Spread Attack

“Hit ‘em where they aint”
Roger Rooney - July 2000 Forward

In season 1998 the Sydney University Lions Gridiron Team went 9-1-1 in the New South Wales Gridirion Football League (NSWGFL) using a 1-back formation called ‘ACE’ (named after the 1-back set used at Michigan State University during late ‘80s). By season’s end we were the No 1 Rated Offence in terms of points scored. We lit up the scoreboard and beat up on every team once. Importantly, we also had a defense that allowed an average of 3 pts a game…they just kept giving us the ball back. I chose to go with the Spread Attack because of the personnel on the team. My philosophy is that you match the playbook to the personnel, not the other way around [always go with the players you’ve got, not the playbook you love]. Here’s what we had playerwise - and we were stacked with talent [it’s also what you will need to recruit to run this offence effectively and keep the scoreboard guy busy]: 3 x Receiver QB RB TE Oline - a possession guy, a speedster and a ‘footballer’ - a tall pocket-passing QB with a big play arm - a 240 pound bruiser who could either steamroller defenders or dance right around em depending on his mood. - the best blocking TE in the league - the best ‘unit’ in the league

In addition, we did not have a proven HalfBack on the books. So the trusty I-Formation made an ‘exit stage left’ and we went with ACE. By lining up in ACE you make defences show their hand by either defending the pass or the run, or by only defending one half of the field (most defences in NSW roll their coverage to the wideside). Then we just went hunting, picking on the ‘runt of the litter’ on defences and, importantly, ‘putting the ball where they aint’, which primarily was the shortside of the field. Football aint rocket science, and this is a simple playbook that can give you a great change up to your regular look. It’s also a load of fun to coach and watch. Playwise: go with the FB Lead, the TE Around, the Gangster Pass short side, the Hitch Pass and the Flood Pass deep. You can put in a FB Counter Dive and a FB Quick Trap to add variety to the ground game when defences starts keying on your FB Lead to the TE.


“Second and Short Always", Roger Rooney Sydney, Australia < roger.rooney@rrt.gov.au > [ See the game reports for 1998 on the Andrew Griffith Sydney University Lions page [go to Archives and 1998 ].

In the ACE formation, it is the Flanker who we use to exploit the short side of the field, where defenses tend to leave behind only a soft CB, having rotated their coverage to the 2-receivers on the wideside:
e.g. "ACE Right"




ACE: Slot receiver (offline) and a Split End (online) are on the call-side (this example is ACE Right, so the two receivers are on the right); Flanker (offline) and the Tight End always on the other side of the formation from SL / SE; FB is the One-Back in the backfield, 5 yards deep from Line-ofscrimmage in a 3 pt stance.

Keys Success Factors for the ACE Offense:
Personnel Requirements:
QB: must have a deep/medium ball in him or defenses will stack the box with 8 men. Need an accurate short game, and be a pocket passer. Needs to able to find matchups and hang tuff against blitzing teams. Mobility is a bonus for when you need to roll him out of the pocket. FB: You gotta Run 60% and Pass 40% to succeed in this formation. ACE is a passing ‘look’ but still with 6 Big Blockers on the Line to open up holes. So you need Size and Speed at FB and hopefully find it in the one body. Lafi Tolai of the Sydney University Lions is the best example - at 240 pounds he can cut with the best of them But you will get away with using

