Anyone who watches football is surely familiar with the quarterback sneak. Most football games feature at least one or two plays in which the quarterback plunges forward immediately after taking the snap with the hope of just gaining a yard or two. It’s become an integral but sometimes overlooked part of the game. That’s why we thought it was worth taking a closer look.
Let’s face it, so many football games are decided by small margins. That’s particularly true when it comes to sports betting. Whether a team wins or loses or whether a team covers the spread or doesn’t cover the spread can come down to the ability to execute an effective quarterback sneak. Let’s dig a little deeper into what a quarterback sneak is and how it’s done.
First, it’s a good idea to recognize the origins of the quarterback sneak. The first time this type of play was used took place during a game between Yale and Harvard in 1912. Yale’s Graham Winkelbaum is widely recognized as the first quarterback to attempt to sneak the ball forward immediately after taking a snap, catching the defense off guard. The fact that this play has its origins in the Ivy League is an indication of what an intelligent play the quarterback sneak can be when used appropriately.
During a quarterback sneak, the quarterback will take the snap and immediately start moving forward. They know that they aren’t likely to get very far, but that isn’t a problem if the offense only needs to gain one yard on the play. The thinking is that the offensive line should be able to get enough of an initial push forward to allow the quarterback to move the ball forward a yard. It also eliminates the need for the quarterback to hand the ball to the running back, who typically receives the ball a few yards behind the line of scrimmage. By having the quarterback keep the ball, there is almost no risk of losing yards on the play, making it more likely that the offense is able to gain at least one yard.
Thus, the quarterback sneak is typically only seen when the offense needs one or two yards – sometimes even less than a yard. In other words, it’s used almost exclusively in short-yardage situations. This is because the play is unlikely to gain more than a yard, maybe two. However, statistics from the NFL in recent years indicate that the quarterback sneak is the most effective way to gain a single yard when that’s all an offense needs to do.
Therefore, there are situations when a team is likely to use the quarterback sneak. This includes being one yard or less from the goal line or being one yard or less from picking up a first down. Teams will also use the quarterback sneak when they are backed up on their own goal line and don’t have a lot of room to operate. By sneaking, they can pick up one or two yards and not risk being tackled in their own end zone for a safety. However, most quarterback sneaks are seen when only a yard or less is needed.
Yet, teams often hold off on using a quarterback sneak until third or fourth down. Even if they are close, they sometimes try other means to pick up the yards they need before resorting to a quarterback sneak. This is likely because the quarterback sneak has a high probability of working but also comes with some drawbacks.
The biggest drawback of a quarterback sneak is that it exposes the quarterback to getting hit. It’s almost impossible for a quarterback to plunge forward for a yard without the risk of getting hit by a large defensive lineman. Needless to say, that puts the quarterback at additional risk of injury, which teams typically try to avoid. As a result, teams with smaller quarterbacks may be less likely to run sneaks unless they feel they have no other option.
Another potential drawback of the quarterback sneak is ball security. Most quarterbacks aren’t accustomed to taking big hits and don’t practice maintaining possession of the ball while running straight up the middle into the trenches. This puts the quarterback at a higher risk of fumbling the ball than most running backs. Therefore, teams need to be comfortable with the ability of the quarterback to hold onto the ball through contact before calling a sneak.
Of course, even a play as simple as the quarterback sneak has undergone changes over the years. Traditionally, teams wouldn’t hide the fact that they were trying to sneak it. They would bring in additional tight ends or offensive linemen to help block at the point of the attack. These types of tight, power formations often made it clear that the offense was going to attempt a sneak. Yet, they also made it a little easier to get enough of a push to pick up a yard or two.
On the other hand, some teams try to disguise their use of a quarterback sneak. They might spread out the defense with multiple wide receivers, reducing the number of defensive players near the ball and opening up more space for the quarterback to pick up the yard or two he needs. Similarly, quarterbacks sometimes take a step backward, faking as if they are going to drop back, before plunging forward on a sneak. In some offensive systems, quarterbacks can even try to sneak out of the shotgun, gaining a full head of steam before hitting the line of scrimmage.
No matter how the quarterback sneak has changed over the years, it’s still an important part of football that’s used at some point in every game. If executed properly, it can be an effective play that plays a key role in winning games. Just like any other play in football, there are pros and cons to attempting a quarterback sneak. But it’s safe to say that in one form or another, the quarterback sneak will continue to be a part of the game of football for a long time to come.