from American Football Monthly

    The Play-Pass is the one fundamentally sound football play that does everything possible to contradict the basic principles of defense. I truly believe it is the single best tool available to take advantage of a disciplined defense. By using the play-pass as an integral pant of your offense you are trying to take advantage of a defensive team that is very anxious very intense and very fired-up to play football. The play-pass is one of the best ways to cool all of that emotion and intensity down because the object of the play-pass is to get the defensive team to commit to a fake run and then throw behind them. Once you get the defensive team distracted and disoriented, they begin to think about options and, therefore, are susceptible to the running game.

    In highly competitive football, it is very unlikely that you will be able to run the ball so effectively that you will not need to do anything else to move the football. There is no question that having the play-pass, as a part of your offensive arsenal, can allow you to get a key first down or big chunks of yardage.

    However, the play-pass and the commitment to it require more than just minimal inclusion in your team's offense. It must be practiced, on a regular basis, with painstaking precision, by every member of the offensive unit. The proper use of the play-pass must be planned for and anticipated by a well prepared coaching staff.

    Ball handling, play-faking, carrying out blocking assignments, running backs taking the proper courses, etc. must constantly be practiced. Actually, the entire offensive team can enjoy and take real pride in the fact that they are doing a good job with their assignments. The players find real satisfaction in this part of the game. They can achieve a real sense of purpose in the fact that they are doing such a good job of faking the run that a defensive player is taken out of position and becomes frustrated. Players will always respond to this kind of coaching-result-oriented teaching, with everyone knowing that their assignment is critical to the overall success of the play.

    Unfortunately, the necessity for fundamentals of ball handling and play-faking are sometimes overlooked by coaching staffs. These staffs will not take the time to make sure that the entire team understands what they are trying to do with a play-pass (For example, the back-side tackle must understand that he could be the critical factor in the tell-tale recognition by the defense that the play is a play-pass.) The coaches have the responsibility to make certain that everyone understands what the team is attempting to accomplish with any given play and how each individual player's execution factors into the entire equation of that particular play.

    Preparing to run the play-pass as part of an offensive package requires that it be given a specific period time in practice. One facet of this would be to schedule sessions before practice or after practice with the running backs, the quarterback and a center-you must have a center at all times. The coach will go through the drills. These sessions do not require being performed at full-speed. However, the techniques have to be detailed and repeated so the physical part of running the play will become second nature for each player. Often, after practicing this way and becoming accustomed to the philosophy of the play-pass, a second or third-year player will become very adept at play-pass faking. Whereas, during a game or a pressure situation, the freshman or rookie will revert to other things because he just does not have the poise to sustain the fake-poise is essential. Developing an effective play-passing game requires isolated sessions before and after practice, in spring ball, pre-season and during the season.

    In preparing the play-pass during the week of a game, there should be a period- a 10-play period on a given day-with nothing but play-passes in which the players really concentrate on their particular assignments for that specific game, as opposed to the overall play-passing scheme.

    I am convinced that the play-pass can be a valuable weapon for any offense. Coaches utilizing them in their offensive systems and teams for which the play-pass has become a major factor, create con-cern for the opposition more than other offensive designs. Future opponents know they can be fooled and subsequently burned by just playing disciplined and intense defense. The play-pass can fit into any form of offense from Wishbone to Wing-T to Run-and-Shoot.

Why Does the Play-Pass work?
· Best single tool in breaking a defense.
· Regardless of coaching, defensive design and preparation, the well-executed play pass can distort defensive continuity.
· The pass rush can be compromised and slowed.
· Linebacker coverage can be negated or they can be forced out of position.
· Defensive backs can be distracted and lose their relationship with receivers.
· Defensive caution because of an effective play-pass game can add to the effective-ness of the running game.
· Specific defenders can be isolated if they are prone to being fooled, or commit to the run before accounting for their coverage responsibility.
· Zone-blitz concepts are best attacked faking at the dropping linemen.


