clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

FILM STUDY: What is a "Draw Play"?

We know the San Diego Chargers run a lot of draw plays, but what exactly does that mean?

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It occurred to me today that a lot of San Diego Chargers hate the draw play, despite the fact that they probably don't know what it is.

Based on some of the reactions I hear and see during games, I think many Chargers fans think the draw play is simply a handoff to the running back from a shotgun formation, when that is not it at all.

In Theory / In Concept

The draw play is meant to create big runs. Similar to a zone-blocking scheme, it works best when an offensive line works together as one. It's also meant to take defenses by surprise. It's the polar opposite of a play-action pass, which fakes the run to open up deep passes. A draw play fakes the pass to open up big runs.

Now, in the most basic sense, there is two different types of blocking. There is run-blocking and there is pass-blocking. Run blocking is when five guys in Chargers jerseys try to actually run over, or push out of the way, defenders. Pass blocking is when five guys in Chargers jerseys to try keep those defenders from getting past them.

There's a really simply way of thinking about this....

Walk up to something, a piece of furniture or something, that is nearly your size and not breakable. Push it over. Congratulations, you just accomplished run-blocking.

Now, walk up to something, a piece of furniture or something, that is nearly your size (or bigger) and not going to kill you. Have someone tip that thing towards you, and try to keep that thing from killing you or hitting the ground. Congratulations, you just accomplished pass-blocking.

Now, where the draw play differs from most runs is that it is a running play behind pass-blocking. Seems weird, right? It used to be! However, the draw play has become more popular as offenses have starting throwing out of the shotgun more often. The reason is simple: Offenses don't want to be predictable (always passing when in shotgun) and they want to take advantage what the defense thinks they're trying to do.

In Practice

Just for clarity's sake...

This is not a draw play:

Neither is this:

See how the offensive line moves forward at the snap of the ball? That means it's not a draw.

The shotgun formation may make it seem like the handoff is delayed a tick, and it might be, but the offensive line is still moving forward to create running lanes. These are just standard running plays out of the shotgun formation.

Oh, you want an example of an actual draw play? Okay, then.

Here, you get to see both and good and the bad sides of the draw play.

The bad side of the draw play is that it makes it much harder to get through the line of scrimmage. Because the offensive line isn't keeping the defenders off the line, and sometimes even letting them through, you run a higher risk of the run being stopped for a loss or being stopped for zero yards. This one was nearly stopped at the line simply because the Lions had it sniffed out.

The good side of the draw play is, once you get through the line of scrimmage, you have plenty of space to run. The WRs run at the snap of the ball, which puts all of the DBs about 15-20 yards downfield when the RB has crosses the line of scrimmage with a head full of steam, leaving behind him all of the guys that were trying to get at the QB (thinking it was a pass play).

The play above is also interesting in that the Lions were playing the pass so heavy that two of the Chargers' offensive linemen were actually left with nobody to block. They did the right thing in this situation, sliding up to the second level to throw blocks on linebackers, which left plenty of room for Gordon to maneuver.

The Draw Play Terrifies Me, But It Shouldn't

Just the thought of the draw play makes me nervous. It is, in its core existence, a "finesse" play that requires everything to go perfect for it to work. At the same time, you run a higher risk of injury, because bodies are falling towards the San Diego offensive linemen instead of away from them (hello, D.J. Fluker). What I'm getting at is, for all of our criticisms for Mike McCoy being conservative, the draw play is a risky play!

That being said, the stats don't lie. Not only do the Chargers run more draw plays than anybody, and have for years, they also run the draw play better than anybody. They run it for the highest yards-per-carry and get the least amount of tackles-for-loss out of it. They're really good at it, no matter how much San Diego Chargers fans (myself included) may wish to use a power running play instead.