Strategy Minicamps
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Play of the Day: Epic End Around

by Mike Tanier

The full-house backfield is the coelacanth of NFL formations. It seemed to be extinct by the middle of the 1980s. Then, a few years ago, it suddenly reappeared. The Panthers used three-back formations more than any other team last season, but the Cowboys, Browns, Redskins, and other teams tinkered with the strategy in the last few years.

The typical full-house package includes several running plays, some six- or seven-man protection passes, and a few wrinkles on basic pass plays. Today, we are going to install something a little more exotic: an end around from a full-house formation. This play was used by the Redskins against the Titans in Week 6. The play only yielded a minimal gain, so we will examine ways to improve it after we look at what actually happened on the field.

The situation: First-and-10, first quarter, Redskins trailing by three points. The Redskins deploy a three-receiver, single-back, single-tight end personnel package, but they align in a full house formation with Chris Cooley and Antwaan Randle El at "fullback." (Figure 1) The Redskins use lots of pre-set and pre-snap motion, and they will often motion out of this look into a very different formation. But the Redskins stay in their full house set. Right end Santana Moss only splits about five yards from the right tackle; Brandon Lloyd's split on the left side is wider. Most of the Titans defense is not shown for clarity's sake; the Titans are in a nickel personnel package.

Figure 1

At the snap, Cooley leads Randle El on an apparent off-tackle run right. The blocking on the right side suggests an off-tackle run. Moss steps off the line and braces to log a linebacker. The right tackle and guard execute a trap block, with the tackle blocking down while the guard pulls into the gap. Mark Brunell pivots on his left foot, takes a drop step with his right foot, and reaches with his left hand to give the ball to Randle El. There are only a few hints that this is anything other than a simple running play: the formation, the fact that a wide receiver is in the backfield, and the motion of Clinton Portis, who sweeps left while the other backs move to the right.

The apparent handoff to Randle El is a play fake. Moss' block is also a fake; he turns to the backfield and begins to execute an end around. Brunell takes another drop step and gives to Moss seven yards deep. Theoretically, the Titans defense should be fooled by the fake to Randle El, while some of the "stay at home" defenders on the left side should cover Lloyd and Portis on play-action pass routes. In principle, Moss will only have one defender to contend with: the right defensive end, unblocked on the play. Surely, that player will either a) get caught inside by the right-run action, b) tackle or pursue Portis, or c) be no match for Moss in the open field.

Figure 2

Unfortunately, this play fails because the Titans defensive line is able to penetrate and disrupt the play (Figure 2). The trap block on the right side isn't well executed; not only does a defensive tackle reach the backfield in time to disrupt the handoff to Moss, but the left end gets enough penetration to slow Moss at the start of the play. The right end, meanwhile, isn't suckered by the play fake and nearly crashes into Brunell and Moss at the handoff. Only Moss' athleticism prevents a disaster. The two defenders force a fumbled exchange, but Moss dribbles the ball, picks it up, and jukes his way to a short gain.

Let's improve this play before installing it. We'll start by replacing the trap blocks on the right side with a simpler scheme. There's enough subterfuge on that side of the ball to sell the right-run fake. Next, we'll instruct Portis to chip the right end if he penetrates early. We'll also add a counter step to Portis' initial motion (Figure 3). With all three backs going in the same direction at the snap, most of the defense should flow to the offensive right. The result is a simpler play that should be more effective. The Redskins had a tendency to overcomplicate their offense last season anyway.

Figure 3

This particular end around is a once-per-season play, but it is too cool to leave out of the playbook. It's a novel way to get a great player the ball in open space, and like any good counter-action play it punishes the defense for over-pursuit and over-aggressiveness. Mix a quirky formation, an unusual personnel grouping, and a little trickery, and you've got an instant defensive migraine.


29 comments, Last at 02 Nov 2009, 3:43am

2 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Page 452 of Saunders' 700 page playbook...

Personally I think the best way to improve the play would be to replace some of the OL.

Once again, nicely done... Bryant Gumble says this play is a reverse.

3 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

I think Fig 2 is comedy, how many plays are succesful when three out of four defensive linemen crash straight into the backfield. That's just the way Jim Schwartz would have drawn it up.

4 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Another great article. I'm loving these play breakdowns. Bonus points for the coelacanth reference.

5 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

"but it is too cool to leave out of the playbook"

You got that right. I hope all of this minicamps, going back 2 years are "too cool" to leave out of a book someday.

6 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Maybe in this case, because Randle El is the FB, the fake handoff is ok.
But in a normal full house package, the off side FB and the HB would do the fake; the play side FB would do the counter step and block for the end around man.
The playside tackle blocks his end for a second and releases upfield while the non-playside guard would trap that end.

later in the game, Moss also took a handoff and ran it for 35 yards. Do you know that play went??

7 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Part of me thinks that an off-tackle run by ARE screams FAKE FAKE FAKE, and maybe they would have been better off using Betts in that slot.

8 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

I agree with Rich, the personnel on the field gives away the chicanery, although the defense is not aware of the specifics.

Additionally, since any sort of backfield reverse where the WR has to cross behind to receive the hand off takes a longer amount of time to develop. I would argue that even a well-executed trap block would take more time to develop than a straight-up run block, and agree with Tanier that the trap is a bit much and possibly counterproductive. It strikes me that if you have a lot of complex maneuvering in the backfield, you want your front five assignments to be fairly simple.

Great article Mike!

10 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Maybe Saunders was hoping the defense would see ARE and think "option pass". Thus the safeties/DBs would peddle back with anyone going out, opening up more space for Moss.

