Football Running Plays

Football Running Plays

Running plays are some of the most common plays in football. In these plays, the quarterback hands off the ball to another offensive player, such as a running back, halfback, or fullback. The player with the ball, also called the “ball carrier,” then attempts to gain yardage by running down the field towards his team’s end zone to score points, all while avoiding defensive players who will attempt to tackle him. Read on to learn all about ball carriers and the different kinds of running plays they execute on the football field.

Running Plays In Football

A running play in football is when the quarterback hands off the ball to a running back, who aims to gain yards by running. Running plays are one of two ways used by the offense to advance towards the end zone. Coaches can get very creative when drawing running plays. However, there are some basic running routes and plays that are most often used during football games, such as the flare, flat, hitch, out, post, and go. 

Together with the running routes, running backs must know the running plays drawn by the coaches. Although each coach can have different strategies and thus different plays, some plays are very common in football and used by many coaches.

Football Running Plays List

Blast Play

Football Blast play

The blast is a simple play in which the ball carrier aims to quickly win a few yards. The play is usually led by a block by the fullback, who clears the way for a halfback to attack the defensive line for a quick carry.

Counter Play

Football Counter play

The counter is a play that involves two running backs. The quarterback will pretend to toss the ball to the first running back, who will then either run to the right or left side. After that, the second running back will get a real handoff from the quarterback and carry the ball forward through the middle.

Draw Play

Football quarterback draw play

Similar to the counter, the draw aims to confuse the defense. The play starts as if it were a passing play, with the offensive linemen acting accordingly. However, instead of passing the ball, the quarterback will turn back and hand off the ball to a running back coming from behind.

Off Tackle Play

football off tackle play

In this run, the halfback and fullback will both run towards the tight end. The tight end and the fullback will provide additional blocking to the halfback to advance with the ball.

Pitch Play

Football Pitch play

The pitch is the opposite of the counter. It also involves two running backs; however, the first player will run to the middle after a fake handoff by the quarterback, who will then toss the ball to the second running back, who is running to either side of the field. 

Reverse Play

The reverse involves two handoffs in the same play. The first one will be from the quarterback to the running back. After that, the running back will run laterally instead of forward, handing the ball off to the second player, who will run forward, looking to gain yards.

Slant Play

In the slant, the running back will start to run straight and get the ball from the quarterback. After the handoff, the running back will change direction and run diagonally off a fullback’s block. 

Sweep Play

Football Sweep play

The sweep involves a lot of movement from the offensive linemen. They will run to the side that the running back will be running and “sweep” the area, blocking any defensive players. After the handoff, the running back will move laterally, waiting for the offensive linemen to move and clean the running area. 

Option Play

Football Option play

An option running play is a play in which two different players could end up being the one who takes the ball, depending on the way the defense lines up and reacts. Most commonly, the two players are the quarterback and the running back.

The quarterback will snap the ball and take a look at where potential running lanes are opening up. If the defense is all over the previously planned running lane that the running back was planning on heading towards, the quarterback can fake the handoff and run towards the opposite side of the field instead. This can be a bit of a risky play because it's decided on the fly, but it can also catch a defense completely off guard and lead to major yardage gains for the offense.

QB Sneak Play

football qb sneak play

QB sneaks, while not commonly run, are an effective way to get the quarterback involved in the running game and catch the opposing defense by surprise. QB sneaks consist of the quarterback running the ball up the middle directly after the ball is snapped in an attempt to throw the defense off guard and gain short yardage with the intent of securing a first down or touchdown. When running a QB sneak, the quarterback will often dive over the middle in an attempt to avoid being tackled for a loss.

What plays are run during a game depends on a team’s strengths and weaknesses and what skills their offensive linemen and running backs have. However, the plays above are some that are efficient and easy to execute, making them very popular.


What positions can run with the ball in football?

Technically speaking, any offensive position can run the ball if lined up correctly. That being said, the likelihood of offensive positions running the ball is as follows: running back, fullback, quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and offensive linemen. Running backs run the ball the most by far, with offensive linemen coming in as the least likely to be found carrying the ball up the field.

What routes do running backs run in football?

Similar to a wide receiver’s passing route tree, there is a running back tree, which is slightly less known than the receiver version and showcases some of the most important running back routes in football, which are:

  • Flare
  • Flat
  • Hitch
  • Out
  • Post
  • Go

Although there are some similar routes to the passing route tree, running backs have a different function than wide receivers and therefore cannot use all of the same routes. 

Why do football players run through the middle?

In football, running up the middle is an ideal strategy for most offenses, as running up the middle is typically the shortest path to the end zone. Because of the way that football players line up for each play, running laterally is sometimes necessary when the defense doesn’t create an opening. However, running laterally doesn’t gain yardage, and it extends the length of the play and makes the runner vulnerable to tackling by the defense. Thus, in a running play scenario, most runners will look for a path up the middle, and the offense will try their best to create one by blocking.