How Oregon Attacks an Aggressive Defensive Line

Few programs over the past decade have received as much recognition for their offensive creativity as Oregon, and for good reason.

Whenever the Ducks take the field, it's like a training course in how to coach football, and Mark Helfrich and this coaching staff always show X's and O's enthusiasts like myself stuff they haven't seen before.

Still, there's a purpose behind each one of those crazy newfangled plays that the Ducks seem to pull out of thin air each week, and as we get closer to the start of the season, it's important to dive into the why as well as the how.

Let's do that now.

The Play

There are three pullers, two of them heading toward the field, and the other heading toward the boundary.


The QB should keep his eyes on the defensive tackle. If he does anything other than chase the tailback, hand it off to the sweep play along the right side.

This play works best from one hash or the other because of the spacing in the alley that it creates naturally (which we'll get into later).

If the tight end can seal the edge, this play has the potential to be a home run.

It's a great play call against highly-aggressive defensive fronts, so let's explore it more in detail.

If you can't block 'em, read 'em

This is one of those old coaching maxims that's been passed down through the years, and it's a big reason why this play is so dangerous and difficult to defend.

This works best against a 'read-and-react' style of defense, like these tackles who line head up on the guards and can either read them or slant to one side or the other. Their head up alignment is designed to let them sense where the play is going and then try to beat the play to the outside and shut it down before it has a chance to really get going.

The alternative is that you block down with the center, read the end, and pull the guard. It's not a terrible scheme, but the pulling guard headed toward the weak side assures that you make the right decision and holds the Will linebacker in place.

The end result is something that's tough to prepare for during defensive line drills in practice.

Instead of creating a situation where the backside defensive tackle can chase down the play from behind, Oregon has created a way to take advantage of his aggressive style of play.

Now all of a sudden, he's unblocked with read keys to either side of him giving him conflicting information. Instead of playing fast and reacting, he's hesitating and thinking.

And that's just what the offense wants him to do.

Pullers in both directions

The pullers in both directions hold the linebackers far better than any backfield trickery ever could.

One of the biggest problems with one-back offenses is their limited mis-direction ability, compared to say, the flexbone offense or even the more traditional I-formation offense. The more backs you've got in the backfield, the more potential ball carriers and the more opportunity for misdirection there is.

Put another way, the more people there are in the backfield who could conceivably carry the ball, the more people the defense has to worry about when the ball is snapped.

One-back shotgun offenses are limited in the misdirection department by the number of people in the backfield, which is why having pulling guards move in both directions like on this play is more effective than a simple zone read fake.

This is another reason why it's better to block the left end in this diagram, because the pull of the left guard holds the Will linebacker in place while the frontside of the offensive line is clearing space out wide for the sweep.

The frontside guard will take the first opponent he sees, including any edge blitzers from the secondary. If the nickelback decides to stick his nose into the play, he'll be flattened and pushed all the way into the coolers full of gatorade on the sideline.

Spacing to the trips side creates all kinds of room to the alley

Even going all the way back to the Vince Lombardi offense, he constantly talked about creating a seal in the alley for their famous Packer Sweep play. The idea was to create a running lane in the alley where the runner could follow that would be free of any defenders.

You can do that a couple of ways: Either go at the defenders head on and physically seal them off from the area, or in this case, line your receivers up so wide that the defenders have to go with them and open up a big hole in the middle of the field.

Oregon takes the second option here, and removes the defensive backs from the area, creating the potential for all kinds of running room to the alley.

What ends up happening is that the offense has managed to minimize the importance of anything that happens to the wide side of the field. The two receivers can either run off the defenders or block them, but as long as the frontside guard does his job it won't matter much.

Put simply, spacing matters.


A lot of football coaches love to draw up all kinds of crazy ideas on the chalkboard, and sometimes those ideas even make it into the playbook and on to the field. Still, most of them don't.

Why not?

Every play must have a purpose.

Being a creative coach is a big plus when it comes to X's and O's, but if you spend all your time talking theory and hypotheticals, you won't score a lot of points.

Oregon gets a lot of press for their creative offense, but it's important to remember that they're not just doing unconventional things for the hell of it. They decided a long time ago that this style of offense gave them the best answers for what their opponents threw at them, and was the best way to take advantage of the talent they had.

It's fun to draw this stuff up and talk about it, but if you're not starting with those two things in mind, you're missing the whole point.

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