3 a 200-220 pounder with great feet, just train up a bulldzer for short yardage. All RBs must be willing to take defenders headon and have a good second effort in them (cos there aint no lead-blocker). WRs: • Flanker is your footballer type player, who likes plenty of action and contact, possessing enough speed to get in deep behind soft CBs. Anthony Sinton of the Lions fits this mould beautifully. Your best receiver. • Slot is the speed receiver - for the Out’n’up & Fly patterns. The Burner. Must have Jets. • SE is the possession guy. Generally put your biggest guy here for the Hitch and YAC. TE: primarily on run block and pass protection duties, this guy should be an adequate receiver as well. He will give you a ‘6 man OL look’ upfront, and with the FB blocking as well means you have 7 in on pass-pro when going deep. The TE gives a pre-snap look of 4 receivers for defenses to defend (Victorian Volunteers wasted keeping a SS on our TE for 2 Quarter in the NSW-VIC state game of 1999, he just hung around). Tight-End Delays are his bread and butter pattern. Versus Cover3 send him and the Slot up the seams to pick on the FS (it’s a 2-on-1 the FS cant win). OL: THE KEY UNIT. They must be able to both run block and pass pro – AS A UNIT. You simply cant have gaps b/w lineman in a one back set (ie a lineman firing off late on the run). Go with Zone blocking and use a Power [first] step to the playside on run play. Defenses will want to blitz you out of ACE once they work out they cant cover the field, and most choose to send LBs through A-Gap. Practice picking up the inside Blitz.

Offensive Alignment - Thinking in terms of Short Side & Wide Side:
• Short Side of the field: defined as the side of the field to which the referee places the ball (on the hash-mark). For example, if the ball is placed on the left hash-mark then the left side of the field is the Short Side, and the right side the Wide Side. Defense is about denying offenses space and the secondary primarily like to take away the wide side of the field by rotating the FS over to that side, and playing a 3 defenders on 2 receiver game (together with the SS and the Wide Side CB). Most Man-to-Man or Cover3 Zone defenses will rotate their defense over to the 2 receiver side, away from the short side Flanker and TE. The usual offensive alignment is to put the 2 receiver side of the ACE formation to wide side off field (NB: Placing ACE to the short side may yield a different coverage, eg 1-on-1 on the Slot or even having the Slot running free on deep patterns).

• •


Short Side Passing - "Hit em where they aint":
Early in the season this is where it’s at: • If the Man or Cover 3 defense leaves the Short Side flat area of the field lightly defended, and they don't drop the Short Side OLB to defend the flat, then its money time for the Flanker receiver on the Short Side. Go to him with the pass. Hit the Short Side Flanker receiver on the Hook pattern underneath the defense or underneath the short CB if he is 7yds or more off the Line of Scrimmage (see Pocket Pass #1 Gangster Pass). When the CB comes up, hit the Flanker on a fly pattern BEHIND the CB, who will probably not have any deep help from the rotated FS who is fixing on the 2 receiver side. (see Pocket Pass #2 Flood Pass). Suggested patterns for Man coverage on the Short Side Flanker:  7 yard Hook or 1 yard Hitch if CB is off (ie 7 yards or more off the ball, or rotated around to wide side with FS)  Fly or Slant if CB comes up to Bump n Run coverage.

• •

Running the ball out of ACE:
• • Defenses can choose to defend EITHER the RUN or the PASS. It's a numbers game, and defenses will be either come up (versus the run) or back (versus the pass) depending on their scheme. Providing you have an OL than can fire off as a unit and not leave gaps for LBs to bust through, you should go by this simple rule => Run the ball when there is 7 in the box and Pass when there is 8 in the box. The FS is the key player in all of this. QB must FIND HIM at the PRESNAP. In season 1998, the Bondi Raiders let their FS “freelance” around the field during presnap, making play calling and matchups a "chance" profession and lessoning the effect of audibles. Most defenses in NSW choose to defend the four receivers with four secondary players, with the FS playing centre field. Run the ball at em if they do this. Some even Eagle out a LB to cover the slot short (madness) forgetting about the run to that side. This usually gives a "43" look up front, and in the Eagle a 4-2 look where your FB will be saying “where did all the people go?” If the DL is in a Man or headup alignment (and they arent bigger than you physically) it should be relatively easy to turn the defender out of the hole, ie choose a hole and send a FB thru it. If FS is back, Run the FB b/w the TE and Tackle until the FS comes up. You should initially get a headup DL look with one on one blocking over the TE's side (assuming TE is on short side of field) in the first half of a game. DE in the TE/Tackle gap kills this, that means time to bootleg the QB back around for a pass play or sprint him our around the inside-aligned DE.

5 • Once the FS is up in the box , Pass deep behind him and make em pay. AIR TIME.

