History of a Concept: The Sweep

Note: I’m having trouble with the images, I’m trying to fix them. For now some are temporary, and others aren’t showing up. I hate technology. Also, it’s even worse on the mobile version, so let’s hope you’re on a “real” computer, eh?

I want to show how the Sweep started and evolved and where it is today, more than 100 years later . . . to keep it fairly simple, I’m defining “sweep” as: at least 1 lineman pulling to lead, the ball-carrier starting out running parallel to the LOS, in a play designed to attack the edge.

John Heisman in the early 1900s pulled the two players aligned beside the Center for this play. The labels of the offensive line are different than normal because it’s an unbalanced line, but essentially he’s pulling both Guards.


In the early 1900s there was a Single Wing “Buck Lateral” which combined the “buck dive” of a player running up the middle with the sweep action by a different runner. Around the same time, the Spinner series allowed a player to hand off up the middle or to a player coming around.

Some discarded the “buck” aspect and used that player as another blocker on the edge. The first image is legendary Pop Warner’s from his 1912 book and the second image is New York Giants coach Allie Sherman’s from his 1963 book:





At some point, people ran this type of sweep-ish play, here shown from the Short Punt formation in Dana X. Bible’s 1947 book Championship Football. It looks complicated:


Here’s a Single Wing Sweep that the University of Texas ran in the 1930s, from their player Jack Crain’s playbook, some of which is floating around on the internet:xo_sweep_singlewing_jackcraintexas

Next up, the Notre Dame Box Sweep – Knute Rockne called his Sweep “Red Dog” and it was very effective. Once the defense adjusted for it, he ran “Reverse Sweep” as a counter play to the weakside. It had misdirection plus 3 pulling offensive linemen:


The next phase was the T Formation “Buck Dive/Sweep” leading to the Split T and Wing T “Buck Series”. The FB “bucks” (sometimes with a trap block) into the middle of the line, with the HB coming across the ball to run a sweep action to the strong side. On the FB trap, the BSG would pull and trap the first defender past the center.

The Buck Sweep, easily the most famous play in the Wing T looks the same, but the TE and WB block the edge to the inside and both Guards pull to set up the edge. The QB would boot away, with or without a back, with or without receivers for a bootleg or rollout pass. Sometimes after the fake, the QB would roll behind the HB.

And then, the Lombardi Sweep became the most famous version.

Lombardi (as Giants OC) installed the Sweep in 1954. It was the 3 back Split T Buck Dive Sweep adjusted for a 2-back Pro Set. Essentially, the playside HB was the Flanker out wide, and a “Red/Split” backfield alignment with the FB offset to the strong side  and the remaining HB offset to the weak side. Instead of the old concept of faking to the FB up the middle, that part of the play was discarded and the FB blocked the Defensive End so the Tackle could immediately release to the second level, cutting off pursuit. In 1956 the Giants won the NFL Championship and the Pro Set and Lombardi Sweep spread throughout the league. Lombardi became the HC in Green Bay and perfected the Sweep (from Lombardi’s 1966 Packers playbook).


The Lombardi Sweep – “a seal here, a seal here, and run the ball in the alley”.

The first seal is the playside Guard sealing the outside.

The second seal is the backside Guard sealing the inside.

The alley is the area between the seals. If the edge defender (B in the diagram) is outside, the backside Guard and ball-carrier can run inside of him, as illustrated by the dashed line.


“It began to be a part of me, this sweep, this pay-off-the-mortgage play they are now calling The Lombardi Sweep, during my days at Fordham. I was impressed playing against the Single-Wing sweep the way those Pittsburgh teams of Jock Sutherland ran it. And I was impressed again in those early days of attending coaching clinics when the Single-Wing was discussed. Today our sweep has a lot of those Sutherland qualities, the same guard-pulling techniques, the same ball-carrier cutback feature, and there’s nothing spectacular about it. It’s just a yard-gainer, and I’ve diagrammed it so many times and coached it so much and watched it evolve so often since i first put it in with the Giants eight years ago that I think I see it in my sleep. We ran inside instead of outside, using cross-blocking, because a play’s value is not only in that play itself but in the counter it sets up.” Lombardi, Run to Daylight

One of Lombardi’s favorite counters to the Sweep was the Sucker play, in which the QB would hand off to the FB and then fake the Sweep, with everyone other than the FB doing the same thing they do on the Sweep (from Lombardi’s 1966 Packers playbook).


