Defending the 'Spread': Scrape Exchange

By Ross Fulton on April 5, 2012 at 9:00a
Forcing action away from the play

With so much focus this winter upon 'spread to run' concepts, I thought it only fair that we look at how a defense defends the spread.

I have previously discussed that a defense will cheat numbers--often the 'alley' player--to negate the spread's additional run threat, but how else does a defense defend the spread? Like any other scheme, the spread has advantages and disadvantages. Namely, the scheme puts enormous pressure on the quarterback.  Not only must the QB be both an adequate passer and run threat, he must also repeatedly make the correct reads.  

A defense therefore attacks a spread offense by confusing those QB reads, namely through the use of the 'scrape exchange.'  

The concept is simple.  The backside defensive end and linebacker trade gap responsibilities.  The end will become responsible for the 'C' gap, while the Will linebacker will take the 'D' gap and contain.  At the snap, the defensive end crashes straight down for the tailback.  The defense's hope is that the QB, seeing this, pulls the ball to keep, only to be met by the scraping linebacker.

Given the spread's foundational basis, it makes sense why this is a defense's focus.  The spread's goal is to negate a defense's unblocked backside defender.  The scrape exchange is the defense's attempt to regain that numbers' advantage.  The defense's hope is not only to confuse the quarterback but also that, even if QB does give the ball on the inside zone play, that crashing defensive end will make the tackle from behind.

This technique can also be used for other shotgun read plays.  Take the inverted veer, for example.  Below, Ohio State runs a scrape exchange play side to defend the inverted veer read.


As Chris Brown discusses, this is a riskier strategy because of the wider variety of ways to attack play side, but it nonetheless is again an attempt by the defense to confuse the QB's reads.  Spread offenses have adapted ways to respond to this exchange.  For example, Oregon has effectively used the 'midline zone read,' whereby the offense will now read the backside defensive tackle rather than the end.  The offense can then block the crashing defensive end and let the linebacker simply run himself out of the play, creating the potential for big cutback lanes.

The upshot, however, is that since the scrape exchange's widespread use, offenses have been unable to simply rely upon the base zone read and its equalizing of arithmetic.  This defensive technique has therefore been able to negate the spread's pure arithmetic gain, and force an offense to remain a step ahead of the defense by running plays to counter the scrape exchange.


Comments Show All Comments

beserkr29's picture

I love Thursdays for these columns!  Ross always makes me feel like I have a better grasp on what will be happening on the field come Saturdays in the fall.  Always finish these feeling better informed.  Keep it up, Ross!  Cannot WAIT til football season starts!

DMcDougal24's picture

How important is it to have a solid offensive line when going against the scrape exchange? I'm worried that our inexperienced line will really cause some issues, at least in the early going.

Ross Fulton's picture

From that point of view, its really a matter of reps against the various looks more than anything else.  If you know the zone read is going to be a staple play (which from the limited clips I have seen of spring practice it certainly is) then you work with your line and QB on this repeatedly.  But yes, it could contribute to some growing pains. 

pcuzz1's picture

great breakdown!

pat cozzens

Kurt's picture

Is the triple-option pass that Pitt and a couple other teams started using last year a play that was developed in response to the scrape?  QB first reads the end, then if he keeps and sees the LB scraping he then passes out to the WR.  Is that how it works?  I'm curious because I think Urban was in the booth for a Pitt game last year where they ran this play and he seemed to like it and I'm wondering if we'll see that play.

buckeyechad's picture

So his year hiatus from coaching was really just a year long scouting trip paid for by espn. Excellent.

buckeye76BHop's picture

Oh yes you think he was doing B1G games for a reason??? Hmmm....I always thought that was odd or now strange coincidence.  Gotta love smart men like Urban and Spielmen;-)  And I love that ESPN got pissed after he took the OSU was GREAT because I (like most OSU fans) HATE ESPIN now! 

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987 

Squirrel Master's picture

With that post I can see why it takes offenses time to learn and grow in the system. As we see, the defense has been running the scrape play for sometime so they are probably more aware of how to effectively defend the spread zone. This offense, as pointed out in the skully, is starting from scratch. I think it might be a bit of a blessing in disguise that there is nothing to shoot for this year. Not that I am happy the bucks are not going to be in a bowl but it is a prime year to learn a complex system and have some growing pains.

I am sure this can cause issues with the young, inexperienced oline. That is why I like hearing that there will be multiple formations and reads to counteract this design. I mean basically from what I see, this creates single coverage, so if the QB reads it correctly could by enough time for someone to get open downfield. Not a bad alternative!

I saw a UFO told me to have a goodyear!

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Sounds like you just need to unleash Simon and Hank on it!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

pcon258's picture

great article. thanks for clearing all these things up. if everyone can understand all these things, our offense is going to be a force to be reckoned with

buckeye76BHop's picture

Great article...and from what Meyer is saying (per post practice press conference) sounds like they're going to have to slow down implementation of the play book.  It appears as if they may not be in the right positions because of their lack of understanding to this point.  It's early though...they'll be fine after Spring and Fall camps.  Go Bucks!

"There's nothing that cleanses your soul like getting the hell kicked out of you."

"I love football. I think it is most wonderful game in world and I despise to lose."

Woody Hayes 1913 - 1987