Thursday, May 21, 2015

Inside the Playbook: Wham! and The Return of the Trap

I love trap plays; I believe they are one of the best and probably the most under-utilized run scheme in modern football. With more and more emphasis on getting upfield for the pass rush and getting penetration to stop the run game, trap and wham schemes should only become more effective. Yet they continue to go under-utilized. There are several legitimate reasons for this: 1) you’re leaving a first level defender unblocked for some time, which is dangerous as those first level defenders get more and more athletic; 2) simplified defensive rules (i.e. block-down, step-down) have mitigated some of the initial success of the scheme. Still, there are ways around all of this to continue to use of one of my favorite schemes: trap and wham.

Long Trap

Terminology and Primer

We’re going to start with some terminology and primer to help set some things straight in how we define them.

Short Trap = A trap two gaps over. This means a backside OG trapping the 3-Tech or out. Playside OG trapping the 9 tech or out (turn upfield).

Long Trap = A trap three gaps or more over. This means a backside (or center) is trapping the 5-tech or out (typically the EMOL).

Kick = A playside short trap. Often referred to as Down-G.

Fold = A one-gap trap play; typically with the folding (underneath) blocker going to the second level. This scheme won’t be talked about much in this article.

Influence = A pulling motion used to influence the reaction of the defense to setup the play.

Blocking the Trap
The first step is a pivot with the playside foot dropping back and point directly at the inside shoulder of the defender you are blocking. This shouldn’t be a long step, but should cover some ground to the playside. Often referred to as the “handshake move”, you will also open up with your upper body and arm as if going to shake someone’s hand. You want your trap blocker to remain low and fire out of his pull, ripping through with his outside hand and staying tight to the LOS. He should be running right off the butts of his fellow OL, leaving as little space as possible between him and the other blockers. As I said, the aiming point is the inside shoulder of the defender you are trapping. “Pull right; hit right. Pull left; hit left”. If you are pulling right, aim for the defender’s right shoulder, and vice versa. Upon contact, make sure a wide base is achieved and that the blocker is still low. Finish the block inside-out, getting the upfield hand under the defender’s armpit and the other hand under his breast plate, lifting him up and out of the hole.

If no defender flashes, be prepared to flip hips and turn upfield to find a defender. If a defender charges, determine his path and adjust. If he is losing ground or going straight down the LOS, you may be able to maintain your path and seal him to the backside. If he charges directly at you (such as in the event of wrong arming the blocker), think about cutting. I personally don't like cutting DTs on trap plays, their too big and they cause too much havoc in the middle of the field, and I also think it can be dangerous, both in terms of picking up a clipping block and for the case of injuring another player. DEs or outside players I think are a bit easier to cut; they are facing the play and tend to be longer players that are easier to get on the ground to prevent them from making a play on the footbal.

Short Trap
The short trap can come from the backside OG or the backside OT, and typically attacks a 3-Technique interior DL. It used to be used quite often for FB runs (more about later), but has since become popular for tailback runs, either from an I-Formation set or single back formation.

This play acts as a counter. The RB will receiver the handoff on the backside of the play. This allows him to get on the butt of the trapping blocker and ride him into the gap that is formed by the trap block. By subtly getting the second level defender to flow in the direction of the handoff, you set up the second level blocks that the OL get to make on the LBs. This allows for a relatively quick hitting, downhill counter play that pairs very well with a zone running scheme.

Long Trap
A long trap can be used in several ways. On a long trap, the backside OG or backside OT will typically kick out the defensive EMOL. This can be run as a counter or as a quick hitting play to eventually get to the edge.

On the counter version, it will be a little more slow to develop. The ball carrier will take a counter step away from the play to set up the second level blocks; this will also delay his run to allow the OL to clear playside of him, at which point he can ride him through the hole. With so many teams fast flowing at the 2nd level, leaving the backside DE to contain any flow back his direction, this is a great way to get the defense all sealed to the backside and then kick the contain defender to open a wide running lane.

As a more quick hitting play, the success of the play derives from two aspects. First, the playside OL can immediately release to the second level, sealing them inside (or washing them outside) right at the snap. A play that has the appearance of a quick edge hitter (sweep, speed option) then forces the defensive EMOL to gain width in an effort to contain everything and force the play back inside. But as this defender gains width and as the OL seal the pursuing defense inside, the gap inside of the defensive EMOL widens, allowing for a natural alley to cut up and then out to the sideline.

QB Long Trap

FB Trap
The FB Trap is one of the first plays you lean in pee-wee that isn't just block the person straight in front of you. Still used quite a bit at the high school level and down, this is a quick hitting play that pairs well with outside threatening runs from the RB (sweep in either direction, for example). The key is you want your ball carrier to stay low and hide behind his OL, then come right off the trapping blocker's butt and burst through the second and third level while the defense is still trying to find the ball.

Counter F/H
The Counter F/H is essentially a pairing of Power O with a long trap. A backside OL (typically the OG, but sometimes the Center or even tackle) is responsible for kicking the defensive EMOL. The H-Back or FB then leads the ball carrier through the hole.

*Note the playside OT missed his block here, which is why the MIKE was able to make a play

Counter OT
Counter OT - also known as Counter Trey - sees two backside OL pull to the playside (typically the backside OG and backside OT, but sometimes the Center and one of the two backside OL). The first puller will kick block the defensive EMOL, while the second puller will lead the ball carrier into the hole. It works very similarly to Counter F/H, only the lead blocker is an OL rather than a back.

