Urban Meyer Extols the Virtue of Packaged Plays

By Ross Fulton on April 1, 2014 at 1:15p
46 Comments

Packaged plays – where a quarterback reads a defender to determine whether to hand off on a run play or pass – is one of the hottest concept in college football.

The packaged play has certainly gotten Urban Meyer's attention, as he enthusiastically explained the concept in an interview last week with CBS Sport's Jeremy Fowler. According to Meyer, packaged plays were probably used by 25 teams last year; a figure he expects to double in 2014. It is therefore helpful to understand the concept and how teams deploy packaged plays.

Trying to Make the Defense Wrong Every time

Two years ago I analyzed packaged plays in detail (see here, here, and here).

The packaged play is an outgrowth of the read concept in the run game. The goal is the same  – constrain a defense from over committing edge and second level defenders against base run plays in an attempt by the defense to regain the arithmetic advantage against the offense.

As with read plays, the offensive line and running back execute the called run play. And with both, the quarterback reads a defender and makes a decision based upon how the defender reacts to the offense's initial movement.

But with a read run play, the quarterback reads the defender to determine whether he will give to the running back or keep the football to run. The packaged play adds an additional wrinkle –  wide receivers running routes. Now, the quarterback will read the defender to determine whether he will give to the running back or throw the football to the wide receiver; often in the area vacated by the run-focused defender.

So in sum, with a packaged play, the offensive line and running backs execute a run play, the wide receivers run their called routes, and the quarterback determines whether to run or throw based upon his read.

Packaged Play Hitch

As Meyer notes, a college offense's ability to do so is enhanced by the fact that offensive linemen can go three yards down field on pass plays.  (In fact, many offenses abuse this rule, with offensive linemen blocking linebackers at the second level as a pass is thrown).

The point of the packaged play is to confuse the defense and make them hesitant to flow to the football against the run action. And if the defense refuses to play their assignment, then the offense will take the easy yards via quick passes.

The Packaged Play's Growth

Package plays began by combining a bubble wide receiver screen with the zone read. Spread offenses sought ways to prevent a defense from cheating the slot defender down to account for the quarterback keep. So the quarterback was given the option to pull and throw to the wide receiver if he saw the slot receiver cheating into the box.

Bubble Screenin'

Gettin' Downfield

Offensive coaches soon expanded the concept. Coordinators found they could take advantage of the same principle of exploiting a defense cheating against the run game by throwing the football down field.

For instance, last year, Ohio State frequently combined their run plays with a backside hitch to a single outside receiver. If Braxton Miller saw the cornerback utilizing soft coverage he could pull and throw the football. Note that you can tell it is a packaged play by how the offensive line blocks power downfield.

backside hitch

Multiple Choice

But what Meyer diagrammed for Fowler is a more complicated packaged play, putting together a traditional zone read with a backside stick route. (H/T: CBS Sports).

Meyer diagrammin

What makes it more complicated is that the quarterback has two reads. As described above, the running back and offensive line run inside zone. The slot receiver runs a stick route, working inside to six yards and settling outside the backside linebacker.

The quarterback has two reads, highlighted with squares above. The quarterback first reads the backside defensive end. This read functions just like Meyer's base inside zone read play. If the defensive end stays home the quarterback gives to the running back.

If the defensive end pursues the running back, the quarterback pulls the football, just as he would with zone read. But rather than simply keep, the quarterback will go to his second read, which is the backside linebacker. If the linebacker exercises his coverage responsibilities, the quarterback will keep. But if the linebacker comes down against the run, the quarterback will throw the stick in the area the linebacker vacated.

Putting it Together

The zone read/stick combination has been successfully utilized by Airraid disciples such as Dana Holgorsen and Tony Franklin. In fact, Franklin at Cal has taken the packaged play concept to the fullest extreme, packaging a passing route with every run play.  

By necessity, packaged plays are limited to short hitch and stick routes. Although college offenses use (and in some cases abuse) the three yards downfield rule, the offensive linemen can only go downfield for so long and the run blocking is not designed for sustained pass protection. But putting this limitation aside, packaged plays provide spread offenses an effective method to stretch defenses horizontally and to prevent defenses from cheating defenders against the base run game.

Packaged plays thus mesh well with Meyer's core philosophy. It also serves a practical purpose. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman likely want to protect senior quarterback Miller from excessive runs and exposure to hits. Incorporating packaged plays as diagrammed by Meyer above allow the Buckeye offense to utilize the same offensive framework but constrain the defense with Miller throwing rather than running. So look for the Buckeye offense to increasingly rely upon packaged plays in 2014.   

