Hue Jackson-Super Bowl X’s & O’s: The Counter Trey Read

After looking at the Counter Trey in a previous post, I want to breakdown another variant we’ll see the Carolina Panthers run tonight during the biggest game in franchise history. The film is pulled from the Bengal’s 34-21 week-six victory over the Bills.

First, a quick review of the concept. The original Counter Trey was popularized by Joe Gibbs’ Washington Redskins teams of the 1980s. It falls under the ‘power’ run game umbrella, as it is gap-blocked, requiring offensive linemen to both down block and pull. The ubiquitous play is run at all levels of football in a variety of offensive systems.

An element of misdirection is built into the concept as the running back will take a hard jab-step away from the play’s direction, often causing hesitation and pulling linebackers away from the ball (known as an ‘influence’ step). Used in conjunction with zone-blocked plays such as inside zone, the concept is an outstanding constraint (adjustment) to defenses that key the running back’s flow for play direction and over-pursue the ball.

I chose to breakdown this particular play as it constantly shows up on Panthers’ film (and is a Hue Jackson favorite), and should work well against Denver’s aggressive edge rushers (Miller and Ware). When game-planning for edge rushers that fly off the line of scrimmage, ‘trap’ blocks are a must-have. The idea behind a trap block is simple; give the defender a free release at the line, then bring a blocker across the formation to ear hole him from the side. This eliminates the edge rusher’s ability to beat blocks by shooting gaps, creating havoc in the backfield before the blocks can develop.


The Panthers have taken the concept of the Counter Trey one step further by integrating a ‘read’ of the backside defender. Reading a defender eliminates the need to block him, re-balancing numbers for the offense at the line of scrimmage (create more blockers than defenders at the point of attack) and creates the potential for explosive plays when the read man puts himself out of position. The Panthers’ offense will run a variety of read plays as quarterback Cam Newton consistently makes quick, accurate reads on the read man and can dish out and take open field punishment.

Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula often flip the roles of the running back/quarterback, with the quarterback running the counter trey and the running back taking an outside zone path. We’ll look an example of the Tail back running the Counter, then look at the Panthers’ version with the quarterback running the Counter.

-The left tackle will pull, acting as a wrapper through the hole. He will attack the first threat to his inside shoulder, generally a linebacker scrapping to the ball

-The left guard will pull, looking to kick out the End Man on Line of Scrimmage (EMLOS), in this case #91. Remember, the EMLOS is giving a free release.

-The center will down block the wide 3-technique. He has to cover some distance to make this block, but the alignments create a nice blocking angle.

-The right guard will down block the nose tackle. Again, the defensive line’s alignment creates a good blocking angle here.

-The right tackle will down block the 4i.

-The tight end will block the 6-technique (#53), but his block will be more difficult as the defender is in a heads-up alignment. If the tight end is quickly beaten inside, the defender can train wreck the pullers, killing the play before it starts. It looks like the play is designed to hit the D-gap (outside shoulder of the tight end), so he’ll need to push or log the defender past the play if he attacks the inside gap.

-The running back will take a hard jab step away from the play to false key linebackers reading his flow for play direction, to set up angles for the down blocks and pullers by freezing/false-stepping the linebackers, and to give the pullers time to cross the center. After receiving the ball the running back will press the D-gap, looking to hit the hole and get vertical QUICKLY. He must read the pulling tackle’s block as he enters the hole. It is his responsibility to choose the correct path based on the guard’s block (read the blocker’s rear end; cut in whichever direction it is pointed).

As you will see later, the running back’s hard outside jab-step holds the linebacker (#52) just long enough to slow his flow the ball, allowing the wrapper (the left tackle) to pick him up at the second level.

You can see Dalton clearly reading the backside (away from the play) EMLOS (#55). Dalton is a legitimate threat to pull the ball here as he is surprisingly fast and protects himself well in the open field. Notice the playside (where the ball is going) EMLOS (#91) has not been blocked. The pulling guard will trap him.

The read is simple: if the option defender holds his ground or widens away from the play, give to the running back as he now has too much distance to cover in order to be in on a tackle. If he crashes inside attempting to run the play down from behind, the quarterback will have a clear running lane with no defenders in sight. In this spot a defensive back will likely have to make the tackle. Generally if a safety is making a tackle, the play has hit for good yardage.

Because the read man holds his ground, Dalton correctly gives to the running back.

The pulling guard has trapped the unblocked EMLOS (#91). The goal is to kick the edge defender out so the running back can press the hole inside the block. Also, notice how the tight end has pushed his man inside and swung his butt around to the hole, creating a nice seal.

Finally, the pulling tackle picks up the first threat to his inside shoulder, the scrapping linebacker (#52). This is a WELL-DESIGNED play. From a schematic perspective, the offense has put a blocker on EVERY box defender. The coaches have put the offense in a position to succeed; it’s up to the Jimmie’s and Joe’s to execute.

NFL Rewind is glitchy this morning, so the GIFS are too choppy for my taste. Apologies.

And here’s what the QB Counter Trey Read looks like with Cam running the show. Notice that the Panthers’ reverse the roles of the quarterback and running back. If the read defender pinches inside, the running back will get the ball; if the read defender holds his ground or widens, the quarterback will run the Counter Trey.

When watching the Super Bowl this evening, be on the lookout for the QB Counter Trey in the redzone and on 2nd/3rd and short, as OC Mike Shula LOVES the play in these spots.

If you want to read more about the Carolina run game, Syed Schemes created an excellent piece breaking down Carolina’s 6-7 core run plays. I highly recommend the article. Lots of good film clips and analysis.

Leave a Reply