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What Is the Play-Action Pass?

Play-action pass is one of the most commonly used terms in American football, yet very few people truly understand what it means. And, you certainly would not not want to embarrass yourself by asking your friends during an exciting match what “play-action pass” means. Not to worry, we got your back – read on!

What is the play-action pass? The play-action pass, also known as fake play, is a passing play under the disguise of a run. The quarterback fakes a handoff to the running back and makes the defenders into believing that a running play is about to happen. When defenders expect the run and move out of position of their pass coverage, the quarterback executes a forward pass to receivers and gains yardage.

The move is often used when the offensive teams have successfully gained yards on standard running plays, which makes the fake more believable and effective in their subsequent plays. 

How Does the Play-Action Pass Work?

To execute a good play-action pass, the entire offense has to be aligned with the quarterback–not only the running back whom he faked the handoff to! Also, he has to align with the receivers, tight end and offensive guards to which they have to come together to sell the fake. 

To see a play-action pass in action: 

  • The quarterback receives the snap and drops the ball behind.
  • He extends his arm wide as if he was handing the ball off to the rushing running back. 
  • The left guard comes across to the right side to help sell the fake by pretending to block the defenders for the running back.
  • The receiver also comes forward to pretend to block one of the defenders over the line. 
  • The quarterback then pulls the ball back and puts on his pitching stance, while the running back pretends to carry the ball and charge forward.
  • At this point all the defenders are out of position to intercept a pass, and the receivers then break off into their pass routes.
  • Quarterback then passes the ball to the receivers and the receivers run to gain yards. 

According to fivethirtyeight, a data science blog, a play-action pass is still very effective in the NFL and has been underutilized by coaches. 

What Is The Difference Between RPO And Play Action?

A play-action pass is a fake running play that turns into a passing play right from the beginning. Whereas the run-pass option (RPO) is referred to the quarterback’s double options of run and pass based on reading the defenses in the field.

Play-action aims to fool the defenders, and RPO aims to exploit their weaknesses by making one of the two possible moves. Although both make passes, one does right from the start with a fake, and the other does it when the opponent makes the wrong move. 

Closing Thoughts

Now you have learned that the play-action pass is a ‘fake first, pass later’ sort of play aimed to lure defenders out of their protective pass coverage. This is so the quarterback can make a yardage earning pass. 

As always, feel free to let us know in the comment section below if we missed out anything. 

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