    The defense has a difficult time accounting for the play-pass in terms of both preparation and actual game execution. If your line blocking and backfield faking is well-coordinated and well-executed, the defense must account for that in the running game. So, this is the one action that along with other special plays can disrupt defensive continuity. This is why it is the best single tool in breaking a defense. It can be can be run to gain a first down with a hooking type pass or it can be employed to score from down the field with a pass that goes beyond the secondary defenders. It is extremely difficult to stop a well conceived and executed play-pass unless the defense is concentrating on it. And, when they begin thinking about whether a particular play can be a play-pass or a run, then the running game is enhanced measurably.

    I do not believe in necessarily establishing a run or establishing a passing game. I believe more in fully dimensional football where you are establishing your offense. Your offensive package will certainly include runs and certainly include drop back or action-passes, where the quarterback moves outside, but it should also include the play-pass.

    The fully dimensional offense, in addition to the various passes, will probably have traps, draws, and misdirection plays. The play-pass serves its purpose in this one category of offensive football in that you iso-late and then develop the needs that you have and how the play-pass can affect the defense and how it can be coordinated and complement the running game.

    Simply using a token fake to a back passing by the quarterback will not be enough. It takes a concerted effort by all the linemen, backs and the quarterback to establish a play-pass such that there are very few tell-tale indicators to any-one that you are really faking a run.

    The play-pass can be used at any time. In an obvious passing situation, where there is long yardage or the score demands that you throw the ball, then naturally the play-pass is not a major factor other than the faking of draw. The draw pass is probably the most effective single play-pass because your line-men are allowed to pass protect as they would on a drop back pass and you can still fake the draw to the back. It can be used even when your team is behind and it you need multiple passes to move the ball to get into scoring position. Unless, the defense has softened up so much that they would have plenty of room to watch a play before they have to react to it. If the defense is playing a very soft, loose defense to stop the pass, then the play-pass is not of much value.

    Linebackers are the players that are most affected by the play-pass because they have keys to read-whether the keys are to read the backs or linemen. Once they make a specific read, they are going to commit themselves to a run. The better job you do of faking, the more you can get a commitment from linebackers into the line of scrimmage. It is important to note that all we are really talking about is to have the linebacker take a couple of steps-that is enough. It is not as though you have to baffle them and they come flying into the line of scrimmage and tackle a phantom ball carrier. What happens is the effective faking may hold them (LB) stationary for a count or may get them to step forward or occasionally fill into the hole. It really is of no consequence how the linebacker is fooled because once he is hesitating and not quite sure, the damage should be done. The receivers, meanwhile, are driving down the field and are working in behind them. The play-pass that holds linebackers and then throws between or behind them, is an excellent source for moving the ball for that critical first down.

    You are always looking for that overly aggressive linebacker or the inexperienced one. Most importantly, you want the aggressive linebacker to work against because he is going to commit against the run and he is going to want to heat those blockers to the point of attack. More often than not, he is the man that will be out of position. You can take advantage of the very aggressive linebacker with a play-fake to hit toward his responsibilities or his side of the field-to pull him into that line and open up a big hole behind him.

    With respect to defensive backs, as you look at scouting reports and evaluate tapes, you should focus your attention on the defensive backs looking into the backfield and either losing touch with their receivers or committing themselves to stop the run. These DBs will be your targets. You will find some defensive backs that will feather back and will be looking into the backfield and lose relationship to the receiver because they think the ball naturally was run into the line of scrimmage and basically stopped. So they will level off and the receiver can break in behind them. There are others, especially in the safety position, that are head hunters and they are going to come flying into a play. You are always looking for that weak safety that will attack the line of scrimmage and make the tackle. Often, he is the best player on the defensive team because he is supporting the run so well that he is into the line of scrimmage the minute he sees something or he thinks he sees it; therefore, he is the one you want to get behind. The same analysis applies to the strong safety.

