Thursday, November 6, 2008

Setting a simple rule for when and why to run the triple to an a-gap player

There has always been much discussion with option coaches about when and where to run the triple. This article will deal with one of those discussions: “When and Why to Run the triple to an A-gap (guard-center) player rather than a B-gap (guard- center) player.” It will also present a set of rules that hopefully help the coach with his decision where to run the triple.

For the sake of this article, we are going to limit ourselves to the non-tightend flank and eliminate any formational or blocking adjustments and supplemental plays that may be called in order to counter some of the problems we will mention here. We are strictly going to be talking about running the triple.

That being said, we will then be limited to 2 flank looks: an “ace front” and an “reduced front.” We will define those as follows

ACE FRONT: #3 (counting out from the handoff key and eliminating a defender to cover the wide receiver) is outside the tackle and there is no linebacker inside the handoff key to that side. (fig.1)

REDUCED FRONT: #3 (same counting system as above) is inside the tackle box. (fig.2)

(Since we are concerned with counts here, coverage configurations are irrelevant. Also if a 4-3 goes to 3 deep, by definition it becomes a REDUCED FRONT away from the rotation.)

Looking at the ACE Front, in a basic triple scheme (read #1 – option #2) the playside halfback is need to arc on support, if the play is run to a b-gap linemen and the defense has a middle linebacker who is trying to get over the top to outnumber the offense on the perimeter (fig. 3), commonly referred to as "squeeze and scrape," the offense will be outnumbered on the perimeter.

The offense is only left with one alternative in order to keep perimeter numbers on their side: single the 3-technique and attempt to seal the box with the tackle (fig.4) The problem lies here in that the qb’s vision to the handoff key is blocked by the push of the 3-technique and on a “give” read the triple is effectively reduced to a zone dive. (If the handoff gets any chance at all!) A regular diet of this scheme will entice the defensive coordinator to force a give every time and make the offense a traditional one to his defense.

(It should be noted though that if a defense is effectively giving a “pull” read every time (we’ve all seen defensive coordinator’s get into this rhythm-thank God for them!).) the pre-mentioned scheme of singling the 3-technique and sealing the middle linebacker with the tackle is highly effective providing the guard can neutralize the 3-technique’s penetration ability. Width of the defensive alignment becomes a factor.)

If the offense runs the same scheme to the A-gap player, the tackle’s release (whether you are running loop or veer) gives the offense a chance to seal the box and not disrupt the give read. (fig.5)

(Note: when veering vs. a 4-3 the tackle should always work vertical first assuming that the MLB is running over the top and then adjust by his third step to the dive reaction.)

Now let’s look at the same play to the REDUCED front. With #3 inside the tackle, the HB can now be used to seal the linebacker so he isn’t a problem on the perimeter. However, the safety can be the player who outnumbers the option on the perimeter. (fig.6) if the tackle again is absorbed by the b-gap player in order to create the running crease for the fullback.

If the play is run to the a-gap player the tackle and the halfback both have a chance of getting the linebacker with the other coming off for the safety. In fig. 7 the tackle captures the linebacker allowing the Halfback to take off for the safety. In fig. 8 the linebacker scrapes over the top forcing the Halfback to block him allowing the tackle to come off for the safety.

(It should be noted again that if the defensive coordinator is giving the triple a steady rhythm of having the 5-technique take the fullback, the offense can single the 3-technique and create the same situation on the perimeter with the halfback and tackle accounting for the linebacker and safety.)

So what are the general characteristics that can be used to fomulate a rule as to when to run the play into the a-gap player?

  • The defense must be forcing the offense to take the ball to the perimeter the majority of the time, however, not all the time. If the defensive reaction constantly becomes a give read the play can be run to the 3-technique providing the guard and tackle can get movement of the 3-technique vertically allowing a two way cut for the fullback. Also, as we saw previously, the play can be run to the 3-technique if the defense constantly makes the offense take the ball to the perimeter and the guard can keep the 3-technique’s penetration to a minimum. (See that DC a birthday gift!)
  • In all cases the offenses ability to handle the 3-technique must be a factor. If the guard can handle him or if the combo from the tackle can secure the guard quickly enough to get to the backer (ACE only) then this isn’t a factor. So the width and ability of the 3-technique’s alignment becomes a factor in game planning or an in-game decision. Additionally, if you get enough movement on the 3-technique to cut off the linebacker (happens often) then you can run it to the 3-technique. The linebacker’s depth has a lot to do with this.
  • The defense is absorbing both the tackle and halfback as blockers while running an unblocked player from inside the handoff off key out. (In the ACE example, the halfback is absorbed the playside safety and the tackle by the 3-technique with the linebacker running from the inside free. In the REDUCED example, the 3-technique and linebacker use up the tackle’s and halfback’s block allowing the safety to run the alley.) Of course if the defense is not runningthe linebacker in an ACE or the free safety and linebacker both in the REDUCED defense, the need to run to an a-gap player is off!)

So as a general rule we use the following summary to decide if we need to run the triple to the a-gap player:

“If we cannot handle the three technique with our guard (rarely can we) and / or the defense has absorbed the blocks of both the tackle and the playside halfback and are outnumbering us on the perimeter by running somebody from inside the handoff key outside, we will then run / check the play to the a-gap player.”

This is where the coaching staff either needs to check the play or formation the a-gap where you want him. Of course there are other answers in schemes, formations, and auxiliary plays to handle this problem but we never want to get far from our roots – the triple. Additionally, we will run the play in this situation occasionally to the 3-technique and leverage pitch negating the inside backer or put the pressure on the free in the alley to make the tackle. Depends how good we are.

Then there’s the tightend flank but that’s a whole other animal……..

I hope you enjoyed this article and leave some feedback. I've enjoyed reading the many people's comments they've sent me. I realize that this article is a "basic" univeral idea but I think it's important to get those out there for new coaches or just as a review.

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