Run and shoot offense

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The run and shoot offense is an offensive system for American football which emphasizes receiver motion and on-the-fly adjustments of receivers' routes in response to different defenses. It was conceived by former Middletown, Ohio, High School football coach Glenn "Tiger" Ellison and refined and popularized by former Portland State Offensive Coordinator Darell "Mouse" Davis.

The Run & Shoot system uses a formation consisting of one running back and usually four wide receivers, although some variants have substituted an athletic and bigger tight end to help block for the running game. This system makes extensive use of receiver motion (having a receiver suddenly change position by running left or right, parallel to the line of scrimmage, just before the ball is snapped), both to create advantageous mismatches with the opposing defensive players and to help reveal what coverage the defense is using.

The basic idea behind the Run & Shoot is a flexible offense that adjusts "on the fly," as the receivers are free to adjust their routes as they are running them in response to the defensive coverage employed. The quarterback, as a result, also has to read and react to the defense's coverages in a more improvised manner than with other offensive systems. As a result of the diagnosing of coverages, the system can be considered rather complex and usually requires highly intelligent players.

In the purest form of the offense, the proper complement would consist of two wide receivers lined up on the outside edges of the formation and two "slotbacks" (wide receivers who line up one step back from the line of scrimmage so as not to be considered "covered" and thus ineligible) lined up just outside and behind the two offensive tackles.

Many of the National Football League teams that used the Run & Shoot in the early 1990s used true wide receivers in all four receiving positions. The type of running back used varied from a smaller back who could catch passes to a big, bruising running back who could run with power. The frequent passing plays run out of this formation tend to spread out the defense's players. If repeated pass plays work, the defense is not as prepared for running plays; running the ball between the offensive tackles, or just off-tackle, is now possible and more likely to succeed.

At the Collegiate level, the 1989 Houston Cougars football team demonstrated the scoring potential of the run and shoot offense as quarterback Andre Ware set 26 NCAA records and won the Heisman Trophy while the #14 ranked Cougars finished the season 9–2. The Cougars were disallowed from having its football games televised or playing in a Bowl Game that season due to NCAA sanctions imposed some years earlier. The following two seasons Houston quarterback David Klingler continued the success of the run and shoot throwing for 9,430 yards and 91 touchdowns, including 716 yards and 11 touchdown passes in a single game which were all records. Quarterbacks Ware and Klingler were both drafted in the NFL first round. The success of Houston's run and shoot offense along with the inability of its record setting quarterbacks to translate their success into the NFL lead to the label of their being "system quarterbacks".

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Press-Enterprise, an independent news source whose coverage area spans four of Southern California's largest counties, noted that "the team's Silver Stretch Run 'n' Shoot offense," inspired by Mouse Davis, mentor of Coyote coach J. David Miller "and the pioneer of the modern four-wide offense, has paid great dividends over the SoCal Coyotes first five seasons." [1]

Formation history[edit]

The original inventor of the Run & Shoot, Tiger Ellison, first started out with a formation that overloaded the left side of the offensive line for his scrambling quarterback. He called it "The Lonesome Polecat."

A year later, he came back with a more balanced formation that is similar to the diagram below. The formation bears a strong resemblance to the Flexbone offense.

  • WR................LT.LG.C.RG.RT..................WR
  • ..........SB.................QB..................SB
  • .............................FB

Other variations of the above formation are similar to the way spread offenses like to set up their systems. Originally, the run and shoot was set up so that the quarterback would be positioned behind the center in a single back position, with the single running back lined up a few yards back. Later, during his tenure with the University of Hawaii, June Jones used quarterback Colt Brennan out of the shotgun. In this case the running back is offset to the right of the quarterback (as in the formation below).

  • X.........LT.LG.C.RG.RT...........Z
  • ......W................................Y
  • .....................QB...SB

Another formation that can often be seen with the run and shoot is the "trips" formation, where three wide receivers are situated to the right or left side of the line of scrimmage. Most of the time, this formation will be created out of motion when the W or Y receiver moves to the opposite side of the formation.

  • X........LT.LG.C.RG.RT..................Z
  • .........................................W.....Y
  • .....................QB..SB

Running the Run & Shoot[edit]

Player and motion names[edit]

Every team has its own specific naming conventions, but they all have the same basic principles. To make diagramming plays easier, the receivers used in the Run & Shoot are often given standardized names depending on their position. One way to do this is to label the receivers, W (for "Wing"), X, Y, and Z, with the running back being called an S-Back (for Singleback or Superback).

