Running the Spread Offense

Why Run the Spread Offense?

By Coach Mike Rowe 


I remember back in 2005 when I got my first head coaching job in Drayton, ND a small 9-man school  right on the mighty Red River. I was looking for an offense that was going to be much different than the power running attack that I grew up with.  My team was not very big, but they had a rich track and basketball history.  Then one night when I was searching the Internet for offensive ideas I found a copy of the University of Utah Offensive playbook that I printed off and studied for many weeks.  This is when I fell in love with the spread offense, and created what is now known as the Spartan Spread System.

My love with the spread offense started very simple. Spread the defense from sideline to sideline and vertically. By spreading the defense out we would be able to get more one on one match-ups and be able to create more explosive plays on offense.


Spread Offense

Probably the greatest advantage to running the Spread offense is the fact that when the Quarterback is under center the defense does not need to account for all 11 players as a run threat (Figure 1). When the QB is in the spread he is now a run threat and the defense needs to account for him on every single play (Figure 2).

Probably the play that all my programs have had the most success with running, and has always been a part of my playbook is the Inside Zone Read (IZ). Our program has ran the IZ over 1,000 times the last 4 years.  Once the zone scheme has been taught properly to the players there are very few concepts that have the ability to exploit a defense more.  Below in Figure 3 is our Zone Bubble concept and we like this because we have the ability to stretch the defense sideline to sideline with the bubble, and vertically with the run game. When you pair this play with a fast tempo you ended up creating issues for the defense. Because this play has more than one option you are able to run it over and over again until the defense can prove that they can stop it.

Zone Bubble Concept

Another reason why we love the run game in the spread is that it can help make great defensive player obsolete.  There are always going to be defensive players that are going to give your team issues. By running the spread offense you are able to determine which player you want to leave unblocked or the read player. In our run game each week we choose the player that is going to give us the most issues, and we are going to make them the read or option player.  In Figure 3 we use the IZ to make the defensive end have two responsibilities. He has to decide will he take the QB or the H. This puts him in a bind and makes a great player slow down.

Spread Offense Figure 4

In Figure 4 above this is the exact same blocking scheme up front for the Offensive linemen. The only difference is that instead of the quarterback attacking the outside read defender it is now the H. This makes it hard on the defensive coordinator to communicate with his players. Is the read player going to be a quarterback player? Or running back player?  By running multiple read schemes it will put doubt in the defensive players mind making him play much slower.

As we have evolved as a team, so has our run offense. We used to be primarily only a zone blocking team. The Spartan Spread System has added gap schemes to its repertoire, and has made us go from a pass first team to a run to set-up the pass team.  By adding gap schemes it has also helped us increase our explosive plays on play action pass (Figure 5).

Spread Offense Gap Scheme

In the pass game we try to keep it real simple. We want to run a lot of quick game and allow our athletes to make defenders miss. We like short quick passes because we want to keep the chains moving. The longer we keep the defense on the field the more likely they are going to make a mistake. When we first started running the Spartan Spread System defenses would spread out because they were scared of the pass. So because of this we were able to run the football because we would get a lot of 2 high safeties and a 5-man box (Figure 6).

Spread 5 Man Bo

Over the last 10 years because of the success of our run game we have seen a huge shift in defenses playing with up to 7 men in the tackle box (Figure 7). This has allowed us to get the ball to the perimeter wide receivers much easier. Because a 7-man box leaves the corners on an island they need to be sure tacklers otherwise a lot of explosive plays will happen.

Spread Offense 7 Man Box

The last thing that makes the Spartan Spread System so dangerous is the tempo.  When you are able to play fast and limit mistakes offensively you are able to put the defense in situations where they misalign. When teaching your team to run the no-huddle offense make sure your terminology is not too wordy. Try to limit each play call to 2 or 3 hand signals. By doing this your team can get to the line of scrimmage quickly and start to wear down the defense. This takes a lot of practice, but in the long run it is well worth it. For more spread resources make sure you go to my resource page.