Add Some Bunch to Your Playbook One of the interesting aspects about college and high school football

is the wide spectrum of offensive attacks emerging at both levels. Ideas, concepts and offensive systems have trickled down from college football to the high school level thanks to clinics, networking, and publications such as Gridiron Strategies, that cater to coaches at all levels. High school teams are throwing the ball now more than ever. One of the formations that has served us well over the years is the popular bunch formation. In the simplest term, bunch means aligning three receivers in close proximity to each other. The bunch formation provides several advantages for the offense. First, it quickly deploys multiple receivers into a given area of the defense. Flooding a zone quickly can cause confusion for the secondary. Second, it creates mismatches if defenses banjo coverage and switch assignments. Also, by using compressed formations like bunch, the offense expands the field and thus creates additional space for the defense to cover. Perhaps the most well known advantage of the bunch set is the natural rubs or picks that are created. However, we have discovered that while the rubs are sometimes effective in goal line situations, coaches have gotten very good at minimizing the effectiveness of rubs and picks. Being a spread offense, based out of multiple one back sets, we have added several bunch concepts to our playbook. One of the most popular bunch plays is the toss (See Diagram 1). In this alignment, our bunch is tighter to the out tackle, allowing the point man in the bunch to block down. We give our receivers simple rules for blocking the toss. Our A receiver, who is on the point of the bunch, blocks down. This may require him to block a defensive end, or an outside linebacker. Our X receiver blocks the #2 perimeter defender. Usually this is a safety or a linebacker adjusted out. Our Z receiver blocks the #1 perimeter defender. This is usually a cornerback, and this is usually a kick out block, with the back cutting it inside the block. Teams give us a variety of looks against the bunch, so these simple rules allow us to handle multiple looks. We also pull the play side guard to pick up any force player running the alley or an overhang defender that appears late.

Diagram 1: Bunch Toss After some initial success with the toss, teams began to fly up hard on the perimeter to defend the play, forcing us to find an answer with play action. The play action combination off of the toss fake originated from Coach Andrew Coverdale. We simply used one of his combinations and added the play action element, calling the play Temple (See Diagram 2).

Diagram 2: \'Temple\' (Play Action Toss) Everything looks the same for the offensive line. We pull the guard to seal the play side edge. The rest of the line steps opposite the toss fake blocking back. Our tailback fakes the toss and comes off the fake late to help on the edge. The quarterback gives a hard toss fake, incorporating head and eyes to sell the fake. Following the toss fake, the QB gets back into a quick three step drop, which times up with the depth of the routes. The receivers use play-action tempo for the first few steps of their release to help sell run. It is important to coach low pad level on the releases of all three receivers. Our X receiver runs a fin route at 10 yards. The fin is simply a lazy comeback. We coach the X to get width immediately upon his release. We want to widen the cornerback with the fin route. The A receiver runs a 12 yard sail route. He releases with low pad level and play action tempo and bursts into his sail route, flattening his break vs. a cover 2 safety. Our Z receiver runs an inside seam route. Versus 1 high safety he must cross the safety\'s face with a post route and pull him to the middle. Versus a middle open look, he runs a deep seam. The two routes that pop open are the sail and the seam. The fin route successfully widens the corner and provides a hole to hit the sail. If the safety jumps the sail the seam/post is the throw. We coach the QB to work from the middle of the field out. He looks at the seam/post first, progresses to the sail and ends with the fin. Rarely do we get to the fin. Our backside route by Y varies depending on the game plan. To disguise Temple we have used multiple formations and motion to keep the defense off balance. Diagrams 3 and 4 illustrate how we use compressed 2x2 formations and motions to get into our bunch set. The use of motions forces the defense to think and react and possibly check to another coverage. It also creates some confusion for young defensive backs who may not be good at communicating. The routes do not change, but to the defense, it is a different look. While Temple has proved to be a valuable tool in getting the ball down the field, our Ohio combination is a reliable, move the chains as a utility play. Unlike the toss and Temple, the bunch is moved a bit wider for Ohio (See Diagram 5). Our Z receiver is 5 yards from the offensive tackle.