 

46 Comments

Comments

Horvath22's picture

Thanks, Ross. Through your classes, I am beginning to get hold of what's happening on the field.

+3 HS
Ahh Saturday's picture

Hey Ross, My understanding of the ineligible man downfield rule is that it is a penalty if anyone other than an eligible receiver releases downfield before a pass is released --if that pass goes beyond the line of scrimmage.  By this rule it seems that OSU should have been flagged in the highlight you include from the NW game, and it also makes me wonder how these package plays avoid being constantly flagged.  Am I misunderstanding the rule, or am I missing something else?

+2 HS
BDobina's picture

I was thinking the same thing. In the NW game we have 2 o lineman more than 5 yards down field by the time the ball is thrown. Looks as if one is actually closer two 7 yards down field and already blocking the ILB.

JKH1232's picture

There are  two caveats to that rule that are in play (That I'm aware of, but I could be corrected easily.)

1, If the pass is thrown behind the line of scrimmage, then offensive lineman can be beyond the line of scrimmage- every screen pass in football relies on this rule, from high school to the pros.

2.  In the college game, but not the professional game, linemen may be three yards beyond the line of scrimmage before the pass is thrown.  Yes, Corey Linsely and Andrew Norwell are pretty well beyond that, but, as Ross mentioned, that rarely gets called in the college game, unless it's pretty blatant or the lineman touches the ball first.  Or the lineman runs a pick route or something silly. 

Actually, just from my observation, most ineligible man calls are really procedural calls- the offense lines up such that one receiver covers another one, and then runs a pass.  (It really could be called illegal formation, too, I suspect, though I think college has less strict rules about formations than the pros.)

+2 HS
Ross Fulton's picture

Good questions and JKH1232 is absolutely correct on both rules.

 

The reality is that offenses are currently abusing the rule but refs are not calling it. As this becomes more popular it will be interesting if they crack down upon abusing the 3 yard rule. IMO it is currently an unfair advantage to the offense. 

d5k's picture

I would like to know why the backdoor player safety method to attack the hurry up was the competitive balance strategy for defensive head coaches rather than ineligible man downfield enforcement.  

ibuck's picture

Why do the officials not call penalties...

1. When OL are 5 or more yards downfield when pass thrown?

2. When OL routinely hold defenders?

Is it because there is too much for them to watch as it is? Or because they don't want to stand out among other zebras who don't toss flags on these violations? Are they allowing the offense such advantages so that the games don't get boring by having defenses dominate?

Or do they just get comfortable calling a certain subset of violations?

Any high school or college zebras care to weigh in?

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

rufio's picture

You could probably call holding on every play, and if you're going to call an ineligible downfield, you want to make sure that it actually happened. If you're watching the quarterback, you know the time of the release. But by the time you get your eyes downfield to the linemen, they will probably have advanced a yard or two.

Do you know for sure that they actually were downfield? No. And you want to be above a certain threshold of sureness before you make the call. If you're watching the linemen, you know how far they've advanced but you're uncertain about the time of the release.

I think it comes down to wanting to make sure the call is correct if you're going to make it, and "letting the players play" a little bit. Just my 2 cents.

d5k's picture

Another thought: does the relative ignorance of the refs in regard to this strategy play a role here?  I.e. they think this is just a play action pass that they make look like a run and do not understand the offense is having its cake and eating it too?

theopulas's picture

if a linemen makes contact and maintains contact, if can block all the way down field...linemen can't come off the ball and go after a lb in pass coverage...

Theopulas

+1 HS
vitaminB's picture

(In fact, many offenses abuse this rule, with offensive linemen blocking linebackers at the second level as a pass is thrown).

I think he touched on that during the write up.  All it will take is a coach, Nick Saban for instance, to ask the refs to start taking a look at this, then it will become a point of emphasis, and at first you'll see a ton of penalties called, then offenses will adjust.

Toilrt Paper's picture

You think it is difficult for the QB to make these reads? It's almost impossible for an official to be better than the QB at making MANY more "reads" on a single play. He's "reading"  illegal motion, offside, holding, illegal use of the hands by a D-lineman, chop-block, clipping, personal foul AND an O-lineman down field more than 3 yards on a pass play.... that looks like a running play since all of the O-linemen are blocking like it's a running play, not a pass. AND it WAS going to be a running play, EXCEPT a slit second before releasing the ball to the TB, the QB pulls it out and throws a rocket 5-yards down field. 

Can't be done, unless the official has been asked by the opponent's coaches to please look for a lineman down field more than 3 yards on a pass play......uh.....that looks like a running play. 

+3 HS
Wesleyburgess1's picture

I laughed the entire time I read your comment. Its funny as hell when you word it the way you did. +1

+1 HS
OfficerRabbit's picture

Provided we run a decent amount of "packaged plays" this year, I bet Dontre gets half his touches off them. As I understand it, this type of play is perfect for him.. getting him the ball quickly and in a space vacated by a defender crashing down on a Braxton run. 

Ross, is there a downside to running these? QB indecision leading to negative plays? Seems pretty full proof if executed proficiently.

 

 

d5k's picture

Yep, if executed well it is a free 5 yards if they cheat off the receiver with upside for much more.  The better the receiver is at turning a little bit of space into larger gains, the more efficient the play becomes.  Which opens up the run game, with the ultimate goal being the defense just handing you 7 yards per carry because the alternative is Dontre carving your defense for 10+ yards with plays like this.

rufio's picture

If the defense gets really aggressive, playing press outside and committing extra players to the run, they can scrape exchange with the DE and LB, and then cover the quick stuff (well, as good as anyone can cover Dontre in space this year...good luck with that, defenses).

Basically, the defense always has two "extra" players vs. a traditional run play; the counterparts to the running back and the quarterback (who hands the ball off but is not a threat). To stop the option purely from a numeric standpoint, you have to deploy both of those defenders to the run. Packaging a quick passing play with the QB option doesn't really change the arithmetic. 

What it does do is put added stress on the defense, and it controls where those "extra" people can come from. You can't cheat a player in to stop the run from over the slot receiver (e.g. a nickel back), for example, because now that receiver is a threat. So to really gear up to stop the run, you have to play Cover-0 or quarters, aggressively turning your safeties loose against the run. To try to stop the quick passing game, you might play press or you might play off coverage and squat on routes, anticipating short breaks and trying to jump them as the QB delivers the ball.

If the defense turns to such an aggressive scheme, it could force a keep read by the QB, send someone to tackle him, and cover the quick routes. If you execute, that's a sack/TFL and the defense has put the offense in a situation where the run or packaged pass is less likely. However, if the offense makes one guy miss, there's no one deep to cover up the mistakes. If the defense plays aggressively anticipating run, but it is actually pass, there are a lot of one on one matchups which should/could be big gains for the offense.

Colerain 2004 G.O.A.T.'s picture

Absolutely love it for as long as we can get away doing it. The NFL would flag this 90% of the time. If the offensive linemen dont even know if the play is going to be a run or a pass a whole second or 2 into the play then this would really keep the defense on their heels and guessing. This is also one of the reasons I felt that it was such a big deal for Braxton to be injured and not throwing in front of coaches till August. Jalin Marshall,Curtis Samuel,Dixon,and Dontre can really take advantage of these type of plays with their ability to make the first man miss and reach top speed quickly.Even though these are typically shorter passes they require a tremendous amount of accuracy to hit a WR in stride or right in the hands so he can quickly make his cut.Its the differnce between a 4 yard gain or a TD. Im sure we will be running full bore by MSU as they seemed to be the only defense that could knock us off schedule repeatedly.

I speak the truth but I guess that's a foreign language to yall.~~Lil Wayne

rufio's picture

The NFL should flag it, and they don't run it as much as college teams. But NFL teams do run this stuff and it is rarely flagged.

rufio's picture

For example, I've seen Brett Favre run run/pass options that weren't really flagged. Alex Gibbs also talks about running this in Atlanta, which would have been whatever year Warrick Dunn, Vick, and TJ Duckett were all there. Aaron Rodgers runs some as well. It has been going on for a while and largely they are letting the teams run it.

Hovenaut's picture

Expecting Braxton to operate (instead of run) this like a surgeon this year. He's much improved the past couple of years (not that I found him bad to begin with) in executing these plays, it's going to push ball distribution and offensive effectiveness to the fullest.

We've seen flashes of what this offense is capable of, when they hit these gears consistently...look out.

Excellent write-up, this is the stuff helping me get to August.

I am not very smart, but I recognize that I am not very smart.

Colerain 2004 G.O.A.T.'s picture

Kenny was really operating like silk in his limited time last year. Our offense looks like a total different animal when the vertical passing game is humming. We now have a full stable of explosive,talented,fast twitch playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. This is the year eveyone gets involved and the excuses go out the window.Tight Ends included.

