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Monday, December 22, 2008

Paul Johnson's Flexbone Meets the Run and Shoot: Delightful

In a pre-bowl game interview, Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson said:

"We don't have our whole system in yet," Johnson said Monday at the Chick-fil-A coaches luncheon. "We'll use the extra practices to work on some of our run-and-shoot stuff.

"There are a lot of the areas of the offense that we are still not very adept at," he added. "We've got to improve in the passing game. We've got some work to do in all areas there and this will give us that opportunity."

That's enough to make every offensive minded guy salivate. Johnson's vaunted flexbone plus the run and shoot? Like pizza and beer, these two things sound perfect together. But of course things aren't always so rosy. Both the flexbone-triple option and the run and shoot are practice intensive offenses, and I don't think we should expect Georgia Tech to open up and throw for 400 yards when they play LSU. But this isn't a bolt out of the blue; Johnson's been around the 'shoot for a long time and its principles have long been a part of his offense.

Indeed, back in the day Johnson was offensive coordinator for a Navy team that upset Cal in a bowl game by racking up 646 yards, including 395 from the air (and they even used a three-receiver stack formation while doing it). And if you go back and study Johnson's offenses you'll see some of the major run and shoot concepts. As I said though, don't expect Georgia Tech to turn all chuck 'n duck. But what can we expect?

I expect to see two trusty run and shoot concepts in particular to make a fairly prominent appearance: the Switch and the Go.

I have described the "Switch" previously, though there's always different flavors in how you do it.

The concept is, at core, a two man concept. Two receivers release and "switch": The outside guys angle inside for 5-6 yards before pushing vertical, while the inside guy runs a "wheel route" under the outside guy, rubs right off of his hip, and then turns up the sideline. That's when they play gets interesting.

In the original R&S, each receiver had [several] delineated options depending on what coverage he saw. They could break it quick on slants, run vertical routes, post routes, curls or in-cuts. When it worked it was beautiful. But sometimes, to borrow Yeats's phrase, "things fall apart." Or simply it took immense practice time for receivers to get good at running the play.

In my previous post I discussed how some modern teams have adapted and simplified the reads. Expect something along those lines in Johnson's aproach, though he still gives his receivers freedom to find the open spots. Remember, option football is a mentality, and it applies to passing as well as running.

The other play, the "Go," is another classic. It is a "trips" route where the outside guy runs a go route or take-off vertical, the middle receiver (usually the guy in motion) runs a "middle-read" or "seam-read" that divides the middle of the field, and the inside guy in trips runs a little flat route after jabbing inside. The play works on a few levels: first, you often get the flat route guy open on a rub off the seam-read receiver's hip; and second the go, backside go, and seam-read often divide up the deep middle coverage to create open spaces for big plays. The thought process is to keep throwing that flat route until they come up for it and then hit them with a big play, either down the sideline or in the seams.

But, if you want someone to explain how the "Go" works, then why not ask June Jones?

Two notes. First, observe that Davie in the video says that the two toughest offenses to depend are the 'shoot and the wishbone, and further note that the flexbone is merely a form of the wishbone. Johnson knows what he's doing.

Also I just want to point out that the only real differences between what Johnson would do with the "Go" and what June Jones would do would be: (a) the slots would be tight-slots rather than slot-receivers; (b) the quarterback would be under center rather than in shotgun (thus actually making the quarterback more of a running-threat when he looks at the flat route as with the original shoot); and (c) the reads for the slot-receiver may - or may not be - somewhat simplified. That really depends on the slot receiver and quarterback. Johnson is not beyond giving them full-freedom, though he can't emphasize it every day in practice like pass-happy June Jones does and still be able to execute his option attack. Like everything else in football, it's a balance.

Update: I want to note that I made a correction to the above: it was actually Navy that upset Cal in that bowl game (which happened to take place in Hawai'i). Though Johnson was OC at Hawai'i at one time as well.


Anonymous said...

The Go vs. Cov3, it is also effective to send the motion man to the flat especially if you send him in speed motion across the formation. It really puts a bind on the CB as he has to decide to help the flat defender or stay with his receiver deep. Even a moment of hesitation can open up a big play.

Anonymous said...

Actually, it was a Navy team playing in Hawaii that put up those high passing yards against California. Back in the mid-1980s, Georgia Southern did well in the air game when Johnson was OC; ditto for Hawaii when Johnson was OC there in the late 80s and early 90s. If Johnson has the QB and receivers, his offense can be pretty deadly by air as well.

Anonymous said...

While the run and shoot and triple option are both time intensive to teach it can be done. We ran the triple option and run and shoot effectively in college from the flexbone. The key is practice organization. And player organization in practice. After individuals your focal point should be 7-7 and 9-7 run concurrently.

steve said...

One correction. The bowlgame vs Cal (646 total yards, 395 passing) was the 1996 Aloha bowl when Johnson was OC at Navy

Anonymous said...

Actually, it was a Navy team playing in Hawaii that put up those high passing yards against California. Back in the mid-1980s, Georgia Southern did well in the air game when Johnson was OC; ditto for Hawaii when Johnson was OC there in the late 80s and early 90s. If Johnson has the QB and receivers, his offense can be pretty deadly by air as well.

Patrick said...

from a GT student and huge football fan and PJ fan -- love the post, Chris. i'm curious...what do you think LSU will do differently (if anything) to try to stop our offense? how much of the run-and-shoot will CPJ actually unveil in the CFA Bowl? and what's your prediction for the game?

Ed and Barb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ed and Barb said...

Another Navy/Paul Johnson win using passing and the TO was the 2005 Poinsettia bowl (vs. Colorado State).

A good article on Johnson's coaching in that game at

Anonymous said...

Im 1990, while coaching the Parma Panthers (see e.g. Grisham's Playing for Pizza), we faced a team which put up huge numbers running and passing equally from the flexbone.

In 1987, Watson Brown's Vandy offense racked up big numbers with Eric Jones at QB. They'd go wishbone one play and empty the next without substituting. Jones led the SEC in total offense, passer rating, TD passes and was the only QB in the top ten in rushing with almost 1000 yards.


Unknown said...

both option game and the run and shoot are practice intensive as were stated previously.

I think a team facing Georgia Tech could benefit greatly by showing many multiple packages.

Instead of looking for a singular solution to the problem (cov 3, quarters,etc) why not attack the offense where there can be the greatest hope for confusion: attacking their reads.

if a team reads the end's movement( if end crashes keep/ if end stays hand off) then why not play with that?

a team could put its most athletic athlete in space, even a safety type. since he would not be blocked anyhow, his lack in size wouldn't matter.

yes, if the option team came back with power or blast his way, the safety type could be exposed. but by playing a substitution game (insert safety here, go with a true end type here, insert a run stuffer here) a team could really make the most fundamental aspect of an option or zone read team much, much more multiple.

this same concept could be applied to the problem of four verticals. a by putting safety or linebacker types at the line to crack releasing receivers (and having them play flats) you could keep a single high safety deep and have a robber (or in saban speak: a rat) mess with the offensiev reads because of the flexibility of his positioning.