    As you review and analyze tapes of your upcoming opponents, you are looking for specific defenders to attack. Again, as an example, you are looking for the outside linebacker who fails to get into the flat or is slow getting there because he is fooled, or the inside linebacker who will attack a running play so forcefully that he loses sight of the ball, or a safety who will commit to the run and lose his perspective of the field, or a corner who will look into the backfield and take his eye off his receiver, etc..

    In every scouting analysis, you have five checkpoints to look for and develop: (1) the cornerback that you are attacking; (2) the weak safety; (3) the strong safety; (4) outside linebackers; and (5) inside linebackers. In a given week, it may be that none of the five are worthy of attacking. But, in another week, it could be the weak safety, inside linebacker, etc. You have five checkpoints and you may or may not use any grouping of those depending on who you are playing and their respective players' tendencies.

    Typically your play-pass is a first or second down play. The only play-pass for third down would be the draw fake. You set up the faking of the draw by running draws on first and second down. Thereafter, on third down, when you fake the draw, the defense will have seen it before and they do not immediately think down and distance-they just react. The draw is the one play that if called on first or second down can be developed to the point that the play-pass draw on third down is especially effective. That sequence of plays is the single best combination to run-the draw on first or second down, then fake the draw -on third down to slow up the pass-rush and to pull linebackers forward to get them out of position, and throw the hooking pattern be-hind them for a first down. But as far as the basic running play and the pass that comes off of it, then obviously first and second down are the times to do it. This would be true unless it is third down and three or four yards to go and the other team is still playing run. If they are in a mode to play the running game, then the play-pass is a good call.

Key Elements of the PIay-pass
· Must appear as close to the basic running play as possible.
· Line blocking, at least at the point of attack, must simulate run blocking.
· The running backs must run the same courses as the run play, and must deliberately hold the fake through the line of scrimmage.
· The quarterback's mechanics must duplicate those of the basic run. His actions on both the pass and the run should be uniform.
· Those defenders that are being attacked must be pin-pointed. They could be inside linebacker, outside linebacker, weak safety, strong safety or cornerback, The design of the play should be directed at a specific defender.
· The more successful and often used running play is the logical action from which to play-pass.
· Ball handling and faking should be practiced as part of a regular schedule. Often after regular practice is completed. Here an appreciation for the intricacies of the techniques is established.
· Specific periods should be established during the practice week for team execution. (For example- A 10-play period on Thursday for a Saturday game.)
· Short yardage and goal-line situations call for aggressive blocking below the pad level of the defensive line. Any easing up makes for easy diagnosis by linebackers and defensive backs.
· The faking back and the quarterback must know which defender they are going after. Their fakes are then directed to fool that man. There is a difference between fooling a corner and an inside linebacker, etc.

    It is vitally important that in terms of execution the play-pass appear as close to the running play as possible. Each and every player on offense must execute his specific assignment with the same degree of intensity and with the same mechanics he would use in the running play they are faking.

    One way to accomplish this goal is to have a drill where you have the offensive team facing a video camera and execute plays at full speed (for example, starting with a skeleton group- center, quarterback and backs). Using the video camera to film the drill, the quarterback hands off the ball-the first repetition. On the next play, he will hand it off again on the same running play, and, finally, on the third play, he will fake it. Approximately ten yards away, the offensive squad will be facing the team running the plays, with each player focusing on the players playing their own respective positions. All of them watch their position closely to see what that handoff looks like and then what the fake looks like. You must force your players to execute these plays exactly the same so that they appear almost identical. As an example, take the motion of the swinging of the quarterback's arms as he hands off the ball and where he (QB) looks, the pad level of the running back and the location of his arms, etc. These all must be replicated with exact certainty. This will force the defense to hesitate momentarily to determine the play being run-that moment is all that is needed.

    The line coach will not necessarily like the play-pass because his linemen must make contact at the line of scrimmage at least to the side being attacked. On the back side of the play, conceivably you could drop people back; but even in that case it can be immediately noted and read by an alert and well-coached defense. It is not so much that the defender will say, "I saw that tackle do something, therefore, I need to this...", but it is more of a feel they can get for how the play is unfolding-the play just does not look right if you do a poor job in technique and the defenders can sense it.