The initial movements of the receivers can also be labelled by using code names for "left" and "right" such as: "Lil and Rob," "Liz and Rip," or "Lion and Ram." As an example, a quarterback may call an "X Liz, W Liz, Y Go, Z Rip, SB flat", which tells the X and W receivers to run to their left, the Y receiver to run a go (or fly) route, the Z receiver to run to his right, and the S-Back to run to the flat (close to the line of scrimmage and toward the sideline).

Key concepts[edit]

  • Throw to the open receiver.
  • If the QB reads 5 or less in the box, run the football. This means that traditional defensive formations using a 3-4 or 4-3 front will have moved 2 defenders outside of the "box" for coverage help. The "box" is the area about a yard outside of the tight end or offensive tackle on one side of the line to the other offensive tackle/tight end on the other side of the line and about 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
  • Use motion and formations to spread the defense out and anticipate what the defense is going to do. If one uses motion and the defensive back follows the motioning receiver, they are probably playing man coverage or blitzing. If no defensive back follows the motion receiver, then they are probably playing zone defense, although this tactic has partly faded with the addition of zone blitzes by defenses since the early 1990s.

Key plays[edit]

  • 50 Series (3 Step Drop by Quarterback): 4 Verticals, 52/53 (OWRs run inside posts and Slotbacks run to flats), 4 Quick Outs
  • Z Slide: X runs hook vs. deep zone, vertical vs. cloud or normal man/zone coverage. W motions and runs bubble screen vs. zone or wheel route vs. man. Y runs dig in vs. man coverage and settles underneath vs. zone coverage. Z runs vertical.
  • Z Go: X runs vertical. W motions and runs vertical/inside post reading weak safety. Y runs flat with wheel route option vs. man coverage or bubble screen vs. zone coverage. Z runs vertical.
  • Z Choice: X runs vertical. W runs inside post (hook in middle of post vs. zone). Y motions left and runs vertical (or deep inside post reading weak safety or dig in vs. man coverage). Z runs dig out vs. inside leverage, deep inside post vs. outside leverage, or fade vs. cloud coverage.
  • X Choice: X runs dig out vs. man coverage or inside post vs. zone coverage. W motions and runs vertical vs. man coverage or dig in vs. zone coverage. Y runs dig in vs. man coverage, settling in underneath vs. zone coverage. Z runs vertical.
  • Z Switch: X runs inside and reads weak safety for vertical. W motions inside then back, runs outside and runs vertical vs. man coverage or hooks vs. zone coverage. Y runs vertical and reads weak safety. Z runs vertical.
  • 18-19 Run: Speed Option ran away from Trips Formation.
  • 74-75 Run: Counter Trap with RB aiming for B or C Gap.
  • 80-81 Run: Draw with RB reading blockers for A or B Gap.
  • 84-85 Run: Dive with RB aiming for A Gap.
  • 88-89 Run: Off Tackle with RB aiming for C Gap outside.
  • Dive Run: RB hits A Gap off shoulder of Center.

Advantages of the Run & Shoot[edit]

  • Forces the defense to switch to 4 DB or 5 DB formations, often substituting shorter and thinner DBs (example: 5'11" 190 pounds) in place of taller and thicker LBs (example: 6'2" 230 pounds). This allows the offense an advantage in the running game as it often employs a bigger RB to help block and run in between the tackles. By incorporating inside running plays, the much bigger RB (usually 220-240 pounds) would be able to get more yards after going up against DBs who are usually 180-200 pounds in weight. This also allows wide receivers to have a better ability to break tackle by a 190 pound DB as opposed to a 240 pound LB.
  • By reading the DB, the WRs are able to run routes to uncovered areas in zone coverage or simply beat their defender in coverage. This allows the QB to go down the field vertically or take what the defense gives him and go underneath (throw short passes in front of the defensive coverage personnel) to let his WR get yards after the catch (hopefully "make a play"). Since a lot of the routes are downfield to vertically challenge the outside and seams, successful QBs can not only put up staggering numbers but it also allows them to put up very high yard per completion numbers.
  • Personnel combinations never need to be changed because they are not dictated by the defensive coverage. As a result, a team can go down the field using the same personnel without having to change from their base formation due to what the defense has lined up in. As a result, if a defense lines up in a base 3-4, then switches to a base 4-3 formation on the next snap, offenses don't need to substitute to counter this.
  • The offense allows for wide open running lanes inside and allows for running backs to maximize the 10-14 carries a game they may get as opposed to running the ball 25 times but less successfully per carry. Also with the threat of speedy wide receivers on the outside, running backs can get additional space outside on draws if they bounce the run outside the tackle's shoulder.

Craig Heyward, who played as a fullback in the NFL, rushed for over 2,000 yards in the offense while playing for the Atlanta Falcons under June Jones. Heyward averaged 30 plus receptions over two years averaging ten yards per catch.

