The Fish Report: Mysteries of Our Offense

Charles Fischer, Mr. FishDuck Fish Reports

(Note: Between the report about the New Oregon Defense in June, and this one on the major plays of the Offense…you could read and learn in 45 minutes (between the two reports) what took me 50-60 hours to research and figure out.  This is the perfect time before the football season to learn the basics of Oregon Offense and Defense, and I would urge you to print those two reports out and read them before the games, and before the replays as you will acquire as I did, NEW EYES for our dearly loved football team.)

Want to be in the top 1% of Oregon Football fans?  Answer these questions!  The first would be…how do you tell the difference between the last defense we ran (the 4-3) and the present one?  (Go to prior reports for that)  The second question would be, “what are the differences between the three primary running plays at Oregon?”   While there are running plays such as the Counter, Draw, Double Option, etc., you’ll find that about 90% of the running plays consist of the Inside Zone Read, Outside Zone Read, and the Power Play.

Learn these three easy plays and how to look for them and you’ll increase your enjoyment enormously as you see their success, and later while watching the replays– it will help you to really dissect the blocking and the variations of the running plays and play-action passes linked to them that fool defenses.  THAT is what has happened for me in the last three weeks, because in the past two years I saw huge holes in the replays, and admired the blocking, but I didn’t know WHAT we were doing.

As for myself…I could not have answered ANY of these questions three months ago.  As of three weeks ago…I could answer the first question, and not the other.  The two Zone Read plays comprise the foundation of the Oregon Offense and I had HEARD of the two different plays, but I had not seen an explanation of them in the past, or I missed it.   Two weeks ago I went over to tons of Spread Offense websites as well as Cal and USC Football websites, where they had detailed discussions of one of their opponents, our Oregon Ducks.

They have been talking about how to stop the Zone Read for a couple of years, but first you had to absorb the differences between the two plays.  It’s not like it’s a whole playbook; it’s only a couple of plays that make up most of our running offense, and today….let’s do it!

This old duck is learning great new stuff and passing it along because understanding these plays will give you many thrills due to their execution, but also the STRATEGY behind so much of what we’re doing on Offense.  After doing about 15 hours research for this report ….I then went back again to our games  I just viewed a few weeks ago (for the defense and another umpteen hours spent) and it’s like a revelation….it’s like I’m seeing things for the first time, and you can have that thrill as well!  Again…for those who already know all of this….I salute you.  You are in the top 1% of Oregon fans already, and this report is written for HACK fans like me, who are not experts, but willing to learn.

We are fortunate to have notes from a Coach’s Clinic that Head Coach Chip Kelly spoke at a year ago, and the quotes in this report come from that presentation he gave to other coaches.  What are the differences between the Inside and Outside Zone Read plays?  First of all, remember that the “box” is all the players on the LOS between the TEs, and that space extended about six yards into the defensive backfield to include LBs.  The INSIDE Zone Read is meant for the RB to charge through between the tackles, or inside the box, hence “Inside”.  The Outside Zone Read is meant to be run around the ends or outside the box.  (Pretty good huh?  I don’t share this privileged information with just anyone)

Chip said something that threw me off, and I spent eight hours looking at replays and checking my major keys of how to tell the difference.  He said to NOT look at how the backfield was lined up before the play; he said we had a ton of plays that ran off similar backfield formations.  So now I looked a TON of places to see what other plays he referred to, and yes, he ran a bunch to confuse the defense, but for US as fans….it becomes clear.

When the RB starts BEHIND the QB before the play, then that is an Inside Zone Read play coming up.  So start a play and the RB who is behind and to the left the QB, comes across the QBs front from left to right as they do the mesh to determine who gets the ball.  Remember, the play is going to the inside dive spot (a center or guard gap) on the right side of the LOS, as the Inside Zone Read is always the opposite side of where the RB starts.  Since the play is going to the right side, then the DE (Defensive End) on our left side or the backside of the play is left UNBLOCKED!

My feathered friends, an overlooked component of the Spread Offense is the concept of an unblocked backside defender.  This is HUGE as it now gives the Offensive Line an EXTRA Offensive Lineman to block for running plays!  This is an advantage that other teams don’t have.  If you spread out the players, (as the Spread Offense Formations do) and add an extra blocker….do you think it creates bigger holes and helps the running game?  Oh yeah, Baby!  This is where Chip referred to us winning with “higher Mathematics” in that all the defenders are going to be accounted for and blocked….no matter what the defensive formation.

The unblocked defender in this sample play is on the left side of the LOS, the DE, and the QB checks to see what he’s doing.  In other words, the QB is “reading that zone” where the DE occupies, hence the name, “Zone Read.”  If the DE stays put and defends that gap….then the QB gives the ball to the RB who zips left to right in front of the QB and to the right side of the OL looking for a hole inside to run to.

