Deeper in the Spread

Deeper in the Spread

I bet you thought this was going to be a porn article based on the title…..sorry but no.

Michael Schearer states,

“There are three basic points which demonstrate why this offense is ultimately successful. The first and foremost element of this offense is that it is a proven winner. Teams have proven that, up to and including those at the professional level, this offense can take you all the way.

Second, as we saw in the initial paragraph, an important element to this offense is scoring. As the saying goes, “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.” The only way to win games is to put points on the board; the more points you score, the more likely you are to win. Third and finally (and I might add, the most important element), this offense is fun. Run successfully, it is an action-packed, crowd-pleasing system with explosive potential.

Spread Philosophy:

Confusion. The first theme of the offense is confusion. This is accomplished primarily through a) mmultiple formations, shifting, motion, personnel packages and bunching; b) running the same basic plays from many different formations; c) running “systems” or “progressions” of plays; and d) deception, in the form of well-executed play-action passes, boots and waggles, misdirection and counter-plays, and trickery.

Exploitation. The second theme is exploitation. This is accomplished in two parts: first by stretching the defense both horizontally and vertically. Should the defense take a man out of the box to defend the pass, this will open up the run, and vice versa. The key here is taking advantage of the entire field: a three-wide set forces the defense to spread out, thus better exposing weaknesses.

The second part to exploitation might seem simple but it is nonetheless effective: not only should this offense stretch the field horizontally and vertically, but play calling should take advantage of this fact and use the entire field.

Domination. The third and final theme of the single back offense is domination. This can be best explained in three different contexts. First, in the context of the running game, domination means establishing the opportunity for a successful passing game: power football by outnumbering the defense at the point of attack, using every player in every play, and forcing the defense to bring another man into the box.

Second, in the content of the passing game, domination means establishing the opportunity for a successful running game: keeping the defense honest with the deep threat (early and hopefully often), releasing 4 or 5 receivers on each play, and forcing the defense to take a man out of the box. Third, domination in a general offensive sense takes into account our previous themes. Overall offensive domination means confusing the defense, finding the weak spots in the defense caused by this confusion, and exploiting them non-stop for four quarters of football.”

Sam Bradford in his presser said that the Rams would be running a lot of single set back formations this year. It seems to me that’s already what we’ve been doing all along, but without the speed to make it an effective strategy. With the teams new speed we should see a different or better production out of the team this year.

The single set back base has a ton of possible variations. You could have two tight ends paired with a couple of wide receivers, or how about one tight end and three wide?

Unfortunately that looks like what I’ve seen the Ram’s doing for quite some time, so what’s the big deal? How come we’ve had a minimum of success moving the ball? Well the answer to that is of course lack of talent in the critical areas. I think we can insert some of that new talent in the current offense.

First of all the fullback has gone away in favor of a tight end who is faster and can receive the ball (Jared Cook). It helps if you have a tight end that can help in the running game and pass-protection by being a good blocker when needed (Lance Kendricks).

When an offense has speed, the defense has to respect the running game because you can load the line with tight ends and still have a viable passing attack. Linebackers end up having to cover receivers, and the safeties are forced to come up and support stopping the run.

So to effectively run a single set back offense it takes:

  • Fast receivers that run great routes

  • Balanced tight ends for blocking and receiving

  • Different types of running backs (Power, Elusive, Pass catching)

  • Fast and effective offensive lineman

  • QB that can make reads and throws under pressure

I think we now have the above elements covered. The biggest question marks will the pieces we have actually evolve into a unified team that can perform like a well-oiled machine. I think it can, but of course it’s all conjecture and a bit of hope on my part.

The reason I’m predicting that we see more of a spread attack this year is simple. We drafted someone who will be dangerous anytime he gets the ball in space. The spread is perfect for doing exactly that…get the ball to the playmakers in space!

Let’s assume that we have all the versatile athletes that we need to run this spread. What can we do to make life miserable for the opposing defense?

We can run a 3 or 4 WR set without changing personnel. We can move a player from the box to the backfield etc. Next we add a no-huddle attack that makes it impossible for the defense to substitute players….especially if there defensive packages require different personnel.

Let’s put a formation shift and motion to our package with a couple of Tight Ends and we can move our strength to the other side of the formation creating more gaps the defense can’t fill.

