How Sequential Plays Ignite Oregon’s Offense

Mike West Analysis

I’ve often wondered if Mario Cristobal has a sense of humor. Here’s a man who intentionally replaced the vaunted Chip Kelly spread offense at Oregon, featuring an awesome running game, with an offense led by a coordinator whose strength is his passing background. How’s that for a head scratcher?

But guess what? Old tricks are new tricks in football. Just like Kelly disguised his version of power football (using the spread offense), Marcus Arroyo is using an old technique to launch his own version of muscle ball. And it’s going to be lethal.

A Blast From the Past

Back in the day, offenses grouped plays in sets. A set consisted of a “core” play and alternate plays that looked similar to, or could be run out of the same formation as those core plays. Most sets were varying running plays. For example, say an offense had a “blast” play as its core play. The alternate plays could, for example, be a counter, a sweep and power.

These sets were called “sequentials” back then, because plays two, three, four and so on would start from the same formation. Thus, a team could run every play of the set in a sequence, all from the same formation. Modern-day coaches often refer to these additional plays as constraint plays, rather than sequential plays.

Every offense bases itself around a few core plays (for example, the Ducks centered their offense around inside and outside zone reads under Kelly). But the best offenses use sequential plays to complement core plays and keep defenses guessing. Arroyo understands this and has crafted his own set of sequential plays for offensive diversity. Let’s look at an example.

Above are plays No. 6-10 of a drive during the Ducks 2019 spring game. Arroyo used a combination of core and sequential plays to effortlessly drive down the field and cut through the opposing defense like a hot knife through butter.

The first play above is an inside zone run for seven yards, one of Oregon’s core plays. The second play is another inside zone for six yards and a first down. Now, here comes the fun part. After running the same core play on back-to-back occasions, the defense knew its number-one priority was stopping the standard inside zone. Arroyo knew this too, and instead of running another core play, he followed it up with a sequential.

On the third play, the Ducks line up in the pistol formation, as they did the previous two plays, and start the action as if it’s going to be a split inside zone play, nearly identical to the previous two plays. However, receiver Jaylon Redd (No. 30) comes in motion just before the snap, and instead of handing off to the running back, Herbert pulls the ball back at the last second and pitches it to Redd, who takes the reverse toss for 13 yards and a first down. Excellent curveball there.

And what did Arroyo draw up the next play? Yet another inside zone, this one with the same split motion from the tight end (No. 87) that the Ducks ran the reverse off of just one snap before.

This drive was a perfect illustration of a well-crafted offense. The Ducks began the sequence with their core plays and gained a first down. But to keep the defense from keying in on them, the offense ran a sequential. After that, the Ducks went back to basics and ran one of their core plays to really throw the defense in a tailspin.

The Keys to Our New Ferrari

The sequence of plays above are encouraging signs of progress for the Oregon offense. Coach Cristobal is marketing a physical brand of football, but no respectable defensive coordinator is going to allow an offense to run the ball down his throat without adjusting. That’s why sequential plays are critical. While core plays like inside zone have their place, a unit without effective changeup plays becomes overly predictable and easy to defend.

Further, those changeups don’t have to be as elaborate as a reverse or other gadget play. Below is an example of a sequential play built into a core play.

The play above is a run-pass option (“RPO”). The core play (outside zone read) is actually an option on this play. But  the defense overloaded to stop the run, and the defender responsible for quarterback Justin Herbert’s (No. 10) “keep” option stayed at home. Thus, Herbert threw the bubble screen to Redd (No. 30), who had motioned out of the backfield. Because the defense sold out to stop the outside zone, the bubble screen was wide open, and it netted an easy first down.

A great mix of plays can combine into a weapon of mass destruction. Sequential plays make an already good offense downright unstoppable. That will be the case for Oregon in 2019. If the players execute, the Ducks will average more than 40 points per game, largely because of the effectiveness of sequential plays.

Mike West
Las Vegas, Nevada                                                                                                                                                       Top Photo by Kevin Cline


Spencer Thomas, the Volunteer Editor for this article, is an attorney for the Social Security Administration in Atlanta, Georgia, and coaches High School Football for Hillgrove High School in Powder Springs, GA.


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