Run and Shoot Offense (Coaching Guide With Images)

By Coach Martin | Football Offense

Run and Shoot Offense Football Coaching Guide

The Run and Shoot offense was first made popular in the 1970s with Darrel “Mouse” Davis and his Portland State football teams.

His version of the offense was very simplified, in that it contained only three running plays and five passing plays.

Instead of having multiple plays that could be run, the offense instead created variations off those plays to take advantage of the specific situation and the specific defense that the opposing team was running on a play.

The offense gained popularity in both the college game and then the NFL in the 1980s and early 1990s, most famously by head coach June Jones and the Atlanta Falcons, and by quarterback Warren Moon and the Houston Oilers.

As players on the defensive side of the ball began getting so athletic and fast as they are today, though, the offense fell out of favor at the professional level.

Today, though, the Run and Shoot offense can still have its place in football circles.

At its core, the Run and Shoot is a ball-control offense that moves the ball down the field using high percentage pass plays.

The idea is to take advantages of mismatches on the field, cut down on turnovers and slowly but methodically move the ball downfield, a few yards at a time.

The Run and Shoot often gets thought of as a score-quick offense, but that’s just not true.

The best Run and Shoot offenses will throw the ball a lot, for sure, but they won’t just chuck it downfield and look for huge gains on every play.

Instead, the offense will take advantage of mismatches it creates with four wide receiver-sets and a quarterback out of the shotgun, which spreads the defense out and forces them to cover a large part of the field.

Who Should Use the Run and Shoot Offense?

The key to a Run and Shoot offense is an accurate quarterback.

The quarterback in this offense doesn’t have to have the strongest arm in the world, but he does have to be able to make strong throws with a lot of accuracy.

The quarterback must be able to read defenses properly and make adjustments at the line of scrimmage based on what he sees before the snap of the ball.

Some more modern versions of the Run and Shoot will incorporate what’s known as sprint plays, where the quarterback will take the snap, then sprint to his left or his right and either hand the ball off to a running back, throw the ball to a wide receiver or even run the ball himself if he sees a hole.

In this case, it helps to have a mobile quarterback who has some speed but is also able to throw on the run.

To run the Run and Shoot successfully, your offense will also need at least four wide receivers who are good route runners, have good hands and also can make adjustments while running their routes.

The receivers also need to be able to separate from defenders after they catch the ball to gain yards after the catch.

A running back who can run routes and catch the ball out of the backfield is important, too.

In the trenches, the offensive linemen will need to have strong pass-blocking skills.

It’s not that a Run and Shoot offense won’t run the football at all…

It’s just that there are many more passing plays than running plays, and even the running plays sometimes start out with pass protection that turns into running plays once a quarterback reads an open hole.

Who Should Not Use the Run and Shoot Offense?

On the flip side, teams that are bigger, slower and built more for a smashmouth type of football would not be a good fit for a Run and Shoot.

For all the reasons mentioned above, the Run and Shoot offense is just not a fit for a team that likes to run the ball a lot or that doesn’t have a lot of receiving options on the team.

In addition, the Run and Shoot won’t be good for quarterbacks who don’t possess at least some mobility and who maybe aren’t the most accurate passers.

This is not to say that if your team isn’t the best fit for a Run and Shoot that you don’t have a good quarterback.

It’s just that your team’s personnel might not be tailored for this type of offense.

Finally, a Run and Shoot offense is not the best fit for teams that have players who aren’t great at making adjustments on the fly as the play is developing.

Plenty of teams have outstanding players but who may just not be as great at reading defenses and plays as they develop, and therefore wouldn’t be the best at running this type of offense.

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How a Run and Shoot Offense is Run

Stage 1: Blocking

As with all types of offense, it all starts up front with the big guys.

The Run and Shoot offense asks a lot of offensive linemen, because it employs only five of them on just about every play.

Sometimes, a Run and Shoot offense will use a tight end, but when they do, they’ll split the tight end out wide and have him run a passing route.

As such, a Run and Shoot offense will have a center, two guards and two offensive tackles along the line of scrimmage and no other offensive linemen in to help blocking.

There will be one running back lined up in the backfield on most plays, and this running will also sometimes help in pass coverage.

Like the other skill players on the offense, the running back will be asked to read the play as it develops to determine whether he is blocking, carrying the ball or running a passing route.

The idea with blocking for the Run and Shoot is to simplify the task for the offensive linemen.

