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Run and shoot offense

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Title: Run and shoot offense  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Mouse Davis, John Jenkins (American football), Run and gun, 2003 Hawaii Warriors football team, 1999 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors football team
Collection: American Football Terminology
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Run and shoot offense

The run and shoot offense is an offensive system for American football which emphasizes receiver motion and on-the-fly adjustments of receivers' routes in response to different defenses. It was conceived by former Middletown, Ohio, High School football coach Glenn "Tiger" Ellison and refined and popularized by former Portland State Offensive Coordinator Darell "Mouse" Davis.

The Run & Shoot system uses a formation consisting of one running back and between two and four wide receivers. This system makes extensive use of receiver motion (having a receiver suddenly change position by running left or right, parallel to the line of scrimmage, just before the ball is snapped), both to create advantageous mismatches with the opposing defensive players and to help reveal what coverage the defense is using.

The basic idea behind the Run & Shoot is a flexible offense that adjusts "on the fly," as the receivers are free to adjust their routes as they are running them in response to the defensive coverage employed. The quarterback, as a result, also has to read and react to the defense's coverages in a more improvised manner than with other offensive systems.

In the purest form of the offense, the proper complement would consist of two wide receivers lined up on the outside edges of the formation and two "slotbacks" (running backs who are capable of catching the ball as well as running with it, e.g. Ricky Sanders and Richard Johnson of the USFL's Houston Gamblers) lined up just outside and behind the two offensive tackles.

Many of the National Football League teams that used the Run & Shoot in the early 1990s used true wide receivers in all four receiving positions. The types of running backs used varied from smaller backs who could catch passes to big, bruising running backs who could run with power. The frequent passing plays run out of this formation tend to spread out the defense's players. If repeated pass plays work, the defense is not as prepared for running plays; running the ball between the offensive tackles, or just off-tackle, is now possible and more likely to succeed.

At the Collegiate level, the 1989 Houston Cougars football team demonstrated the scoring potential of the run and shoot offense as quarterback Andre Ware set 26 NCAA records and won the Heisman Trophy while the #14 ranked Cougars finished the season 9-2. The Cougars were disallowed from having its football games televised or playing in a Bowl Game that season due to NCAA sanctions imposed some years earlier. The following two seasons Houston quarterback David Klingler continued the success of the run and shoot throwing for 9,430 yards and 91 touchdowns, including 716 yards and 11 touchdown passes in a single game which were all records. Quarterbacks Ware and Klingler were both drafted in the NFL first round. The success of Houston's run and shoot offense and the inability of its record setting quarterbacks to translate their success into the NFL lead to the label of being a "system quarterback".

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Press-Enterprise, an independent news source whose coverage area spans four of Southern California's largest counties, noted that "the team's Silver Stretch Run 'n' Shoot offense," inspired by Mouse Davis, mentor of Coyote coach J David Miller "and the pioneer of the modern four-wide offense, has paid great dividends over the SoCal Coyotes first five seasons." [1]


  • Formation History 1
  • Running the Run & Shoot 2
    • Player and motion names 2.1
    • Key Concepts 2.2
  • Advantages of the Run & Shoot 3
  • Disadvantages of the Run & Shoot 4
  • Roster Positions for the Run and Shoot 5
  • External links 6
  • References 7

Formation History

The original inventor of the Run & Shoot, Tiger Ellison, first started out with a formation that overloaded the left side of the offensive line for his scrambling quarterback. He called it "The Lonesome Polecat."

A year later, he came back with a more balanced formation that is similar to the diagram below. The formation bears a strong resemblance to the Flexbone offense.

  • WR................LT.LG.C.RG.RT...............WR
  • ...........SB................QB................SB
  • .................................FB

Other variations of the above formation are similar to the way spread offenses like to set up their systems. Originally, the run and shoot was set up so that the quarterback would be positioned behind the center in a single back position, with the single running back lined up a few yards back. Later, during his tenure with the University of Hawaii, June Jones used quarterback Colt Brennan out of the shotgun. In this case the running back is offset to the right of the quarterback (as in the formation below).

  • X.........LT.LG.C.RG.RT...........Z
  • ......W................................Y
  • ......................QB...SB

Another formation that can often be seen with the run and shoot is the "trips" formation, where three wide receivers are situated to the right or left side of the line of scrimmage. Most of the time, this formation will be created out of motion when the W or Y receiver moves to the opposite side of the formation.

  • X........LT.LG.C.RG.RT..................Z
  • .........................................W.....Y
  • .....................QB..SB

Running the Run & Shoot

Player and motion names

Every team has its own specific naming conventions, but they all have the same basic principles. To make diagramming plays easier, the receivers used in the Run & Shoot are often given standardized names depending on their position. One way to do this is to label the receivers, from left to right, X, W (for "Wing"), Y, and Z, with the running back being called an S-Back (for Singleback or Superback).

The initial movements of the receivers can also be labelled by using code names for "left" and "right" such as "Lil and Rob," "Liz and Rip," or "Lion and Ram." As an example, a quarterback may call an "X Liz, W Liz, Y Go, Z Rip, SB flat", which tells the X and W receivers to run to their left, the Y receiver to run a go (or fly) route, the Z receiver to run to his right, and the S-Back to run to the flat (close to the line of scrimmage and toward the sideline).

