When watching an American Football game in person or on TV, sometimes you might lose which offensive player has a ball on a play. One moment it looks like the running back had the ball and began running, but then a pass takes place. Sometimes even the TV camera crew follows the wrong person on the play since they think a running back has the ball. This tricky play is known as play action in football. Learn more below!
What is a Play Action in Football?
In American football, a play-action pass is a play designed to look like a running play. The sequence starts when the quarterback receives the snap, either from shotgun formation or under center. Immediately after the snap, the offensive blockers engage the defense at the line of scrimmage as if blocking for a run play. At the same time, the quarterback pretends to hand the ball off to the running back but then passes the ball to a wide receiver or tight end downfield. It is also often called a pass option play.
Why is it Called Play Action?
The play-action gets its name because the quarterback delays the pass until several seconds after the snap. When running a play-action pass, the passer won’t throw the ball until after the offensive line engages the defense, and a running back has pretended to rush upfield with the ball. This scenario means that a “play-action pass” occurs after the play’s action has already started.
Who Invented the Play Action Play?
Identifying who invented the play-action pass is complicated because it is one of the oldest plays in American gridiron football. In the 1930s, historic Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne observed that pass plays are more successful when the quarterback and receivers can hide the outcome of the play for as long as possible. He wrote that the most successful way of drawing out the play was to have the offensive linemen pretend to block a run play.
The play-action pass likely became popular in the years after the forward pass was allowed in football. This revolutionary change to the game occurred in 1906. In less than 25 years, football teams and coaches adapted the forward pass to become one of the most effective strategies in the game.
When did the First Play Action Play Happen?
Most football fans first experienced the play-action pass in the 1940 NFL Championship between the Chicago Bears and the Washington Football Team. The Bears used it in their historic T-Formation offense to coast to a 73-0 victory in that game. At the time, most football fans would have called it a play fake.
Since those early beginnings, the play-action play has only grown in popularity. Some coaches build their entire offenses around the play. In the lead-up to the 2019 Super Bowl, both the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots found particular success using this play. Many football fans think Tom Brady, the then quarterback for the Patriots, is one of the best quarterbacks to run the play.
How Many Points Can You Score on a Play Action Play?
Depending on the success of the initial fake, a play-action play can have a few different outcomes. The most likely result is that the quarterback successfully gets a quick pass to a wide receiver or tight end, resulting in a first down and a continuation of the offensive drive. Statistically, this football play is generally successful for short gains of about 8 yards.
However, sometimes, a play-action fake is so believable that the defense leaves the receivers wide open. In this case, a quarterback has complete freedom to throw a deep pass to an eligible receiver who has a clear shot at the end zone. The best potential outcome for a play-action play is a touchdown resulting in 6 points for the offense.
What Makes a Play Action Pass more Successful?
It’s important to note that the success of a play-action passing is directly related to how many rushing plays have occurred in the game before the attempted fake. If the offensive team has had a relatively successful run game, the defense will take the threat of a pass rush more seriously. If the defense over-commits, the offense can benefit from that costly mistake.
Some quarterbacks prefer to receive the snap from the shotgun position when anticipating a play-action play. After the snap and fake handoff, a quarterback must drop back into the pocket to pass the ball. If the quarterback receives the snap while under center, this dropback may require them to turn their back to the defense, making them vulnerable. By accepting the snap in the backfield, they avoid this risk and can watch the play develop.
Conclusion About Play Action Passing in Football
The play-action play starts with a fake handoff to a running back to trick the defensive players into thinking that the offense will run the ball. Instead, the quarterback drops back and passes to an open receiver. This successful pass doesn’t always result in big plays for massive gains on the field, but teams have an essential tool in their playbooks that can ensure long-term success throughout a game.