In most cases, offensive linemen will be asked to pass block or, on running plays, to start in a pass-blocking stance after the snap of the ball.

Most Run and Shoot offenses will either slide the pass coverage to the left or the right if the quarterback is sprinting out to either side, or will zone block to the outside of one or the other side of the field.

The offensive tackles are responsible for outside contain on blocking the defensive ends and also keeping aware of any blitzers coming from the outside of the line.

The guards and center have combination responsibility for the defensive tackles and any linebacker rushing the line of scrimmage.

The nice part about the Run and Shoot offense, though, is that by spreading receivers out throughout the field and running so many passing routes, the defense won’t have as many opportunities for blitz packages.

This makes it a little easier for the offensive line to block what’s in front of them, since there won’t be as many players attacking the quarterback.

Stage 2: The Formation

The rest of the formation is determined by where the receivers line up.

On almost every play out of the Run and Shoot, the quarterback will be in a shotgun with a running back either to his left or to his right.

The receivers will then line up in three primary formations:

  • Trips Right - With three receivers to the right of the offensive line and one to the left.
  • Trips Left - With three receivers to the left of the offensive line and one to the right.
  • Spread - With two receivers on each side of the offensive line.

The idea behind the Run and Shoot formation is to force the defense to either load up its personnel with extra defensive backs or to have linebackers line up outside in coverage opposite the receivers.

The theory of the offense is to create mismatches simply through the formation itself, spreading the defenders out and leaving extra space in the middle of the field.

A lot of teams who use a Run and Shoot offense will take it a step further and create even more confusion and mismatches by utilizing pre-snap motion.

In this scenario, the offense might start the play lined up in Trips Left, but then have one of the receivers go in motion to create a Spread formation before the ball is snapped.

Defenders in this scenario will be forced to move across the field or adjust their coverage assignments on the fly right as the ball is about to be snapped.

Stage 3: Reading the Play

One of the most important factors in running a successful Run and Shoot offense is coming to the line of scrimmage with at least two options.

That means that in the huddle, the quarterback will call one main play but have the option of going to a slightly different variation of that play based on how the defense is lining up.

If the quarterback sees a potential opening for the passing game, he might stick with the original play call.

If he sees an opening in the run game, he might call an audible and either run the ball himself or hand it off to the running back.

After the snap of the ball, it’s important that the receivers and the quarterback are reading the defense to see what is developing.

Receivers will have their assigned route for each play, but as they begin to run their route, they will most likely be given an option to break the route off into something else, based on the coverage that’s in front of them.

It’s important that the quarterback and receivers are on the same page, too, so that the quarterback doesn’t think a receiver’s doing one thing and then ends up doing something else entirely.

The idea here is to take what the defense gives you, quite literally.

If they are giving the receivers a few yard cushion, then the quarterback should go to the underneath pass to try to gain a few yards at a time to gain first down after first down.

If the defense is pressing receivers at the line of scrimmage, then maybe a longer pass play over the top will do.

Stage 4: The Routes

The last philosophy behind the Run and Shoot is attacking different levels of the defense on the same play.

While the offense isn’t one that will integrate downfield, deep passes on many plays, it will still run deep routes on every play to keep the defense honest and clear defenders out of certain zones on the field.

With at least four (and a lot of times five) players running a passing route on each play, the offense has the ability to attacking three different depths of the defense – the short depth, the middle and the deep.

To do this, the outside receivers will might run a Go or Post route, while one of the slot receivers runs a a crossing route 10 yards deep, and the other slot receiver and running back run Dig or Slant routes that attack the short part of the defense.

The idea here is that by running routes at all different levels of the defense, safeties won’t be able to help out in shorter passing plays, and other defenders will be cleared out of the short and middle zones, thereby creating more space for the speedy receivers to take advantage of the coverage mismatch against either nickelbacks or linebackers.


As you can see, the Run and Shoot offense is not one that will be a great fit for all teams and all personnel types.

However, if used with the proper personnel and in the right scenarios, the Run and Shoot offense can still be run with a lot of success at many levels of football, even though it isn’t as popular in the professional or collegiate ranks anymore.

The key to any Run and Shoot offense is the quarterback and whether he is able to read defenses quickly and effectively, and whether he is an accurate passer.

After that, make sure your team has a lot of options at receiver, and that your team is quick and speedier than it is strong and powerful.

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