12 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around


The DBs back is the last thing you want with a reverse. You want them forward and out of position... commited to the run.

When the reciever takes the hand off, he has to run 20 yards + across the field before he can turn upfield. If the DBs are 15-20 yards back, he'll meet them at the LOS. You want them over the other side of the field, playing the run.

13 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

#9 Yep.

Although I was familiar with the fish, I'd never seen it written before.

I remember they used it in a commercial before, but I'll be darned if I remember the product/service.

14 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Ahh...the Volkswagen. Thanks Wikipidia:

The coelacanth has even been used to sell cars - a Volkswagen commercial once featured a customer staring dumbfounded at the full-size spare tire discovered in his trunk. Upon commenting that he thought the full-size spare had gone extinct, a nearby auto mechanic replies "That's what they said about the coelacanth", who then later in the commercial in voiceover continued to describe its capture in 1938.

15 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Okay. I see that, I'm just thinking that the Redskins seemed to get into the bad habit of thinking "get Santana into open space and he'll make defenders miss".

16 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

This particular end around is a once-per-season play,

Actually, I think it's a twice-per-season play, as long as it's in the same game. You run it once and it works or doesn't. Then you trot it out again. The defense naturally thinks "hmmm, this is a once-per-season play--there's no way they'll try it again in the same game, they probably did it before to set up an actual off tackly run, it must really be a run this time." And it works again. Then, if it worked the first two times, you trot it out again, and the defense is thinking "hmmm, I guess they'll keep doing it till we stop it", and then it will REALLY be an off tackle run, or a playaction, or maybe you let the three defenders crash into the backfield and throw a screen.

17 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around


Nope, already did it while watching Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure. Coelacanth Sharpener is a funny combination of words anyway, but once you know the meaning its even better! Very highly recommended DVD.

18 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

#2 Fergasun, No no no, a thousand times no. This play is a DOUBLE-REVERSE! ;-)

#7 Rich, I agree that it screams Fake, but with this personnel set in, they can also break out of this formation and be more functional in more commonly used formations. Maybe they run ARE up the gut just once a season to sell future ruses....

And hey, my 4 and 6 year-olds can tell you all about coelacanths and even pronounce it right. The full-house backfield on the other hand.... I have some work to do. The 6 year-old starts a flag football league in the fall--maybe then he can start teaching me some stuff.

Oh, great article BTW.

19 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

The point of the three receiver set it so get a LB out of there and replace him with a Nickleback; it's really that simple. In a formation like this, when flow goes to one direction (the blocking of the line included) the defense is more than likely to go along with it regardless of who the back taking the fake is. Plus, the Steelers and now the Redskins have always tried to get Randle El the ball, regardless of the position, and so a defense has to expect this sort of thing. And if nothing else, the 3 WR formation brings in the Nickle and he's more likely to take himself out of a play due to a fake handoff than a starting OLB. In this case, who would the Redskins rather have on the field, David Thornton or Corland Finnegan?

20 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

#9: I expected it to be the usual indie-band reference and had no idea what it would mean in this context, so I had to ask a translation service.

21 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Didn't Boise State run this play at least 10 times against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl?

22 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

#2, #18 This is an END AROUND. A reverse is goes to a running back and then to an end. A double reverse is a reverse plus another handoff/pitchout.

24 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

7, 8: The problem probably wasn't predictability -- as Mike pointed out in the article, it wasn't unusual for the Redskins to show this pre-snap package, so the Titans were probably expecting motion into something else; they probably weren't expecting a gimmick play just because Randle El started out in the backfield. When they didn't see motion before the snap but did see Randle El get the handoff, if they were suspecting any additional trickery, they would probably be watching for a pass from Randle El. The problem was execution, not that the personnel gave the play away.

22: Ummmmmm . . . they're joking. Seemingly every broadcaster erroneously adds an extra "reverse" to any end-around . . . so end-arounds are called "reverses," reverses get the "double reverse" label, and if any team actually ran a double reverse, it would probably be called a really bad decision.

25 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

#24: Well, it probably wasn't entirely execution. As the article noted, if you look at the first diagram of the play, there's two motions happening right after the snap: Portis heading left, and everyone else heading right.

That's going to cause a moment's hesitation for the defense - they won't know who to follow. Which is exactly what you don't want on this kind of play.

Great article, Mike. First one where you can say "yeah, here's the play, and it's pretty easy to improve on, and here's how you do it." Is it any surprise that the first overly-complicated trick play came from Saunders (sorry, Redskins fans, cheap shot)?

26 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Here's the Steelers version... after the play simplifications suggested already, you then:

- switch Moss with Randel El
- have Randel El stop after taking the ball on the end around and throw it back all the way across the field to Cooley who streaks in for the easy TD!

27 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

Interesting article, but I have a question about formation nomenclature. Isn't the full house a George Halas style T-formation or is there some subtle difference?

28 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

RE: 26 Here is the 2006 Oakland version.

Aaron Brooks botches the Handoff to Randy Moss. Moss stares and the football bouncing around, not caring to pick it up since there is no chance of a touchdown at this point. Robert Gallery accidentally kicks the football as he chases after the Defensive lineman he was supposed to block. Lamont Jordan's creaky knees keep him from getting to the football. Joey Porter -in street clothes- Warren Sapp, Derrick Burgess etc all stomp their feet and clench their faces in unison as some defensive player from the other team returns it for a TD. TOUCHDOWN!!!

29 Re: Play of the Day: Epic End Around

@23 " I think they were joking. It happens more on this site. "
What do you mean ?? Can you give us an example?