Creating Mismatches With Running Backs

Chris Schisler

There are three elements to getting open as a receiving option on a football play. The first (and most important) is execution of proper mechanics and techniques. I will leave that for my CSF colleague John Langley; he was a receiver but I was a lineman. The second element is a good concept at the appropriate time. For example a smash concept against cover 2 or crossing routes against man to man coverage. The third element is the coach schematically creating mismatches in his favor. It could be a speedy running back against a slow linebacker or a big tight end against a small technique. This is the element we are focused on right now; using our backs to create favorable match ups in the passing game.

Incorporating running backs into the passing game often gives the quarterback a safety valve. The bulk of a rushers receptions come off screens and swing routes. This is using the running back as a check down route but we are going to do something a little different. We are going to use the running back (or in some cases the fullback) as a real weapon.

Against man coverage a Texas route is effective. The running back will start running outside and the linebacker will run toward him. The running back will then break inside passing the linebacker, catching the ball in the middle of the field. This play is illustrated in the following diagram featuring only the key players: The back and the chasing linebacker in man coverage.
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A wheel route (which can be run by any receiving position) is where the running back runs toward the sideline, then turns up the field vertically. This takes advantage of the backs speed. Ideally you end up with either a cover 2 look (which is susceptible to shots down the sideline that stretch the two deep zones) or a linebacker chasing the back down the field. A wheel route can also open up other deep routes. If the corner is responsible for the flats in cover 2 and the receiver runs a deep route the corner will be responsible for the back as he runs to the flat. But if the back gets behind the cornerback (double moves help this cause) the safety now has two deep routes to cover on his own. The diagram below shows this:

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Another way to get the running back involved in the passing game is to get him out of the backfield. With pre-snap motion the running back can shift out like a receiver. How the defense reacts will show us their hand. If they shift a linebacker over we have what we want: a fast player on a slower player in man coverage. If they motion the strong safety overtop of him we can safely predict man coverage; more importantly there is only one deep safety. If the defense does not adjust this is a likely indicator of zone coverage. Whether we throw to the running back or not we have an advantage before the snap.

These are just several methods that can be used to create a receiving threat out of the backfield. The running back is one of the most versatile positions and dynamic backs are a great way to create mismatches.

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