The Rams saw little use of the tight ends last year and that’s surprising because that usually happens when you have better receiving options. Maybe we thought we had better receiving options and they failed, that’s why we drafted new receivers and cut others. It’s still a bit baffling why you wouldn’t use them even if you have better receivers.

So let’s play around with some basic spread offense.

First off is to take a look at a route tree.

Route Trees

The routes of this passing system are broken down into three different categories. The primary routes are based on a simple route tree of nine patterns that are numbered for purposes of play calling. By using numbers, a combination of patterns can be easily specified with a few simple numbers. A few key items of interest:

  • All odd-numbered patterns break in, that is, toward the inside of the field ( exception of "9")

  • All even-numbered patterns break out, toward the sideline

  • The higher the number, the deeper the pattern

  • The depth of patterns may vary slightly based on a number of conditions, including depth and style of defense

  • Cuts should be squared, not rounded

  • The receivers' inside foot should always be forward; this helps with timing

1. Slant (2 yards), 2. Quick Out (1 yard), 3. Hitch (5-7 yards), 4. Flat (7-5 yards), 5. Curl (10-12 yards), 6. Comeback (10-12 yards), 7. Post (12 yards), 8. Flag (12 yards), 9. Fly or Go

Other Patterns. The secondary routes are other key patterns used by this offense that do not fit into the conventional route tree. These routes are referred to by names and not numbers:

A. Arrow (5-10 yards), B. Out (10 yards), C. Stop-n-Go (8-10 yards), D. Corner (12-15 yards), E. In (10 yards). There are other routes which may be called, i.e., Fade, Cross, Under, etc.

Route Combinations. Finally, the combination of two or more routes, especially when they involve name patterns as opposed to number patterns, can often because quite cumbersome. Thus, some of the more frequent combinations are better served by names of their own.

Now that we see all the options the spread route tree offers, let’s take a look at some basic single back sets that we can utilize for our new speedy WR’s and TE.

Single-back Sets

Formation variations: None

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: Tight/Flex

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: Tight/Flex

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: Tight

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: Tight/Flex

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: None

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: Tight/Flex

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: None

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: None

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Formation variations: None

Backfield variations: Strong/Weak

Empty Set

Formation variations:

So you see there are a million alignments and that’s not even counting all the motion and changes possible depending on what the defense lines up like.

I found it interesting to see what Sam needs to think about when he comes to the line. And the following shows why it’s important to have a quick mind as a QB.

Uncovered Receivers

Recognizing uncovered receivers and taking advantage of the defense is a vital component of this offense’s passing game. In the diagram below, the outside linebacker has split out to cover the Z (the slot receiver); thus this receiver is said to be covered (though a linebacker covering the Z is another situation to exploit). Likewise, the offside cornerback could move over and cover the Z. In the same way, the Z would be considered a covered receiver. In this case, a called pass might be changed to a run to take advantage of the six men in the box situation.

If the linebacker stays in the box to defend the run, the Z is said to be uncovered:

The offense has two ways to take advantage of this defense. Depending on the width and speed of the linebacker, the Z may run a bubble pattern. The X stalk blocks his cornerback. Catching the ball within a yard of the LOS, the Z breaks upfield off the X’s block:

In addition to the bubble screen, the other option is a quick screen to the Z. The X runs off his corner down the sideline while the Z widens a bit a finds the seam between the outside linebacker and the corner:

The same situation that exists versus the twins formation above may also occur against a trips formation. In the diagram below, the outside linebacker has widened to cover the H receiver. In doing so, he has left only five men in the box to defend the run:

If the linebacker stays in the box to defend the run, the H is said to be uncovered:

Depending on which receiver is uncovered, the same two options are available to the offense. If the Nickel back (N) widens to cover the Z, the bubble screen is available to the uncovered receiver (H), with the Z and X executing stalk blocks on their respective defenders:

If the Nickel back covers the H, the quick screen can be thrown to the Z. The H runs off the Nickel back while the X runs off his cornerback. The Z then finds the seam and looks for the ball immediately:

Pre-Snap Reads. Once the quarterback is under center, his first pre-snap read should be to determine, to the best of his ability, the coverage of the defense. At the most basic level, MOFO (Middle of the Field is Open) and MOFC (Middle of the Field is Closed) can help a quarterback narrow the possibilities. While rotations are disguises are always possible, the locations of the safeties are our first guide to determining coverage:

One safety deep generally implies Cover 1 or Cover 3:

Two safeties deep leads toward Cover 2, Cover 4, and Quarters. Cover 2 is also a popular “shell” to disguise other coverage’s:

Zero safeties deep indicates Cover 0 and potentially a pressure/blitz situation:

While there are other defenses, these basic secondary structures can help the quarterback to narrow down the possibilities. His pre-snap reads continue:

  • Are there uncovered receivers? A bubble or quick screens might be appropriate.

  • How does the defense react to motion (courtesy Bill Walsh’s QB instructional notes from Stanford):

    • Backfield (F/H) motion

      • No defensive movement indicates zone coverage.

      • Linebacker movement indicates man under coverage.

      • Defensive back movement indicates a blitz is coming.

    • Tight End (Y) motion

      • No defensive movement indicates zone coverage.

      • Sam linebacker movement indicates man under coverage.

      • Strong safety movement indicates a blitz is coming.

    • Flanker (Z) motion

      • “Locked” cornerback movement indicates man coverage.

      • Sliding or “bumped” cornerback movement indicates zone.

  • Identify the front and potential blitzes.

  • Visualize the run or pass routes. Do run-blocking assignments need to be adjusted based on a different look from the defensive front? Are “hot” routes necessary because of a potential blitz?

Based on the accumulation of knowledge to this point, the quarterback should consider changing the play if necessary.

Post-Snap Adjustments. Once the quarterback determines his drop, he should continue with his reads and make adjustments as necessary:

  • Read the safeties on the drop. MOFO/MOFC. Confirm or change the pre-snap read depending on how the safeties deploy. Is the defense using the Cover 2 Shell to disguise other coverage’s or to rotate into another coverage?

  • Recognize the defensive front. Where is the pressure or blitz? Where is the “hot” route or outlet receiver?

  • Go through his progressions.

Cover 0


  • Pass rush. Defense can bring six or even seven defenders.

  • Tight coverage.

  • Good run support from safeties.


  • No underneath help. Susceptible to crossing routes and picks.

  • No deep help in the middle. Susceptible to deep posts.

Cover 1


  • Pass rush. Defense can bring five or more defenders.

  • Tight coverage.

  • Good run support to SS side.


  • No underneath help. Susceptible to crossing routes and picks.

  • Play-action passes.

  • Out routes.

  • Less run support away from SS.

Cover 2


  • Pass rush. Defense can bring four or more defenders.

  • Five underneath coverage.

  • Corners can disrupt timing by jamming receivers.

  • Good flat support.


  • Susceptible to deep middle and fade area.

  • Strongside curl.

  • Run support off tackle.

Cover 3


  • Pass rush. Defense can bring four or more defenders.

  • Three-deep secondary.

  • Good run support to SS side.


  • Weakside curl/flat.

  • Strongside curl/flat.

  • Limited fronts.

  • Flood routes.

  • Run support away from SS side.

  • Dig (square-in, cross) routes.

  • Four verticals.

Cover 4


  • Cover 4 is a 4 deep 3 underneath coverage with the safeties playing read support.

  • Cover 4 is excellent vs. 2,3, and 4 verticals

  • Ability to double cover #1

  • Read support vs. the run with the safety and linebacker


  • Flat areas

  • Possible mismatch with #2 and the outside linebacker on the wheel.

  • Safeties are susceptible to play action pass

  • Limited Fronts

  • Flood Routes

  • Run Support away from the SS

So there you have a glimpse into the playbook for a typical spread offense. I just sit back and plug Austin, Pettis, Quick, Givens, Kendricks, Cook, Pead, Stacy, etc. into the formations and start drooling!

I’m sure Schotty and Sam are doing the same thing!

My thanks to Michael Schearer, for letting me use his playbook for this article.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Turf Show Times

You must be a member of Turf Show Times to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Turf Show Times. You should read them.

Join Turf Show Times

You must be a member of Turf Show Times to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Turf Show Times. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.