Breaking down Dan Mullen’s spread offense

Dan Mullen has fielded offenses that have been successful during his coaching career.

Mullen’s philosophy is to spread the field against defenses and attack them by both running and passing the ball. He wants the opposition to have to defend the entire field with his team covering the complete width and depth of the playing surface.

In order to do that, Mullen has base running plays to keep defenses honest and to respect his offenses’ ground game.

The basis of his offense is to attack defenses in zero, one or two-high safety coverage.

In a two-high coverage, Mullen’s offense can equate the numbers within the box, essentially allowing for his offensive linemen to block straight ahead.

With a one-deep safety coverage, the quarterback comes into play with various reads with his arm and legs. The quarterback accounts for the extra defender within the box.

If the defense showcases nobody deep and elects to blitz, this is where Mullen’s passing offense comes into play, especially with one-on-one matchups.

Within Mullen’s offense is the 14/15 read. This is an inside zone base running play in the spread offense.

A 15 zone play goes to the left behind the play-side tackle. The left guard and center have a combination block on the MIKE linebacker. The right guard will be placed on the nose tackle. This is how Mullen likes to equate the numbers as the right tackle in this play will guard the B-gap defender, the SAM linebacker.

The running back will have the ability to follow behind the left tackle and guard, or if the quarterback sees the right tackle with a good push to the second level, the signal-caller can keep it and run or hand it off for the running back to go right.

Wide receivers within the 14/15 read play will block on the left side, the front-side, so that the ball carrier will have more running room down-field.

On the back-side, the right side, wide receivers will stay on the outside number of their defender and block in preparation if the quarterback keeps the ball.

If the defense shows a six-man box, the quarterback must read the defenders. Mullen likes to run this play in various formations to find defense’s weak spots, either with a tight end or only with wide receivers.

There is a tag on the front-side linebacker. The center and right guard tag the MIKE linebacker, while the right tackle is responsible for the B-gap defender, usually the SAM linebacker. The two wide receivers on the back-side can block if the quarterback or running back runs their direction, the same takes place if they go to the front-side on an inside zone.

A 10/11 trap is a fast inside play in Mullen’s offense. In the 11 trap, the center blocks back and the left tackle goes into the WILL linebacker. The left guard will go behind the left tackle and the right tackle covers the MIKE linebacker, and the right guard pulls left to the front-side. This allows for the running back to rush inside with wide receivers blocking inside.

Mullen also can trap a five-technique with linemen blocking back with an inside release. This allows for the MIKE and SAM linebackers to be cut off by the two tackles.

In the passing game, Mullen, again, wants to force the defense to defend the entire field.

He spreads the defense out by using three, four and five wide receiver sets. Mullen wants to have a successful passing offense to counter a rushing attack with the defense being spread out. This will take place in multiple personnel groupings. He will showcase anything from empty looks to 2×2 sets that forces defenses to rotate their secondary, and 3×1 sets against two-high coverage.

In order for defenses to have success against Mullen’s offense, to stop his running attack, is to blitz or have a no-deep look in the secondary, providing extra defenders in the box. This is where Mullen wants to exploit the defense with one-on-one matchups in the passing game. This places the defense to then sit back, more away from the box, and even in zone coverage.

Mullen’s philosophy is making it easy for the quarterback to read defenses pre-snap and determine the direction of the play.

Mullen’s offense also showcases down-the-field vertical plays.

All go, a four vertical play, is used a lot. The landmarks are numbers to the sidelines by the outside wide receivers. The inside wide receivers are two yards outside the hashmarks. If the ball is on a hash, the inside wide receiver will have the inside hash as his landmark and the boundary wide receiver will split the hash and the numbers on the sideline. This allows for the defense to not sit on underneath routes. A quarterback’s success in this play is reading the free safety. This play is usually thrown 18-22 yards downfield.

In cover 2, defending four verticals, the two outside wide receivers have the same landmarks. The inside wide receivers will have a bend route, going underneath the safety and over the linebacker. The running back is also used as a checkdown.

In 3×1 sets, the boundary wide receiver splits the sideline and the numbers vertically, the No. 3 wide receiver that is close to the offensive line, his land mark is the hash on the other side of the field. The No. 2 wide receiver is going vertical on the inside, the field-side hash. The field-side No. 1 wide receiver will go on the inside of the numbers close to the sideline. Mullen wants to put stress on the boundary-side safety in this look.

In a one-high look, with the strong safety playing close, the routes remain the same.


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