Alternative Short-Yardage Strategy

Conventional thinking on the goal line is to get your line foot-to-foot and wedge forward with all the force that can be generated.

The cliché is, “If you can’t get a yard then you don’t deserve to win.”

Of course, this counts on your big guys beating their big guys to get the necessary push to get the running back or quarterback over the goal line. In reality, some teams are just not well suited to do that. Some of the best offensive teams in football rely on a different football strategy to get the last couple yards or to convert a third and short situation. It boils down to a numbers preference. Do you want to pack all 22 players into a small area and see who gets the better push in what becomes a scrum, or do you want to make the numbers and leverage a little more favorable?

The Rams and the Patriots have shown the ability to do the latter when necessary. They move their wedge play from right over the ball, packed in tightly, to out on the edge with more space to defend and less numbers to defend it.

Edelman vs Bears

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Amendola Super Bowl 51

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In Super Bowl the Patriots tied the game late with a quick screen to Amendola. They used it again versus the Bears in 2018. The Rams have shown this play as well.

Rams Goal Line

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Saints Goal Line

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Footwork and Timing are Critical

The execution relies on specific footwork and timing from the quarterback and receiver. If the offensive line can’t allow penetration, then that’s all the blocking necessary because the ball will be out in about .7 seconds. Just about any offensive line should be able to do that.

This play must be set up according to the throwing hand of the quarterback. If he is right-handed, the ball should be thrown to the left. If a lefty, throw to the right for maximum efficiency.

The play starts with a motion in by the receiver. This is not window dressing as it serves a specific purpose both technically and tactically. From a tactical standpoint, the motion in loosens the defensive back over the motion player. This is effective enough to make him a non-factor in the play.  The ball should be snapped with the motion man about a yard outside the No. 2 receiver. On the snap he should continue towards the quarterback catching the ball in between No. 1 and No. 2. The ball should be from middle to upfield on his frame, allowing him to plant off his back foot and get vertical immediately toward the goal line. From a thought process, he becomes the dive back on wedge looking to get into the tight lane being created by the receivers. While it may be intriguing for him to look for space inside or out, he needs to have a straight-ahead fullback mentality.

The quarterback will get the snap and step backward one step with his throwing-side foot. He will open his opposite hip and throw to the middle to upfield half of the receiver.

The two blocking receivers are looking to take on the lane half of their defenders. They want to offset them slightly with the outside receiver getting his outside eye to the defender’s inside eye while the inside receiver gets his inside eye to the defender’s outside eye. They should close the space quickly coming to balance, keeping the cleats in the ground with a good base and gaining leverage with the hips driving the hands.

The examples show the Patriots and the Rams running this play. The Saints run this too with Bridgewater throwing to his left. He executes it in .75 seconds from snap to release. It can be done the opposite way, but for most quarterbacks it will not be as efficient. In the video, Bridgewater is great with his footwork and accuracy.

In football, as the saying goes, there’s  more than one way to skin a cat.  For an offense that is spread and gun all the way down the field, it may be unnatural to pack things in and go under center to run a wedge play.  Football is always about personnel first, this quick screen allows the offense to accomplish the same objective in a way that they are more familiar with. 

About Keith Grabowski

After a 27 year career as a coach and educator, Keith Grabowski entered into coaching education full-time making an impact on the profession with his work as a writer, podcaster, and video producer.  Grabowski’s work has made him one of the most prolific content producers in the football education market. He has become the trusted leader of an immense coach network and audience. Grabowski hosts a daily podcast for coaches, The Coach and Coordinator Podcast.  He has served as the Director of Football Operations at USA Football, as consultant for coaching technology companies, and a contractor for AFCA and American Football Monthly.

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