Third Down Play Call Plan:
3rd and Medium (3 to 6 Yards)
By Steve Axman, Contributing Editor, X&O Labs
It’s the Best Situation to Be In:As has already been mentioned, a goal for 1st and 2nd down "on par" offense is to get your offense into a manageable 3rd Down, down and distance situation. Third and short (1 to 2 yards) is certainly a manageable situation. However, it can, indeed, be an extremely tough down and distance situation to succeed in converting. Even though 3rd and Medium (3 to 6 yards) necessitates deeper yardage needs than a 3rd and Short down and distance situations, it allows the offense its best opportunity to use its base offense in its efforts to convert this vital, down and distance situation with both its run and pass games. With normal, spread out offensive formation usage, more of the offense’s base offensive attack can be comfortably utilized in its 3rd Down and Medium conversion efforts.
Balance Is the Key: The biggest advantage in trying to convert 3rd down and Medium situations is that there can be an excellent balance of 3rd and Medium yardage efforts between running and throwing the football. With the ability to have a greater degree of spread, formational control, the ability of the offense to execute its base run game becomes extremely viable in the effort to gain 3 or 4 yards or, even, 5 or 6. The defense is now more fearful of base, drop back passing, which helps to open up the run game. A big mistake many offensive coaches make on 3rd and Medium is that even though they are good run teams, often very good run teams, they act like they must throw the football on 3rd and Medium yardage situations. A major reason that 3rd and Medium down situations can so strongly be in the favor of the offense is that the defense has to be extremely concerned about defending both the run and the pass game of its opponent. This is true provided that the offense uses its run game enough to force such a balanced attack concern.
Be Prepared for Pressure: When running the football on 3rd and Medium, a coach must be sure that his run play calls are good versus teams that like to blitz pressure such situations. A man blocked play can easily meet disaster versus twisting stunts and blitzes. Zone schemes are the simplest way to pick up and cover up such stunt and blitz action from both a recognition and pick-up standpoint. If, on a simple zone blocked Dive, Zone run or Belly play, the ball carrier pops through to the linebacker level versus stunt or blitz action, he may find that there is not much left to avoid to produce a big gain. The neat part of utilizing zone blocked runs versus stunting and blitzing defenses is that once the recognition of the defensive variations are made, a pressing, cover-up type block, rather than a need to knock a blocked defender off the line of scrimmage, is all that may be needed to successfully run versus such defensive blitz pressure actions.
What to Design:
Use Man Blocking Schemes: Man blocked plays that block stunts and blitzes well are usually slower developing run plays like a drop back Draw or a Sprint Draw. The slower development of such run plays helps the offensive linemen and blocking backs to have a greater amount of time to see, and sort out, blitz actions.
Utilize the Quick Game:The three step quick pass game offers the offense an excellent chance of having success throwing on 3rd and Medium down situations. Much of this is due to the quickness of the throw action that requires less pass protection time and the easier task of completing a short throw. Hitches, Slants, Quick-Outs and Stick routes can help produce immediate conversion yardage upon the catch. Quick, five-yard Under Square-In routes and short Option routes at 6 to 7 yards can be very effective quick pass game thoughts on 3rd and Medium down and distance situations. In addition, the quick pass game offers the offense excellent blitz control versus defenses that try to bring pressure on these downs because it is a blitz controlled passing scheme.
Quick Play-Action Game: As in 3rd and short situations, quick play action passing can be extremely effective in helping to convert 3rd and Medium down yardage situations. Quickly executed play action passes blend well with the offense’s realistic 3rd and Medium run game efforts. Waggles, bootlegs and naked bootlegs, with the quarterback’s run/pass option abilities, can also be extremely effective on 3rd and Medium. Some coaches feel very confident in using deeper play action passes on 3rd and Medium. The thought here is that with good faking and proper play action pass protection time, the quarterback may find a wide open receiver down field for much more than 3rd and Medium conversion yardage needs. If the linebackers do get into deep pass drops, the underneath, dump-off control routes of the backs and tight ends can, often, easily get the needed yardage and maybe considerably more.
Use of Timing Patterns: The use of deeper, five step timed drop back pass patterns can certainly be an effective way of converting on 3rd and Medium situations but only if the patterns contain good blitz beater routes and concepts within the patterns. Many defenses will feel a great need to pressure on these downs and completions to blitz beater routes and sight adjust concepts can not only help produce needed 3rd and Medium yardage but might, very well, produce big yardage plays, especially versus man coverage.