3 Keys to a Successful Stretch Play

There are a number of ways for your football team to block the Stretch Play, or Outside Zone, and most of them are perfectly good. Every offensive staff needs to consider the options when installing the play, and make their decision according to a few important considerations.

  1. What fits with your Offensive Linemen best?
  2. What fits with your Ball Carrier best?
  3. What fits with your Offensive Line coach best?

Once you have an answer to these three questions, you will know how to block your Stretch Play. We’re going to take a look at each piece and the different ways you might want to answer that question. First, we will look at some of the most popular ways to block the play.

Blocking Scheme Choices

Do you want to work a Zone Blocking scheme? Are you going to be running Inside Zone as well?

If you are also blocking Inside Zone, then adapting your Covered-Uncovered rules, or your numbering rules, to your Outside Zone scheme should be fairly simple for your linemen.

Using our Covered-Uncovered principle, we have a few more considerations. Rip & Run, or zone block it?

Some coaches will use the exact same blocking, only with a wider landmark, for the Outside Zone. The wider landmark compensates for the fact that the Defensive Line will be fighting to get outside when the path of the back is wider.

If you decide to Rip and Run, the covered players will rip through the play side number of the down defender, allowing the uncovered defenders to catch up and overtake the down defenders. The ripping player rips through the down defender and climbs to the second level linebackers with a great angle.

Both of these zone blocking schemes create a possibility for a cutback lane. That cutback usually happens if the Defensive End on the play side aggressively works to contain the play. The blocker on him can drive him out, allowing the back to cut back underneath.

Another version of the Stretch Play involves having the entire Offensive Line rip and run. No one is locking on the down defenders. Usually the only exception is the play side Tackle or Tight End. I like this blocking for the Jet Sweep, where no one from the B Gap back has a chance of making the play.

You may also use a Zone concept using tracks. Track blocking basically means putting the linemen on a track, and they engage only what shows up on their track. This is a simple way to zone block, without having to extensively teach zone blocking principles like covered-uncovered. The linemen open up and get on a 45 degree track. They only block what shows on their track.

Other coaches will work to reach block everyone across the front. This is more reminiscent of Sweep plays than of the Outside Zone or Stretch, but it is none-the-less an effective blocking scheme. The difference with the reach block (and why I would not consider it as much of a zone play), is that there is little chance for a cutback lane, one of the big advantages of zone plays.

On the Stretch Play, most coaches do not look to force double teams up front. After all, you should be running around those down linemen. Unless your guys up front completely whiff on the block, they should get enough for your back to get outside.

Which brings us to the back side of the play. The prevailing opinion is to not block the back side. Rip through them and climb to pursuing Linebackers, who have a better chance (and better angle) to run down the play. A Defensive End who attacks up the field on his first three steps has little chance of redirecting and chasing down your back (make an adjustment when you play Jadaveon Clowney though).

Alex Gibbs has done the best video out there on Outside Zone (the original Gillman videos are out of production, but Brophy put that awesome video up on his site). Even if you won’t use his exact terminology or scheme, there’s no better way to get an understanding of the play. He made the concept of cutting any down A Gap player, creating another cut back lane for your back. If the center cuts, and everyone else overruns the play (as they tend to do), you can create a pretty good cutback lane.

Now let’s get to the decision making process.

What Fits Your Offensive Linemen?

The most important question when installing any new play into your offense is, “Can our linemen do this?” or “How hard will it be to teach this to our linemen?”

None of these schemes are particularly hard to teach. If your kids already understand zone principles, from your inside zone play, then you need to apply those terms to your Stretch. If they don’t, come up with something else. Do not teach zone principles for one play.

Maybe you just moved from a Wing-T system to the Spread and all of your kids are experts in reach blocking. Okay, reach block it. Maybe even consider pulling an uncovered Guard or Tackle to get extra help on the perimeter (important – if you do this, make sure they check the Linebacker pre-snap and pick him up if he shows blitz).

Want to zone block but keep the teaching fairly cheap? Put them on a track. We’ve gone so far as to paint the tracks on the ground down in our little lineman playground area. If you don’t have a little lineman playground area, by the way, get one. Make it as far away from everyone else as you can.

What Fits Your Running Backs Best?

Something that coaches may not always consider is what fits their backs the best. Some coaches think that anybody can run the ball in zone blocking schemes. It’s simply not true. If a kid does not have the vision to see lanes opening up, a zone scheme just doesn’t fit him.

If I have a kid who runs hard downhill, with speed, and not a lot of vision – I don’t want to run zone schemes with him. But I can get him around the edge with reach blocking. It clearly defines the job of the linemen (they’re man blocking), and it clearly defines the path for the back.

You might also like to use the Jet Sweep, which is more of an around-the-edge play for most teams. Not many teams who throw in the Jet Sweep can hit cutbacks, so you are better served to just get around the edge. If you’re going to really focus on the Jet or Fly Sweep (once upon a time there was a difference, but the lines have blurred) then you should pick up the Mark Speckman DVDs on the Fly Sweep and do more than just sprint around the edge. But that is if you want to make it the feature of your offense, not if you’re using it as a change-up or a way to hit the edge quickly.

Now, if you have a kid who can hit cutback lanes, then by all means zone block it. The play becomes an automatic positive yardage play with those kids, because they can see if the Defensive End is going to string the play out (cut it back) or hold his ground (take the edge).

There’s a rule that Jerry Campbell told me once in response to a question I asked, that made a ton of sense. The path of your linemen should match the path of your back. Now there’s a lot of people that do not exactly follow this rule, and have good success. But it is one I always think about.

What Fits Your Offensive Line Coach?

I’m an Offensive Line coach. My Offensive Coordinator was an Offensive Line coach. That is a great situation, because when he wants to do something and I tell him, “That’s going to be hard for the linemen” or “I don’t know if I can coach that technique right now,” he gets it.

We talked about doing what is easiest for your Offensive Linemen to learn. You also need to plan your offense according to what the OL Coach can do.

If it’s January, then he has plenty of time to learn whatever technique you need so that he can teach it well. You should still at least consider molding the offense to what he does BEST though.

If it’s July and you just decided you need a new play, you better make sure A) You really need it and B) Your Offensive Line coach understands exactly how to teach that technique. If he does not, then adjust it or drop it.

If you are into October, do not screw with your Offensive Line. It is a muscle memory position. Playing Offensive Line is the most unnatural thing your big boys will ever have to do. It is harder than turning down a meal. When you start messing with the routine that they have gotten into after months of practice, you start chipping away at their muscle memory.

If you do not have an Offensive Line guy on your staff, you need one. Go out and hire one, make one, or at least consult with one (you’ve got my email).

Don’t go blindly adding plays to your scheme. When you are ready to get the football around the edge with the Stretch Play, take all of these factors into consideration as you design the play. Be specific in how you want it to be blocked, how you want the ball carrier to run it, and how you intend to use the play. Pay attention to details like terminology and practice time to get the play perfected. If you do that, the Stretch Play can become a big part of your offense.

Looking for more ideas on how to build your Spread Offense? Check out my eBook, Spread Offense: The Running Game for detailed descriptions of ten top running plays in the Spread Offense.

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  • Justin Sligh

    If you are coaching with “Track” method, coaches I have seen on the collegiate level use their shutes slicks (long, thin, rubber mats) as tracks which the players cannot step on to rep staying on the precise path.