3rd Down Offense: Case 4 – 3rd and Medium to Long

Feb 13, 2013 | Offense, Game Planning, 3rd Down Offense

Report #4

Third Down Play Call Plan:

3rd and Medium to Long (7 to 9 yards)

By Steve Axman, Contributing Editor, X&O Labs


Steve Axman, Contributing Editor, X&O Labs

The third and medium play call is usually a difficult one.  It is not as advantageous as a third and short mentioned previously, yet it is not completely desperation mode, either.  There are several variables that need to be addressed- all of which I mention below- but in general this is a down where you concentrate on getting the ball to your best players in space, it’s not so much designing the best plays.  Below are some guidelines I used that worked for me when selecting these plays.

What to Design:  

Design Schemes to the Right, Left, Field or Boundary Side:You may want to only call to the right, or left, side of the field. Your quarterback may throw Sprint-Out or Rollout passes extremely well to his right but much less effectively to his left. I think that that would be a tremendously important consideration for me, as the play caller, to consider on a 3rd and 5 situation with less than a minute in the game as it hangs in the balance. Some coaches, right or wrong, only run their Naked Bootlegs plays to the right for a right handed quarterback for much the same reason.


Consider Field Position:Field positioning of the football, in regard to the hash marks, is another extremely important thought to consider. When on the left hash, a coach might be very hesitant to call a Speed, or Lead, Option play into the boundary due to the wide, stretching nature of those types of option plays. A perfectly executed Speed Option play, in which the quarterback correctly pitches the football to his pitch back, may find the pitch back only gaining a yard or so due to the fact that he has run out of horizontal room to effectively run for a first down. This keeps in mind the old coaching adage that the sideline has never missed a tackle. On the other hand, a coach may favorably call the same play from midfield knowing that there is plenty of room for such a run option play to totally function successfully. Similarly, midfield placement of the football can very efficiently allow plenty of room to run a split end Speed-Out route to the outside with a halfback Option route (Diagram 9). Such a pattern concept is run away from the formation strength of the offense and, probably, the defense with half the field to work with.

Weak Side Speed-Out/ H-Option Route Rules:

OL: Slide protection. Line slides away from block of first uncovered line blocker from Center to play side.  Covered play side linemen block man on.  TB dual reads LB’s.


FB: Dual read for blocks on LB’s inside out.  Run dump route four yards deep.

TB: Free release.  Run option route 5 yards deep vs. man or zone.

X: Speed-Out 10-12 yards.  Fade adjust vs. squat or press coverage.

Y: Flat route to 4-5 yards on sideline.

Z: Sight adjust (slant) if ILB and OLB/Safety blitz.  Otherwise, run 14 back to 12-yard curl route.  Possible site adjust.

QB: Take X’s Speed out vs. off coverage.  Possible fade throw vs. press technique. Otherwise, take one on one Option route.  Scan Curl/Flat for outlet or FB’s Dump route. Possible site adjust vs. blitz.

The offensive staff must also keep in mind the importance of how the horizontal positioning of the football on the field might affect the defense’s play calling. A defense may blitz heavily from the short side boundary when the football is on the hash but never do so when the ball placement is more towards the middle of the field.


Vary Your Snap Count:One last thought is that you should be sure to incorporate is a deliberate mixture of your snap count on all 3rd down situations. You must keep in mind that your snap count cadence is a weapon for your offense….or, it should be! In reality, a thorough mixture of an offense’s snap count system should be utilized all throughout the play of a game no matter what the situation.

3rd and Medium to long is a reasonably manageable 3rd down situation. It is, however, made a lot more difficult because of the reduced threat of the run game to the defense. However, one can make the defense vulnerable by using quick traps, draws and shovel passes can be especially effective against defenses who are thinking pass rush first and foremost. Spread run option teams who have good option quarterback play have shown an increased, and confident willingness to run a double, or triple, option on 3rd and 7 to 9 yard situations. Utilizing a quarterback who runs well on QB Draws can be an extremely effective 3rd down weapon, especially with Spread offense, no back formations. Options limit defensive fronts, coverages, stunts and blitzes forcing defenses to be run option assignment oriented.