The Pistol Spread Option Vs. Difficult Reading Situations

Chris Paulson and Jeff Glessner

It’s not always as simple to read a defense as a football reference book might describe. Specific instances might cause quarterback to become confused and where he doesn’t know what to do because the situation isn’t wasn’t specifically addressed ahead of time.

As coaches, it’s our job to find solutions and empower our players to quickly reach these snap judgements. Within the pistol spread option, the quarterback needs to know certain things before he even takes the snap.

Here are some solutions to the most common issues.

Blood stunt

Since the beginning of the wishbone, the blood stunt has been one of the most popular ways to attack an option offense. The idea is to have the two defenders come so hard at the quarterback that a bad play is inevitable.

The first thing in the quarterback’s head is that he’s expecting a quick pull and pitch when defenders No. 1 and No. 2 are on the line. Making it an “area” read gives the quarterback a simpler time reading the situation.

If the quarterback sees the shoulders of Nos. 1 and 2 aimed toward him, he immediately pulls and pitches the football.

It’s true that this won’t always happen. The quarterback must still go through his regular progression, because it could look like Nos. 1 and 2 are coming hot and something else happens.

In this case – as will be explained later – the fadeaway pitch isn’t taught in this offense. However, when Nos. 1 and 2 come hard, the quarterback should have his weight on his front foot so he can simply pitch the ball and push off his front foot to absorb the hard hit that is coming.

If his weight is on his back foot, he won’t be able to push away and absorb the defender being left unblocked, which could result in a disaster for the quarterback.

The quarterback must understand that the defense won’t always come hard on a blood stunt when it aligns like this. Defensive coordinators are smart. They’ll mix things up.

As a result, the quarterback must be ready to pull and replace the handoff key. He must be ready for everything.

The problem with the blood stunt is executing the hardest part of it: Nos. 1 and 2 coming hard at the quarterback.

Cross charge

There are different terms for this stunt, but a cross charge is simply No. 1 and No. 2 in a stack alignment exchanging responsibilities. This is one of the most difficult reads for a quarterback, which means it must be worked on throughout the offseason and the season to recognize and react to.

Before the quarterback even executes this read, the offense must do three things to attack the stack defense adequately:

  • The offensive line must widen its splits. This creates a better picture for the quarterback to perform his read.
  • The tailback must tighten his path by a hair, which will be explained later, and square his shoulders to the goal line sooner than normal.
  • The quarterback fully meshes into the line of scrimmage.

The stack read can be executed in two ways. The first is the easiest: Make it an area read.

The area read against a stack defense can be summed up as “air or no air.” If the quarterback is meshing with the tailback and air is in the hole, give the football. Otherwise, pull the football.

INSERT Figure 2-11. Air and no air methods

The main coaching point of reading a blood stunt also goes with reading the stack. Once the quarterback sees two defenders’ shoulders turned inside facing him, it’s an automatic pull and pitch.

INSERT Figure 2-12. Pull and pitch

Another coaching point remains the same: The weight of the quarterback must be on his front foot in order to push off and absorb the blow against a defender.

The air, no air method is the easiest to perform. However, they have their shortcomings. The main problem is that sometimes it’s not as easy to simply read air or no air. It has to be more specific.

The next way to teach reading the stack is to read it from the stack backer to the down defensive lineman. The quarterback first looks at the stack backer’s reaction. If the backer stays there or turns his shoulders inside, the quarterback’s eyes immediately turns to the down lineman. The quarterback simplys react accordingly.

Two variables need to be discussed. It’s true that reading a defender off of the football can be hard and sometimes cloudy. That’s why against the stack, the offensive line will widen out its splits, and the tailback will tighten his path a bit.

If the stack backer is trying to play games, the exaggerated structure has given him several predicaments. The first is that he must cover much more ground, which means his movements have to be sharper and more aggressive. The next is that the tailback has more room to operate in making the defender wrong.

If the quarterback is in doubt or if the stack linebacker’s angle is cloudy, the ball is given. The change in angle puts the linebacker in a bind. Against a stack defense, the tailback’s shoulders become square to the goal line as soon as possible.

The point of this figure is to show that if it’s a cloudy read, the mechanical changes of the line splits and the tailback’s path have put the defense in a bind. The stack backer now has a lot more space to account for if he’s trying to play games with the quarterback.

The tailback against a stack should look to square up his shoulders as soon as possible, which makes the stack backer wrong.

Whether the quarterback has given or is keeping the football, he must accelerate 100 mph off the tailback’s rear end. The most important aspect when faking is whether the quarterback is running like he has the ball or if he’s running like he’s given the ball.

The acceleration off of the tail eliminates defenders squatting to take the tailback and then popping up at the last second to take the quarterback. The easiest way to defeat a defender who’s trying to get the quarterback to pull the ball and then take him is for the quarterback to give the ball and accelerate out like he’s on fire. The defensive end will be confused.

It’s easy to toy with a quarterback who has two distinctly different reactions. However, if the quarterback’s reaction always remains the same, the defense will be taken advantage of badly.

Chris Paulson is the head football coach at Curtis High School in University Place, Wash. A former linebacker and graduate of Washington State University, Paulson previously coached at three other Washington high schools: Kentlake, Mount Rainier and Auburn Riverside.

Jeff Glessner is the offensive coordinator and associate head coach at Curtis High School in University Place, Wash. In 2012, the Kentlake offense led the state in offensive yards and was third in points scored per game.