Chalk Talk With Babes: Defending The Shotgun Run Play

Sports and Bets — November 29, 2014 at 8:44 am by

Today were going to discuss some strategies for defending the shotgun run. The San Diego Chargers are coming to town this week, and nobody spends more time in the gun than Phillip Rivers. But as anybody who has Rivers on their fantasy team can tell you, even though he is almost always in the gun, the Chargers are running the ball a ton.
When most think about shotgun running these days, they think zone read. With guys like Russell Wilson and even Ryan Tannehill enjoying so much success running the zone read, it’s easy to forget that’s not the only way to run out of the gun. As anybody who has any football knowledge at all can see, Rivers is not going to run the ball, therefore negating any threat to a backside end. But the Chargers are still able to run effectively out of the gun the old school way using traps and draws.

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The chargers operate the majority of the time out of “11” personnel, which means one back, one tight end, and three wide receivers. With Ryan Mathews back healthy in the backfield to team with Branden Oliver, the Chargers have two very capable ball carriers who can also catch passes out of the backfield. With Antonio Gates at tight end, the Chargers have a dangerous pass catcher that Rivers trusts fully. He will flex out occasionally to try and create mismatches in coverage. Gates is no slouch as a blocker either, as he is able to hold his own inline. This formation, with Keenan Allen, Malcolm Floyd, and Eddie Royal out wide, is what I would call the Chargers base formation.
Matching up against this personnel, the Ravens traditionally would sub out a front seven player with a third corner. That sub-out is usually a linebacker, but since the Ravens run a multiple 3-4 front alignment, the player that would come off the field from their base defensive personnel would be Brandon Williams at defensive tackle. This would shore up the Ravens pass defense, but would significantly weaken their run defense. That is what the Chargers are trying to accomplish using this formation. On early downs, they want to spread the Ravens out, to create better opportunities to run against weaker run defenders.

On early downs against this personnel, I would mix up my personnel between staying in a base 3-4 and going with a heavy nickel package. A heavy nickel package would be adding Will Hill instead of a corner as the nickel, and subbing out one of the three interior defensive lineman. Dean Pees could be aggressive with run blitzes early in downs with this look, but it would be susceptible to passes. The adjustment to make once the Chargers start throwing on first down is to replace the third safety Darian Stewart with a true nickel corner to match up with the slot receiver. On early running downs it means having Will Hill and Matt Elam on the field, who are both better run defenders than free safety Darian Stewart, and that would keep the Ravens strong against the run. This allows Dean Pees to have two interchangeable safeties that could come up in the box in run support and make plays.

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Looking at the matchup in the front seven, it’s all about keeping your run fits. You hear the term a lot these days- run fit. The best way to describe a run fit is to take a freeze frame picture from the All 22 camera angle. At the snap of the ball, as the players take their first steps, if you freeze the action you should see the attempted protection of gaps. The gaps are the space between the offensive lineman. On either side of the center is the “A” gaps, between the guards and tackles is the “B” gap, between tackle and tight end “C” gap, and outside is “D”gap. A perfect run fit should look like pieces of a puzzle perfectly fitting into each gap if you take that freeze frame picture.

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Holding your gaps is imperative to limiting teams in the running game, and it’s no different when you’re talking about shotgun runs. What the Chargers want is a six man box with six blockers to take them on with an inline tight end. On a typical shotgun interior run play, the offense will double team the nose guard, with one of the lineman peeling off to try to get on a pursuing linebacker. The backside guard will pull to play side and lead up the hole for the back to follow. The center will block back to the area vacated by the pulling guard to prevent immediate penetration that could blow up the play in the backfield. The back then has the ability to follow the pulling lineman up through the hole, or he could cut to an open area either outside or backside. This is why the defense needs to remain disciplined in their gap assignments. Just because a play goes away from a linebacker for instance, he needs to slow pursue across as to maintain his ability to return to protect his gap if the runner cuts back. You’ll see on Sunday that Ryan Mathews is more of a straight ahead runner who will slash through the intended hole, whereas Branden Oliver is more of a wiggle player who will dance in the backfield to find the open area. I don’t see the Chargers having much success with this play because Haloti Ngata can hold his gap despite being double teamed, and can occupy two blockers, which leaves one of the two inside backers free to roam and make tackles unblocked. I feel like rookie Timmy Jernigan should get more snaps this week due to his ability to get immediate penetration up the field that  could disrupt shotgun runs. This play should be easily handled by the nickel look’s front seven, with Will Hill or Matt Elam able to come down and help out in the running game, I’m not at all worried about the shotgun trap play.

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Another play that the Chargers have a ton of success with is the shotgun draw. Rivers is a pro at disguising the draw until the last possible second, all the while drawing defensive lineman up the field in their pass rush lanes. The draw is a play designed to take advantage of players vacating their gaps to rush the passer. The lineman invite the defensive lineman up the field by jumping up into a pass pro set, then as they rush up the field, the lineman release them and go find a next level block. This is so hard for the  defensive lineman because they get their whole body’s momentum going up the field and then they have to stop and try to recover to tackle a tailback who is accelerating in the opposite direction. The linebackers have to be the key to stopping the draw play. One of their main keys is to wait a split second longer to drop on pass coverage until the last back passes the quarterback. They immediately read pass from the offensive lineman’s set, so it’s easy to fly out of there at that point to get to their coverage responsibilities. But waiting that extra second will allow them to be in position to make a play on the draw. Ryan Mathews scored a twenty plus yard touchdown on a shotgun draw just last week.
The Ravens are fresh off a dominating run stopping performance against the Saints, but I guarantee that the Chargers have dissected that film. They will have a large complement of shotgun runs in their game plan this week to combat that tough front seven. The Ravens just can’t allow them to out scheme them.


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