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The San Ramon Valley T-Birds "Crunch" series

Posted by John Reed on

I coached briefly at the San Ramon Valley T-Birds youth football program in 1997. When I arrived, they explicitly told me I could not run the single-wing offense, for which I was somewhat known at my previous youth team, the San Ramon Bears. But I was amused to learn that the T-Birds were very proud of their “Crunch” series, which is essentially a single-wing formation and series of plays, albeit with the quarterback under center. Tom Flores’s book Football the Violent Chess Match, shows almost the same formation as the SRV T-Bird “crunch,” only Flores identifies it as the Yale University single-wing formation. On 12/4/99, I attended the first-ever game between the Bears and T-Birds. The T-Birds won three of the four games and made use of their “Crunch” series in each game. It’s worth an article. Copyright 1999 by John T. Reed

The “Crunch” formation is a 4-2 unbalanced line with a guard and tight end on the left and two guards, a tackle, and a tight end on the right. The quarterback is under center. (This is the only difference with the Yale formation. In Yale’s formation, the quarterback was not under center. He was four or five yards back.) The tailback is right behind the right guard-tackle gap. The fullback is right behind the right tackle-tight end gap. The wing is on the right a yard outside the tight end and a yard off the line of scrimmage.

“Crunch” play

The basic play out of this formation is the “Crunch” play. The T-Bird play book diagrams the blocking against a 5-3-3 defense. But my impression is that they simply run student-body forward without regard to any niceties like who blocks whom. The quarterback takes the snap and follows the blocking more or less off-tackle to the right.

Does this play ever work? Like a doggone charm. Almost every time.

This is like my wedge, seam buck, and off-tackle plays that I ran in my single wing. They are described in my book Coaching Youth Football. I think the “Crunch” works for the same reason. The defense sits in a 5-3-3, even though I have gathered all my guys at the right off-tackle hole. When I run the play, or when the T-Birds run the “Crunch,” the offensive blockers far outnumber the defenders at the point of attack.

Like the sweep when you have speed, or the blast, the “Crunch” is a coachingless play. That is, all you have to do is diagram it and run it. There is no need to practice it, refine it, or coach it. It is brute force, period.

Defending it

In general, the defense must mirror the offensive formation. In the early years of football, this was normal because everyone had to go both ways by rule and the defensive positions even had the same names as the offensive positions.

The reason the “Crunch” and the inside running plays of the single wing work is that the defense does not have the smarts, guts, or flexibility to mirror the offense. They leave their linebackers and defensive backs scattered all over creation to stop plays which cannot be run or are unlikely to be run out of the “Crunch” or single-wing, thereby taking those defenders out of the game. Near the point of attack, it is eleven offensive players versus about six defenders. Guess who wins that battle?

To defend it, I would have my linebackers and defensive backs line up near the guy who is their man in man-to-man pass coverage. That would put a defensive back right in front of the “Crunch” tailback, another right in front of the fullback, and another right in front of the wing. I would have my line charge low, but then I always do. 99% of youth-football lines stand up when the ball is snapped. If you stand up against the “Crunch,” you are toast, because low man wins and low men with numerical superiority really win.

To state it another way, your defensive linemen have to submarine this formation, although that tends to open up other plays like the “Crunch” sweep. This defensive alignment would eliminate the offense’s numerical superiority. It would be eleven against eleven.

“Crunch” pass

The T-Birds have a pass out of this formation. They generally run the “Crunch” running play at you several times, then start as if they are running it once again, but the quarterback suddenly drops back and throws a pass, usually to the left tight end. Its a play-action pass without a fake handoff because the quarterback is the normal ball carrier in the “Crunch.”

In today’s game, I told the guys standing next to me at the game, “Here comes the pass to the left tight end”—before the snap. Sure enough, that was the play. Touchdown.

How do you defend that pass? You should be in man pass coverage. That means one of your linebackers has the left tight end. He should plug him at the line of scrimmage preventing an inside release and go with him if he goes out for a pass. In today’s game, no one went with him. He was wide open behind all the defenders. The tight end’s pass route is a sort of seam route, that is, he just goes straight up the field halfway between the safety and corner.

In one game I saw, the T-Birds substituted their first string quarterback into the crunch formation. Normally, they used the crunch for their minimum-play kids to get them their plays. When they substituted the first-string quarterback, they walked back to tell the PA announcer not to mention the substitution. When they substituted their first-string QB it was to run the crunch pass.

“Crunch” reverse

This play I do not like. They ran it on 12/4/99 and lost about ten yards. It could work under the right circumstances, but I would prefer a trap with an inside handoff.

On 12/4/99, the Bears did a dumb thing. They normally had two defenders out on the short side of the offensive line against the “Crunch.” These defenders were on the line of scrimmage lined up on air. This is unsound and a waste of defenders. Doing this weakens you at the real scene of the action.

I commented to the off-duty coach standing next to me that the two defenders were wasted in those positions against the “Crunch.” But at just that moment, the T-Bids ran the “Crunch” reverse and lost about ten yards on the play. I laughed and added, “Unless the offense is dumb enough to run the reverse against that defense.”

In the diagram, the T-Birds give an outside (away from the line of scrimmage) handoff to the wing who goes back toward the left along a sweep path. Also, the right guard next to the center pulls and blocks on the left side for the reversing wing. That was unsound against the Bears defense on this occasion because the Bears had not one, but two defenders out there. The guard can only block one. In the event, I don’t think he blocked any. Both guys chased the wing back away from the line of scrimmage and tackled him. It was ugly.