Plays against Blitzing LBs:
• • • If defenses blitz you INSIDE - eg thru A-Gap like the Canberra Astros Audible a Toss play for the RB out wide AROUND the inside rushers If defenses blitz you from the OUTSIDE - Hit the TE on a quick FIRE (or Red Dog in Run n Shoot terms) pattern with him catching the ball 4 steps off the line, QB on a 1 step drop - stand and deliver. If defenses blitz you from the OUTSIDE AND INSIDE (7 man blitz) then get mobile and move the QB out of the pocket on a Roll Pass to the Slot on an 5 yard Out, SE on 8 yard Corner.

Defensive Secondary:
Cover 1
(Man on Man, with SS on TE and FS in the deep middle) • If defense is in a "43 Man" coverage, you should pick on the short side CB (on the short side of the field). If he is off, then hit the Hook. If he is up hit the Fly or call a slant underneath him - see pass plays at rear.

Cover 2 Zone

(Two safeties 12-15 yards off the ball defending deep halves, CB defending short 10 yd zones) • RUN THE BALL in b/w the OL. The safeties are nowhere near the LOS in C2 (7 in the box) • Passing wise. Cover 2 leaves the Slot receiver alone (unless they eagle a LB out there), with a safety 12 yards away. Hit the Slot on a Hitch until they change coverage. A good example was the Cover 2 used by the Victorian Volunteers in '98 vs NSW in the first half in the state game at Homebush, which meant the OLB to that side was 7 yards away and the safety was 15 yards away. Do it every play until they change.

Cover 3 (Three deep coverage (CB-FS-CB), SS in wide flat and Short Side

OLB dropping into short flat) • This coverage floods both the flats and the deep thirds. You will need to pass to the TE up the seams [sending the slot at the FS], and you simply have to be able to run between the tackles. Also, put receivers on double moves (eg Hitch n Go ) or use playaction and misdirection plays (see Tight End Around Pass) and release the RB into the flat is the SS is dropping off covering the Slot. • You may eventually need to change out of ACE formation into an "Ibacks" as a disciplined Cover 3 coverage has you pinned down pretty much if you cant run in b/w the tackles.


Weaknesses of the spread attack - "Having a bad day" & "Coverage Kings"
In at least one game of the year your QB (or one of your OL) is going to "stink the house out" and play way below average. Or, you might also come up against a team with outstanding coverage ability – is stud safeties (like the Victorian State team in 1999). Remember, ACE is just one formation and one series of plays. When and if (and it’s a big if for a lot of defenses, as few defenses actually make adjustments in the NSWGFL) defenses figure out where you are hurting them (passing Short Side with the Hook and Fly, and running the FB over the TE) they should adjust. And most will do this by dropping into a Cover 3 Zone (killing the big play), or if in Man, dropping their short side OLB into the flat vs the FL, and aligning the DE in b/w the TE and Tackle forcing a double team block and freeing up the OLB to make the tackle. Suddenly your two best plays are ripped outta the play book. What's the Solution? If your OL are good enough run blockers, run the ball in b/w 6 guys up front. In terms of plays, work hard on the Tight End Around (TEA) Pass (Priority receivers are the Flanker and RB) play, and the Roll and Waggle Pass which should suck defenders up, then allow you to pass behind or around them. As one football coach calls it, this series is only a ‘side-order of football’, not the main meal as it were. So have another series trained-up for the days when the defenses are stopping you or you are stopping yourself. We trained-up an ‘Offset-I Double TE’ formation on the NSW State Team in 1999 and ran the same plays outta this power look – with the NSW guys putting 21 points on the board in the first half alone vs the ACT.