    If your opposing team scouts you, as they inevitably will, they can determine that you are a play-pass team. They are going to look for the indicators-such as the tackle drops on his play-pass and he attacks on the run. The more sophisticated defensive coaches and teams will look for indicators of play-passes by any player that will give them a chance to make the initial determination and recognition of the play.

    The offensive line can be an easy place for defenses to find indicators. One of the easy reads for the defense, is if a lineman's helmet pops up. The helmets and pads of offensive linemen have to stay at the same level as on a run play. The secondary defenders, corners or safeties. will see those helmets pop up or the tackle drop back and they know immediately that it is a pass. (For example, if the corner to the open side of the field is looking through an offensive tackle right to the quarterback and he sees that tackle's helmet pop up and step back-he will not care what the fake is, unless it is a fake draw-he will automatically know that the play is a play-pass.)

    Obviously, the line blocking at the point attack must simulate a run. It is, also, very important that the offensive linemen block aggressively to the side of the ball that is being attacked. The action to the side of the defender that you are attacking is very critical. (For example, if the defender you are attacking is a cornerback and you want to get your receiver past him on a go pattern. You are certain that he looks back into the backfield and you can assume that he will drop from a 7 yard depth to about a 14-15 yard depth looking into the backfield. If he is a little bit mesmerized or if he relaxes a little bit because he believes a running play, your receiver can get past him and get maybe a step or two that he would not get otherwise. Consequently, you want to make sure that your offensive linemen to that side play very aggressively in their blocks and make certain that the back faking has his shoulder to the side where we are faking so that the corner buys the fake and the quarterback naturally hides the ball from that corner. The whole play may not need to fool anyone else but that specific corner because you are going to throw a pattern right behind that man.) So, you iso-late the man you are after then everything is coordinated to deceive that player. Whatever that man looks at during a running play must be exactly replicated to look like the run from his vantage point.

    The running back must run the same courses and must deliberately hold the fake through the line of scrimmage. Again, as with every position, it is critical that the running back know who the play is designed to fool-is it an inside linebacker, is it an outside linebacker-they must have an idea of who they are trying to fool and the ultimate objective of each aspect of the play.

    In most cases, the running back has a fake to make and a linebacker to pick up. So, as he is running through the line of scrimmage, he must keep his head up and his pads down, with his elbows to his sides and his right arm tucked as though he is clutching the ball tight against his stomach. While driving into the line, the running back needs to look for his linebacker. If the linebacker drops, typically the running back drives through the line of scrimmage and then continues to a position where he becomes an outlet receiver-this is a perfect example of what we are teaching-each player has a real job to do on every one of these play-passes.

    With respect to the back that is to remain in the backfield to block for the QB, he must drive on the same course used in his blocking technique, make contact and then ease up and get his legs underneath him to be able to hold his block longer. It is not necessary to move the defender; he simply needs to sustain contact. One of the critical break downs in the play-pass is that blockers pull up short and leave space between them and the men that are supposed to be blocking; everyone can see it, react and thereby negating the effectiveness of the fake. Remember, the play-pass is immediately given away when players do not make contact. This type of detail is what coaches must demand of their players.

    The quarterback's actions must duplicate that of the run. As I mentioned, we use the drill where we execute the run plays and play fake with the other quarterbacks and backs watching the team running the plays. The drill allows for very real clarity of exactly what we need to do to fool the defense. This type of objective review of each player's techniques creates awareness by each position player of how he should execute his own assignments and what acts or omissions will give away what type of play is being run.

    Once a team gets into a short yardage situation-third down and two or less on the goal-line, and when the other team has substituted their goal-line defense-the techniques change. Now the blockers must use the same techniques they use in those situations for a run so their contact is made lower and more aggressively. The faking is more intense and we may ask that the back drive into the ground one or two yards past the line of scrimmage as though the ball is underneath him so that the safety man or whomever we are attempting to fool cannot find the ball or dive over the top. More aggressive techniques are used in goal-line and short yardage situations and those techniques generally are used to protect a gap. Gap-type blocking becomes very important. Again, these are techniques that have to be understood.

