Picture Pages: Zone Read Veer

Submitted by Brian on November 10th, 2009 at 2:39 PM

This is belated, but still relevant since I just saw Michigan run this play with Denard Robinson as the tailback in the Purdue game. This is a staple of the Illinois offense but it's something Michigan hasn't run yet in the Rodriguez era. I assume Michigan decided that the best way to practice it was to install it, and once it's installed you might as well run it.

It's Michigan's first drive of the day. The setup is a standard four-wide set on which Michigan is in a stretch setup with the quarterback behind the tailback:


On the snap it looks identical to the stretch in the backfield, with the running back coming across the quarterback's face to take a handoff, or not take a handoff. The line, however, is doing something completely different. They're blocking down:


On a stretch the line would be moving the same direction as the tailback and leaving the backside defensive end unblocked. On this play they block the opposite direction and leave the frontside DE unblocked. This is a veer.

Michigan's run a different sort of veer earlier that looks more like a traditional stretch with the tailback attacking upfield and the quarterback the player that needs to be contained. That touchdown against Purdue last year where Minor ran untouched into the endzone was a veer. On this play, the upfield threat is the QB and the RB needs to be contained.

On the exchange the Illinois line has slanted in anticipation of a stretch; they're reacting to the line. The backside DE is shuffling out and Koger is immediately releasing to the second level to pick up a block on the MLB:


Forcier keeps it. I think he keeps it incorrectly given the DE's reaction to the play:


Oops. If that DE had taken off for the tailback this is a good gain. Look at that crease up the middle. Since Forcier isn't Denard Robinson he probably gets tracked down by a safety—they're off the screen deep—but Illinois has gotten fooled by this play. Everyone except the DE, that is:


He cuts off that crease.

Forcier's a slippery bugger in space, though, and this DE is not nearly as agile as he is. As we've seen all year, dude can make you miss. He manages to get around the DE and to the outside. This delay has allowed opponents to converge, though:


Forcier gets down voluntarily:


It's four yards thanks to the mismatch between the DE and Forcier, but he had to make a guy miss to get it.


Object lessons:

  • Forcier's freshman status is much more pronounced on the zone read. Forcier's made a lot of poor decisions this year when it comes to handing the ball off or taking it. Most of the time his error is keeping the ball, but when Robinson came in to run the veer against Purdue he handed it off as the DE was running right out of the play and Robinson got nailed for a three-yard loss.

    It's not just the passing game which should improve as Forcier gets more experience. Michigan's run game is being hampered by Forcier's youth as well. This is why the quarterback is even more important in Rodriguez's system than others.

  • The veer is an excellent counter to Michigan's usual zone stuff… To the line it looks like a stretch and will draw stretch responses. As you can see in the frames above, the Illinois line has crashed itself out of the play, helping Michigan down-block it. There's a big damn crease if the DE heads out for the tailback. If the DE is on a scrape exchange and crashing for the QB, the handoff read is a potential big gain because the scraper is going to have to deal with a blocker and you have a tailback in a lot of space for cutbacks. Michigan tried it a couple times against Illinois; Illinois, unsurprisingly, reacted well to it. It's their base running play, IME. They've seen it.
  • …but it requires far more precision on the read. Watching Juice Williams in detail the past couple years has given me an appreciation for how difficult it is to perceive the DE's intent and momentum, and how your fakes can drag him out of position. Williams gets low and extends the ball and holds it there almost impossibly long, then drags it out after the DE commits. Forcier does not have that patience yet.

    This read is also more important to the success of the play. If the DE crashes down on a stretch he may get to the tailback if other people on the DT cut off creases. Fundamentally he's a cutback defender and a play can still work if the QB is not contained and gives it off. Here a missed read is probably going to be a loss, Forcier jukes notwithstanding.


the Bray

November 10th, 2009 at 2:53 PM ^

I'm certainly no football coach. But, as we go from the 4th picture to the 5th (Forcier keeping the ball and Brown continuing toward the sideline)... would we be better off having Brown act as a lead blocker at this point? Or running it with Minor and having him block #97? That practically puts a body on a body and leaves Forcier all alone... free to run, ummm... free. If the QB is keeping, aren't we better off using the RB as a lead blocker than a decoy?


