Manny Matsakis

What Bill Walsh taught me about Installing Jet Sweep Play Passes

The Advice that Changed My Offense

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In 1997, I learned how to develop expert play passes from Bill Walsh, the Hall of Fame coach of the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, I give him credit for the key insights to installing jet sweep play passes in my offense. We were having dinner at Del Frisco’s steakhouse in Dallas, Texas and I had the opportunity to ask him a few questions. One question I asked him was, “What is the single best tool to take advantage of a disciplined defense?” His answer was the play pass.

Meeting the Genius

Coach Walsh had just retired from the 49ers and he was a big fan of American Football Quarterly (Today it’s called, American Football Monthly).  Through dialogue with my publisher, Barry Terranova (pictured above with Bill Walsh) we were able to hire him as Senior Editor and technical adviser. What then ensued for me was access to one of the brightest minds in American football history. He was gracious in answering so many questions about the game. From running an organization to creating an offensive system and the insight, what he shared completely changed the way I thought about being a football coach.

To say that Coach Walsh was a student of the game, is to put it mildly – he was a consummate professor. Coach Walsh was an encyclopedia of football knowledge. He had studied and developed systems of organization that were second to none. He was notorious for being very inquisitive and asking great questions. If you haven’t read his seminal book, Finding the Winning Edge, I highly recommend it as must-read material.

Our conversation at Del Frisco’s led me to make a trip to the west coast to gain insights on developing a tool to take advantage of disciplined defenses.

What follows is an organized compilation of my notes from a weekend with Bill Walsh.

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Play Pass Insights From Bill Walsh

Coach Walsh felt confident that the play pass is the one sound football play that does everything possible to contradict the fundamental principles of defense. In fact, this concept was a must for any type of offense. From the Wishbone to the Run & Shoot to the Air Raid, it really didn’t matter as long as you coached the details and had a system to develop your play passes.

Eight Reasons Why the Play Pass works!

  1. It’s the single best way to break an opposing defense that’s playing “fired-up” football.
  2. It can distort defensive continuity because of how it takes advantage of the key reads of critical defenders.
  3. The pass rush is compromised and significantly slowed down to make the rest of your offense more effective.
  4. Linebackers are forced out of position or negated completely.
  5. Defensive Backs lose their relationship with receivers.
  6. When a defense is concerned about the play pass, this adds to the effectiveness of your run game.
  7. Inexperienced defenders are easily isolated since they are prone to be fooled.
  8. Zone blitz concepts are best attacked by faking at the dropping linemen.

"The defense has a difficult time accounting for the play pass in terms of both preparation and actual game execution."

I also learned that to develop this concept, it was imperative that I base the play pass off my best run or run plays in my offense. In doing so, it was critical that I kept the following in mind…

10 Essential Elements of the Play Pass

  1. Must appear as close to the primary running play as possible.
  2. Line blocking at the point of attack must simulate run blocking.
  3. Running backs must follow the same path as they do on the respective play while deliberately holding the fake through the line of scrimmage.
  4. Quarterback’s mechanics must simulate those of the basic run play.
  5. The design of the play should be directed at a particular defender.
  6. The most successful and most often used running play is the logical action from which to play pass.
  7. Ball handling and faking should be practiced daily.
  8. Specific periods should be established during a regular week for team execution. For example, a 10 play period on Thursday for a Saturday game.
  9. Short yardage and goal line situations call for aggressive blocking below the pad level of the defensive line.
  10. The faking back and the quarterback must know which defender they are going after and fool that man. There is a significant difference in fooling a linebacker as opposed to a cornerback.

Here is one paramount concept I was able to glean from Coach Walsh!

He told me that he would drill the play pass in the following manner…

The offensive unit would face the video camera and execute plays at full speed. He would do this starting with a skeleton group of the Center, Quarterback and skill players. On the first and second repetition, the Quarterback hands off the ball. The third play is executed with a fake of the action. During this time, the second unit will watch this skeleton group facing them on the defensive side (10 yards back) to watch specifically what their position is doing. It’s important to force your players to execute these plays exactly the same so that they appear almost identical.

But, what exactly are the players looking for in this simulation?

The players are viewing the simulation looking for things like… the QB’s arm action as he hands off the ball… where the QB is looking… the pad level of the Running Back and location of his arms. These must all be replicated with an exactness which will force the defense to hesitate momentarily and that’s all the time an offense needs to strike with a play pass.

Bill Walsh

Importance of the Offensive line.

Obviously the line blocking at the point of attack must simulate the run. It is also crucial that the linemen block aggressively to the side of the defense that is being attacked.

An interesting note on faking out a Cornerback. The Running Back’s shoulders to the side where you are faking are critical so that the Corner buys the fake and the Quarterback can naturally hide the ball from that defender.

One of the critical breakdowns in the play pass is that blockers pull up short and leave space between them and the men they are supposed to be blocking. Everyone can see it which negates the effectiveness of the fake.

Once the offensive unit gets into a short yardage or 3rd and two or less situation the game changes for play pass execution. The faking of the players should be more intense in this situation. You may ask that the Running Back dive into the ground a yard or two past the line of scrimmage. A more aggressive approach would be to have your Running Back dive over the top of the linemen.

One final note regarding the selection of which play to run the play pass.

The fake draw is most readily utilized because linemen can employ basic drop back pass protection. And, because the draw play is one where the action is delayed the fake draw can hold linebackers longer. So, it doesn’t always have to be your best run play if you have a draw play in your package.

Installing Jet Sweep Play Passes in my Offense

It was time for me to get to work and install what I had learned on the West Coast.

What play would I base my first play pass off of from my offense? The Pop Out!

Which defender would we be focusing on fooling? The Free Safety!

What routes would best fool this defender? A backside Switch or a frontside Wheel… Hmmm

We went on to practice our scheme in the exact fashion that Coach Walsh had recommended and here’re two concepts with corresponding video we drew up for the Triple Shoot Offense

Wheel Play Pass
Switch Play Pass

Questions & Answers

When should you throw a play pass?

Coach Walsh told me it is best executed between the 30-yard lines when the opposing team is in their base defensive mode and you can anticipate those defenses that you’ve seen in your scouting preparation.

What’s the biggest potential obstacle to a successful play pass?

Play passing concedes the ability to deal effectively with wide stunts and some blitzes. This is why you are looking to execute your play passes versus a base defense.

What’s your best run play and how can you utilize what I’ve learned from Bill Walsh to take advantage of a disciplined defense?

For more resources to utilizing a Jet Sweep Approach: CLICK HERE

Comment Below

How do you install your play passes? Do you utilize the play pass enough (or too much) in your offense?

Leave a reply and let me know!

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