Before discussing sets and plays in detail, let’s discuss some factors that must be taken into account when considering this offensive package. We hope that our experience in learning from these problems in the past can help others avoid them in the future.
The first consideration for any shotgun offense is the extreme importance placed on the consistency of the gun snaps. The accuracy is crucial to the timing of the play. A quarterback must be able to receive the snap and see the field. If the quarterback must be concerned with receiving the snap, he’ll be late getting into his postsnap read progression. Going one step further, if the snap is inaccurate, the quarterback might have difficulty finding the handle or getting a clean grip on the ball. Lack of a clean grip can affect a handoff in the running game or the timing of the passing game.
A drawback of any shotgun offense is the predictability of the back set. Much of the base running game takes the back from one side of the quarterback to the other, allowing the defense to key the back for play direction. In the offensive staff room every week, we make a conscious decision to remove keys from the back. To do this, we use backfield motion, have the back cross the quarterback’s face to pass protect, or use the tailback as an overload to the side on which he lines up, using a speed option or free-releasing him in the passing game.
Another weakness is having only one edge secured. By having three wide receivers in the game, we forfeit the ability to protect the point of attack on both sides of the formation. We attempt to turn this weakness into a strength by using a number of techniques in both the running and passing games.
The first pressure answer we have in the running game is the bubble-adjust rules. The defense can always outnumber us at the point of attack away from the tight end. If the defense tries to pressure at the point of attack away from the tight end, the receivers must recognize the pressure and respond accordingly. The inside receiver will bubble, allowing the quarterback a sight adjustment in the running game, while the outside one or two receivers, depending on the set, will block as if the play were a toss sweep.
The next method in the running game is motioning a wide receiver to be used as a lead back. This wide receiver replaces the fullback in two-back schemes, allowing us to secure the point of attack. If a team overloads to the tight end and we run a play to the tight end, especially outside, we must zone out. To secure the point of attack, the tight end and tackle combo to an outside linebacker or strong safety instead of to the inside linebacker, as they normally would.
In the passing game, the first problem is the same as in the running game—the defense can always outnumber the protection. Our base protection is a six-man protection in which the tight end releases, so we can protect only three to a side. We protect against pressure by keeping both the tight end and running back in to block, using a seven-man protection that can protect both edges if the calls are made correctly. However, we do prefer to use the six-man protection, so we must have answers for both man and zone pressure. Typically, we see four to a side zone pressure, usually away from the tight end. The most common man pressure we see is four across, often with some defensive lineman bailing out inside. We’ll plan each week how to handle the various pressures, but our typical response is to build hots for zone pressure and check versus man pressure.
For this personnel set to be successful, certain concerns need to be addressed. The most difficult concern to satisfy is the tight end. It’s uncommon to find a tight end who’s both athletic enough to stretch the field in the passing game and physical enough to block at the point of attack in the running game. Normally, you must accept some compromise at this position, which will limit your package. It’s also sometimes difficult to find the right personnel to play slot receiver in this personnel group. We ask the slot receiver to be quick enough to defeat safeties and linebackers in the passing game and physical enough to block them in the running game at the point of attack; we also want them to be able to react to the bubble-adjust rules.
Any shotgun offense usually uses the quarterback run. This can be a tremendous asset or can be a liability. As a positive, we view quarterback run as having a 12th man on the field. We’re able to run a two-back offense with only one back in the backfield. The running back becomes the lead blocker when the quarterback is the ball carrier. In addition, spreading the defense with three wide receivers means the quarterback won’t have to run against eight or nine men in the box, creating bigger seams and running lanes. Because of this, we ask the quarterback to gain 50 yards a game on the ground. The negative to all this is that the quarterback takes more hits than normal during the course of a game. As a coach, you must make a difficult decision between playing with reckless abandon and protecting your quarterback, keeping him healthy for the next snap.
These concerns are valid, but if practiced diligently and packaged correctly, this personnel group can help you avoid many of the problems and remove keys by exploiting these concepts from multiple formations. We use three main formations in this personnel group.