The Flexbone Option Offense – Midline

Midline might be the most commonly used play in this offense.  Even though inside veer is the core play, many defenses use fronts that conflict the inside veer, and midline is designed specifically to take advantage of those fronts.  Midline is the “up the middle” play of the offense.  It attacks the A-gaps (center-guard gap), but by design, it attacks straight over the center.  Teams with this offense will also use midline as a power play in their offense as well.

Refer back to the previous article on inside veer to get up to speed before reading further about midline.

In Paul Johnson’s system, the rule of thumb for calling midline is to run it at a 3-technique (B-gap defensive tackle), and then run inside veer at a 1-technique (A-gap defensive tackle).  Defenses often use 3-techniques to force the playside tackle to block down on him on inside veer, therefore freeing up the middle linebacker.

Image 1: Red indicates reads and paths of midline. Blue indicates reads and paths of inside veer.
Image 1: Red indicates reads and paths of midline. Blue indicates reads and paths of inside veer.

In image 1, the paths for midline and inside veer as well as the dive reads are layed out.  Against this front, midline is more viable to the left while inside veer is more viable to the right.  On the left side, there is a 3-tech or B-gap defensive tackle.  He is right in the path of inside veer, which can make the play not impossible, but more difficult.  There is no lineman in the A-gap, so midline is a simple and more viable option.  On the right side, there is a 1-tech/shade, or A-gap defensive tackles, right in the path of where midline would go.  However, there is no B-gap defender, which is where inside veer attacks, making inside veer more viable to the right.  Midline also isn’t viable to the right because the first defender to the right of the center is also the read, and he’s much too close for the QB to read.

These gaps that do not have defensive linemen in them are called “bubbles.”  An easy rule of thumb when running the ball in any offense is to attack bubbles.

The basic version of midline is a double option between the QB and the B-back.  The B-back dives right over the center, or to the center’s left or right butt cheek, and the QB attacks the B-gap to the playside.  The play uses veer blocking just like inside veer, but it attacks one gap inside compared to inside veer.  Therefore, the give/keep read defender is generally the first defensive lineman to the playside (as opposed to the first man on or outside the tackle on inside veer).

Rules and Assignments

The playside tackle will actually turn out the first man to his outside and drive him out (unless that defender is the first playside defender).  The idea is to open up a hole in the B-gap for the QB to run, and the playside tackle secures the outside wall.  The playside guard and center veer block just like they would on inside veer, but again, the first playside defender must remain unblocked.  The backside guard and tackle scoop block just like they do on inside veer.  The backside guard and center will often double team against an even front, while the playside guard and center often double team against odd fronts.

As mentioned earlier, the B-back dives over the center.  The QB hops back and lands over the backside A-gap.  This is so he can clear the “midline” path of the B-back.  He rides the mesh with the B-back and reads the first playside defender off the snap.  Using the same give/keep read rules for the dive phase on inside veer, the QB will either give or keep the ball.  If he keeps the ball, he will immediately tuck the ball and charge upfield into the B-gap.

Read 1: The article on the inside veer talked about how the QB reads a defender.  If the defender turns his shoulders in towards the QB, that indicated a keep read.  As seen here, the guard dips his outside shoulder and rips to avoid the read defender.  The read defender closed down so there wouldn’t be a hole once the guard moved onto a linebacker, and this puts that read defender on path to take the dive away.  The QB sees the turned shoulders and pulls the ball.

Read 2: Here is midline with a give read.  The guard avoids the first defender past the center just like the last read gif.  Here however, the defender keeps his shoulders square to the line.  The QB is taught that when the shoulders are square that indicates a give read.

Variations and using the A-backs

On the perimeter, the split ends stalk block the deep defenders just like they do on inside veer.  There are a wide variety of ways to utilize the A-backs on midline.  For Paul Johnson teams, their favorite way to use them is to send both A-backs through the B-gap to lead block for the QB.  This is why midline is also referred to as a power running play at times.  The backside A-back motions like he’s going to be a pitch back, but off the snap, he plants hard and leads through the B-gap.  The playside A-back takes an inside step and loops inside of the playside tackle’s block for the playside linebacker.

Image 1: Here is midline blocking with both A-backs leading through the B-gap for the QB.
Image 2: Here is midline blocking with both A-backs leading through the B-gap for the QB.

Play 1: Midline double lead in action.  The first man to the left of the center is the dive read, and he comes down for the B-back, giving the QB a keep read.  Note the two lead blocks made by the A-backs.  Another way to distinguish this play from others in this offense is the footwork of the QB.  Watch how he almost hops or goes to the backside of the play before continuing playside.  Also note the slightly longer motion taken by the A-back.  This helps to set him up in a position to come downfield and lead block.  Had the motion been cut shorter like it would have been on inside veer, the A-back would not be able to get out in front of the QB in time to lead block.

