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:
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”.
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 . . .