September 25, 2018

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Run: Different types of running plays


There are a large amount of different runs out of different formations and different sets, and different teams use different set ups but whether you call is an I-Form Tight HB Dive or an I-Form Tight Right 22 Dive, what does it all mean?  Why do they all have different names? What is the difference between an Off Tackle run and a Sweep?  Before we can talk about the names for runs, let’s just discuss the numbers.


OK, first of all let’s just take care of the plays with numbers in the name, runs like the 22 Dive.  The 22 means something… but what?  Well, take a look at the drawing below.  (I will just state now that different playbooks may number the gaps slightly differently.)


Now, let’s take the number in the run name.  22, this number could potentially be 2631 or even 11.  This number is in two parts.  The first number is the number of who will be running with the ball.  So when the first number is…

  • a 2, the run is on the halfback
  • a 3 means the fullback will take the ball
  • a 1 means the quarterback will be running the ball.

The second number is the gap the runner will be attacking, so if the running is attacking the 5 they will be running off the tackle.  If the second number is a 4 the runner will hit the gap between the right guard and tight tackle.

But what about the ‘A Gap’? Is there a ‘B Gap’?

This term of A Gap denotes the gap between the center and the guard (on either the left or the right).

The B Gap is the area between the guard and the tackle.

The C Gap is the area outside of the tackles.  On some formations that include tight ends, this gap is between the tackle and tight end.

The D Gap is the area on the outside of a tight end, if there is one on the field for that formation.

Now that’s the number and gaps taken care of, now onto types of run.

Dive, sweep, counter…. huh?

OK, the different names are all to do with the different moves, runs and blocks each player makes. On one play the left guard will block the defensive tackle that lines up opposite him, but on another play he may swing around to the right of the scrimmage line and block the defensive end or even an outside linebacker.  On each play, everyone has a different assignment.  So let’s start off looking at the dive.


A dive (sometimes called a plunge) is where the ball carrier attempts to rush through one of the A gaps immediately to the left or right of the center (the A gap). It can either be run with or without a lead blocker, though when run with a lead blocker it may be called a “lead dive”.

This type of run is often used in short-yardage situations, specifically at the goal line and is usually played with fullbacks or larger, stronger running backs that are less prone to fumbling because this play values strength over speed. So how do the assignments look? Let’s look against a standard 4-3 running a singleback formation.


So here we can see why this play is designed to only accrue short yards as the halfback will likely be hitting the “Mike” or middle linebacker.  The play could be altered to hit the B gap depending on readings of the defence.  Once again, the result could only be a couple of yards, but this play has been seen to break for big yards on the rare occasions.



From Isolation, this play targets and isolates one key person on the defense to attack.   The play creates a gap which leaves the linebacker isolated from other defenders. The fullback runs through the gap to block the linebacker, and the tailback follows the fullback’s block.


One of my favourite run plays, the power (you may have heard of a Power O play on Madden games) takes the guard and throws him over to block out the defensive end on the opposite site of the field, as shown below.  Runs tent to be off tackle, so can favour a speedier back and can be used with a good blocking fullback.


The left tackle has a double duty, firstly he must hold up the defensive end on his side of the field long enough to allow the play to move over to the right.  Then his assignment changes to block out the “Will” or weak sided linebacker.  In the instance above, the fullback leads the runner and takes out the “Sam” or strong linebacker.

This play can gain some big yardage as long as the speedy back doesn’t get held up by defenders that get free.



The sweep is similar to the Power as it favours a faster ball carrier.  The  left tackle has a dual duty once again.  The right guard and right tackle switch places with the tackle heading inside against the defensive tackle and the guard sweeping behind and taking out the defensive end.  A similar switch occurs between the center and left guard.  The center cuts inside and takes out a tackle whilst the guard sweeps behind the center, only this time the guard must read the middle linebacker and react accordingly.

In an I Form formation, as above, the fullback leads the tailback and blocks, potentially taking out the Sam linebacker.



Sometimes called a ‘pitch’,  the ball carrier attempts to run to the outside through the C (or even D-gaps, which are further over towards the sidelines).  Tosses are unique in that the quarterback pitches the ball to the ball carrier, rather than handing it off.  This play gets the ball carrier outside much quicker than a sweep play.



The trap play uses the guard on the backside of the field (opposite side to the direction of the run) as a lead blocker.  As the guard comes across and blocks the defensive tackle the ball carrier runs into wherever the biggest gap is create.



Also called a misdirection. In this play, the runner starts off by taking a step or two away from his intended path, then doubling back and heading in the opposite direction. Often defenders are clueing on the first move of the running back. The defenders committed to the first step, but the play moves in the opposite direction.

Counter plays are usually coupled with influence blocking, where the offensive line blocks the defense towards (rather than away from) the intended direction of the play. This often causes the defenders to think the play is going in the opposite direction, and they react as such.

The counter, as with the trap, uses to guard as a lead blocker.



This is the running equivalent of the Play Action play, in this instance it force the defence to thing it’s a passing play when it’s actually a run.  The offensive line, instead of pushing forwards to make blocks for the runner, it drops back as though to form the protective pocket for the quarterback to pass, only instead the quarterback hands off the ball.

But wait, there’s more!

There are a few other run plays such as the reverse or the option.  We’ll get into these more advanced runs in a later article.

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