Play Action is the Key to Big NFL Wins

NFL defenses present an influx of complex schemes, with disguised coverages and blitzes, in an effort to confuse and disrupt offenses.  One method offenses use to counter this approach is the play-action pass. 

“The great part about the play-action pass is that it slows down the rush and you have some time to look down the field,” says New England Patriots quarterback TOM BRADY.  “When you drop back to pass, it’s tough to get the ball down the field.  Defenses see you’re passing and those rushers pin their ears back and they really get after the passer.”

NFL Network analyst and former NFL quarterback (1998-2009) KURT WARNER is a believer in play-action.  Warner says mastering the art of the play-action pass involves much more than the quarterback.

“When it comes to play-action, a lot of people think it has a lot to do with what the quarterback does,” says Warner.  “Really the best play-action teams are ones where the offensive linemen and the running backs sell the fake much more than the quarterback.”  

Pittsburgh quarterback BEN ROETHLISBERGER, who leads a balanced Steelers offense, says the execution of a play-action pass starts upfront and with a solid ground game.

“It starts with the offensive line selling the run and the running back selling the fake,” says Roethlisberger.  “It’s all about everyone being able to be a good actor.  When you’re a good running team it gives you an opportunity to take shots down the field because hopefully you suck the linebackers in, and if you get eyes in the backfield it can open up things downfield.”

Balance is a key trait to set up play-action.

“For us to be at our best, we want to be balanced,” says Indianapolis Colts quarterback PEYTON MANNING.  “We don’t want a team to put us in a one-dimensional mode.  We want to be able to, on any down and distance, drop back and pass or run the ball or run play-action to keep a defense on its heels.”

The teams that are closest to a 50/50 rush-to-pass ratio this season:


Jacksonville Jaguars 627 49.6 50.4 6-4 (.600)
Pittsburgh Steelers 579 49.6 50.4 7-3 (.700)
Tennessee Titans 575 49.6 50.4 5-5 (.500)
New York Jets 683 48.0 52.0 8-2 (.800)
Oakland Raiders 665 47.7 52.3 5-5 (.500)


From a defensive perspective, Tennessee Titans safety MICHAEL GRIFFIN, who is tied for an AFC-high with four interceptions, says defenders have to stick to their keys in order to avoid being fooled by the deceptive play fake.

“It may look like run in the backfield, so the first thing you need to do is read the linemen,” says Griffin.  “If the linemen are standing straight up, then you need to get your eyes to the receiver and see which routes you are getting.  The main key is reading the linemen.  The linemen are going to tell you if it is run or pass.”