Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Trick and Treat: The Flea Flicker

In honor of Halloween, Naptime Huddle will run a new “Trick and Treat” series during October, profiling several trick plays in football.  Today we begin with my personal favorite, the “flea flicker.”

Trick plays are about misdirection.  The offense wants the defense to believe it is running a particular play when it will actually be using a completely different play.  The idea is that the defense becomes committed to what it believes the offense is attempting and is therefore unable to react in time to stop the actual play.  Of course, trick plays are seldom used because if the offense is unable to “sell” the misdirection, it is vulnerable to a huge loss of yardage and possibly a turnover.

The flea flicker is designed to make the defense think that the offense will run the ball instead of throw it.  The picture below depicts an offense (in red) in the “I” formation, with the quarterback (QB) behind the center, the fullback (FB) behind the quarterback, then the running back (RB, also called a “halfback”) directly behind the fullback. 

When the quarterback takes the snap, he hands it off or tosses it to the side or behind him (called a “lateral”) to another player, typically the running back.  In our example (with the defense not shown), the QB laterals the ball to the running back (the yellow line).  In the meantime, the other backs and receivers run their predetermined routes (shown by the black lines):

At this point it is very important to distinguish a lateral from a forward pass.  Under the rules of football, only one forward pass is allowed per play.  A “forward pass” is the act of throwing the ball toward or past the line of scrimmage, or “downfield.”  With a lateral, you send the ball to another player without using up your one forward pass.  It is critical, therefore, that the QB and running back use laterals in the first two movements of the ball so that the QB can legally throw the ball downfield to a receiver.

OK, back to our play.  Once the running back catches the lateral from the QB, he then runs with the ball either toward the line of scrimmage or parallel to it.  At the same time, the QB moves back from the line of scrimamge.  Before he crosses the line of scrimmage, the running back stops and turns back to face the quarterback.  He then laterals the ball back to the quarterback (yellow line):

Once the quarterback has the ball again, he then looks downfield for an open receiver (their running routes are shown in black) and throws the ball:

From the defense’s point of view, the play looks like a run.  Therefore, the defenders who would be covering the receivers will abandon their passing defense and move back toward the line of scrimmage to pursue the runner.  Defenders who would be rushing the quarterback will also divert their attention to the runner.  As a result, the quarterback has more time to look for a receiver and there is a greater likelihood that there will be a receiver open to catch the pass.  Of course, if the defense catches wind of what's going on, there is a good chance that the running back will be tackled for a loss before he can lateral the ball back to the quarterback, or the ball could be fumbled on one of the laterals.

Here is an example of a successful flea flicker executed by the New Orleans Saints: