Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

Word of Muth: Stretch Seek
Word of Muth: Stretch Seek
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

The Redskins offensive line might have played its worst game of the season on Sunday. What makes it so much worse is that Donovan McNabb played probably his best game of the season, but because of the struggles of the offensive line and running backs, the Redskins were unable to overcome the Vikings.

I've generally tried to be pretty positive when covering teams this year, and for the most part have succeeded, but this week was just plain ugly. The offensive line seems to have regressed as the season has gone along, and that is something you never want to see, especially under a first-year head coach. You would think the linemen would improve as they become more comfortable within the system, but that has not been the case in Washington.

Kory Lichtensteiger was the worst of the group. He was pretty mediocre in the running game, getting knocked back at times and failing to get up to the linebackers on others. But his pass blocking really stood out. Lichtensteiger was bad with his hands all game. He let his hands get knocked down a lot and was always slow to replace them. It seemed like he spent the majority of the game in panic mode, often playing from behind a defender just trying to push him past McNabb in the pocket. That's not the worst thing in the world for a tackle, but it's a sign of a poor game for a guard. The left guard also gave up a sack on a mental mistake, when he failed to see a blitzing E.J. Henderson loop right across his face for the sack.

Jammal Brown looks hurt. I'm not sure if the Redskins can afford to sit him for a couple of weeks, but Brown looks like he's laboring out there, which is really unfortunate considering his past injury problems. Brown was able to finish the game, but he is not as effective as he was early in the season. Another Redskins lineman was not given the same opportunity. Artis Hicks was replaced by Will Montgomery in the second quarter. His last play involved him getting beat on a hand swipe (basically the wax on/wax off motion from Karate Kid) by Kevin Williams. Montgomery came in and played well. This isn't the first time Montgomery has come off the bench and looked decent. With Washington struggling and the season coming to an end, he may get a chance to prove he's a future starter for this team.

One guy who's certainly going to be a starter for the Redskins in the future is Trent Williams. Williams has shown a lot of promise this season, but this week wasn't his finest performance. Williams was beaten by Jared Allen (who looked pretty slow off the ball) a couple of times in pass protection, which surprised me. But worse than that is how Williams looked soft on running plays to his side. Williams hasn't really gotten any movement all season in the running game, and he needs to improve that if he hopes to be an elite offensive tackle (and he has the talent to be).

I've heard people talk about the theory that rookies always get better as the season goes along. Some coaches think that rookies, especially ones that play a physical position like offensive tackle, are more likely to wear down as the season goes along. The Redskins have played 15 games this year if you count the preseason, and that is a lot of football for a guy used to playing 12 games (with at least two bye weeks mixed in) per season. It's very possible Williams' fatigue is the reason he struggled more this game than he has in the past.

Figure 1: Stretch Seek 1

For the second week in a row, there wasn't really a play that stood out to me. So, I've decided to break down my favorite play in football, the Stretch Seek. Stretch Seek is the most pure zone scheme there is, because the offensive line truly does block an area for the most part. This is the play that made Terrell Davis a household name.

The play starts with tight end motion. A tight end runs across the formation into a flex position, forcing the defense to adjust to him or risk him running free. The defense can either roll a safety down or bump a linebacker out to cover him. The tight end blocks the first defender outside of the defensive end (98 percent of the time this means the tight end is blocking whichever defender adjusts to him). It is important to note that if a standup defender walks up to the end of the line of scrimmage, the tight end must cut his motion short and make sure he can block any edge blitzer (this is most common against 3-4 defenses).

The play-side tackle has the most difficult block of the play. It is his job either to hook the defensive end or to shove him as far to the sideline as possible. This block is all about hat placement. If the tackle is able to get his hat to the defender's outside shoulder, he will be successful.

Figure 2: Stretch Seek 2

As I've said before in this article, the defender is left with two options in this situation. Do nothing and give up contain or fight like crazy to get back outside and get shoved too far in the process. Of course, if the offensive tackle doesn't get outside at the snap, he is forced to outmuscle the defensive end, which is far more difficult. He can work with his guard against 3-4 defenses, but he will still usually end up on the defensive end.