The T-Bird offensive coordinator should have said to himself, “Normally, the defense will cheat over to stop the regular ‘Crunch’ play. But the Bears are still leaving two guys out wide to our weak side. To heck with them. I’ll keep running the regular ‘Crunch’ play. I would normally run the reverse about this time in the game, but I'll be darned if I’ll do anything that dumb against that defensive alignment.” In fact, the T-Birds offensive coordinator acted as if he were blind to the defensive alignment and ran the usual T-Bird script which is about four “Crunch” plays, followed by a “Crunch” pass, followed by a “Crunch” reverse.

The correct use of this play would be to watch the defensive alignment and behavior of the defenders on the weak side. As long as they line up that way and stay home after the snap, do not run the “Crunch” reverse. But, if they change their alignment and only leave one guy there, or if they start running to the strong side instantly after the snap, then and only then do you try the “Crunch” reverse.

“Crunch” 35 trap

The T-Bird play book has a play titled “Right 35 trap.” But they garbled it. It’s the same as the “Crunch” reverse, only they add the fullback as a blocker and make the handoff inside instead of outside. An inside handoff is when the quarterback hands the ball to the ball carrier toward the line of scrimmage. In an outside handoff, the quarterback is between the ball carrier and the line of scrimmage when he makes the handoff away from the line of scrimmage. They diagram a trap block by the pulling guard, but the ball carrier runs outside it, which indicates the guy who made the diagram has a lot learn about play design and terminology.

Normally, an outside-handoff play is much more of a gamble than an inside-handoff play. If you suffer a loss on an outside handoff play, it is likely to be for five to ten yards. If you suffer a loss on an inside-handoff play, it is likely to be only one or two yards. But as diagramed, the T-Bird 35 trap manages to be an inside-handoff play which nevertheless has a big loss potential. That’s because they still have the ball carrier run a sweep path.

I do not like the “Crunch” reverse or the “Crunch” 35 trap the way they have it diagramed. But I think the trap is a good idea out of this formation, if the defense leaves the point of attack of the trap unprotected, which the Bears did.

I would have the tailback and fullback take a jab step to the right, as I did in my trap plays in my book Coaching Youth Flag Football. Then I would have the tailback and fullback reverse direction. The tailback would trap out on the weakside contain man. The fullback would receive an inside handoff and run between the trap block and the block of the left tight end. This would be a sort of off-tackle play, not a sweep.

“Crunch” power sweep

The T-Bird play book has a power sweep, although I do not remember them ever running it. Furthermore, I generally would not run it unless the defense overreacted to the regular “Crunch” and overly weakened their perimeter on the strong side. Also, it might work if the defenders at the right end got into the habit of instantly running toward the middle before reading the play.

In the “Crunch” power sweep, the running backs all go around the strong end with the quarterback following them. You should only run this if the defense either lines up with unsound strongside contain or if the alignment is sound, but the defenders abandon their contain responsibilities too soon after the snap. It would probably be a good goalline play because the defense is likely to be in a tight 6-5 or some such.

“Crunch” buck lateral

Anyone familiar with the single-wing offense would immediately see the potential to run buck-lateral plays out of this formation. There is no such play in the T-Birds’ repertoire, I guess because they would never do anything as dumb as the single wing. Those of you who do not suffer from the same biases as the T-Birds should incorporate a buck-lateral play or two into the “Crunch” series. The buck lateral is described in my books Coaching Youth Football and Coaching Youth Flag Football.

“Crunch” series

The whole “Crunch” series is a great youth-football set of plays. But it must be used only by a seeing offensive coordinator. That is you line up in the “Crunch” formation then look at the defense. They probably will stay in some sort of normal defensive alignment, which would be unsound against the “Crunch.” In that case, you run the “Crunch” over and over. If they squeeze and start stopping the regular “Crunch” play, you figure out what part of the defense they robbed to stop the “Crunch,” then you run the variation on the “Crunch” that attacks the weakened area. Do not do something dumb like run the reverse or sweep when the defense has not squeezed in.

Not used enough

I said the T-Birds were proud of this series. Actually, that may overstate it a bit. They are proud of having invented it, or at least of making use of it when few others were. But I also get the impression that they are a bit embarrassed by it because it is simple brute force, not brilliant, genius, traditional high-school-like football coaching.

They treat it like a trick play when it is, in fact, their best play. They run it several times. It averages about seven yards a play. Then they go back to their dive and off-tackle plays that average about two yards a carry.

I do not embarrass so easily. I would run the “Crunch” over and over and watch your defense like a hawk. When you got unsound somewhere in your alignment or reaction to the snap, I would hit you with a variation that attacked that spot. If you stayed unsound, I would continue to attack that spot. When you go sound again, I would go back to the regular “Crunch.”

There are a number of sequences like that in my books. In Coaching Youth Football, I told how my son’s team beat Napa in 1992 by running the blast over and over then running a fake blast slant pass. I also told you how we ran the wedge and off-tackle plays again and again in 1993 until the contain man crashed inside, at which time we would run the sweep.

In a 1997 game, we ran the double-wing wedge over and over against Benicia until they started cheating inside, then we ran a fake dive-roll-out waggle pass for the game-winning TD. The success that I have had on offense in football, and that I have seen others have, generally involved overwhelming the defense at one or two points, then pounding away at those points until the defense cheated in their alignment or reaction to the snap. Then we attacked elsewhere, generally going for much bigger gains than the regular plays. That would usually force the defense back into their original defense, at which time our overwhelm stuff would work again.

I once saw a quote from an extremely successful high school coach. He was asked repeatedly how he achieved his success. After ducking the question many times, he finally relented and said, “I don’t get bored running the same play over and over.” The T-Birds do get bored running their “Crunch.” That’s too bad. It’s a great youth-football series and it is generally much more effective than the stuff they run when they get bored with the “Crunch.”

Here’s an email I received from a reader.

“I put in a few of the crunch plays tonight. WOW! We ran about 4 long touchdowns out of about 8-10 plays.” Greg Gibson

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