1959 Tiger Ellison “Wagon Train” Sweep from page 120 of Ellison’s book Run and Shoot Football: Offense of the Future (and page 114 of the reprint (Run and Shoot Football: The Now Attack) shows one of the 5 core plays of the original “Run and Shoot” offense:


He called it Wagon Train West (to the left) and Wagon Train East (to the right). Ellison liked it because it provided “old-fashioned power with deception”.

Note: I like the Ellison description because it’s reminiscent of how Clark Shaughnessy referred to the modern T formation scheme, “hidden ball stuff but with power”.

Bill Walsh ran the Lombardi version, here pictured in his book, Finding the Winning Edge. He ran it out of the same formation as Lombardi, here drawn as Red Right. xo_sweep_walsh

Walsh had several sweeps, which he illustrated in his book:

The first example is Red Right, the second is Brown Left Nasty. The first one is slightly different than Lombardi’s as the defense is aligned differently, so the TE blocks the DE (who’s still the EMLOS defender) and the Fullback goes outside of that to block a LB (S) and the Tackle blocks the DT (instead of a LB).

The Chip Kelly Shotgun Sweep usually pulls the C and playside G, sometimes both Guards, depending on the defensive front.

Gus Malzahn Gun Sweep often will pull the backside G and H-back, who’s often stacked in front of the RB. Usually the formation looks like a single wing, with essentially a slot set to the backside, the H-back and RB to the backside (behind the bsT) and only a TE to the playside. So if the QB keeps he has a screen pass he can throw.

As the ball-carrier usually crosses the ball to get the handoff, Kelly and Malzahn’s versions can be run as a “Jab” counter sweep with the RB offset playside to break tendencies.

There’s a shotgun read option play which features Sweep action by the RB but the QB can keep the ball and run Power O.

Jet and Fly Sweeps feature a player running in motion towards the ball and the ball being snapped as the player reaches the QB. Usually called Jet if QB under center and Fly if QB in gun, it can be handed off or faked and then handed off to a RB up the middle or tossed to the RB for an outside run.

Popular these days is the Toss Crack Sweep. It was the first play by the Falcons in Super Bowl 51 and the last play for the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. Here’s one drawn with Jet sweep motion to give it a bit of misdirection. ~ I found this drawing online, need to track it down, it seems to be with a new football app.


I saw Tennessee run a Read Double Sweep in 2015 versus Alabama. I stole this drawing from Seth Price of The Football Concepts dot com and it seems most people call this “Dual Sweep”. It’s one of the best designed run plays I’ve ever seen. I don’t know if Butch Jones and Mike DeBord invented it or not, but I’ve only seen a couple of other teams run it.


Versus the Bama 3-4 the C blocked the NT, each OT pinned a DE inside, each G pulled to the outside and kicked-out an OLB. There was a TE to block the SILB; the QB read the WILB. They ran this twice versus Bama, for good yards, and Saban stopped playing the 3-4.

That’s all for now . . .


Brutal Only From a Distance, Maybe…

While there’s lots of hand-wringing by the sportswriter industrial complex this week over bad hits by Gronk and some Bengals and some Steelers (in two poorly ref’d games, which always leads to cheap shots, which the NFL office could fix but they refuse to because they want controversy), remember football is FAR less violent these days than it used to be, back in the goodle days when your grandpappy and I drank moonshine and watched the pigskin on the black and white TV after church let out.

I don’t care about the violence in the game, I’m there for the play design and strategy. If these writers would just write a few decent articles on Xs and Os, the fans would be too busy tracking the concepts in the game to worry about the big hits.

Here’s a few things to ponder:

Clothesline (tackle)

Dick “Night Train” Lane used it so much it was called the “Night Train necktie”. 


Chuck Bednarik nearly killed Frank Gifford with one.


Gifford was out for more than a year. Gifford’s teammate, MLB Sam Huff, on the hit:

“Frank shouldn’t have been running that route. He tried to come underneath the linebackers – something that should always be avoided – especially against a seasoned vet like Bednarik. Bednarik just clotheslined him. He was hit so hard that he did a complete flip in the air and landed on the back of his head on the infield dirt. Not only was Frank knocked out, but he had fumbled the ball and the Eagles recovered . . . I walked by Frank as he lay there on the ground, his face white and his body trembling from the shock of the hit as the medical staff worked on him. They took him out on a stretcher. As I entered the huddle, everyone was saying that it was all over for Gifford. There was no way he could survive a hit like that . . . It was the greatest hit I’d ever seen – I’m only sorry I didn’t get that hit. As a linebacker, you lie awake at night fantasizing about hits like that.” (Huff’s autobiography)

Paul Brown wrote this in his autobiogarphy: “Chuck Bednarik was like a flaming torch on the field, one of the most ferocious players I have ever seen.”

Now THAT’S a compliment!

Headslap (pass rush move)

It’s what it sounds like, slapping the opponent up side the head at the snap. Deacon Jones maybe invented it, certainly mastered it. It’s the title of his autobiography:


Bob Trumpy, former Bengals TE: “On a cold day, with a forearm taped and then soaked and left to harden, that thing can take chips out of your helmet.” (Zimmerman, SI article)

Another player known for the headslap was Rich “Tombstone” Jackson, Denver Broncos DE whose career was cut short by a knee injury. Also, Roger Brown of the Lions was a practitioner.

Speaking of hits to the head, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson used the “forearm karate chop to the head”.

Axe Technique (coverage)

CBs chopping receivers at the snap, then chopping again once they stand up. By then the play was almost over. Diving at the legs like this would prompt all sorts of whining these days, even though many football concepts still involve diving at the opponent’s legs.

Pat Fischer of the Cardinals and then Washington was one of the more famous axe technique users. The Rams CBs of the same era used it some.

It wasn’t all hard hits, though. Football of yesteryear also gave us fairly harmless shenanigans such as: “Chubby Grigg [was] the first truly big man to be quick and agile enough to control the middle of a line. Often he spit tobacco juice in the face of the offensive lineman across from him.” (Brown, 139) Note: This also mentioned in Dan Daly’s book as witnessed by Derrell Palmer. (Daly, 237)

So, next time you see an article pretending “it’s all so horrible!”, just keep moving. That writer hasn’t seen enough football or read enough books to write a decent article in the first place.

Quoth Don DeLillo (from the great football novel End Zone):

“People stress the violence. That’s the smallest part of it. Football is brutal only from a distance . . . there’s a satisfaction to the game that can’t be duplicated. There’s a harmony.”




Note on “Quick Screen & Lateral”

“There isn’t anything new in football.” – Fielding Yost, 1935

I love Sean McVay. I live in LA and have seen all hist games as HC of the Rams, and I’m amazed at how good he’s made Jared Goff look after last year’s embarrassment. But McVay isn’t inventing the concepts he’s running. It’s like sportswriters are blinded by his youth and can’t be bothered to do any research. In their defense, Romo pretends much of this is new, so maybe people just don’t know any better, or – God forbid – TRUST TONY ROMO. Either way, some dude at the Ringer says McVay deserves the “playbook of the year” award. Some fellow on Twitter posted a GIF. People are kissing McVay’s ass from every direction over a Quick Screen plus Lateral.




It certainly is fantastic. But the Jets ran it last year for a TD against the Rams.




Many coaches, including Urban Meyer, have been running it for many years. Some teams lateral to a Jet/Fly sweep motion player instead of the RB, but it’s the same concept. The Rams threw it to #2 of Trips, the Jets threw it to #1 of a Slot set. I don’t know who invented the quick screen, but Stagg was running it at the College of the Pacific in the 1940s with Eddie LeBaron at QB. Laterals have been around since the 1800s.

Maybe next week McVay will run a screen, lateral, lateral, and people will lose their minds.




Why Won’t Anyone Correct Tony Romo?

My first experience with Nostradamus Romo was Bengals v Packers, where he lied all game. He said the Bengals wouldn’t blitz, and they blitzed all 3 LBs. He said the Bengals were playing man when they played Tampa 2 zone.

I told myself to relax, that he’s got bosses, and those bosses would correct him. But clearly they won’t. Sunday, in Saints v Rams, the Rams ran a fake Jet Sweep with a toss to the backside. Romo said the Rams STOLE it from the Saints, who had run it the previous week. But the Rams run it consistently. Here’s an example from Week 3 versus the 49ers.


Last year, as OC in Washington, McVay called it for the game-winning TD by Chris Thompson in the Washington at Eagles game. Here’s a picture of it:


Later in the Rams v Saints game, the Rams ran a Split Zone PA which many people call “Swap Boot” and Romo said it was an example of McVay’s unique play design. It may be the most popular PA in the game!

Hopefully I can get through the rest of the season without hearing Romo again. It’s bad enough he lies or doesn’t do enough research. It’s worse that Nantz won’t correct him. It’s tragic that nobody at CBS has the balls to fire him.

Other complaints about analyst Romo:

He addresses players by name, as if they can hear him. Maybe he thinks they can? Maybe he thinks he’s being folksy? Instead, he’s just being weird. Don’t do it!, Tony!

He screams a lot, especially the phrase “right there!” as if we can’t see what’s on the screen.

He pretends he understands situational football. This is the most annoying habit he has because I had to sit through a decade of Romo being garbage at situational football.

If you doubt me, go watch any of these games:

2008 Week 14 Cowboys v Steelers

2011 Week 17 Cowboys v Jets

2012 Week 17 Cowboys v Washington

2013 Week 8 Cowboys at Lions

2013 Week 15 Packers at Cowboys I’d argue this one’s the worst. Romo keeps throwing in the second half with a big lead, instead of checking to run plays. This gave the Packers time to erase a 23 point halftime deficit (26-3, extended to 29-3 in the 3rd quarter). With a lead, trying to run the clock out, Romo audibles to a pass and after almost being sacked, threw a terrible slant route intercepted by Sam Shields. Then trailing by 1, Romo misread the coverage and threw an even worse interception to Tramon Williams on a trap coverage. I know you’re thinking “sometimes Aaron Rodgers leads big comebacks” but that ignores the mismanaging of the clock AND the fact that the Packers QB was Matt Flynn, as Rodgers was injured and did not play in the game. (Note: In case you’re wondering, Yes, Jason Garrett was laughing and congratulating players on the sideline in the fourth quarter as if the game was over. Not exactly Belichickian, is he?)


Note: I’m not saying Romo was a “choker”. Sometimes he was good or great in the two minute drill. But like many QBs (cough Philip Rivers cough), he paid little attention to situational football and he and his head coaches routinely and repeatedly made the same stupid mistakes, often hurting their own team. He needs to stop pretending fans don’t remember. Some fans lost money on these games, and the pain lingers.

That said, he’s 100 times better than Phil Simms. We should just be glad Favre’s not in the booth, saying “I’d chuck it deep here” every play and people would pretend he’s not the all-time turnover leader. So it goes, eh?

All screenshots from NFL Game Pass, of course.



The First Day of the Future of Football?

NBC will air tonight’s Titans – Steelers game via the Cable Cam. I remain convinced with some effort they could give it a stable view as the Madden game does, but they seem to use the wrong lens and angle due to either laziness or not giving a damn. Supposedly, they’ve been “experimenting” the past 3 weeks with different looks. Maybe I’ll write a piece tomorrow celebrating what they came up with.



Situational Football Strikes Again

“There was a lot of great situational football.”
– Bill Belichick, in the post game press conference following Super Bowl LI

Here we are. The third consecutive Superb Owl decided by situational football. Lots of writers are making excusing and blaming other things. But the Falcons made a few huge mistakes, and are going to be laughed at the rest of their lives for them.