Nussmeier Gun Game
Down G
Down G is a quick hitting play that has the intention of ultimately getting to the outside. But with Defensive EMOL maintaining outside shoulder responsibility, it has become increasingly difficult to actual be able to reach them and allow the ball carrier to get to the edge. So just like the Long Trap described above, you can kick block him. Now, with the kick coming from the playside, you can reach him quicker, allowing for a quicker hitting play to attack the defense, particularly a defense that believes that an inside run is likely.

Nussmeier Gun Game

Influence Trap
With simplified rules for defending pulling lineman (block-down, step down), offensive X's and O's guys needed ways  or successfully running trap plays. Pulling lineman and down blockers were taking defenders either directly to the play or allowing the defense to maintain a tight space between themselves and the releasing blockers, making it very difficult to trap block them.

This is where the influence trap came into play. Lead G, Lead T, or OG Sweeps are a popular way of getting to the outside; as are outside zone schemes and pin and pull schemes, all which behave in a similar manner when discussing the DL rules. For each of these plays, a defender will step playside to improve his angle to the football and form a sort of wall to the playside, even giving himself the possibility of tracking the ball from inside-out.

So offensive coordinators developed "influence traps". In this case, influence traps have a front side "trap" blocker (typically the frontside OG) pull and kick the defensive EMOL. The playside OT and TE simply down block to the second level, keeping the 3-Tech free. As the 3-Tech follows his hands in the direction of the pulling frontside OG, a backside OG will actually trap block him. The "influence" block draws the DL outside (along with drawing the playside LBs outside), while the down blocks and second level blocks because of the trap scheme allow the offense to seal the remaining defense to the backside of the play. The result is a quick hitting play that forms an alley for the ball carrier.

Teams can either hand the ball off to the backside of the play as if it were a standard short trap play (this influences the second level less, but maintains it's ability to influence the hands of the DL), or hand off playside with an initial shuffle step - forcing the defense to flow out of respect for the outside run possibility - before cutting the ball straight upfield.

Harbaugh Influence Wham
James Light went through to describe how Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer used Wham plays in their playbook architecture. Harbaugh, who is a big proponent of Lead T and Lead G plays, as well as old fashion Power O, loves the a gap blocking variant that utilizes influence blocks on the front side of the play, or even influence blocks on the backside of the play.

A first variant is the same as a standard influence trap, You pull a frontside player to the play, and use the wham block to cut up behind for an inside run as the defense bugs outside.

Of course, Harbaugh takes it one further, essentially utilizing two influence blocks. He influences the defender over top of the initial influence blocker. This really gets the defense flowing while allowing the offense to have extremely advantageous angles at both the first and second level, while simultaneously getting the opposing DL to take itself out of the play when it attempts to get penetration. This is a great concept to use off of a Power O base concept, because it attacks the backside of the play when the defense starts over-compensating to account for the additional numbers at the point of attack in a Power O scheme.

All Influence Wham Courtesy of Jim Light
Meyer/OSU Wham
Which, despite the inside zone scheme, is almost exactly what Meyer is doing. He starts off with tight zone steps but essentially uses the same rules to seal the defense to the backside of the play. There is no influence block, because the tight zone look acts to influence the defense. The Wham block comes from the direction the OL is zone blocking, making it look like a split zone concept.

Meyer blocks 0-Technique and back, some coaches believe in 3-Technique and outside. 0-Tech is difficult to block unless you're in gun, so take that for what you will.

Trap blocks are awesome. Combined with influence blocks, they use what the DL is taught against them. Similarly, they act as quick hitting counter plays in an ever-increasing game where defenders are cut loose to fly to the football. Think about it:
  1. DEs are currently flying upfield in an effort to get any sort of pass rush, especially with the prevalence of 1-step and 3-step quick passing games; 
  2. DTs are tasked with getting quick penetration to disrupt any run play in their direction and get pressure right in the QB's grill up the gut, which is allowed because; 
  3. Safety sized defenders are being moved to LBs and told to chase the football as quickly as possible, as this reduces their need to take on blockers and have to read schemes.
You look at those three facts and you realize that at every single box position, defenders are setting themselves up to be gashed by trap blocking schemes. This is why Harbaugh was so successful in San Fransisco, this is a big reason why Meyer was so successful in the National Title Game, this is why MSU is re-establishing trap blocks more and more into their scheme. It's making a come back as defenses have started adjusting to the quick passing attacks that many offenses are utilizing. In the ever evolving and revolving game of football, trap blocks are back baby, and I couldn't be happier. It's about time.


  1. These blocking schemes look to my novice eye to be fairly complicated. Much more so than the simple things the Michigan OL has failed to do in the last few seasons. Most recent Michigan OL have struggled to just block the guy in front of them let alone execute a pulling guard. Maybe it is just my pessimism talking but I presume it will be at least a season before we see any of this stuff working. In 2015 we will be left to wonder why that guy was in the backfield unblocked or why the OL just ran over the RB.

    1. For Michigan, I'd expect these things to be in the future, but not necessarily featured much in 2015, especially not early in the season.

      You're correct, the OL needs to identify their targets at all levels. For the H-backs/TEs, they are also learning more than they had to from last season. Wham blocks are a relatively advanced scheme for them, because they need to identify a target and identify it quickly enough and with good enough technique to seal that player on the backside.

      Michigan will likely have Counter F next year. I wouldn't be surprised if the FB Trap is in their goal line package (the short trap is a little easier to get right, which is why so many high school teams run it), but the other stuff is probably still a little advanced for much of 2015 for Michigan. They need to run their base better (Power, Inside Zone) and some other wrinkles (Lead T, Stretch) before going to a wrinkle like this IMO.