Key Concepts

  • Throw to the open receiver.
  • If the QB reads 5 or less in the box, run the football. This means that traditional defensive formations using a 3-4 or 4-3 front will have moved 2 defenders outside of the "box" for coverage help. The "box" is the area about a yard outside of the tight end or offensive tackle on one side of the line to the other offensive tackle/tight end on the other side of the line and about 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
  • Use motion and formations to spread the defense out and anticipate what the defense is going to do. If one uses motion and the defensive back follows the motioning receiver, they are probably playing man coverage or blitzing. If no defensive back follows the motion receiver, then they are probably playing zone defense.

Advantages of the Run & Shoot

  • Forces the defense to switch to 4 DB or 5 DB formations, often substituting shorter and thinner DBs in place of taller and thicker LBs. This allows the offense an advantage in the running game as it often employs a bigger RB to help block and run in between the tackles. By incorporating inside running plays, the much bigger RB (usually 220-240 pounds) would be able to get more yards after going up against DBs who are usually 180-200 pounds in weight. This also allows wide receivers to have a better ability to break tackle by a 190 pound DB as opposed to a 240 pound LB.
  • By reading the DB, the WRs are able to run routes to uncovered areas in zone coverage or simply beat their defender in coverage. This allows the QB to go down the field vertically or take what the defense gives him and go underneath (throw short passes in front of the defensive coverage personnel) to let his WR get yards after the catch (hopefully "make a play"). Since a lot of the routes are downfield to vertically challenge the outside and seams, successful QBs can not only put up staggering numbers but it also allows them to put up very high yard per completion numbers.
  • Personnel combinations never need to be changed because they are not dictated by the defensive coverage. As a result, a team can go down the field using the same personnel without having to change from their base formation due to what the defense has lined up in.
  • The offense allows for wide open running lanes inside and allows for running backs to maximize the 10-14 carries a game they may get as opposed to running the ball 25 times but less successfully per carry.

Disadvantages of the Run & Shoot

There are several potential disadvantages to using a Run & Shoot offense:

  • Since the formation does not use any tight ends or fullbacks, the quarterback is at increased risk for being hit or sacked since there are fewer players available to block a defense's blitz.
  • Teams often use a strong running game to keep possession of the football, especially at times when it would be advantageous for them to run out the clock. A criticism of the Run & Shoot offense is that teams would often continue to rely upon the pass rather than establish the run to finish off a game. One example of this is the 1992 AFC Wild Card game where the Houston Oilers, after earning a 35-3 lead against the Buffalo Bills, rather than winding the clock down with the running game and preserving the lead for the victory, called 22 pass plays against only four runs in the second half and eventually lost the game by a score of 41-38. Alternatives like the Spread offense have been preferred over the Run & Shoot in part because they place more emphasis on the running game.
  • Many commentators noted that the Run & Shoot is less effective in the "Red Zone," when the offense is less than 20 yards from the goal line. In this area the offense has less room to move around and cannot spread the defense out as in other areas of the field.

Roster Positions for the Run and Shoot

  • Quarterbacks often have to be either mobile or have a very quick release if they are not mobile. Having a lot of arm strength is not a requirement but they need to have enough to make various throws. Jim Kelly was 6'3" and around 215 pounds. Andre Ware was 6'2" and around 200 pounds. David Klingler was 6'3" and around 210 pounds. Colt Brennan was 6'2" and around 205 pounds. Warren Moon was 6'3" and around 215 pounds.
  • Halfbacks need to be built much like fullbacks as they often have to deal with no lead blocker and are often the only defense to blitzers for the QB's protection. Chuck Weatherspoon was 5'7" and around 230 pounds. Craig Heyward was 5'11" and around 240 pounds. Dorsey Levens was 6'1" and around 230 pounds. Kimble Anders was 5'11" and around 230 pounds. Lamar Smith was 5'11" and around 230 pounds. Gary Brown was 5'11" and around 230 pounds.
  • Wide Receivers can vary although Mouse Davis was prone to opting for shorter receivers who were more explosive due to their smaller size. Andre Rison was 6'1" and around 190 pounds. Sterling Sharpe was 6'0" and around 210 pounds. Drew Hill was 5'9" and around 170 pounds. Ernest Givins was 5'9" and around 180 pounds. Haywood Jeffries was 6'2" and around 200 pounds. Eric Metcalf was 5'10" and around 190 pounds. Michael Haynes was 6'0" and around 190 pounds. Jason Phillips was 5'7" and around 170 pounds. Davone Bess was 5'10" and around 190 pounds.
  • Offensive Linemen need to be stout in pass protection and fast/agile enough to drop back constantly. Jamie Dukes was 6'1" and around 290 pounds. Bill Fralic was 6'5" and around 280 pounds. Chris Hinton was 6'4" and around 300 pounds. Bob Whitfield was 6'5" and around 310 pounds. Lomas Brown was 6'4" and around 280 pounds. Bruce Matthews was 6'5" and around 300 pounds. Mike Munchak was 6'3" and around 280 pounds. Don Maggs was 6'5" and around 290 pounds.

External links

  • Culture Crossfire Article covering history of Run and Shoot offense
  • Chris Brown of Smart Football's Part 1 Run and Shoot Series


  1. ^ Rizk, Gabriel (August 14, 2014). "PALM SPRINGS: SoCal Coyotes football ready to run wild". Press Enterprise (Riverside County, California). 
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