November 10th, 2009 at 3:27 PM ^

We ran this in high school with the RB blocking the DE (or DT - sometimes we ran it inside), but in each case, it was a called QB keeper that we called a "Chase." Our RB was pretty good at making it look like he had the ball and was just trying to run the DE over, so sometimes a LB would jump on, too, and be effectively "blocked" by the RB. That was usually the difference between me gaining 4 yards and 8 (I had no speed).


November 10th, 2009 at 3:14 PM ^

On a typical read option (or zone read), the line slants to the side the RB is running toward. The QB then has to read the uncontained DE (the opposite side the RB is heading toward) to see if he's committing to the RB. He bases his decision to give or keep based on what the DE is doing.

Now, on a veer (or at least this specific veer) the QB and the RB are both heading toward the unblocked DE and the QB again needs to read the DE, but this time it's essentially a 2v1?

Is that right?


November 10th, 2009 at 4:03 PM ^

A "veer play" simply means an offensive lineman is purposefully leaving a DL unblocked as a read or pitch key in order to block a LB. In this case it is a veer, as you can see the RT leaving the DE unblocked in favor of (unsuccessfully) blocking the Mike.

This play is a read zone with the QB and RB trading responsibilities and the play unfolding in a reciprocal manner: the stretch action is read and the QB becomes the zone runner. I will not go into detail as to whether the play was read correctly (I believe it was although it is hampered by Forcier not riding the fake well).

Imagine if you will for a second, the running back instead aligning a yard deeper than the QB, on the opposite side. If the RB came downhill through the middle of the line, a zone read could be run with the same blocking and same read, with Forcier then becoming the stretch runner that he typically is. Here, the DE has no immediate zone threat to hawk (negating the need for a "scrape/exchange"), analyzes a poor fake, then attempts to recover to tackle Forcier.

I think the greatest strength of this play is its offsetting of IZ/OZ and read zone tendencies. The alignment communicates IZ/OZ when, in fact, it is a RZ. Once the ball is snapped the action of the line and the backfield conflict Michigan's offensive habits, regardless of whether the play is successful. If this "inverted" read zone were never run from this set and I were a DC, I'd have my players sit on the zone run to Michigan's right. The play allows Michigan to keep defenses honest.

Addendum: picture the basic Wildcat offense - the concept is a guy screaming across the field and the RB-QB riding it, putting the DE in a bind. If the RB-QB keeps it, he's the zone runner up the gut. Same deal, poorer athlete for Michigan. Imagine D-Rob running this.


November 10th, 2009 at 3:29 PM ^

Definitely looked like Tate should have handed off, but that will come in time.

Question, though - would it have helped to imbalance the receivers (put 3 at the top) and then run this play? That way, you only have a DE and (maybe) a LB standing between you and the DBs. I am not really up on football formations, though, so if this is a dumb question feel free to tell me.


November 10th, 2009 at 4:00 PM ^

The problem with that is that you would be putting trips to the short side of the field. So you are putting more people in a smaller area, and the defense does not have to widen as much. If the ball is in the middle of the field, then you have a little more flexibility with formations. This also would depend on how Illinois adjusts to a trips formation.


November 10th, 2009 at 3:34 PM ^

I see more of the younger guys carrying out the fakes than i see C. Brown. THis isnt the first time he "whiffs" on carrying out the fake. Its annoying when backs get that lazy. Itis basically telling the defenders on that side.."hey go get that other guy" Making it easier to fiqure out our plays. If he carries out the fake and it fakes otu the defenders thats when psychologically it starts to get into their heads "ohh man i dont know who has the ball" and gives us an extra second due to their delay. I am sure this is going to be addressed but its all apart of th basic fundamentals this team is lacking at time (especially on D....since im better with D thani am with Offense)

steve sharik

November 10th, 2009 at 4:52 PM ^

I wrote a diary about this concept earlier in the year:

Notice how the RB is going "opposite" the direction of the blocking scheme. The DE didn't go crash down with the OL, so Tate made the correct read. However, it isn't outside zone as described in my post. Rather, it is veer. You can tell b/c the playside OG doesn't try to reach the 3 technique DT.

The reason for the ineffectiveness of this play is the depth of the QB at 6 yards. Add in the time it takes to ride the mesh and then start running, the DE has time to shuffle for the handoff and then still react inside to the QB keep. When veer is run with a downhill RB as the dive player, the RB is getting the ball at 5 yards while already running at full speed.

I think we'd have been better off running outside zone because of the issues described above. Either way, Denard would make this play go better. On the other hand, there'd probably be an extra defender in the box to stop the run with Shoelace in the game.