1. The Falcons NOT running the play clock down while the game clock was running.

This is the most unforgivable, as any coach in any game where his team has a lead of more than 16 should do. You’re up three possessions (at one point they were up four possessions), the only way you can lose is to leave enough time for your opponent to score.

2. The Falcons getting a first down at the 22 yard line with under 5 minutes to play, leading by 8, and not getting any points.

The Patriots had shown they weren’t going to stop fighting, and they’d made it a one-score game. The only thing that could kill them is it going back to a two-score game. After two great pass plays (not called while in FG range), it was time to be smart. Three runs and a FG, probably getting all the Patriots timeouts in return.
Instead, it’s a run, a pass play sack (first Patriots timeout), holding penalty, incompletion) and a punt from the 45 yard line.

3. Much like the Seahawks in XLIX, the Falcons had wasted their first two timeouts of the second half. They used the first with 12:57 in the 3rd quarter, and the other with 0:59 in the 3rd quarter. They spent the third challenging Julian Edelman’s catch. So when they got the ball with the game tied and 0:57 remaining, just needing to get into FG range, they had zero timeouts.

4. With under 9 minutes to go, up 28-12, the Falcons expected Devonta Freeman to block Dont’a Hightower. An inexplicable call in which Freeman seemed to think he was releasing into a route, then thought “maybe I’m blocking that guy?”, then getting pushed aside by Hightower, who then caused Matt Ryan to fumble. The Patriots recovered at the Falcons 25 and scored a quick touchdown. Without this turnover, the Patriots probably don’t have time to come all the way back. Note: On this play, the ball was stupidly snapped with 14 seconds on the play clock.

Honorable mention: The Falcons calling so much man coverage that their defenders were gassed in the second half, leaving holes in the zone coverage that they started calling in the 4th quarter.

So, yet again, Bill Belichick did his job, the other coach didn’t, and it was beautiful.

People Still Don’t Understand SB XLIX

Bill Barnwell, who seemed to know things about football a few years ago with a decent football podcast at Grantland with Robert Mays, and now works at ESPN and does a fucking Bachelor podcast, wrote this today about the end of Super Bowl XLIX:
“Belichick’s somewhat erratic timeout usage…Some will claim in hindsight that Belichick was a genius to let the clock run against the Seahawks…it took a small miracle to stop Seattle…Arguments to the contrary are drven by hindsight and dubious.”

No. It wasn’t “somewhat erratic”, it was disciplined. What’s dubious is Barnwell believing that the end of every game is the same and should be managed as such. Belichick wasn’t being a genius. It doesn’t take a genius to see that IF Belichick calls a timeout, the Seahawks will insert Jumbo personnel and run into the end zone, but that if he doesn’t they might be stupid enough to throw while the Patriots have the personnel advantage. It doesn’t take a genius to remember that Pete Carroll gets “too hormonal” at the end of games, as proven by the USC vs Texas game (a bad and predictable call), and that Darrell Bevell loves to throw the ball, as proven by Brett Favre’s INT in the Vikings vs Saints NFC Championship game (a bad and predictable call).

It’s not about hindsight. It’s about a better chance on THAT play. 2 years later, people still don’t understand basic coaching decisions.

And it’s not about “a small miracle.” Football is not miracles and football gods and all the other garbage most current writers go on and on about. It’s about 22 players, and a myriad of possibilities. If there were miracles on football fields, nobody would ever be paralyzed or die out there. It was about wildly erratic timeout usage by Pete Carroll, which had left him with only one, which he decided to misuse by “wasting a play”, a play call which according to Russell Wilson he wasn’t allowed to audible out of, a predictable route combo against the most physical CB in the NFL and a well-prepared defense.

And yes, Belichick did the same thing 2016 Week 1. He didn’t call a timeout just because Bill Barnwell and other morons would, he waited to make sure he wouldn’t be helping his opponent. That’s his fucking job. Sadly, he’s the only decent coach we have.