By Justin Iske
Offensive Line Coach
Southwest Oklahoma State University
Keeping your quarterback upright is the most important aspect of a good passing game. The ability to pick up twists, dogs and blitzes through both protection and hot routes is vital to getting this done. Another option that can greatly enhance eliminating sacks is to move the launch point of the quarterback with sprint outs and bootlegs.
There are several reasons to get the QB out of the pocket. Here is the rationale we use here at Southwestern Oklahoma State University:
- OL vs. DL Match-Ups: No matter how well coached your offensive line is, there are occasionally going to be match-up issues up front. There is always that one three technique or edge rusher that your guys just can’t handle one-on-one. While chipping with the back, keeping backs and/or tight ends in the protection, or sliding towards an elite d-lineman are options to help your guys out, making the quarterback a moving target is a great option as well.
- Take Advantage of A/B Gap Pressure: If your quarterback is always directly behind the center it makes it easy for a defensive coordinator to bring heat up the middle consistently. This is especially true if you are a team that likes to release your running back and/or run Empty to get five receivers into the route a majority of the time.
- Roll Away from Edge Pressure: This is particularly true if you run Empty formations. Simple math tells us that if you are running five-man protections and the defense brings six, your QB must throw Hot off the sixth rusher. The obvious solution is to get rid of the ball quickly. This often looks great on the white board, but defensive coordinators watch film, too. Using film study to teach your QB or offensive line to recognize secondary alignment and rotation pre-snap, you can get your QB to the edge opposite of edge pressure and make him a threat to run or throw with a clear passing lane.
- Push the Ball Downfield instead of Hot Routes: As mentioned earlier, hot routes are a common answer to being outnumbered in protection. But if the defense knows they are forcing you to throw the ball quickly, they can break aggressively on three-step routes. Even worse, they can bait you into what you think are open throws by zone blitzing and dropping defensive linemen or sugared up linebackers. Getting your quarterback out of the pocket allows time for routes to develop downfield.
- Force the Defense to Defend the Quarterback: If you are blessed with a quarterback that is a threat with his legs, you must take advantage of it. If a defense plays a lot of man zero or man free coverage, defenders often have their back to the football or are focused on their man responsibility. This gives your QB a chance to get easy yardage with his legs. Further, just the threat of a running QB will force defenses to use a defender to spy the QB or stay in more zone concepts to let their defenders face the football.
- Give a Short QB throwing Lanes: If your quarterback can’t see downfield well inside the pocket, it is pretty difficult to ask him to read coverages and find open receivers. Batted balls can also be an issue with a vertically challenged QB. Sprint outs and bootlegs get the ball to the edge so that the QB has clear vision and throwing lanes.
- Running Plays and Screens to Compliment Sprint Out Action. Sprint draws and counters can open up explosive plays versus teams that over-compensate to sprint action. These are simple concepts with limited added teaching for the offensive line. Throwback screens to a back side tight end (and even tackle) can create big plays also. These are especially effective in the red zone and/or goal line area.
There are also some disadvantages to moving the pocket that you should keep in mind. If your quarterback has trouble throwing on the move it can take a lot of practice time to get this corrected. A right handed QB rolling to his left and vice versa can be an issue as well. If you become predictable in terms of which way you are going to sprint/boot, it defeats the purpose of moving the launch point. The other obvious disadvantage to moving the pocket is it cuts the field in half in terms of threatening the defense.