Understanding Urban: Getting a Whole Bunch Outta One Formation
By Ken Pryor
(Editor’s Note: Ken Pryor is an offensive coordinator who works with the wide receivers at North Point High School in Waldorf, Md. He has been a long-time contributor to The-Ozone, and has been asked to help us better understand Ohio State’s new offense since Urban Meyer was hired back in November.)
One of the more interesting dynamics in football today is the wide spectrum of offensive attacks emerging at all levels.
Various ideas, concepts and offensive systems have trickled down from college to the high school level. One of the formations which has served well over the years is the popular “bunch” formation.
In the simplest term, bunch means aligning three receivers in close proximity to one another. In order to ensure all receivers are eligible to go out in routes and receive a pass, the alignment is such that the man next to the offensive tackle is one yard off the line, the second (point man) receiver is on the line while the third receiver is off the line.
Why Bunch Formation from Passing Perspective?
Creates Space: This is a huge factor in running the bunch scheme. The quickest way to get to perimeter is to shorten the edge. Offenses do this by bringing perimeter plays in tighter to the line of scrimmage. The defense will respond accordingly by bringing their defenders in tight as well.
Makes Defenses Declare: A non-traditional set like bunch causes defenses to adjust. Whether the defense checks to a man coverage concept or rolls to zone coverage—either way—the offense should know how they’re playing. When the safety rolls to the bunch, the defense is playing some form of single-high (cover three or cover one). If that corner widens to stay in the flat, the defense is in a cover-two look.
Productive Against Any Coverage: Bunch passing concepts have elements of a zone and man beater already interwoven into the very fabric of the play design. Once a QB recognizes the coverage, he should know where to go with the ball.
Defenses Get Uncomfortable: A bunch scheme changes the picture for a defense. The entire environment changes, in terms of angles that coverage players need to break and how to leverage offensive players. They’re in a position of space with which they find themselves unfamiliar and uncomfortable.
Causes Match-Up Problems: Arguably, the single biggest advantage of running bunch is a team’s ability to place its best receiver anywhere. Some coaches like to put their best receiver as the point man in bunch (the number two receiver), while some prefer to line him up as the inside receiver.
Some coaches choose to use their best receiver backside or opposite side of the field from the bunch where, more than likely, there will be a one-on-one matchup with more operating room for the receiver to do work.
The overarching theme among coaches is: determine the defensive coverage, discern the weakness in that coverage scheme, line your best receiver up where their deficiency is and set about exploiting the defense with terroristic impunity. The good thing is, further mismatches are created when/if defenses banjo coverage and switch assignments.
In the picture below, notice the “Smash Concept” employed by the Packers from bunch formation. The #1 runs the short hitch or stop route, the #2 ( point man) will run the deep corner route, while the #3 (inside man) will run the 4 yard flat route. Note the receiver at the bottom of the photo is lined up facing man to man coverage.
Bunch from the Run Perspective
One of the most popular bunch plays is the toss. In this alignment, the bunch may be tighter to the tackle. Receivers have simple rules for blocking the toss. The No. 3 receiver—who is on the point of the bunch—blocks down, requiring him to block a defensive end or an outside linebacker. The inside receiver blocks the No. 2 perimeter defender—very often a safety or a linebacker who has adjusted out.
The Z receiver blocks the No. 1 perimeter defender, which is almost always a cornerback. The Z simply needs to kick out the cornerback, which allows the back to cut inside the block. Some teams will even pull the play-side guard to pick up any force defender running the alley or any overhanging defender that appears late.
After some initial success with the toss, opposing teams will begin to fly up hard on the perimeter in an effort to beat the runner to the spot. When this happens, the offense has the defense right where it wants them. Time to reach into the offensive bag and pull out the sheet that reads “Play Action.”
An offensive coordinator can reach a good bit of diversity in his offense by maneuvering with some of the possibilities that the bunch formation provides. For a relatively inexperienced quarterback like Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, the bunch set simplifies things and puts everything right in front of him.
Defenses give a variety of looks against the bunch, so these simple rules allow the offense to handle multiple looks. It also forces the defense to think and react, possibly checking to another coverage altogether. It also cause for consternation and confusion for young defensive backs who may not be good at communicating. The routes haven’t changed, but to the defense, it is a different look.
No longer having to make complex reads, a young QB like Miller can simply let the play unfold and get the ball to the receiver that comes open.
Like everything else, it is important to remember that balance is important. Urban Meyer and Tom Harman have undoubtedly created ways to both pass and run out of the bunch.
Related Understanding Urban Articles:
Smash & Grab, A Sticky Situation
The Bubble Screen
Teaching QBs Where to Throw the Ball
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