This will be the final installment on the flexbone option offense beginner series. Be sure to read the previous articles in the series, as each of these plays complement each other. Those articles are linked at the bottom.
There are two types of pass protections you’ll often see with this play. The first one is “Turn-back” protection. On this protection, all linemen will take a playside step and punch with their outside arm. Then they will all hinge and open up backside to block their inside gap. The punch on the first step is to slow up and push defenders into the gaps for adjacent linemen to engage easier. Their goal after that is to keep all defenders inside of the QB off his backside. This is an aggressive pass protection, as the O-line should give as little ground as possible because the QB needs to fake inside veer, which places him just behind the line for the first few moments of the play. On turn-back protection, the B-back fakes inside veer, then fills in the line just outside of the playside tackle. Since the entire O-line is turning inside, he has to take the first defender outside the playside tackle.
Pass Pro 1: This is a good example of turn-back protection. The entire O-line steps with their playside foot, then they turn to their backside gap. Note how little ground they give.
The other type of pass protection you’ll see with this play is half slide protection. Think of this protection in this offense as a scheme where the playside linemen (Big) will block any playside defensive lineman (on big). This is also known as Big on Big (BOB) protection. All backside linemen do their normal turn-back protection. Turn-back is another way of saying slide protection, so one part of the line is sliding, the other half is playing BOB, so “half-slide.” The B-back will fake inside veer, then block inside-out on any linebackers that blitz. Simply put, the back (Back) blocks linebackers (on backer), so the acronym “BOB” also works. Again, BOB playside, slide (turn-back) backside. This protection may be used instead of turn-back protection if they want to keep an O-lineman on the playside defensive end. It’s also more preferable against conservative/non-blitzing defenses because you can get the offensive linemen on defensive linemen, then use the backs elsewhere.
Pass Pro 2: Here is an example of half slide protection. Note the right side of their line hinging and turning their back to protect the backside gaps, while the playside tackle and the two backs use BOB protection on the left side.
The backside A-back will usually do one of two things on this play. He can either go in motion and run a swing or flare route. This also simulates a pitch track, helping to sell the play action. When he runs the swing route, he becomes the hot receiver, or if no one is open, the release/dump off receiver.
The other assignment he may have is to help pass protect. After going in motion, he will come up to the line and block the first defender outside of the B-back’s block on turn-back protection (The B-back and BSA are responsible for the playside edge on turn-back protection). If the offense is using half-slide protection, he’ll check/block any outside linebacker or DB blitzes while the B-back works on the inside linebackers. When he does block, there is no hot read. The offense is probably assuming the hot read/key defender is going to blitz, so they just leave the backside A-back in to block him.
More info on the hot read/key is given under the QB’s assignment.
The goal of the play is to simulate inside veer as much as possible. Remember the two inside veer perimeter blocking schemes are arc (Playside A-back blocks safety, split end blocks corner) and switch (Playside A-back blocks corner, split end cracks safety). There are two base passing routes for the veer pass and they both simulate the blocking schemes. The first one is the vertical route, where the playside A-back will run a seam, and the split end will run a go route (looks like arc blocking).
Play 1: Vertical pass route. The single high safety bites hard on the run, and the playside A-back easily runs by over top for a large gain. It is the safety’s job in this defense to defend the playside A-back in this case. This goes to show the strain that this run heavy offense puts on defensive secondaries. It’s even harder against this offense because the routes start off looking like blocking schemes.
The other route is the switch route. The playside A-back will run a wheel route, and the split end will simulate the crack block, then run down the seam or run a post (looks like switch blocking). The route the offense calls will often depend on which type of blocking they are using more on inside veer.
Play 2: Here is a great example of the switch route concept. Notice the two receivers attack the same areas of the field as verticals do, just the routes are switched, again simulating switch blocking on inside veer. The high safety sees the switch blocking plus the veer action, and flows hard to help, letting the split end go right over top for an easy score.
Sometimes, whoever the inside route (seam on verticals, and post on switch) is taught to read the near safety. Sometimes that safety sits deep and over top, giving the inside route no legitimate deep route option. What they can do is run a type of option route, where they look for a hole in the defense, and gear down/settle in the hole. Whoever the inside route is, if that safety blitzes, or there is an open hole right in the seam, they are expected to look right away for a quick pass from the QB.
The backside split end will usually run a curl, go, or some sort of post/skinny post route. The idea of the backside route is to fill in a massive void the secondary leaves when they rotate playside. They will throw to the backside split end if both safeties are helping to cover the playside routes (there can only be 1-on-1 coverage on the backside).
The QB will fake inside veer off the first step, using the same steps he uses to start inside veer. After the fake, he retreats for three steps. Because of the lateral movement off the snap to make the fake, this should place him roughly behind the playside tackle.
The read on this play is the movement of the playside safety. A rule of thumb is that against 1-hight safety, the inside route is more likely to be open. Against 2-high safeties, the outside route is more likely to be open. Either way, the QB reads that safety, and if he widens outside of the inside route, he’ll throw the inside route. If the safety stays home or over top of the inside route, he’ll throw to the outside route. It does not matter which routes the offense is running (verticals or switch). The read is still the same.
The #3 defender (sometimes the safety being read) is the hot read/key. If the backside A-back is in route and he blitzes so quickly that the QB cannot set up to read the deep routes, he’ll dump it off to the swing route. Remember, the #3 defender is the run support/force defender, and is who the playside A-back blocks on inside veer. If the backside A-back is blocking, there is no hot read/key, because the A-back can block the #3 defender if he blitzes.
Some helpful tips or rules of thumb for the QB: Against cover 2 and cover 0, the outside route is more likely to be open. Against cover 3 and cover 1, the inside route is more likely to be open. Against cover 4, if the coverage is sound, be ready for the inside route to gear/settle down in a hole/seam underneath the inside deep safety. If the safety blitzes, hit the inside route, or if you do not have time, dump it off to the swing route.
Sometimes the single high safety, or both safeties over-rotate to the playside. If the QB sees this, he knows there is only 1-on-1 coverage on the backside split end. While not part of the read, sometimes the offense will call for the QB to watch for him in the huddle, or from the sidelines. When they get this situation, the backside split end becomes an available option.
Play 3: On this play, the backside go route becomes open. The defense is playing cover 2, but the cornerback on the backside is so far inside of the split end, he cannot help defend the go route. He’s cheating in since the backside A-back went away to help with any counter or misdirection plays. There is a safety over top, but the QB has a nice easy pocket to throw the ball to.
Another cool features about this offense is that there is a play action pass off rocket toss. The only real difference is the backfield action. The routes and the protection are usually the same.
Play 4: Here is the rocket pass from a tight formation with the switch route. Notice everything is the same as veer pass, except the QB and backside A-back fake the rocket action. The defense is playing some sort of cover 2 defense, because the playside safety drifts outside to cover the wheel route, allowing the seam route by the split end to get inside of him. The deep drag by the backside split end occupies the rest of the secondary from going deep.
This concludes the series on the flexbone option offense. To summarize, this series features an introduction to the offense, highlights the six core plays of this offense: Inside veer, midline, zone dive, counter option, rocket toss, and veer pass. These six plays give the offense the opportunity to attack anywhere on the field with a minimal number of plays and schemes. They are all designed to look similar to each other, or to at least mirror each other in some aspect. If anyone would like more in depth discussion on the offense, or would like to hear more about some other schemes these teams use, feel free to comment below.