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The Complete Guide To The Counter Play

Posted by AJ Forbes on

Some things in life are self-explanatory. Grass is green. The sky is blue. Counter will get yards. 

While it was originally a counter to the Power play–as the name suggests–Counter has taken on a life of its own. Some offenses use it as their only gap run. Its effectiveness and violence at the point of attack have made it one of the hottest schemes in football today.

What is the Counter Play?

Counter Play vs 4-3

Counter is a play that gives the illusion of Power in one direction, but then creates a series of blocks to allow the runner to go in the opposite direction.

The play reverses the roles of Power where the backside Guard pulls and kicks out an edge defender and a Fullback inserts up onto an Inside Linebacker through the lane the Guard created.

Strengths of the Play

The biggest strength of the counter play is that it takes advantage of a quick and aggressive defense that can cause trouble for other plays.

Once the defense starts to over pursue the Power action, they leave themselves susceptible to Counter coming back the other way. Linebackers subsequently get caught on bad angles to take on climbing OL and a Fullback acting as a lead blocker. 

Like its sister play, Counter gives the offense the advantage of getting more bodies to the point of attack than the defense does. Not only is there a Guard kick-out and a Fullback insert, but those extra bodies are coupled with the fact that the defense is a step behind due to the Counter backfield action.

Weaknesses of the Play

The biggest weakness of the counter play is that it can take longer to develop than many other run plays, like power or trap

As a result, it is extra susceptible to defensive penetration, especially in the open B gap where the pulling guard just came from.

Additionally, one of the most common ways that defenses combat Counter is to spill it and force the ball carrier to run laterally into oncoming reinforcements. The DE will wrong-arm the pulling Guard, forcing the TE and the TB to bounce the run outside where scraping Linebackers and downhill Safeties are running to meet him.

It’s nearly identical to the squeeze-and-scrape method used by defenses to stop zone read teams. While success can be attained versus this tactic, execution becomes much more difficult.

Counter Trey vs 3-4 Odd Front

Counter Play vs 3-4 Odd Front

Left Tackle - Initially responsible for B-gap penetration. Guide the B-gap defender down to the Center as he comes down on his back block, then hinge to cut off the C-gap defender

Left Guard - Open pull and kick out the playside edge defender. Aim for the upfield shoulder to establish and maintain inside leverage to create the running lane for the Tailback. Pull right hit right; pull left hit left

Center - Back block on the B-gap defender as the LT guides him down the line of scrimmage

Right Guard - Down block on the Nose Tackle with a near-shoulder aiming point

Right Tackle - Combination block on the 4-tech with the Tight End to the backside Inside Linebacker. Create horizontal displacement to establish the inside wall of the running lane

Tight End - Combination block on the 4-tech with the RT to the backside Inside Linebacker. Most likely the player that climbs to the linebacker with a near-shoulder aiming point

Fullback - Take a counter step towards the backside (as if about to kick out an edge defender on Power), then follow the LG and insert up into the running lane after the kickout to block the playside Inside Linebacker. If the edge defender spills the LG, wrap around and find the linebacker

Tailback - Take a counter step, then redirect on an angle to the playside to receive the handoff. Read the kick-out block of the LG (whether its a kick-out or a log) and follow the Fullback

Quarterback - Open to the left with the ball extended to give the illusion of Power, then swing the ball to the right with the left hand for the handoff. After the handoff, boot to the left

X Receiver - Push for the near Safety

Z Receiver - Push for the near Safety

Counter Trey vs 4-3 Even Front

Counter Play vs 4-3 Even Front

LT - Step down to ensure B-gap integrity, then hinge back out to the backside edge defender

LG - Open pull and kick out the playside edge defender. Aim for the upfield shoulder to establish and maintain inside leverage to create the running lane for the Tailback. Pull right hit right; pull left hit left

C - Back block on the Nose Tackle

RG - Double team with the RT on the Defensive Tackle to the left Outside Linebacker
RT - Double team with the RG on the Defensive Tackle to the left Outside Linebacker

TE - Climb and block the Middle Linebacker with a near-shoulder aiming point. Most likely the player that climbs to the linebacker with a near-shoulder aiming point

FB - Take a counter step towards the backside (as if about to kick out an edge defender on Power), then follow the LG and insert up into the running lane after the kickout to block the right Outside Linebacker. If the edge defender spills the LG, wrap around and find the linebacker

TB - Take a counter step, then redirect on an angle to the playside to receive the handoff. Read the kick-out block of the LG (whether its a kick-out or a log) and follow the Fullback

QB - Open to the left with the ball extended to give the illusion of Power, then swing the ball to the right with the left hand for the handoff. After the handoff, boot to the left

X Receiver - Push for the near Safety

Z Receiver - Push for the near Safety

Counter Trey Variations

Let's take a look at some common variations of the counter play.

Variation 1: Singleback GT Counter

Singleback GT Counter vs 4-4 Defense

A popular variation of Counter is GT Counter, where the backside Tackle replaces the Fullback as the “insert” player who blocks the playside Inside Linebacker. The Fullback then becomes the player responsible for securing the backside edge defender.

Variation 2: Gun Split GT Counter Triple Option

Shotgun Counter Read vs Nickel Defense

This variation is similar to the above GT Counter example, except triple option principles are applied to it. The Quarterback reads the backside edge defender as the “dive key” and the alley defender as the “pitch key”. Offenses with Counter as a foundational play that also have an athletic Quarterback can use this variation to take advantage of their assets.

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