I speak the truth but I guess that's a foreign language to yall.~~Lil Wayne

d5k's picture

Is the next level off of this that the safety then often has to come up to contain the short passing/packaged game leaving huge vulnerabilities to play action bombs?

+1 HS
Fugelere's picture

I'd imagine so.  Also if the defense is showing an eight man box pre-snap you could check to 4 verticals or something similar.

rufio's picture

Yes, exactly. 

villagebuckeye's picture

I think Braxton's problem with these types of plays in the past has not been miss reading but making a predetermination of what he was going to do.

ibuck's picture

Gosh, I hope this is not true, but I can understand the comment. If Braxton never pitches to the RB, the defense can focus more on hitting, and possibly injuring, our QB. Everything works better for OSU, including the few times Braxton keeps the ball, if he pitches most of the time. Last season there were reports that the coaches told BM to toss whenever there was a doubt. But there's no doubt in his mind if he predetermines to keep it.

Our honor defend, we will fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

Fugelere's picture

I'm not saying that urban does this but I know that some option coaches predetermine reads some times.  The purpose to this is two-fold, first it gets the qb comfortable second it allows the coach to see how a defense will react to a certain look.  I wonder if spread teams ever do this too?

 

 

 

buckeye4life050233's picture

predetermination and then as well trying to throw the ball 100 mph when a little touch on the ball doesn't hurt sometimes.

+1 HS
Blackbeards Delight's picture

That's why Braxton not throwing till August has me skeerd. I realize that dissecting defenses and eating our play book can take Braxton to Super Beast mode. Im no Brett Farvera (maybe as far as wrangler jeans and sexting go, yes) but I saw the the light speed passes and lack of touch on mid range balls as well. The short pass was as elusive as Bigfoot. This needs work if Braxton is to achieve Ultra Beast Mode or even Hyper Beast. New receivers, new twist in the scheme, new line, and no passing till August, looks like a Paula Dean recipe for a sloppy non conference, or a butter pie. 

Crunchy Peanut Butter Bitches.

- Me

 

+1 HS
IGotAWoody's picture

Where is this info coming from that says Braxton won't be able to throw until August? That may be true as far as working with the coaches, but my understanding is that he will be healthy and throwing well before that, and leading player only workouts in the interim between spring practice and fall camp.

Just curious, if you have info I hadn't heard about as far as his recovery goes.
 

 - License to kill gophers (wolverines, badgers, etc) by the government of the United Nations

Toilrt Paper's picture

In the 2nd video example OSU's left guard #71 is 5 yards down field blocking the LB when the pass is thrown.

d5k's picture

That's our center, Linsley, but yes.

CGroverL's picture

This "packaged play" is definitely the reason why Braxton Miller has not reached the pinnacle of his passing prowess as of yet. This is the offense's "bread and butter" type play and has many different looks. In the case that Miller reads to keep the ball and no receiver is open you get most of Buckeye Nation wondering why Miller isn't throwing for over 75% when the reason is that is simply that the play is NOT perfect and contrary to popular belief these plays are not going to average 7 yards per play without a 50 yard play here and there. This play DOES have a down side...

This kind of play is what makes Miller look human on the field and is 100% of the reason why he is NOT A POCKET PASSER. This kind of play is what makes Miller have 20 carries per game and has a completion percentage of less than 70%. We Buckeye fans are so spoiled that we think Miller should be throwing for 80% on the season. The "packaged play" is what makes the offense click and keeps the opposing defense guessing. However, it also HELPS the running game and hurts the passing game when DB's are playing good man-to-man defense and Buckeye WR's aren't exactly 6' 3", 210 lbs. with hands like Cris Carter.

Do not subscribe to 11W Premium to read the rest of this comment because: if you are like me, you love the Buckeyes more than life itself, but can't afford $111...plus, the comment is over. I do sincerely hope 11W gets a great majority to join 11W Premium, but if you are like me, you'd have to give up your internet service to join it. Good luck, Go Buckeyes!

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!

ScarletNGrey01's picture

So you're joining in on the April Fool's joke I take it.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

OH10G419's picture

We need more of this: Back when troy was at qb (Sr n Jr yrs) Tress used to call plays in shotgun w 1 Rb next to qb .. when the snap came qb n rb run to right a few steps like its an option then qb drops back a step or 2 n throws mid/long pass.. I'm not too familiar w football plays but this used to work really good..