Disadvantages of the Run & Shoot[edit]

There are several potential disadvantages to using a Run & Shoot offense:

  • Since the formation does not use any tight ends or fullbacks, the quarterback is at increased risk for being hit or sacked since there are fewer players available to block a defense's blitz. Even if a quarterback is not sacked, they are increasingly hit unless the RB can prove capable of recognizing blitzes and minimizing the effect.

The original offense modified by Mouse Davis discarded the traditional five step roll/sprint out component. Instead a semi roll is utilized. The QB roll places him behind the OG. The first step is a large (Big) one followed by two and a gather step forward if needed. Any issues experienced with protection can be considered somewhat similar to issues experienced with other single back offense utilizing a drop back pass concept. The important fact is that the ball should be thrown on the third step to avoid contact with oncoming pass rushers. This characteristic is why the original modifications by Coach Davis lasted so long, until their subsequent modification at Hawaii. The Tony Franklin system use of the deep pass set is one of the only new developments similar in effect, but designed for a shotgun QB.

  • Teams often use a strong running game to keep possession of the football, especially at times when it would be advantageous for them to run out the clock. A criticism of the Run & Shoot offense is that teams would often continue to rely upon the pass rather than establish the run to finish off a game. One example of this is the 1992 AFC Wild Card game where the Houston Oilers, after earning a 35-3 lead against the Buffalo Bills, rather than winding the clock down with the running game and preserving the lead for the victory, called 22 pass plays against only four runs in the second half and eventually lost the game by a score of 41-38. Alternatives like the Spread offense or Zone Read option offenses have been preferred over the Run & Shoot in part because they place more emphasis on the running game.
  • Many commentators noted that the Run & Shoot is less effective in the "Red Zone," when the offense is less than 20 yards from the goal line. In this area the offense has less room to move around and cannot spread the defense out as in other areas of the field. On the flip side, due to reading coverages, this can also be debunked as a lot of the concept passes are designed for short (under 5 yards) or intermediate (10-15 yards) areas.

Roster positions for the Run & Shoot[edit]

  • Quarterbacks often have to be either mobile or have a very quick release if they are not mobile. Having a lot of arm strength is not a requirement but they need to have enough to make various throws. Jim Kelly was 6'3" and around 215 pounds. Andre Ware was 6'2" and around 200 pounds. David Klingler was 6'3" and around 210 pounds. Colt Brennan was 6'3" and around 205 pounds. Warren Moon was 6'3" and around 215 pounds.
  • Halfbacks need to be built much like fullbacks as they often have to deal with no lead blocker and are often the only defense to blitzers for the QB's protection. Chuck Weatherspoon was 5'7" and around 230 pounds. Craig Heyward was 5'11" and around 240 pounds. Dorsey Levens was 6'1" and around 230 pounds. Kimble Anders was 5'11" and around 230 pounds. Lamar Smith was 5'11" and around 230 pounds. Gary Brown was 5'11" and around 230 pounds. Zach Line was 6'1" and around 230 pounds. Lorenzo White was 5' 11" and around 222 pounds.
  • Wide Receivers can vary although Mouse Davis was prone to opting for shorter receivers who were more explosive due to their smaller size. Andre Rison was 6'1" and around 190 pounds. Sterling Sharpe was 6'0" and around 210 pounds. Drew Hill was 5'9" and around 170 pounds. Ernest Givins was 5'9" and around 180 pounds. Haywood Jeffries was 6'2" and around 200 pounds. Eric Metcalf was 5'10" and around 190 pounds. Michael Haynes was 6'0" and around 190 pounds. Jason Phillips was 5'7" and around 170 pounds. Davone Bess was 5'10" and around 190 pounds.
  • Offensive Linemen need to be stout in pass protection and fast/agile enough to drop back constantly. Jamie Dukes was 6'1" and around 290 pounds. Bill Fralic was 6'5" and around 280 pounds. Chris Hinton was 6'4" and around 300 pounds. Bob Whitfield was 6'5" and around 310 pounds. Lomas Brown was 6'4" and around 280 pounds. Bruce Matthews was 6'5" and around 300 pounds. Mike Munchak was 6'3" and around 280 pounds. Don Maggs was 6'5" and around 290 pounds.

