Eleven – 5 – The Bootleg

For Bobby P’s fifth Eleven entry, he breaks down his favorite offensive maneuver, the quarterback bootleg. You’re certain to see a bunch of these this weekend, so read up and impress your friends with talk of progressions and third options.
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Eleven
I know it’s been a long time, and to be honest, it’s all Dave’s fault. See, he’d promised my pick of the ladies, at least one for every piece. I’d decided it was finally time to cash in, found myself a honey, and said “I pick you, Dave said it was cool.” Well, I guess Dave’s abilities aren’t as far reaching as he’d like us all to believe, nor as far reaching as the slap she tossed my way. So I did some thinking and decided I didn’t want to work for ‘favors’ or anything else. So, much like Disco Stu, from now on, Bobby P works pro bono.


Did you watch that beautiful dismantling of the defending Super Bowl champions by the Denver Broncos? Yeah, the Pats came back a bit at the end, but that was all by design; you do know that Shanahan’s a genius, right? But if you did watch, in the second and third quarters when Denver built that 28-3 lead, you saw them use the combination of their running game threat and Plummer’s mobility and ability outside the pocket to dismantle the Pats. In my last piece, I explained the basics of two different zone-blocking plays, and mentioned the bootleg (also known as the waggle) play action you can run off of one of them. Here and now we’ll diagram and discuss the boot.
To make the connection with the run action clearer, we’ll start with one of the formations that were used last time to show an inside zone. First things first – play action is only as good as the run fake it starts with. The whole point of play action is to freeze both the LBs and safeties and hopefully cause them to lose crucial seconds in establishing their position for pass coverage. The first thing everyone sees is the ball fake by the QB. We’re fortunate now in that we get to watch one of the best ever at this in action in Peyton Manning. Watch him next chance you get and see how his first couple of steps and action with his head and the ball are exactly the same as when he hands the ball off. It’s beautiful to watch.
However, that should only work against the defensive linemen, as a good LB should not be reading the QB, but rather the O-line. Because of this, a lesser known aspect of good play action involves the O-line. The quickest pass/run indicator for defensive players is when right at the snap, you see all of the O-linemen sit back in the chair to pass block. Because of this, many good play action teams school their O-line to fire out at the snap as if they are run blocking. They can’t, of course, go downfield, but they have a yard or two in which to work. Not only does this greatly improve the run fake, but it will also keep the D-line’s hands down, making it MUCH easier for the QB if he has to get rid of the ball quickly (the pass can’t get batted down). Now on to the play:
figure 1
Position instructions:
X: On the run play, he should be working on a direct route at the safety, hoping to get a downfield block for his TB if he springs the run. For that reason, he should take the same initial path on the play action, breaking back to the outside at about the same time as his QB, aiming for a spot about twenty yards downfield along the sideline. Not a first choice, but a definite big play threat.
Y: He has a couple of choices on his release. If the guy on the end of the line is to his outside, he should take at least one outside step, and possibly even make a little contact, but not work all the way to an outside release. If the man is head-up or a bit inside, then he should try to get an outside release as it will induce LB flow to the run fake side. After clearing the DL, he needs to try and avoid LB contact, and run towards a spot ten to twelve yards downfield. A very likely target.
Z: The backside post. He has to work back towards the middle of the field, because if he doesn’t, the number of QBs who could even get him the ball is one or two. Ever. It’s a long throw and the QB is moving the wrong direction to even throw it. He’s not a real threat initially, but is more of what we would call a booth read. Meaning, the QB won’t usually look there, but the offensive coaches in the press box will watch and see if the safety in the middle of the field is over-committing to the play side. If you do get the booth read to go here, this can be a HUGE play (think Easy Ed McCaffrey and some of the long balls he used to catch from Elway on the back side of plays).
F: The keystone to the whole deal. On his release, he has to engage the outside shoulder of the end. If he goes inside of the end or misses him on the outside, he can give the end a free up-field release and allow him to potentially kill the QB. Making solid contact with the end will also make him ‘disappear’ to the LB on his side (it’s a natural reaction by a defender to lose track of a pass threat that goes to block someone at the LOS). It’s also crucial to the timing of the play. If he gets too far in front of the QB, it makes the throw ten times more difficult, as the angle of the throw is much more severe. It will also stop him from running out of room at the sideline. The depth on his route can be anywhere from a yard behind the LOS to no deeper than 3 or 4 yards downfield. Too deep and he runs into where the TE’s route is going. Spacing is crucial to an effective passing attack.
TB: His job is simple: either get tackled, or punish one of those D-linemen who have been twisting his ankle in the bottom of piles all game. Getting tackled is preferred as it will cause a cluster in the middle, and can help hide the ball.
