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By Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs


Discover how James Vint uses play action in the Pistol to create vertical / explosive play opportunities.

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar

Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “The Pistol Offense,” which can be accessed in full by clicking here. 

Perhaps we found the most success in play-action man protection concepts off the Veer and Midline option run-action. James Vint at Cornado High School (TX) wrote an entire piece below about his play-action pass concept off his Midline scheme from the Pistol formation.

“Our play action game is designed to attack areas the defense is vacating to play the run. With all of our play action concepts, we want the pass to look like the run. On midline, our offensive line will use an aggressive gap set protection. They will attack the near jersey number of the down defender. If you are covered, you will block the defender covering you. If you are uncovered, you will work inside to outside. We keep our protection very, very simple.

Our tackles will typically be blocking the 5 techniques. Versus an odd front, our guards will be uncovered, and they will work inside to out. We always want to block the most dangerous man first, and the inside linebacker is a more dangerous player than the outside linebacker. Versus an even front, our guard to the side of the 3 technique will have him man. Our guard to the shade will work be our dual read or inside to outside player. The center is going to base block the nose. If there is no nose, the center will work inside to outside.

I call it a gap-punch protection because we are going to step and protect our inside gap first.  It’s based on B.O.B. concepts.  The only difference between our gap protection and our Big on Big protection is the first step.  In our gap protection, our first step is to protect inside because we’re not worried about and edge guy- our back and QB handle that.  In B.O.B. our footwork is going to be predicated on the alignment of the defender.  If the defender is head up to outside shoulder, we will power step inside and kick.  If the defender is on our tip, now we are kicking. If the defender is a man removed, we are kick, kick and we read from there.   This protection is a gap-punch, Big on Big combination.  

The backfield action must look exactly like midline to the defense. Our pistol back will run down the brown spot on the center’s backside and sell the dive fake. He is responsible for “swallowing” the mesh point. He then is responsible for any A gap run through. We would essentially like for him to get tackled. The quarterback will push off the midpoint and flash the football. We teach the quarterback to bend his knees on the fake, and shuffle one step. As the back gets to the mesh point, the QB will pull the ball back in and bend his knees as he shuffles one step. The ball is not ever going to be in the belly of the dive back. We put a premium on ball security. We let the action sell the fake. After his shuffle step, the quarterback will then take a 3-step drop. He should end up at 6.5 to 7 yards on his drop.

Our play action off the midline is built off our four verticals concept. Because the four vertical concept is versatile, it gives us the opportunity to be versatile with our play action game. Any of our 4 vertical tags can be run off our midline play action.

The first four vertical concept we install from our midline action is our landmark concept. Like most coaches, we use the bottom of the numbers and the hashes for our landmarks. The outside receivers run their vertical working up the bottom of the numbers. The inside receivers run their verticals working two yards outside the NCAA hash marks. If you are playing with the high school hash marks, you stay on the hash.

With our outside receiver running the bottom of the numbers, the quarterback has 7 yards of green grass to make his throw. The two biggest issues we face with our outside vertical is the receiver getting too wide, taking away the amount of green grass the quarterback has to throw the ball. The second problem is with the receiver drifting inside the numbers, bringing the corner into play if our quarterback throws the inside vertical.

The reason our inside verticals are run two yards outside the NCAA hash marks, is that it gives us better spacing in the middle. If our inside receivers get too close together, one defender can play them both. We want to expand the defense horizontally, as well as vertically.

What I love most about the four vertical concept with our play action game is that we can run it from any formation. We typically will run our four verticals concept from a 2x2 or 3x1 look.


When we run our 4 vertical concept from a 3x1 look, we must get one of our receivers to fill the opposite hash landmark. We begin by having the number 3 receiver work to the opposite hash. As we get further into our installation, we will have the number 2 receiver work to the opposite hash. We use the under Sam over Mike concept for the opposite hash route. We are working under the inside backer, and over the wall or low hole player. Our landmark is at 12 to 14 yards at the opposite has. We then look for green grass.


Because we run midline more from our one back sets, we are going to run our play action from our one back sets. However, we want the ability to be able to run play action off the midline form our two and three back sets as well. From our three back set, the offset backs will run the inside vertical routes.


From the two back look, the offset back will run the fourth vertical. If the back is to the side of the two receivers, he will replace the second receiver who will work to the opposite hash. Essentially, we are treating this like 4 verticals from our 3x1 look.


If the back is set away from the two-receiver side, the back will run the inside vertical to his side. This concept is essentially the same as our 2x2 concept.


Off of our four vertical concept, we can run a concept we call “switch.” Switch is a wheel concept where the number 1 and 2 receivers switch landmarks. The #1 receiver works to the hash at 14 yards. If he can get over the top of the safety he will burst vertical. If the safety is over the top, he will settle on the hash.

The number 2 receiver will work off the hip of #1 and climb vertical at the bottom of the numbers. He reads the corner. If the corner sinks, we settle at 9 yards. If the corner bails or plays hard, we burst up the bottom of the numbers.


We can also run the switch concept from a 3x1 look. #1 and #2 will switch landmarks, and #3 will run the opposite hash.


Everyone who runs four verticals has a way to teach the routes and landmarks. Being that I am not very smart, I keep things easy enough that I can understand them. The first key is that our quarterback and receivers identify whether the middle of the field is open or closed. If the middle of the field is open, we have split safety coverage. Typically this means we have cover 2 or cover 4. If the middle of the field is closed, we anticipate cover 1 or cover 3.

With the middle of the field closed, the quarterback is going to read hash to hash. He is typically going to throw opposite the middle safety. In our 3x1 look, if the safety sinks our quarterback will throw our receiver working to the opposite hash. If the middle safety slides with the opposite hash, the quarterback will throw the trips side vertical.

Versus middle open, the quarterback is going to work inside to outside. If the safety comes off the hash, the QB will throw the inside vertical. If the safety stays on the hash, the quarterback will throw the outside vertical.

Our receivers are going to work 12 yards vertical, and then their eyes tell them what to do. If they have broken the cushion of the deep defender, they will continue vertical. If they have not broken the cushion, they will look to throttle down in green grass. The inside vertical route will then look for the ball in the window between the safety and linebacker. The outside receiver will be looking for the ball between the corner and safety.

Typically, versus middle open our quarterback is expecting to throw any outside vertical to the back shoulder of the receiver. Versus middle closed, he is expecting to throw any outside vertical high and outside, using the 7 yards of green grass between the bottom of the numbers and the ticks on the sideline.” 

To see full cutups of Coach Vint’s Midline PAP concept, click on the link below:

Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted as part of XandOLabs.com special report on “The Pistol Offense,” which can be accessed in full by clicking here.


About Coach Vint: Coach Vint wrote two new books that on RPOs and Explosive Plays. The first book is Installing Explosive RPO Concepts Into Any Offense. This book gives you a simple, systematic process for installing multiple RPO concepts into virtually any offensive system. His second iBook is called Using Multiple Tempos to Create Explosive Plays. This book will take you through a systematic approach of installing a multiple tempo offense. You can find his iBooks in the I Store.



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