If the DE decides to “chase” the RB inside—then the gap where the DE was is now open and the QB pulls the ball out and runs straight ahead into this gap for a good gain on the backside of the defense.  So as Chip says, “the QB is responsible for the sixth man in the box.  He reads the defender and controls him.”  Remember the All-American DE at South Florida a few years ago in the Bowl game?  Recall how he did NOTHING in that game to hurt us?  We neutralized him by “Zone Reading” him; where-ever he went…the ball went to the OTHER back, either the RB or QB.  It is a brilliant way to do two things at once; you take a talented Defensive Lineman out of their defense entirely and you add an extra blocker!  We love it!

You would think that with all the different defensive sets the offensive line has to block against…that it would be almost impossible to figure who does what and where, especially when a blitz is on.  Chip explains that the O-Linemen only look at who is in the box as, “we spread the defense, so they will declare their defensive look for the offensive linemen.  That makes it simple for us.”  So in the box for the OL it’ll be a 5-2, or 4-3, or 3-2, etc.

He’s not worried about them packing the box because, “we are a Spread Team. If the defense covers the receivers, then they cannot get too many more defenders in the box.”  He says that they look for six defenders….who are the six defenders on the play-side, (the side we are running the play to) that they need to identify and block?  Chip says that, “if the offensive linemen can count to six, you have a shot to run this play.”  (The Inside Zone Read)  He explains that their simple rules work “against five different defenses,” and “is great against blitzes and twists because we pick up blocks as they attack gaps.”

Coach Kelly elaborates, “Why do we run the Inside Zone Read?  The Inside Zone Read play is a great equalizer.  We are double-teaming a defensive lineman with a mathematical idea behind it.  We have four legs and he has two legs, so we win.”  Beyond the humor of the Chip, we know that Coach Greatwood is teaching the Zone-Blocking that comes with our offense.  It is simple in that, if an OL has a DL in front of him…he blocks him.

If he is uncovered and has a LB in front of him but 4 yards off the LOS….then he follows their decision rules and helps with a Double-Team block until his teammate has the defender under control, and then he slides off and nails the Linebacker.  (LB)  This is done in half-second increments, and if you watch our running plays in slow-motion…you will see this “plaster-and-peel” technique.  The precision requires peeling off and thrashing the LB just before the RB is coming through the hole.

Chip says that first though, “we tell the linemen to stay on the double-team until someone has control of the defender.  We want to take care of the down linemen.  Down Defensive Linemen make tackles-for-losses.  Linebackers dance around the pile and make tackles for two to three yard gains.  We must secure the down D-Linemen before we think about coming off on the linebacker.  The offensive linemen play with confidence because they know they have help from their teammates in their blocking scheme.”

I’ve watched the blocking and thought that it relied quite upon speed of getting to a particular spot before a defender, and then simply shielding the tackler from making a play on our RB.  Chip disagrees, as he explains that, “the Inside Zone Read play is our “go to work” play.  It has become our signature play.  We want to get off the ball and be a physical, downhill-running football team.

This is not a finesse play.  We teach our offensive linemen a block we call the BUST BLOCK.  The idea is to bust their sternums up against their spines on every play.  We want to come off the ball, create a double-team, knock the crap out of the defender, and deposit him in the linebackers lap.”  “This is physical football.”  “We want them handling the defender as if they were a bouncer in a bar throwing him out of the bar.  They understand what type of force has to be implemented to throw a guy out of a bar.”

Wow.  Our signature play isn’t a pass play, or something complicated….it’s a play to the dive hole on one side or the other of the center/guard and with our extra blocker we have the confidence and intend to do some damage with an aggressive blocking mindset.  Yeah baby!  That sounds like a new Oregon attitude!

Teams over-react to this play; they begin compressing the box to make the gaps smaller and easier for them to jam.  Now you throw the Outside Zone Read at them!  The Outside Zone Read starts with the RB TO THE SIDE of the QB, and not behind like the Inside Zone Read.  At the snap the RB goes from the left of the QB to the right and in front so the mesh can take place, and the QB is “Zone Reading” the DE on the left or backside who is unblocked, just like with the Inside Zone Read.

Because the RB is zipping parallel to the LOS, he picks up speed with the intent of turning the right-side corner.  As soon as defenders see us line up with a RB on either side of the QB…..they are freaked out about the Outside Zone Read taking place on the opposite side of where the RB is lined up and they OVER-REACT.  They want to beat us to the outside and make sure they are positioned to stop this play for a loss.

Coach Kelly tells us that “the O-Linemen at the snap take a kick-step and a karaoke crossover step to get outside and up the field.”  The defense sees this as well and it adds to their urgency to protect their flanks.  Our O-Linemen are instructed to LET THEM take the outside position….and drive them to the sideline!  This creates BIG holes on the INSIDE as cut up-field lanes and the RB can plant a foot, turn, and explode up-field.  LaMichael James made MASSIVE yardage on this play last year!

Coach Kelly got other coaches across the nation along with football analysis sites buzzing about a new variation he added onto the Zone Read a year ago.  While other Spread Offense innovators such Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez Zone Read the DE as discussed before….Chip began optioning or “Zone Reading” the Defensive Tackle!  Now the actual discussion pertains to the “3” Technique Read”, but for our 101 class….let’s just call him a Defensive Tackle.  (DT)

It created some waves because now Oregon could neutralize a BIG DEFENSIVE TACKLE like a Brian Price of UCLA, or Stephen Paea of Oregon State, and we DID.  We left them unblocked, let them come through, and whoever the DT chased…the ball was with the other back, either the RB or QB!  So now we can eliminate an opposing DE or DT in any given game by Zone Reading them?  Geez that is scary smart football!