Evolution of the Run & Shoot through the years[edit]

  • As more coaches incorporated the Run & Shoot as an offense, several coaches continued to fine-tune and put their own touches on the offense as the years went by. Mouse Davis initially incorporated a straightforward, more balanced offensive attack that featured half rolls to the right or left, where the QB would settle behind the OG and OT. Mouse also featured his QBs under center and preferred using shorter, thinner wide receivers due to their ability to quickly change direction. The offense also typically preferred to be designed around quick, short to intermediate passes that would get the ball out of the quarterback's hand faster.
  • John Jenkins was one of the first coaches to start tinkering with the Run & Shoot. He started incorporating more of an aggressive, vertical attack within the offense preferring to challenge defenders deep. Jenkins not only preferred throwing the ball down the field but also heavily favored throwing the ball and used the running backs more as a change of pace in comparison to what Mouse Davis did with the Houston Gamblers and Detroit Lions.
  • Upon being named head coach at the University of Hawai'i, June Jones started tweaking the Run & Shoot as well. He largely eliminated the half roll system and removed the QB from underneath the center, setting him up in the Shotgun instead. This allowed for a bit more pocket time while keeping his QB further away from defenders. Timmy Chang, one of June Jones most prolific players, excelled in the shotgun.
  • As he moved around as an NFL offensive coordinator, Kevin Gilbride started incorporating more of the Erhardt-Perkins offensive system while featuring more of the running back and also utilizing a tight end as both a blocker and an intermediate receiving threat. While Gilbride largely kept Run & Shoot concepts in relation to reading and diagnosing coverages, he also began to tie in more of an accepted Pro Style in regards to emphasizing the running game.

NFL teams that used the Run & Shoot offense[edit]

Start End Team Head coach Offensive coordinator
1989 1991 Detroit Lions Wayne Fontes Mouse Davis and Dave Levy
1990 1994 Houston Oilers Jack Pardee Kevin Gilbride
1991 1993 Atlanta Falcons Jerry Glanville June Jones
1993 1994 Detroit Lions Wayne Fontes Dan Henning and Dave Levy
1994 1996 Atlanta Falcons June Jones
1998 San Diego Chargers Kevin Gilbride Mike Sheppard


Quotes Related to the Run & Shoot Offense[edit]

  • But if everyone runs their pattern and does their job, the defenses will never matter to me. Because someone will always be open and we'll always be able to move the ball. It's easy. - Houston Gamblers Quarterback Jim Kelly in 1985[3]
  • "Mouse kept telling me this was my kind of offense and, really, it's the kind of offense every quarterback dreams about." - Houston Gamblers Quarterback Jim Kelly in 1985[4]
  • "The run-and-shoot is much less complex than it seems,' Houston's Moon said. 'For a quarterback, it's the least complicated system I've ever been in. Of course, there are a lot of options to learn--a receiver can break off (from a defensive back) three or four different ways, sometimes eight or 10 ways. But once you can read the options, that's all there is. You've got the run-and-shoot." - Houston Oilers Quarterback Warren Moon in 1990[5]
  • "We'll play a team, and the next time we play 'em, we'll see parts of our offense in their offense." - Detroit Lions Offensive Coordinator Mouse Davis in 1990[6]
  • "It puts four very quick and explosive receivers on the field. And you have the potential to have a wide-open, explosive offense. You have the ability to turn a short gain into a long play." - Houston Oilers Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride in 1990[6]
  • "That's the dilemma. The run-and-shoot is not going to be real effective if you're not going to have an effective running back. If you have an effective running back, like Detroit, it's going to create problems." - Philadelphia Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jeff Fisher in 1990[6]
  • What the backs like about it is you're not running into a clogged-up line. Without even having to block, there's going to be room ... Essentially what you're telling a receiver is, `I want you to run to get open and, based on what you see as the play develops, you're taking the best route." - Seattle Seahawks Offensive Coordinator John Becker in 1990[7]
  • "I used to run this offense not to mess it up," he said. "Now I run this offense to attack everything I see." - Quarterback Colt Brennan in 2006[8]
  • "You’ve got the freedom to do pretty much whatever you want. The playbook’s open to you. You’ve got to be on your game. But if you are, it’s a great thing ... There’s some of that. But we’re trying to scheme. We’re trying to find the best possible play vs. that defense at that time to just gash them. That’s why it works." - New York Giants Quarterback David Carr in 2012[9]
  • "Other than that, everybody’s running the same concepts of the run-and-shoot that we were running back then. Maybe they don’t have as many adjustments off the routes as we did, but they do have the adjustments. And it’s funny to see those route combinations when I’m watching tape when different teams play, because that was our offense." - Quarterback Warren Moon in 2013[10]
  • "But for me, I played with June Jones. Once you get a taste of that type of offense, it’s hard to go back to the pro-style offense. Playing football to me is throwing it on fourth-and-1, throwing it on third-and-1. That’s playing football to me." - Wide Receiver Emmanuel Sanders in 2014[11]
  • “It was a blast. If I could go back right now, I would,” he said. “I loved playing in that offense.” - Offensive Coordinator Nick Rolovich in 2016[12]

External links[edit]