QB: There are three things that are crucial for a QB to understand about the bootleg. The first is to be patient, but not slow. I know, I know, it sounds a bit like an oxymoron, but if he bails on the run-fake too quickly, it ruins the effectiveness of the play. So he needs to be quick to the running back, slow on the fake, and then quick again when he boots back around. That brings us to the second important concept; get depth early so you can attack downhill. The rule we followed was to get to at least seven or eight yards deep from the LOS and then as you are making the corner, run right at your target. Too many QBs have the tendency to drift sideways towards the sideline on the boot, making their throws less accurate and not allowing them to get the same velocity on the ball. The third part of running the boot effectively as a QB is to ALWAYS read low to high. Unless it’s third and long, where you need to get the ball to a certain spot, you should never pass up an open receiver to make a more difficult throw. His read progression should always go 1, 2, 3, and then 4 only if given the green light by a coach (except for at the top level. They should be able to make that read on the fly.). As always, he also has the run option, which can also help to freeze the defense (think when Vick is out of the pocket). If you have a good running QB, coaches will sometimes even call the play with the run being the first option, telling the receivers to block for the QB. The run option is also much better if the QB did his job initially and got depth. To get around the containment of the D, if the QB is too close to the line of scrimmage, he has to run at an angle much closer to parallel with the LOS. If he got proper depth initially, the angle he needs to get around the contain is much less acute, allowing him to pick up more yards quickly if he decides to run the ball.
This waggle is a great example of a three level route, which is a common theme in offensive systems as it really simplifies the read progression. It’s also a great play to get creative. You can run it out of all sorts of different formations, and still get the same result in the end, but you always want to have a target at each of the following: the LOS, ten yards deep, and twenty yards deep (although you can run it as a two man route as well).
So let’s get creative:
Same formation, different responsibilities-
figure 2
Doesn’t change things too much, but a simple change if the safety has been jumping the X’s route a bit. If you have a TE that can run, you might be able to sneak him behind and get a big gain. Or you might want to work the X and try to get him matched up with an LB and try the same thing.
Now let’s look at the same formation, but with the run fake to the weak side, rather than the strong:
figure 3
This variation can work well against a cover two, as you send two guys at the corner in the flat, which won’t allow him to provide any deep support for the safety on the Y’s corner route. If you froze the safety with a good play fake, or even better – got him to commit to the run, the Y can be hit for a long gain. I also like this variation from about the twenty going in. You have the Y going to the deep corner, the Z working the front pylon, and if you get the ball to the fullback, you have both the Z and the Y to provide potential downfield blocks.
One more variation, from a two TE, one RB formation with motion from the Z receiver:
figure 4
You will see this variation when teams will frequently use motion to help get their wideouts into the box to help block for the running game. It can be very effective, as they tend to get lost in the traffic inside, and then, assuming zone coverage, allow you to work a WR on either a SS or an LB. It it’s man, by putting the Z in motion the Corner either has to follow him which can cause confusion inside, or bump responsibilities, which also let’s you work the LB or SS with a WR.
As you can see, there are millions of options. It’s this diversity and the fact that it allows the QB to get outside and be an athlete, which makes the waggle/boot such an effective play. In my playing days, it was always my favorite. I loved the deception aspect of it both with the hidden ball trick and the footwork. I thought the trick was to get to the RB quick, and then as I carried out the fake, to make sure I was slow, I would force myself to switch my weight from my back leg to my front, and to watch the back of the RB for just a second. I loved the thrill of knowing I’d turned my back on a player who wanted to crush me, and it was up to my ability to convince him we were running the ball to protect me (we ran a lot of naked, where we either didn’t have the fullback to chip the end, or he went to the same side as the RB for the play fake on an iso look). I loved finally ripping my eyes back around, seeing the end crash inside out of the corner of my eye, and then seeing all that open grass in front of me. I loved the simplicity of the reads, allowing me to do nothing more complicated than play. I loved hitting my fullback, and then sprinting downfield, hoping to pick up a block. I loved setting my feet, coming back against the grain, and waiting for my tight end from the backside to fill the wide-open second level. I loved it when my backside post would come up to me on the sideline and tell me we have it, the two of us asking the coach if we can go to it, getting the green light, and then getting six. I loved it because no offensive play better exemplifies the fact that it takes all eleven men to do their job, all the time. The play doesn’t work if you can’t run the ball. The play doesn’t work if the O-line doesn’t sell the run. The play doesn’t work if either the QB or the FB gets in a hurry. The play doesn’t work if the QB gets greedy.
But for all that, it’s still a simple play and is effective at every level of play. That’s the beauty of football.
– Bob Pentland
editor’s note: I’m not sure how Bob struck out while invoking my name. He must have had a booger on his nose.
Eleven Archives
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Eleven – 1 – Introduction
Eleven – 2 – The Zone Blitz
Eleven – 3 – The Cover Two
Eleven – 4 – Zone Blocking
Eleven – 5 – The Bootleg
Eleven – 6 – Extra Points And Field Goals

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