A Bag of Tricks
This is the last of a series of ideas to help your offense in-season. We’ve reached the point of the season where it’s “win or go home.” The teams that you face now are usually of equal or greater caliber. Solid offensive performances are still built around the core of what you do that has got you to this point. However, being able to strategically add an explosive play through the use of some kind of deceptive or trick can provide the spark plug you need to overcome your opponent.
When to Use a Trick
There are several philosophies on using trick plays. Some coaches like to use them early when players are keyed up and likely to react aggressively. If you are playing a team that comes out with a lot of aggression and emotion, then early in the game might be the time to use a trick play.
Other teams come out and play smart and are cool, calm and collected. Usually, these teams are trick plays aware and doing something early while they are physically and mentally fresh may not be the right time. Swinging for the fence early against these types of teams can backfire. Tricks against these teams need to be off a common look you are using in the game. You are looking to condition the defense into reacting to something you’ve done over and over, or using an alignment or situational tendency to create the opportunity you need.
Time of game and score should be a consideration as well. You don’t necessarily want to save your tricks until you are desperate and need to get something going. Defenses are obviously more alert for gadget plays when they are up and can play a little looser in the secondary. Striking after you’ve been up a score or two, and when the defense is now trying to make something happen usually gives your play a better chance for success.
Another consideration is obviously field position. Running a long developing trick play that has plenty of moving parts, deep in your own end is usually unwise. If it works out, it certainly can dig you out of a hole, but you really need to consider if the risk is worth the reward.
Your Approach to Tricks With Your Team
You never want the use of trick plays to communicate a hidden message to your team. Carrying too many or spending too much practice time on them can inadvertently create a doubt in your regular offense and send the message that you need to do something special to beat this opponent. The best policy is to start practicing generic forms of gadget plays in camp so they actually feel like part of your offense. If you are doing them for the first time late, take the approach that any play that gains four yards or better is an efficient play. You don’t want to give the sense that you have to “go for broke.”
Practicing a trick or two each week and constantly adjusting it for each game plan is a sound practice. Many times we will rep trick plays that we never use. In practicing them, we usually do it during our good-on-good periods. We want to do these against a defense that reacts well, and many times, because our scout defense is made up of younger players, trying to use a deceptive against them in practice successfully is not as easy. Other than the good-on-good period, we will rep it late in the week. Sometimes doing this on air is the most effective if you can’t get your scout defense to respond.
Types of Tricks
There are plenty of trick plays out there but most fall into a few categories. The ones I will share in this post are in the categories of reverses, double passes, throw backs, and run action tricks. Many times you will combine two into one gadget play. The double pass is a great play against aggressive defensive backs that play up on your screens quickly. Most double passes leave at least one blocker in front of the first receiver. These can be executed off of bubble screens, swings, and perimeter or “now” types of screens. Obviously, making sure that the first past is a lateral is the key. The other key is that your blockers are not downfield when they execute the blocks for the second passer. Routes off of these plays are usually a stalk-block and go or an x-block and go. Bringing a receiver across from the other side to replace a free safety is also a typical route.
In the following video the double pass goes to a wide receiver off of a perimeter screen look.
This next clip shows a sprint out with a pass back to the tight end, who throws it down field.
Reverses can be built off of your best runs. Getting the defense to react one way aggressively and then getting the ball back with a speedy receiver creates big play opportunities. A key block in this can be made by the quarterback leading around the end after he hands the ball to the first ball carrier. Usually an end that sees the quarterback without the ball is apt to let him go and chase. The other block that is always fun to watch and is usually a big hit is the peel back blocker who gets that first guy to turn around. The defense is primed for a play like this when backside pursuit is heavy and when the secondary is rotating over to your run strength. It’s not a bad practice to have a coach up in the press box specifically looking at how the backside of a defense is reacting.
This video shows a reverse off our our bunch pin and pull play with the quarterback leading to the opposite edge.
The following video shows a well executed peel back block. While the play only gained 4 yards, the big hit sparked our team as you can see by the reaction of the sideline.
Throw backs work well for teams who have a great boot, naked or sprint out game. In an attempt to shut down all of your receivers flowing toward the quarterback, the defense reacts quickly and leaves someone open on the backside. Again, your man in the press box can be useful in identifying when this is happening so that you can dial up your play. If you are a boot and naked team, the back who you faked to is often forgotten and left alone. Again, early in the game this may not be the case, but later when defenders become used to seeing the quarterback running away, the running back will be left open. On these types of throwbacks, we tell the running back to make a bad fake because we don’t want him to be tackled accidentally. The other type of throwback is off of a sprint out or boot to a backside receiver who usually is last in your progression and not thrown to much at all when the ball goes away. Corners will at times become undisciplined and flow towards the sprint out leaving the space necessary for the receiver to beat him.
The throw back in this video involves a double pass with the second pass going to the back up the opposite side.
The trick play in this video has a double pass throwback to the quarterback who is given screen protection.
Run action tricks are usually built off of your best runs. Many times this is the old halfback pass. It’s tried and true, and with a tailback who has been making a defense pay on the perimeter, it really can catch them off guard when the secondary starts to support hard. Obviously having a back who has a little of ability to throw a ball is important. Recently, the University of Cincinnati executed a jump pass off a short yardage power play for a big touchdown.
Another run action trick is the flea flicker. The running back should get up into the line enough and get the pitch back quickly to the QB. It is key for the receivers to spend time on selling their run blocks before taking off into their routes. This is to ensure that the don’t out run the quarterbacks arm.
In our final game of 2012, we employed three trick plays. All three worked successfully even though execution wasn’t perfect. Two set up a score and the other was a TD. This first video shows a double motion to an empty set with a double pass. The ball is under thrown, but we make a big play anyway.
To finish the drive we utilized our goal line jump pass. We pitch the ball to the tailback who runs to the line of scrimmage and throws the jump pass to our wing who is working to a voided area in the back of the end zone.
In the fourth quarter we used our flea flicker play. The quarterback had to get rid of it quickly because of pressure, but he was able to get the ball out and our receiver made the play down field.
Key Points for Using Tricks:
1. Know your opponent and what players on defense are quick to react to an initial key. Plan your attack here.
2. Decide when and where are the appropriate time to use these plays. Most of the time these plays are effective when the game is tight.
3. Set up the play to fit into what you do. Use looks and formations that are already part of your game plan. A formation the defense hasn’t seen sometimes causes them to play less aggressively and could be an indicator that you are doing something out of the ordinary.
4. Practice your plays but not too much. Give it a few team reps and over the week and that’s all. If there is a key mechanic involved with ball handling or a pass, let the players involved practice it separately.
5. Have fun! These plays are always fun when they work out and the players love to execute them.
Good luck with the rest of your season!