This post is inspired by a buddy of mine, Desmond Johnson. You can follow him on Twitter (@BunchAttack). This is right up his alley and much of my understanding of Bunch sets and concepts comes from him. He’ll also have a book coming out soon, be sure you check that out when available. A feature of the Herman-Beck offense is, you guessed it, the Bunch. You may or may not be familiar with Bunch sets. If you’re not familiar, you’ll be able to identify them in the images below. In Texas’ case, it’s the grouping of 3 receivers split wide of the offensive line, often to the wide side of the field. This was a feature of the Texas offense that may have been underutilized. This post will show you the basics of Texas Bunch, why it’s useful, and why it might be a good idea for the staff to explore more options out of it. Let’s get started.
First, let’s keep it simple. Many times, an offense will either ‘stack’ or ‘bunch’ receivers to give receivers free releases, create ‘rubs’ and ‘picks’ (think screening defenders), and to provoke predictable coverage responses. To the first point, it disallows a defender ‘jamming’ a receiver or two at the line of scrimmage. In the image below, the coverage defender ‘up’ on the ‘point man’ in the Bunch is ‘off’, allowing a 3 to 4 yard cushion. That is the Nickel and what you’ll note is the corner off 7 yards outside of receiver #1 (outside-in) facing inside. What you can’t see, the safety to that side of the field.
This is likely a pre-snap run-pass option (RPO). Based on alignment, the quarterback will forego giving it to the back with 6 blocking 6 in the box and throw to the ‘2 over 3’ coverage outside, to the Bunch. The interesting thing that happens is that the corner doesn’t drive down quickly on the Bubble screen action.
This enables the receivers to double-team the Nickel while the corner sits high outside. You already see the lane formed outside the double-team block and how ineffective the safety’s leverage is coming down against the screen, he’s right below the ‘XII’ emblem. What you see in this first example is the simplicity of the screen concept and how the Bunch imposes rather strange coverage responses to the 3-receiver surface. From here, it only gets more interesting.
Up next, you see a different situation and response with some commonalities. Take a look at the Bunch and the single-receiver side. You have 3 over 1 to the boundary and 4 over 3 to the field. What Iowa State was doing was dropping 8 defenders into coverage in what amounted to 3-deep 5-under zone. What you’re going to see is ‘Bunch-1’, the first in a series of calls Herman-Beck scheme from this and similar looks.
You’re already aware the Bunch affords at least two receivers free releases. Something else it allows for are ‘rubs’ and ‘picks’. In a nutshell, it’s about getting one or two receivers in the way or in the path of coverage defenders, allowing for quick separation. Below, I’ve noted the single receiver routing vertical and the Bunch, you see the two inside receivers route vertical, the Nickel opens to the inside and allows the receivers up the field, and you already see the corner bailing deep, he’s just passed the score image, bottom right.
The Speed-out occupies two defenders underneath and outside. The crosser is open from the get-go, but ISU has it’s Mike (middle linebacker) waiting drive down against any shallow crosser. The yellow square represents the hole in this zone coverage. Only, Shane’s vision is directed to the boundary.
Unfortunately, the read concept called paid no attention to the Bunch side, where the inside-most receiver has space to the hole in the zone. Now, you can’t see what’s going on past the vertical receiver, but you can see that without that route available, there is very little space (green) available to the boundary with two defenders sitting underneath ready to pounce.
The counter to ‘Bunch-1’ is ‘Bunch-2’. You see very similar stems except here, the ‘point man’ runs the vertical, the outside receiver runs the crosser, and the inside-most receiver runs at the corner, then pivots back inside against the corner’s leverage. Now, the defense is different and something I want you to see is how easy this read should be for the quarterback.
While you do have a 4 over 3 situation, the outside-in ‘pivot’ route plays like an option route against a common coverage check you see against Bunch sets. That is, more often than not, the corner will be asked to cover the first out-breaking route. In this case, that’s the inside-most receiver stemming up and outside. Not only does the corner look to stay outside this route, he also sinks in this case. That’s a win-win. Lastly, take note of the defender following the vertical and the safety ‘capping’ it.
The result is wide open space due to the vertical and crosser clearing out coverage. This one was read well by the quarterback and is a dependable concept, especially if the pivot route is truly an option route. Furthermore, the vertical route serves to immediately threaten the seam. If a defender does not trail the vertical route, the quarterback may simply throw to the seam against the safety’s leverage for a potential big play. Keep that in mind for the next example.