Now we even tried “Zone Reading” the Nose Tackle against Arizona…but that wasn’t as effective.  (The NT can take an angle to cover both backs, thus negating the purpose)  Mike Riley wasn’t contending for the Pac-10 Championship for two years straight without a few tricks of his own.  When we began to Zone-Read the very talented Paea at DT….Riley moved him to NT to require a Double-team and tie up blockers.  Smart!  Oh the chess match on the football field…..

So defenses see the same backfield alignment as we do and quickly try to compensate during the no-huddle series which causes fatigue and mistakes on their part, hence big holes created again for our RB/QB.  Overcompensation by the defense is actually PART of our offense!  Against UCLA we see James take it 31 yards on an Inside Zone Read that was jammed up and then bounced to the outside where there were no defenders!

Later in the game was the opposite; our backfield alignment showed Outside Zone Read, and the Bruin defenders sprinted to the sidelines so fast that Barner burned them by cutting inside for a 47 yard gain to inside the five yard line.  I think the psychology of semi-announcing in advance the potential play has HELPED us as they overcompensate and can’t defend it all!  The arrogance of, “here is what we’re doing…TRY to stop it” has got to mess with their heads a bit.  (The more I see of Chip Kelly…the more I see this element on both sides of the ball.)

Want me to make it easy for you?  If the RB is BEHIND the QB….it’s an INSIDE Zone Read.  If the RB is to THE SIDE of the QB…it’s an OUTSIDE Zone Read!  Even drunk Huskies would understand the simplicity of watching for this!  Do you want further confirmation?  Look at the shoulders of the O-Linemen; if the shoulders are parallel to the end zones, in other words the linemen are driving forward on their blocks on the LOS….it is an INSIDE Zone Read.  If the shoulders are turned and parallel to the sidelines…that is an OUTSIDE Zone Read!  (That little gem took me HOURS to notice)

Now for you experts….I KNOW that there are a ton of other plays run off these formations, but it gives us a great start for how to see the majority of plays.  The coaches have a bunch of counters and play-action passes off of both backfield formations, and that doesn’t include the fly sweep grouping or the double option group of plays from these formations.  (Another report for another time)  For you Football aficionados… you know how at the beginning of a play we see them get a new signal from the sideline and they change the alignment in the backfield?

The Offensive Coordinator has noted the defensive set for the next play and sees opportunity by running somewhere different, hence the change between the RB being behind the QB to the side.  Or perhaps they are changing WHO they want to “Zone Read” or option, and are flipping their formation to give them that matchup.  I am REALLY going to be watching for that this fall!  This is all TOO MUCH fun to learn and apply!  No wonder Chip has said in so many interviews that “we cannot be stopped….we only can stop ourselves with mistakes.”  Oh yeah.

As if the plays we’ve discussed don’t sound physical or macho enough….they have a “Power” play that lives up to its name.  Oh baby….how can it be tougher than the last two?  Do the BUST BLOCKS forward and then add a pulling guard to obliterate whatever is remaining!  It starts with the same backfield alignment as an Inside Zone Read.  Let’s picture that formation from before…the RB on the left, going left to right for the mesh?

NO!  The QB turns and hands off to the RB who is going straight ahead into the left side of the line.   On the LOS…we see everyone blocked, an OL for a DL, and then the Right Offensive Guard PULLS from his spot and runs leftward down the LOS and turns inside the pile ahead of the RB.  As he turns in, he checks to see if all single and double-team blocks are going well.  If not he helps, and if they are under control he then turns his crosshairs on the LB coming up to fill the gap and he BLASTS him!

Good grief, it is a delight to watch as you can almost feel the shock wave through the slow motion as our Offensive Guards get giddy after annihilating the LB and having the RB “Roosh” right behind them for huge gains.  Just when the defense gets set on our right side for an Inside Zone Read by our backfield alignment, and they lean and shift that way….it helps open the hole to the “Power Play” on the left side.   Caution: You do NOT want to be a Linebacker or Safety opposing us when one of our big, fast Offensive Guards comes around the pile to meet you with a nasty disposition.  I predict…..pain.

I never thought that basic running plays that go 6-7 yards could create “air” or an amount of space I hop up from my chair when I’m watching these in Slow-Motion.  Granted, when it comes to my beloved Ducks…I am easily amused.  However now when I watch…I can see WHY a play is working, or I see a clever variation off one of the two Zone Read plays that picks up chunks of yardage because the defense is so concerned about defending those gaps, that they leave weaknesses elsewhere.

Truly, the more I know and understand about this offense, the more I admire the X’s and O’s taught originally by Coach Kelly and the Offensive Line technique taught by Coach Greatwood that makes it all happen.

Geez we love our Ducks.

Charles Fischer  (Mr. FishDuck)
Eugene, Oregon

New 2024 FishDuck Publishing Schedule….

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