(Play-Action to FB)
eg ACE Right; HITCH PASS SE #1 Receiver




(Slows down the rush, gotta have lineman who can run)
eg Split Right ; HITCH SCREEN RIGHT SE getting the ball








(Counter – need to Toss to FL a coupla times, then this play can kill overcommitting fronts)
Backfield QB: Open pivot 120o with ball extended to FB, fake move deeper into backfield and inside hand off to looping TE, block backside TE: Take a backwards step into the backfield, pivot and move behind the FB taking hand off from the QB who has dropped deeper than the TE, cut off Tackle. FB: Blast out of your stance reading the playside Guard/End hole. Block first threat eg ACE Left; END AROUND Left






(ACE left - Fake TEA left)

Wideside 1



(Play-Action, gotta have a QB with great feet)
Backfield QB: Open pivot 120o with ball extended, show ball to FB on next step. Keep and turn around deep in backfield, quickly checking for OLB blitz backside and coverage. FB: Blast out of your stance reading the playside Guard/Tackle hole. Do not grab at ball, continue upfield and run curl pattern back playside eg ACEWing Left ; WAGGLE PASS Left



FB LEAD (run this to death!!! Then Waggle Pass away from it)
Backfield QB: Open pivot 120o and step to exchange point with FB. Hand-off to FB as deep as possible. Bring hands back to stomach and fake bootleg to the offside. FB: Blast out of your stance and look for the first defender outside PT. Aim close to the hip of PT and use the angle from the inside to block the defender out. ACE Right; FB LEAD Left





(Play-Action vs A-Gap Blitzing LB)
QB: Open pivot 120o with ball held at chest level rocking it from shoulder to shoulder with each step. Keep ball at shoulder level, roll out getting deep into the backfield behind FB blocking, reading coverage. Pass the ball on the run, 3-step-rule to throw Blast out of your stance reading the DE/OLB, block behind the LOS aiming for outside knee of defender, cut them down. eg ACEWing Left; ROLL Left











Formation: ACE Right [Hook, Speed, Post - FB Flare or Swing]
TDs here

Speed Hook –
brings up the CB

Post 3



Align Formation so that the 2 receivers are on the wide side of field. Presnap - QB check if Defense rotated to the 2 Receiver side, and if CB on Hook receiver is off and rotated away. QB 5 Step drop. Hook is first read, then 2 receiver side., FB block or put FB on pattern such as Flare or Swing



Formation: ACE Right [Pattern Names: Fly, Fly, Jet ]
TDs here




Jet 1



Again - place 2 receivers to wide side of field. QB check where FS ligns up - towards 2 receiver side? If so it will be 1-on-1 CB vs FL on the short side of the field - "money time". QB 5 Step drop. Checking where FS goes. Can alternate the SL and SE patterns around


Formation: ACE Right [Pattern Names: Speed, Slant, Slant, FB Flare]

3 Speed Slant


SE Flare


Send the 2 receivers down inside and wait for the speedy FB to break underneath - good against teams that are deep conscious and not covering the flat.


ACE DRAW (Vs dropping LBs)
QB: Open pivot and drop back as for pass play. On fourth step, drop ball from shoulder and hand off to HB. Continue drop back as for pass. FB: Step playside, bring hands up as for pass block. Delay for count, then take handoff and run between Centre Guard eg ACEWing Right; ACE DRAW Right


(to slow down the rushers)
QB: Drop back as for pass play looking in Flanker on slant pattern. On fourth step find the FB and as you are dropping back soft touch the ball over the rush to the FB FB Drift out to offtackle position and wait for ball - yell FIRE ball is away.


eg ACEWing Right; FB SCREEN Right


Receiver Passing Tree
The Pass Plays are based on the following passing tree which differs from past years: Corner Speed Fly Post Deep 10 yards Stop Out V Hook In Slant 3 yards Hitch Swing Receiver Quarterback/Ball 7 yards 5 Yards



Have the leg closest to the ball forward when you set up in your 2-point stance. 0 to 5 yards: Swing: step sideways and slightly backwards towards the sideline, losing a yard before you begin to arc upfield, look for ball early. Hitch: take 2 steps upfield, plant on 3rd step and turn directly back to the QB. Turn upfield tot he outside once ball is put away. QB may throw ball before you turn around so have hands up ready as you turn. Slant: on 3rd step plant foot and cut 45 degrees to inside sprinting hard at 100%. QB may throw ball before you cut, so have hands up ready to catch right after the cut. In: take 3 steps upfield, lower centre of gravity on the 4 and 5 steps, planting hard to cut at the 90 degree angle to the inside. Do not round out the pattern. Run at 100% once you cut. Do not round out the pattern