Now, ‘Bunch-3’ is the final in the series of concepts run and it’s a play on another Herman-Beck staple, Mesh. Below you see the Bunch ‘point man’ releasing inside and the single receiver doing the same. Now, I want you to note the initial coverage ‘shell’, especially over the Bunch. You see 3 over 3. In this example, Texas Tech has a safety deep in what looks like Cover-1.
As you can see, the deep safety is not in the initial frame nor in the second. What’s upsetting here is that the quarterback doesn’t release the pass to the vertical route working against his defender up the seam. Then again, what I’m assuming is that the receiver will convert his route based on the safety’s alignment. If that deep safety is indeed in the middle of the field (MOF), the seam should be open quick. If the safety ‘caps’ the route, the receiver should break it off at an angle toward the sideline. Either way, this route is open from the jump.
What follows is unfortunate. Note the crosser to the field comes open and now Sam is already scrambling right looking for the 3rd Fix that’s going nowhere, as two defenders are in pursuit with good angles. Now, I can’t tell you with any certainty how the Herman-Beck system is organized and implemented. Based on my understanding of the pass game, there are plenty of yards left on the field far too often. With respect to the Bunch in this last example, it won the pass game open routes that weren’t thrown to.
The Bunch seeks the following, to grant free releases, to create ‘rubs’ and ‘picks’, and to impose predictable coverage against it, to name a few aims. The Texas receivers are executing the concept well. What’s needed is more is more attention and quarterback understanding. Far too often, it’s used as ‘dressing’ or a ‘decoy’ if you will. While I respect the idea of using it to gain a potential singe receiver isolation backside, you also know the current starting Texas quarterback does not throw the deep ball well (yet?). It’s my suggestion to use the Bunch more for its built-in purpose, one that also aids the run game as well. The type of initial stress placed on the coverage diverts resources (numbers) and attention (initiative) away from the box. This can help both quarterbacks. What I’d like to see the staff do is use it more, in both the run and pass game. Exactly how is a good question. One way to add some ‘juice’ is to add the back to the pattern. You may be wondering, isn’t that what they did? Go take a look. In each example, the back routes in pattern opposite the Bunch. Instead, the back can be added in pattern to the Bunch side. This can be done in a number of ways, but to be more specific, you can use play-action with the back releasing to the Bunch after the mesh. You can use the running back Flare (Herman staple) to the Bunch side, super simple. You can motion the back and align him wide, past the Bunch in an Empty 4X1 receiver set. Then, you can simply ‘check-release’ the back out of pass protection. No matter how you do it, gaining that extra man to an already stressed coverage structure will likely win some easy yards for the offense. As it is, routes are already coming open without adding fuel to the fire. On the other hand, we don’t want to light the fire with a match, do we? Use a blowtorch instead, right?
What that may look like ranges from extreme simplicity to a more thoroughly aggressive pattern. The rules, use the same Bunch sets you see Texas using (personnel, formation, splits), that’s it. For starters, take the ubiquitous Herman running back flare screen. If and when you get a look similar to a previous example, the Bunch simultaneously creates the threat of free release routes and novel blocking angles. Here, you see a blitz-threat and 4 over 3 to the Bunch side. Why not ‘crack’ the Alley defender and throw the Flare to the back with two leading up outside the field hash marks? No, I don’t even care if it’s 2nd & 15 here. Texas sees similar looks on 1st and 2nd & 10 (or less) as well. Besides, if the weak safety (out of frame) ‘kicks’ over to the field due to the motion to ‘Quads’, that helps the isolation route Herman-Beck so love to use as a crutch. There, simple, agree?
From here, you’re running everything in between in the series, then adding something a bit more complex. Herman likes to flood zone coverage. My recommendation, more flooding. You’re starting to see more teams defend with 8 men back. It may be better to route 4 into pattern to the field or 3 into pattern to the boundary against such coverages. Also, there is usually a disconnect between the safeties and underneath defenders. Remember, if the corner and safety fall back deep, it leaves you with 2 defenders to cover the Square-In, the Speed-Out, and the Flat. The back can release now or check-release for a backer blitzing to his side, a very dangerous prospect for the defense.
Anyhow, do you see what I’m getting at? The last example serves as a change-up of Herman’s baby, 3-Level while also adding the back, all from Bunch. Note as well, these routes can be tinkered with to attack particular defenses. Given what you’ve seen from Big 12 defenses, they’re capping the seams and the middle of the field (MOF). The vertical and Square-In allow the quarterback to execute against a high MOF safety or against 2-high deep, then check down to the back or the Speed-Out working back to the ball. As always, let me know what you think in the comments.