By Dr. Drexel Trussell
Dr. Lou Cella (correctly) pointed out a major flaw in the split-back formation’s ability to attack a stack defense to the weak side in his video on 2/9/2020. The following article is a rebuttal/solution to his video with additional information regarding the offense that I am continuing to develop as a hobby.
A little about myself: I coached football for 6 years from the ages of 18 to 23 until my graduate education/career no longer allowed me to do so. I am still certainly a Paul Johnson disciple and use his base blocking rules and playcalling processes, but I am now convinced that splitback is the best formation to run triple option from (as well as point mesh technique). Now 32, I am a pharmacist by profession, but I would love to coach in the future as it is a passion of mine to say the least.
Figure 1 shows Dr. Cella’s point. The 4 technique lineman, the stacked linebacker (40 tech), the mike linebacker (00 tech), and the free safety cannot all be cancelled to the weak side. The angle is also poor to cancel both of the stacked linebackers (the 40 tech and 00 tech) with the guard and tackle even if you wanted to leave the free safety. Regardless, the defense has even numbers at worst which is the recipe for disaster when running triple option.
Figure 2 (my solution) shows us move our flanker (in this system, this player is a fullback/tight end type player – called an H-back in many offenses) right behind the quarterback in the initial formation. Similar to flexbone, we motion on R of ready with a slightly longer cadence. Down ——- Readyyyyyyy – Sethike. The H-back motions as quickly as possible down the line of scrimmage, hugging a safe distance from the feet of the linemen while remaining under control, until he gets to his called position.
Figure 3 shows the simple motioning system for the H-back. It simplifies formations to 4 basic formations w/ left and right variance if they are not balanced: 1. Two split end, zero tight end 2. One split end, one tight end (left and right) 3. Two tight end, zero split end and 4. Unbalanced (X-over left and right or Y-over left and right in 2 tight). The rest of the formationing is done with the number system and motion by the h-back. The following figure (Figure 4) is an example of a playcall: “Left-4 Twelve” – “Left” tells the tight end to line up on the left – the X receiver lines up opposite of the tight end, 4 tells the H-back to motion to the 4 position, and 12 is the play (inside veer to the right w/base rules). You can also just align the H-back there with no motion by adding a tag.
This solves the balance problem when using splitbacks, however, this is not the only reason that I am so excited about this system. Having a “move tight end” allows for a lot of interesting variations in the option game as well as the non-option game. Large splits can be used as the H-back can insert as an extra lineman in any gap. Play-action protection is improved for 2 and 3 route concepts.
Finally, the most interesting feature is the ability to “swap responsibilities” between linemen and the H-back. This solves a much more important problem that flexbone faces… The “squeeze and scrape” technique. Defensive coordinators who are worth their salt all use this technique vs veer teams. They will teach their 4/5 technique to squeeze the offensive tackle if he veer releases. This allows the mike linebacker to read “cloudy/clear” and remain unblocked to regain numbers against the triple option. Does the flexbone have answers to this? Yes (zone dive, belly option, etc.). But teams can essentially cause flexbone teams to stop running inside veer (and outside veer if #2 is squeezing the TE). Now, we have the h-back who can veer block and the tackle can outside release to load vs 1 high safety or arc block vs 2 high safeties (similar to how tight end typically does in splitback or A-backs do in flexbone). Teams would have to stop “reading hats” and start “squeezing the gap” which opens them up immensely to both outside veer as well as perimeter double options. Figure 5 shows this in action using the same play (ISV right) but by adding a tag — “swap”… The call is “Left-2 12 swap”:
This technique would work on midline to a lesser extent and outside veer as well. Figure 6 (below) shows this technique on outside veer. The playcall in Figure 6 would be “Left-5, 17 swap” in my system. Left is the base formation… 5 is where the H-back motions to… 17 is outside veer to the left… swap is telling the h-back and the veering lineman (in this case, the tight end) to swap rules. The tight end arcs for the near deep defender and the h-back blocks the outside veer rules that the tight end normally has (double team and work up to playside inside linebacker).
My final (biased) thoughts are that the flexbone formation has the following advantages relative to splitback in light of this article: 1. An additional receiver type player (A-back) likely improves drop-back passing game (we drop back pass? Lol) 2. A-back alignment attacks the flats and seams quicker than the combination of the backs and tight end/hback in splitback – however, not by much. 3. The motion is quicker and therefore less of a factor, but I watch old Georgia Southern motion (much slower motion at times) and I find it isn’t a huge concern because we have ways to combat them cheating vs quick motion. 4. Midline angle is better at the meshpoint. 5. The formation is less compressed – but I find the h-back allows us to stretch the formation slightly with bigger linemen splits.
The splitback formation has the following advantages over flexbone: 1. Better angles on inside and outside veer at the meshpoint (much better on outside veer) – especially regarding point mesh technique as it is easier to get into the line of scrimmage 2.The ability to use the hback to combat squeeze and scrape techniques 3. Another blocker in the power game (now we can kick #1 with the h-back to run a dive play for example… or have a free puller on counter trey, etc.) 4. Better protection in playaction game and drop-back passing game 5. More versatility using no motion at all. 6. More versatility to form the offense to your personnel and substitute situationally. 7. More ability to play games with lineman splits. I hope you enjoyed this article. If anyone has any questions or wants to talk, I will give Dr. Cella my contact information that he can give to you or contact me on twitter.