Another way to run midline is with a counter or “twirl” motion.  The playside A-back motions as if it’s inside veer to the other side, then off the snap he leads for the playside linebacker.  The backside A-back runs a pitch track.  When these teams run the triple option version of midline, they’ll often use this look with the A-backs.

Image 3: Couldn’t find any good images or videos of midline with twirl motion, so here’s a diagram.

The twirl motion can help by getting linebackers or secondary players to start rotating away from the play and giving the offense a numbers advantage on the playside.  At the same time, the pitch track by the A-back not in motion helps to keep playside secondary defenders honest, because the moment those defenders start chasing the twirl motion, they’ll run a play with the same motion, but get the ball to the A-back coming around on the pitch track.

A third way to block midline with the A-backs is to motion the backside A-back and lead him through the hole like the original version, but then have the playside A-back arc block on the run support defender.  To the secondary, this looks like inside veer on the perimeter which can sometimes pull defenders into the alley, opening up holes in between the tackles.

Play 2: Here is midline with arc blocking, just like inside veer.  Watch how the arc release by the A-back at the bottom of the screen pulls the safety to his side away from the middle, so when the B-back busts it past the linebackers, there is no safety help.

Image 3: Diagram of arc blocking on midline, and how it influences the secondary.
Image 4: Diagram of arc blocking on midline, and how it influences the secondary.

Midline Triple

Then there is “midline triple,” the triple option version of midline.  The playside tackle now leaves the guy he normally blocks out alone, because that defender is now the pitch read.  The tackle instead moves to the playside linebacker.  He has to take the playside linebacker, because the playside A-back must now block on the perimeter, and the backside A-back has to be the pitch back.

Image 4: Here is the blocking for midline triple. Note how similar it is to inside veer. All that's really different on this diagram is the footwork and paths of the QB and B-back.
Image 5: Here is the blocking for midline triple. Note how similar it is to inside veer. All that’s really different on this diagram is the footwork and paths of the QB and B-back.

Play 3: Here is midline triple in action.  First note that the backside A-back gets into a good pitch relation despite not being in motion.  That is because the QB’s footwork brings him to the backside more, which gives the A-back less distance to travel to get in a good pitch relation.  Note too how the playside guard and tackle work together to take the playside linebacker and the safety.  Again, since it’s a triple option, there is no kickout block on what would be the OLB.  The tackle therefore can take the playside linebacker, freeing up the playside A-back in twirl motion to help block on the perimeter.

Normally, when midline triple is called, the defense is putting a DT on or inside the playside tackle, and he is closing too fast for the QB to make a good read on inside veer.  By calling midline triple, the footwork puts the QB and B-back farther from that dive read after the snap, now buying the QB enough time to get a good read.  Almost all midline triple options are pitched.  Midline triple is another good play in that sense when a defense is bringing blitzes from the edge.

Washing defenders down

Sometimes when a defender is supposed to be kicked out, like the defensive end or OLB on midline, they pinch inside across the playside tackle’s face in a way that makes a kickout block impossible.  No biggy.  The easiest way to handle that is to take the defender where he wants to go.  When this results in sealing that defender inside, this is called “washing down.”

Play 4: This play is midline with arc blocking, but on this play, the man who is to be kicked out by the tackle pinches inside.  The tackle simply washes him down, and the QB (who gets a keep read) simply goes around the block for a huge gain.

Image 4: Here is what happened on the wash down. The DE to the far left pinched hard inside closing off the B-gap. The tackle washes him down, and the QB goes around. The dotted red line is where the QB's path was supposed to go, and the green line is where the QB took it instead.
Image 6: Here is what happened on the wash down. The DE to the far left pinched hard inside closing off the B-gap. The tackle washes him down, and the QB goes around. The dotted red line is where the QB’s path was supposed to go, and the green line is where the QB took it instead.

Play 4 endzone: Here is the same play but from an endzone view.

This concludes the discussion on the midline option play.  Again, this is the play for the offense that attacks the A-gap, and is probably the most commonly ran play in this offense.  The next article will go over what is probably the most simply play in the offense, the zone dive.

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Justin Schnurer

<p>As a college senior studying history, I’m looking at a career in higher education, because who wants to leave college? As a cheese-head living in Southeast Michigan, I have been coaching football for the past seven years (2008-2014). I have been a varsity high school coach for the past four. I am delightfully mad and obsessed with football schemes and coaching, and I’m looking to disagree with commentators, Jon Gruden, and arm-chair QB’s on a regular basis. College Football is where my allegiance lies, but thank the Packers and the constant bitterness of Lions fans for keeping me in the NFL.</p>