Diagram 1



Diagram 2



Diagram 3



Offensive Line

· The fake draw is the most readily utilized because linemen can employ basic drop back pass protection. And, because the draw play is one wherein the action is delayed the fake draw can hold linebackers longer.
· Basic man blocked action requires the onside linemen (center-guard-tackle) to employ controlled, quick protection. This is taught as a technique. Contact is made at the line of scrimmage. The defenders cannot be given space. Any space between the defensive and offensive linemen indicates to the defense its a pass. Contact should be sustained but in balance and in control, lunging forward can be disastrous. The ability to move laterally with the defender is critical.
· The backside linemen utilize short drops, but cannot back out beyond a two yard depth. They must keep their helmets and pads down.
· Play-passes designed with pulling linemen require the other linemen to get their head across the front of their defender to cut off penetration and possible lateral evasive action of the defenders reading the blocking pattern. The pulling lineman must pull decisively and not pull up early even with concern for pass protection. Contact must be initiated, but with control. This is a technique that must be practiced.
· Aggressive, controlled blocking with contact initiated by the offense is extremely important. These techniques must be identified, drilled, then practiced as a unit.


· Running backs should run courses using faking techniques simulating as closely as possible those of the running play.
· The back must be alert to blitz pick-up and identify responsibility prior to the snap. The back must run a course that can get the RB to the linebacker as soon as possible if he blitzes.
· Faking technique requires shoulders at waist-high level, arms and hands held exactly as in taking a hand off-except the far hand is placed flat against the stomach so the ball can be inserted in the pocket then pulled out smoothly.
· After receiving the fake, the back must continue through the line of scrimmage with both elbows inside the frame of his body preferably with the right arm positioned as though he has the ball. The biggest giveaway to play-pass is the running back's arms dangling or swinging away from his body. His shoulders should be below the eye level of the linebackers. This obviously makes it more difficult to find the ball.
· After the fake, the back then releases as an outlet receiver.
· In short yardage, the fake takes the form of driving into the ground across the line of scrimmage. In goal line situations, the fake can call for diving over the top.
· The back not faking the run must drive directly to his blocking assignment and make contact. As contact is made he must come under control to sustain contact. A complete giveaway to the play-pass is the other back pulling up short of his block. This must be drilled and emphasized. To play it safe, backs will tend to move cautiously to be sure of their block. If the man being blocked drops into coverage the back then becomes an outlet receiver or is assigned to help a lineman in protection.


· All action of ball is at waist level. As ball is received from center, it is pulled to a position at the navel. As the QB moves moved toward the faking back to the exchange point, the ball stays at that level. When placed in the pocket, it is pushed straight out then pulled straight back.
·The ball should be extended to the RB so that at one instant it is held directly in front of him, clearly establishing the likelihood of an exchange. The common error, which nullifies the purpose of the play-pass, is the ball never actually being in place for a hand off.
· As the ball is pulled back. the arm normally used to make the exchange is allowed to swing away from the faking back just as it does when the hand off is made. The best way to analyze this action is to drill the running play exchange then the corresponding play pass. The quarterback's mechanics for both should be as close to identical as possible. Note how the exchange arm always swings away as the running back receives the ball. And most often the quarterbacks head turns to follow the running back; the faking quarterback should have the same swinging of the head as if to follow the play.
· Faking to the right is simpler and easier to facilitate because the hand off is made with the left hand. It (the left hand) is allowed to swing away during the execution of the fake while the ball remains in the right hand or throwing arm.
· The fake to the left with a right handed quarterback requires more synchronization. The ball is extended with the right hand, pulled in momentarily to the left hand and hidden, then the right hand after swinging away retrieves the ball.
· The quarterback should finish each play pass in the normal drop of a right hander (if right handed) This means faking left still brings him back to a normal drop. Actually faking left can be more effective, because the ball is completely hidden, but timing of quick developing pass patterns is less exacting.
· The quarterback must snap his head back to his primary receiver after completing his fake. At this point, efficient body mechanics become critical. The timing of play passes is even more critical than drop back passes. The defenders you are attempting to fool will only be distracted for a moment.
· Specific steps are required just as there are with pure drop back action. Usually the third step of the drop is where the fake takes place. Then the necessary two or fours steps are taken. (Five or seven-step drop respectively). Timing is critical. Consequently, a five or seven-step drop is dictated by the type of pass pattern or the quarter- back's physical requirements in smoothly getting the ball off.
· The quarterback must understand that play pass blocking is not as sound and can break down. He must be prepared for a pass rusher to get off of his blocker and be penetrating early. The quarterback must understand this, concentrate down field, and possibly take a hit just after he throws.