16 by gaining depth downfield. Look right after you cut cos the QB will usually throw to you on the cut. Out: take 4 steps upfield, lower centre of gravity on the 5 and 6 steps, planting hard to cut at the 90 degree angle to the sideline. Do not round out the pattern. Run at 100% once you cut. 5 to 7 yards: Hook: run five steps upfield at 100%, break down on the 6 and 7 steps planting hard to turn inside, move back towards the QB. QB may throw ball before you turn around so have hands up ready as you turn. Stop: run five steps upfield at 100%, break down on the 6 and 7 steps planting hard to turn outside, curling out to the sideline and back towards the line of scrimmage. QB may throw you the ball before you turn around, so have hands up ready as you turn. 7 yards +: Post: run 5 steps upfield at about 80%, use the 6 and 7 steps to lower your centre of gravity and cut at 45 degrees to the middle of the field . Run at 100% once cut is made. Look for ball as soon as you cut. QB may throw you the ball on the cut or deeper, once you have separation from the defender depedning on the coverage. Corner: go into the Post pattern 3 steps and plant the foot on the 10 step to cut at a 45 degree angle out to the sideline. Adjust to the throw cos the QB may throw you the ball before you make the final cut. Fly: this patterns is run at 100% from the first step. Try to beat the defender to sideline side of him so that the QB can throw at you or the sideline. Look back over the inside shoulder after the 7 step. *Read the blitz at the line of scrimmage which may force the QB to throw you the ball earlier. Jet: basically a deeper Out pattern which is designed to look like the fly from steps 0 to 7, but then breaks off to the sideline on the 8, 9 and 10 steps. Use the 8-10 to slow down, lower your hips and cut at 90 degrees to the sideline sprinting hard after the cut. Speed: a pattern with an inbuilt read that will determine whether the QB throws the ball on the out or waits for the receiver to curl upfield. It looks like a short out pattern but if the coverage is tight then the receiver breaks upfield - at speed - looking for a deep pass over the inside shoulder. The only pattern where you are allowed to round out the pattern cos you have to run at 100% from the first step.


Tight End Patterns Defenses will want to blitz us out of the ACE formation. We can choose to either play if safe and have the TE blocking, or we can have him releasing upfield. Comversely, we can be agressive, and use the FIRE pattern which lets the rush go by and has the QB on a 1 step drop (Lineman must keep low and stop any penetration for this to work)

Corner Drag TED TE Q TE Fire

Tight End Delay: A safety-value pattern for the QB. The TE must make a pre-snap read, assess the danger to the QB from the pass rush from Dlineman or LBs. If there is no pressure the TE releases quickly 4-5 yards downfield and turns away from the coverage man/dropping LBs in zones. FIRE: This a pattern for when we want to stand and deliver at the LOS. This is part of the RED DOG pass group, may also be called as a audible when the QB sees the uncovered TE. DRAG: curl in across the field once off the line of scrimmage.

Running Back Patterns:

Both running backs can be brought into the passing attack by calling plays in the huddle: The three running back pass patterns are: Fly, Check-Flare and Swing. The patterns can be run from either FB or HB.
GO Check Flare


RB S wing


GO: run straight to the Tackle's outside hip and turn straight upfield looking for the ball early. Check-Flare: A pattern that needs the Running Back to read the defense. Release quickly towards the tackles, blocking any blitzing OLB or DE on a pass rush, stay with block. If there's no threat to the QB the Running Back should run a Flare pattern into the Flat. Swing: step sideways and slightly backwards towards the sideline, losing a yard before you begin to arc upfield, look for ball early, yell "blitz" if LB blitzs

Backfield Pass Blocking/Pattern Rules
When in ACE: The FB blocks away from the TE. The TE is on a TED to the other side, which is a blitz checking pattern. So both sides are covered against the outside blitz. If in I-Formation (Split) The FB Check-Flares away from the TE. The HB Check-Flares towards the TE. (These patterns are for the 6 passing plays listed on the next page. )

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