offensive-line to learn and simple for a coach to teach.

It’s as simple as covered or uncovered for the linemen. As for the backs, they have to simply make one read and stick with it. They have a 3 step decision. On the third step you must decide whether to bounce is outside, hit the hole or cut it back. The Quarterback has to make a decision on whether to keep the ball or hand it off based upon whether the defensive end chases or slow plays the read. Receivers must simply stalk block their defender and climb to second level if nothing shows up.


We want to run the zone play regardless of what the defense does. With this line of thinking you must ask yourself how exactly can we do this? Well we’ve found out over the years that by spreading a defense out, you force them to reveal what it is they are trying to do defensively. Are they trying to play coverage with sound run fits or are they trying to apply pressure to disrupt your run game?

Our theory is to run into a zone blitz and away from a zone blitz! That’s right into a zone blitz and away from a zone blitz! We can do this by simply applying our everyday zone blocking rules. Let’s look at them.

Covered Lineman:
*Never get beat away from your help!
*Press your landmark!
*Climb to the second level if your defender runs to your helper.

Uncovered Lineman:
*Get your eyes on the down lineman beside you!
*Anything that comes to you attack and remove it.
*Nothing comes to you track second level.

Additional Ways to handle the zone blitz

I’ve taken what my father taught me in high school in terms of handling the zone blitz in the run game and what is probably taught to most spread teams out of a 2 by 2 formation when they get blitz into a run and that’s to throw the bubble. The only difference is that we don’t handle signal this, we site adjust! By this I mean, we teach our wide receivers to automatically run the bubble when their defender threatens to blitz. The Quarterback will recognize it and throw the bubble.

Now the way we do this is probably not the same as other people but I feel that it can be done with quite ease. We apply this concept to both slot receivers. This is a change up from what we discussed earlier with the slot receivers climbing to the second level if their defender runs away. This time we tell them that we want to throw the bubble to you if the defender over you blitzes. Our thinking is that we want to get the ball to a speedster in space. Or what my receiver’s coach in college taught me “get the ball to a freak and let em’ eat".


What I’ve proposed here is not the one and only way to handle a zone blitz from the gun and the spread offense. It is merely one of many ways. I see people who check to four verticals or jail-break screens that go the distance. What we have here is a simple alternative way to solve zone blitzes with the least amount of communication. We are simply teaching our players to play with their eyes; our offensive linemen playing with their eyes in terms of defenders rotating to different zones and our slot receivers playing with their eyes when the defender over them blitzes.

I hope this article can help some people out there who are looking for different ways to handle the blitz from the gun. This can be used as a tool for teams who lack experience at the Quarterback position and need to find a answer to the blitz without using an audible or teams who are looking to change up the way the handle blitzes and break tendencies.

For any additional information or questions email me at

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