CGroverL's picture

Simply put, but exactly right. The difference with the "packaged plays" really involves the power rush movement of the OL and the read/reads made by the QB. Your play is still very much a part of the plan, it is just strictly a pass play that involves more of a pocket passer QB mentality without the QB making a read or 2. You are much better with football plays than you think. Meyer's offense is a tough read....if you know and can explain it well, you should be coaching an offense somewhere.

This packaged play is always a shotgun play with a play by the OL that makes the defense believe that a run is coming...it opens up more running lanes while leaving a pass play as a possibility. The play you spoke of just moves the QB as the run bluff and gives the QB a little more time to go through his progressions. The packaged play leaves (usually) just one throwing option which means that if Miller decides to not give to the RB, the play ends up as a QB run if the receiver isn't open. If the play you spoke of was run more, Miller would probably look like a more polished passer but a lot of his pass plays have empty backfields which leaves just either a pass or a QB run most of the time... The bottom line may simply be that Smith threw a more accurate ball than both Miller and Pryor though. He definitely had a better receiving corps.

"I hope they're last in everything"

Thanks, Urb!

ScarletNGrey01's picture

As always, great insight by Ross, over my head some of it as I never played football on any level, I love college football but far from an expert like the 11W staff and some of the other guys posting here.  The packaged play sounds like a great way to keep a defense off balance, but I would think the QB has to be able to make a decision very quickly, any hesitation could be disastrous, similar to the situation "should I make the handoff or fake the handoff and pull it back in ... oh crap I did neither and lost the damn ball!".

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

rufio's picture

The way this is usually taught is that if the read is unclear or if the QB is going to hesitate make thing read, the back should get the ball. You should never pull it unless you're sure.

Unfortunately, that could mean the back getting blown up if Braxton makes a bad read, but better that than losing the ball.

45OH4IO's picture

They need to call the illegal man downfield penalty for Lord's sake. It was so frustrating last year watching all these teams violating the rule. But if they don't call it, then why not push the boundaries?

countrybuckeye's picture

I beileve what The Brakken must remember is to "trust your training."  This Spring he must do his "Mind Control" studies; come Summer, it will be "get into the Zone, be one with The Play." 

 

If he does more of those things, and less of "Coach says I am the man of the team, and I must win this game with my talents" (= high skrewel), WE will have an AWESOME quarterback. 

 

I know he wants to get 'there'.

"Momma told me there would be days like this."

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

I like the concept, but I'm worried about whether Braxton can handle it or not. He struggles with the zone read at times. Add in another read and it could be bad. If he can slow the game down, we should have a ridiculous offense this coming season despite rebuilding the offensive line. 

Ashtabula's picture

This is a very difficult read for the QB to make.  It takes hundreds of live reps to even get close.  Plus, the read is worthless in the NFL.  This is why any QB in a spread offense that "stays" in college to improve their draft stock is kidding themselves.  Don't get me wrong, I think the offense OSU runs is perfect for college and Urban's job is to win games not prepare QB for the pros, but these are the concerns players like Gibson and others have about choosing us over more traditional offenses.

-1 HS
Shaun OSU's picture

Packaged plays are already in the NFL, so saying this is worthless in the NFL is just plain wrong.

Here is an article showing the Bears and the Bills running them early last year: http://grantland.com/the-triangle/packaged-plays-and-the-newest-form-of-...

And here's an even older one featuring the Packers:

http://grantland.com/features/packaged-plays-rethinking-concept-modern-p...

+1 HS
tussey's picture

Thank you for this article.  It is basically an entire article on one of my questions that I had before about the double read.  

stantmann's picture

Love the detail in your explanations on how things work. Showing how they power block and pass the ball was something I never noticed before. I did notice on the second gif above, that Decker missed his block, twice on the same play - One that he was supposed to block, and one that he whiffed on (that he shouldn't have been blocking in the first place). and if #97 didn't go for the fake, the play would have blown up.

payne171's picture

It has been my experience that the handoff read is harder to pull off than the pass read. The pass read isn't much different than dribbling a ball up court on a 2 on 1 fast break. Run at the linebacker until he turns his shoulders and then "dish" it off to the receiver. The handoff, though, takes work, as the player has to know in a split second when that end commits to the running back or to his responsibilities. It would be like the fast break comparison, only your teammate runs right in front of you instead of keeping court spacing. On the other hand, coaches have been effectively teaching that read since well before Barry Switzer was winning national titles with it. If Braxton Miller can't  handle that read, it says something, either about Miller or the coaching staff.