Spread Offense Run Game Answers vs. The Blitz

By Joe Dailey
Todayís 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. Iím 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 Ďgut emí 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, Iíve 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 ďcommon senseĒ protocol to handling the blitz.
Answerís to the Blitz
After watching hours and hours of film, reviewing some of the notes Iíve taken over the years, reading books on handling the zone blitz and watching numerous clinic tapes on handling the zone blitz, Iíve 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 clichť? Well itís true!
As the son of a coach I remember growing up hearing ďa smarter player is a better player!Ē I can remember to this day when I first saw this saying come to life. I was a high school Quarterback in the late 1990ís 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 teamsí 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 teamís defense tirelessly. Game day came and I was crazy nervous.
We received the ball first and took it down to the opposing teamís 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, letís 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 canít ware out. Itís simple for the offensive-line to learn and simple for a coach to teach.
Itís 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 weíve 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! Thatís right into a zone blitz and away from a zone blitz! We can do this by simply applying our everyday zone blocking rules. Letís 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

Letís look at the following scenarios and apply some of this thinking.

Here we have a zone blitz to the side of which we are running the ball. As you can see we hand the ball off to the running back and he just follows his course. The linemen are simply applying the rules we just spoke about! They are just blocking the defender that enters their ďzoneĒ.
  • Play side tackle will track to 2nd level after his defender works towards his help
  • Play side guard will over take the defensive end
  • Center will block the mike linebacker
  • Backside guard will block the nose
  • Backside tackle will block the 3 technique
  • The play side slot receiver will block the man over him and if he runs towards his help, climb to the second level and block the safety
  • All other receivers will block man on as well

In the following we will have a zone play running away from the blitz.

As you can see, the entire theory behind the zone blocking scheme is to block the zone next to you. If thereís something to block, hit it and get it! If thereís nothing there climb and look for work.
  • Play side tackle will block the defensive end stunting back
  • Play side guard will take the 3 technique and run him out
  • Center will block the stunting nose
  • Backside guard will block whoever enters the play side a gap
  • Backside tackle will block whoever enters the play side b gap
  • The backside slot receiver will block the man over him and if he runs towards the play climb second to the level and block the safety
  • All other receivers will block man on as well
Additional Ways to handle the zone blitz
Iíve 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 thatís to throw the bubble. The only difference is that we donít 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 receiverís coach in college taught me ďget the ball to a freak and let emí eatĒ.
Here are some examples using the same blitz concepts as before only attaching a bubble to the side of the blitz.
What Iíve 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 [email protected]

Coaches - What online coaching resources do you value the most ?

Join Our Exclusive Spread Offense Coaches & Players
Membership Portal

Videos, Diagrams, Playbooks, Guest Coaches, Forums, Certification, Podcasts, and more... All for under $0.33 cents a day!   Check It Out Here!