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Monday, July 02, 2007

What Killed the Run and Shoot?

Q: What killed the Run and Shoot? Why don't you see "the shoot" anymore in the NFL or major college football?

A: First, you have to distinguish between the
"Run and Shoot" as a specific, delineated system, and the individual Run and Shoot "concepts" or routes. And I'm not just referring to spreading with four wide receivers. I'm referring to the specific "Choice," "Go," "Switch," and the broader design of the system.

The first answer is that even if the "the Shoot" is dead, the Concepts live. This is so whether any of their current benefactors would admit it (or, in some instances, whether they even realize they are using run and shoot concepts). Indeed, the concepts are here to stay. Mike Martz with the Rams and now the Lions consistently use forms of Choice and Switch. Petrino at Louisville (we shall see in Atlanta) has used a couple R&S concepts. Even Charlie Weis at Notre Dame uses a play very similar to the Georgia concept. Moreover, the famous four verticals so common today where the slot receiver reads the coverage to attack the seam or the deep middle was largely developed and expanded upon by the R&S. Everyone who seriously considers passing offense should study the Run and Shoot.

The Shoot as a specific, delineated system with the four wide receivers (or two split ends and two slots), a single back, half-rollouts, certain run plays, the protections, the screen, and the like was countered. Offenses responded and have disguised their run and shoot philosophies by calling them different things and showing different looks. There is nothing magical (or surreptitious) about that; it is the West Coast philosophy and it is a good one. The reason people question this is because, for a time, the Run and Shoot had nearly unparralleled success.

As the typical story goes, the zone blitz killed the R&S. The preface to this story is that for twenty years, the Run and Shoot did not get blitzed. Well, it did, but Run and Shoot teams (like the U of Houston) would score 60 or 70 on those teams, and the NFL teams that tried it would give up after a quarter or half touchdowns raining from the sky.

How do you employ a four-wide pass-happy attack that was blitz proof for twenty years? And then why did it suddenly get blitzed out of existence?

The history of the Shoot is a lesson to all offensive coaches, and this same principle can be applied by all manenr of offensive coaches, and is often applied by coaches like Joe Gibbs and teams like the Indy Colts in the use of Tight ends and H-Backs.

The R&S used the RB in the protection. The quarterback would do a half-roll to one side, the line would do a kind of sprint-out/turnback protection, and the runningback would often block the defensive end or end man on the line of scrimmage to the half-roll side. About 8-10 times a game, however, the running back would block the DE for a 1001 count, and then slide off and release for a screen pass as his linemen got downfield to block for him. Against an all-out blitzing team, no one covered him because he had already engaged a defender, so everyone assumed he was in the protection, they would rush upfield, and the runningback would release out into the open field.

It becomes a study in game theory and reading and reacting. So defenses responded to this tactic. They had to keep at least one safety or another defender back to spy the RB. Why does this mean no blitzing? If the RB is able to block the end man on the line of scrimmage while another player must sit back and not blitz, simply to see whether or not the RB releases on a screen. The net result was that R&S teams rarely, if ever, saw Cover 0 blitzing man defenses. They could always release four receivers, block with six (assuming their six could block the other teams' six) and not face any overload blitzes.

Enter the zone blitz. Back in his days with Texas A&M, Bob Davie was an innovator. Against run and shoot teams like the University of Houston, he would run his 3-4 defense, blitz his outside LBs (thus forcing the RB to stay in and block), and drop off defensive linemen and interior linebackers so he could still play zone with six to eight defenders. As a result the R&S's protection and formation scheme broke down. They blocked with six, had the running back on a bad matchup with a good OLB, faced an unblocked rusher, but the defense still had 6-8 guys in coverage, so the R&S's "hot reads" and breakoffs did not work either. The run and shoot finally had to adapt. Sure they could do things like certain quick breakoffs and other gadgets, but free rushers and seven guys in coverage was a losing battle for the QB.

So it was not merely "disguising coverages," (as Run and Shoot QBs and receivers were well coached and could still find the voids or the single man), or the blitzing (as shown above, Run and Shoot teams could defeat the blitz), it was the defensive combination of always being able to always get an unblocked rusher, eat the RB, and run a disguised zone that eventually rattled and slowed down the "pure" Run and Shoot.

So did the R&S die? In a sense. Even those who still swear by it, like Hawaii's June Jones, both do not run the same "Shoot" in exact form, have changed their protections, and remain bitterly secretive regarding the system, fearing another breakdown.

But in another, perhaps larger sense, the Shoot is stronger than ever. More teams and more teams use its concepts. And, for a "dead offense," it still stirs up quite a bit of discussion, no?


Zennie said...

EXCELLENT post. I was actually just thinking about that question before. Say, why are your posts so infrequent?


Zennie said...

Also. Isn't it a natural process for an offense to evolve in reaction to what defenses do? It's hard for me to think of the Run-and-Shoot as dead, but underused as an offense.

I also offer that the Indy Colts run various Run-and-Shoot concepts in their offense, particularly with the slot receiver.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I always enjoy your posts and have been reading them for about a year. They really make me think hard about what we are doing I was wondering if you could tell us a little about yourself. Where you coach background etc

11Bravo said...

Some are under the impression that Coach Davis invented the Run and Shoot. Actually, Davis: who preferred to call his offense the "Double Slot," always gave credit for its invention to the late Glenn "Tiger" Ellison, of Middletown, Ohio, whose book, "Run and Shoot Football," is still available through Parker Publishing.

I greatly enjoy your work and seeing that Zennie Abraham and I have similar tastes. Major elements of the Run and Shoot were in the K-Gun and are in some versions of the spread.

Anonymous said...

11Bravo is essentially correct. Davis' offense is very removed from the original Run-and-Shoot devised by Tiger Ellison.

Ellison's offense was very balanced and the basic premise was to not give the plays away in terms of the blocking schemes. That is they used the same (or very similar) blocking techniques on their runs and passes.

They had 5 series of plays in their playbook(Gangster, Cowboy, Wagon Train, Popcorn, Mudcat). Each had at least one run and one pass to contradict the runs. The Gangster had the speed option, the Cowboy had the triple option (in fact those two were what Ken Hatfield used when he devised his flexbone scheme at Air Force 20 years later), the Wagon Train was a double guard pulling sweed, the Popcorn had the traps, and the Mudcat was just about smash/drive.

The QB and at least the backside WR (if not all the WR's) would act like it was a pass in terms of their steps so it was very hard to see what they were doing until it was too late. On the Gangster, for example, the QB would use the same first 3 steps that he did on that option run, but then he'd flip a quick pass to either of the slot WR's or to the split end based on the coverage they read prior to the snap.

Essentially, Ellison's offense gave birth to Mouse Davis' offense, the flexbone, and Bill Walsh's offense.