Performance In Context: Play Design Matters

Matt Jones

You don’t need to be an X and O’s genius to develop a good eye for talent. However,  a solid understanding of basic play design is an integral part of developing perspective and context. 

A carry of Florida running back Matt Jones in the Gators’ contest with Kentucky offers a simple, but compelling example. First, watch the play.

Kentucky stuffs Jones for a loss. Was he lacking speed, agility, balance or power? Did he make a poor decision? The play design offers the answer.

Florida is running a counter trap on this play. It’s a run the Gators have used multiple times on this drive.


For those of you not familiar with the anatomy of a counter trap, it’s a simple concept: The offense overloads one side of the line of scrimmage in an attempt to fool the defense into thinking that if this play is a run, then the ballcarrier will work behind the blocks to the overloaded side when in fact, the offense pulls two players across the formation to the weak side to open an inside and outside seal at the edge of the defense. Meanwhile the rest of the offensive line attempts to collapse the remaining defenders to a side of the field where they cannot pursue the ball carrier or interfere with development of crease by pulling blockers.

This is a classic form of misdirection. Many of you reading this post have seen various forms of the counter trap in action for years and years. Washington made it famous during the Joe Gibbs era.

Where context is vital to understanding Jones’ performance on this run is the alignment of the Kentucky defense. What we know about the counter trap is that the offense is relying on one of two basic tenets: Tricking the defense into thinking the run will be blocked to the strong side and force the defenders to aligning more men on that strong side to account for it or executing a variation of the play with a blocking scheme that can adjust to what appears to be a numbers advantage by the defense to the side of the field where the play is designed to go.


In this case, Kentucky has 6 of 11 defenders on the play side of the counter trap. The Wildcats have a good idea that Florida intends to run the counter based on this alignment of six play side defenders and four backside defenders.

Is it really fair to penalize the running back for his athleticism or decision-making if Florida runs this play into the teeth of a defense that has accurately addressed the design of the play? The answer is no, not if the Kentucky unit executes as they’ve intended.

And as you saw above, they do, overloading the right side. Jones’ only decision is to run into the cornerback penetrating deep into the backfield, or slide inside and hope there are good enough blocks from the center and right tackle to provide Jones an alternate crease for a short gain. Instead, the defensive tackle penetrates this gap and levels Jones for a loss.

Unless you’re expecting a cutback to left end, which maybe 3-4 NFL runners can do a few times a year with success, then you’re not condemning Jones on this play. The true question is why did Florida still run this play based on the defense’s alignment?

If there’s anyone accountable for the outcome of this play it’s the quarterback or the coach. In many systems, a quarterback has the freedom to change the play. If not, then the coaching staff should take the initiative to call a timeout.

Matt Jones had 30 touches in this game and multiple opportunities in pass protection, but this attempt should not factor into his evaluation.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2014 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2014 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

The 2015 RSP will be available April 1 and pre-ordering begins in January. 

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