Diagram 3: \'Temple\' (Tight Orange Right Zoom)

Diagram 4: \'Temple\' (Tight gold X-Ray)

Diagram 5: \'Ohio\" One often overlooked aspect of coaching the bunch scheme is the release. It is important to coach the receivers on release priorities. The A receiver and the X receiver release at the same time. The Z is the last receiver to release. The A runs a 10-yard curl finding a window and settling down. The X runs a 6-yard shallow cross and works underneath the linebackers. The shallow route by X draws a lot of attention from inside linebackers and prevents them from expanding into the curl window. Versus an edge blitz, the X looks right away as he releases underneath. The Z, releasing last, runs a 4-yard speed out. The backside receiver, who is our Y, works a deep cross at 10-12 yards. Ohio is a 5 step drop for the quarterback, who must get a pre-snap coverage read and locate blitzers. Ohio is a utility play for us because it can attack man and zone schemes and provides a quick outlet vs. pressure. Against zone coverage we have a curl/flat concept and vs. man coverage we have crossing routes at varying depths. The only drawback to this combination is the lack of a vertical threat. If you need a deep shot, the speed out by Z can convert to a wheel. Also, with athletic receivers running crossing routes, the run after catch can quickly turn into an explosive play. If you are looking for diversity in your offense, explore some of the possibilities that the bunch formation provides. For an inexperienced quarterback, the bunch set simplifies things and puts everything right in front of him. Also, instead of having to make complex reads, a young QB can simply let the play unfold and get the ball to the receiver that comes open. Like everything else, it is important to remember that balance is important. You must create ways to both pass and run out of the bunch. Steve Heck is the Wide Receivers Coach at Kutztown University. You can reach him at SteveHeck@GridironStrategies.com.

WHAT IF? Q1. What if the defense was in a 3-5-3 rather than a 4-3 or 4-4 defense? Do you need to make any adjustments in your Bunch Toss play? Versus the 3-5-3 we would make some modifications to the blocking scheme on the bunch toss. The point man on the bunch set would still block down but now he will look for the Sam LB. The number 1 WR in the bunch set will block down on the rover linebacker who will likely try to jam the point man in the bunch. The number 3 WR still releases for the corner and we pull the play side guard around for the Mike LB.

Q2. What if the CBs and a safety are all playing press coverage on your trips set? Does that affect their routes for pass plays? Teams are usually reluctant to play press coverage vs. bunch because it increases the likelihood for rubs to occur. However, if teams do press, rarely will all three defenders be on the same level. Some teams will Banjo the coverage to avoid a collision. The most important key we have discovered is coaching up the point man in the bunch to execute a clean release. We have a preferred order of release in our bunch pass game and it is important to practice the timing of these releases vs. various coverages. Q3. What if you face an all-out blitz while running Ohio? What adjustments/reads and blocking assignments are adjusted? While Ohio has some natural blitz protection built into the combination, we should strive to keep all three routes on the move. The point WR would adjust to a Seam/Open concept that gives him the potential to push his route up the field finding some holes between the hashes at around 12-15 yards. We also work on hitting the number 1 receiver working inside right away on a shallow route. It is important to remind the quarterback to keep it simple and see if he has a clearer picture on the back side.

Brian Cook of mgoblog put up some photos from last week’s game between Michigan and Indiana, where Michigan pulled out the victory but Indiana’s Ben Chappell threw for 480 yards and three TDs, by completing over 70% of his passes. Most of these yards came from underneath throws, but Chappell hit a few big plays, including a big gainer on third and 16. Brian put up the photo below, followed by much hand-wringing:

Indiana uses the snag route concept to break a man wide open (shown below), and the question arises as to who to blame and if players were out of position. The above photo, however, shows most of what you need to see: you’re probably in trouble. It’s a wide trips bunch (trips but detached from the formation), the corner isn’t in position to get a jam, and you’re outnumbered. Being third and 16 it’s not a given that Indiana could convert, but this defense is not well equipped for the formation. To illustrate, let me flip the question around: If you were IU’s quarterback or offensive coordinator (or if you were Michigan and IU lined up like this against you), what would you call? The answer, most coaches would agree, is most anything you like, especially with the techniques Michigan used. Counting game. As anyone who reads this site knows, all football begins as arithmetic. Were it not third and 16, the automatic adjustment you’d see against this defensive look is the bubble screen.

This works because of numbers: there are three receivers against two short defenders; the deep safety is not in position to tackle the bubble for a short gain. (And if he is, you use the fake-bubble and go play.) But it was third and 16 so you need to find a way to get the ball down field, or at least give yourself a chance to do so. Indiana called the “snag” concept. The purpose here is to form a triangle read, which is formed by combining a two-man “vertical stretch, i.e. one guy high and one guy low, and a two-man “horizontal stretch,” i.e. one guy outside and one guy inside. As shown in the image, the corner route and the flat route form the high/low portion of the read, while the flat also forms part of the horizontal or out/in stretch, with the slant-sit or snag route forming the other part.