· Spacing is critical in attacking specific defenders. Linebackers are drawn into the line to throw hooks behind them or to allow crossing receivers to get past them. An aggressive weak safety can be pulled forward to get a post behind him. Therefore, receiver splits, in order to get to that critical area, are extremely important.
· As receivers drive down field, do not look at defenders. Do not have eye contact unless simulating a block on them. You want them to concentrate on the faking in the backfield. This usually occurs with hooking patterns vs. zone defenses. If simulating a block, stare the defender down approaching from the exact same angle.

An interview with Bill Walsh on the PLAY-PASS.

AFQ: When do you typically throw a play-pass?

BW: Typically the play-pass is thrown between the thirty-yard lines. Play-passes work best when the opposing team is in their base defensive mode and you can anticipate those defenses that you've seen through your scouting preparation. You would prefer play-passes against the zone. although that is not a specific requirement. There are still cases where man-to-man defenders will he fooled and will take their eye off of their assigned coverage and the receiver can come out wide open. So, if you do have a man-to-man coverage, you have a chance to make a big play. But, typically you are looking to beat a zone defense because the hooking receivers can get open behind and between the linebackers.

AFQ: What is the progression of the QB's reads?

BW: The quarterback will have a primary, an alternate and, finally, an outlet. So,  he must look for the primary, next the alternate, and then the outlet. These are the mechanics that you use on either a play-pass or a drop back. The QB rarely looks short and then throw deep as an alternate. Usually, you look deep and end up throwing to an alternate that is hooking or the outlet, who is within five yards of the line. The outlet is always within five yards of the line of scrimmage because you can then simply dump the ball to them.

AFQ: Do you account for the fact that the play may breakdown initially?

BW: Not often. To me a play-pass is a play that develops between the offensive tackles. An action pass is one where the quarterback comes outside with the ball. In an action pass. you would have an outlet receiver pretty fast like a bootleg or wag. But inside the tackles, you are counting on your play-faking to accomplish certain things and for the play to develop. Rarely is there somebody who the QB can throw to real quickly unless you are throwing a three-step drop slant and then you are going to get the ball off.

    If a quarterback is forced to scramble, which often happens in a play-pass because the pass-protection can break down, the quarterback begins moving laterally. so all receivers must move laterally with him and on a slight angle back toward the line of scrimmage to make certain that the defenders cannot get underneath them to bat the ball down or intercept it. But this has to be part of play-pass practice work-a scramble drill. in which the quarterback comes out one way or the other and the receivers all understand that and react accordingly. But, the one thing you do not want is the quarterback to start scrambling or moving unnecessarily because you still want 10 be in position to throw an accurate pass and you do not want to have to throw it on the run and outside the pocket.

AFQ: What is the biggest potential obstacle to a successful play-pass?

BW: Play-passing gives up or concedes the ability to effectively deal with wide stunts and some blitzes. What you are looking for is a very base defense to run play-passes against. You are taking a calculated risk when you run a play-pass that the defense could be running some sort of stunt or something that you cannot block effectively. The quarter-back must understand this and be prepared to get rid of the ball or take a hit if necessary.