The play really is more of a zone concept on the inside. The three interior linemen are responsible for both defensive tackles and a linebacker (almost always the Mike) against a 4-3, and both linebackers and the nose against a 3-4. How they get there is determined by the center just before the snap. The center has to see how the defense adjusts to the motion and make a call -- which will tell which guard he's working with and what linebacker they're going to -- based on where the linebackers are at the snap. If he sees that the play-side outside linebacker has left the box to account for the tight end, he can now work all the way back to the back-side linebacker. A lot of centers will still try to get to the Mike linebacker in this situation, but they won't chase him. They will set off on a path towards him, and if they realize they can't get there, they'll put the brakes on and go to the back-side linebacker. But if they safety rolls down, the center has to work to the Mike.

Figure 3: Stretch Seek 3

The back-side tackle has the easiest job to learn. All he does is run at a 45 degree angle toward the play and blocks (hopefully cut-blocks) the first guy he runs into. This will usually be the backside linebacker or the three-technique (the notable exception is against 3-4 defenses). Just because the assignment is simple doesn't make it any less crucial. If your tackle is a really effective cut-blocker, you can open up the huge lanes that the play is known for. In fact, I was told the Ravens liked to run this play away from Jonathan Ogden in his prime because he was such a good cutter.

Finally, we have the fullback. The fullback is a lead blocker in the truest since of the word. He takes his course and blocks whomever he wants. Usually, it will be the Sam or Mike linebacker, but the fullback has the freedom to help out anywhere he wants, or to cut back immediately and block a back-side defender. This play and plays like it are why you see so many veteran fullbacks. A fullback that has been around for a while will have a better feel for where he can do the most good and spring the play for big yards. If you have a good fullback and a running back who trusts him, this play can be just about unstoppable.


9 comments, Last at 03 Dec 2010, 4:38pm

2 Re: Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

Thanks for this post! I've read a ton of articles on how the stretch play is blocked, but everyone always talks about the play from a one back set. This is the first time I've ever read an explanation of what the fullback does on zone blocking based run plays. Something I've been curious about, so thanks for clearing it up.

3 Re: Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

Watching Tom Nalen and company run this play was always a treat. Nalen's ability to chip a DT and than take a LB out of the play probably contributed to 200+ yards for Davis above what a replacement level center would do (200 YAR if you will).

4 Re: Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

"With Washington struggling and the season coming to an end, [Montgomery] may get a chance to prove he's a future starter for this team."

Montgomery was named the starter at RG over Hicks (due to performance, not injury) today.

I was a little surprised by the kind words you had for Lichtensteiger earlier in the year, but maybe he just happened to play better in the games you watched. I seems like both Lichtensteiger and Hicks have been beaten in pass protection pretty frequently.

Is Williams' lack of push in the running game a technique issue, or does he just need to get stronger?

5 Re: Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

I hope that I don't get censored for writing this, but this is good shit! I really enjoy reading about the details and nuances of line play.

6 Re: Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

Is there a different terminology for running this same play without the tight end motion? It's not clear to me why the motion is key to this play, if the TE started out split to the right wouldn't the defense still need to cover with a LB or S?

And is there a reason why leaving the backside defender unblocked works OK here? Can a fast DE like Freeney consistently blow this play up? Pretending for a second that Freeney actually follows the ball carrier instead of automatically looping wide to the QB.

7 Re: Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

Yeah, the tight end's assignment is more important than the motion itself. For instance, alot of times on stretch plays the tight end will motion across and double team the d-end up to the Sam linebacker. Here, he takes whoever adjusts out to him. I guess you could just flex the tight end from the start and get the same play, but it wouldn't be as effective as the defense trying to adjust as the ball is being snapped.

8 Re: Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

Great stuff, really nice to get a really good explanation of how to block the stretch. Now maybe I can make it work on Madden (doubtful).

9 Re: Word of Muth: Stretch Seek

Loving your work on explaining offensive line play. As a 'skins fan, I'm particularly interested to hear how they are coming along. I don't have a lot of technical knowledge about offensive line play, but I could tell that they have been struggling over the past few games.

I'd like to see something sometime about how blocking schemes work in multiple tight end sets. Keep up the good work.