On the actual play, the corner sat on the flat route and the corner route — one on one with the safety who had no help to either the inside or outside, and thus had little chance to make a play — was wide open.

This worked for the same reason the bubble screen worked: the cornerback (one guy) can’t guard two guys (the corner route and the flat route). But let’s say IU wanted to be more aggressive and wanted to attack more than just the corner; let’s say they wanted to put pressure — and get a numbers advantage — against both the cornerback and the safeties. How would they do that? With the trusty smash concept with the divide route. We all know why Cover Two is called Cover Two: It’s because there are two deep safeties. Thus if you want to break someone downfield, you need to send three guys deep. The great thing about the smash is that you can outnumber the secondary both horizontally across the field (three guys running deep and stretching two deep safeties) but also vertically (high/low of the cornerback).

From bunch, the outside receiver widens on his hitch route to get the corner to widen and then simply breaks down. The backside safety is occupied by the backside split end going deep, and, as a result, the trips side safety has to make a very unfortunate choice between one receiver breaking for the post and another breaking for the corner. (Tampa Two refers to a variation of Cover Two where the middle linebacker drops back to cover the middle of the field; if they use this your speedy receiver might still beat him down the middle, but if not you have the runningback on a checkdown over the middle.) I’d say that if you play Cover Two against trips (which can definitely be done — more on that later), the first thing an opposing coach will try you with is the smash with a divide or seam/post right down the middle. Now let’s say you are confident that you won’t get much pressure on your passer, and you want to hit a downfield

pass, high/low reads be damned. In that case you pick the most aggressive horizontal stretch of them all, four verticals.

When you run this from trips your first read is not the trips side safety, but the backside safety. This is because his first reaction is going to be to the split end to his side; he only has one receiver over there, and if he gets beat down the sideline in Cover Two he won’t be playing very long. But depending on his rules he also is responsible for that inside man in trips, the “number three receiver,” coming across, because the trips side safety has his hands full with the other two guys already (as we’ve shown above). If the safety to the single receiver side widens to the split end, the quarterback hits the receiver coming across the field; this is a Drew Brees special. If either safety squeezes him it should open up one of the other receivers, either the split end or the other seam receiver. This puts a lot of vertical pressure on the safeties, especially with the switch release from bunch as I’ve shown it. Now let’s say you don’t care about working the backside safety or hitting the touchdown right now: you just want to convert the third down. And let’s say that you aren’t confident that your single receiver can beat the safety one-on-one on a corner route, or that you’re aren’t as sure your quarterback can hit it. Go back to your basic arithmetic: they have two guys (a safety deep and a cornerback shallow), so you can attack them with three receivers: the flood or sail concept.

On this concept, the outside man goes deep, and the deep safety ought to take him. For an example of trips flood

where the safety did not take the deep man, see this clip of Notre Dame versus Michigan, courtesy again of the invaluable Brian Cook: As evident in the image and the video, a second receiver runs a deep out or corner, while a third runs to the flat. (You can play around with who does what; it’s only important that someone get to each area to stretch the defense.) The quarterback uses a simple progression read — deep, medium, short — to find the open receiver. Moreover, one of the great things about this concept is that you can roll out your quarterback, thus shortening the throw for a guy who might not have enough of a cannon to throw the deep out. I didn’t choose this example to pick on Michigan (I’m serious, I really didn’t), but instead to do two things. First, to show that this defense doesn’t match up superbly with trips because you face some inherent numerical difficulties. Second, and more importantly, I tried to just walk you through the thought process on how one might attack a coverage look. Indeed, for all of the great games, matchups zones, pattern reads, and so on, defensive structure still dictates what it can do and what the best offensive responses will be, particularly at levels besides the NFL. So is Cover Two impossible to play against trips? No, though it wouldn’t be my defense of choice. I’ve seen teams do it plenty, however. The most common way is to get a little more aggressive than Michigan is here and to have the cornerback jam the outside receiver before sinking to his zone, while the linebackers (Sam and Mike), “wall” the second and third receivers — i.e. collision them and then prevent them from getting deep down the middle (or at least require a perfect pass). The safety then can more confidently play the corner route because he shouldn’t fear the deep immediate threats — i.e. the smash route I diagrammed above isn’t as good because those receivers aren’t all just running clean and free down the field. But then notice that Indiana used a bunch set, making it a bit tougher for the corner to get a jam while also opening up some room to the corner. The chess match continues…

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