What is the difference between a Sweep, Jet Sweep and Fly Sweep?

If you have ever tried to find the best way to run the ball away from defensive pressure, then I’ve got something I think you’re going to be really interested in.

I’m going to tell you about three different ways that you can attack the perimeter of a defense by running the ball. You can then decide which one will work best in your spread offense system.

The “Sweep” (or “Toss”)

The first play is called the “Sweep.” Very similar to a “Toss” from under the center, this play is all about the Quarterback taking the snap from the shotgun and then tossing or pitching the ball as quickly as possible to a running back who is headed laterally toward the sideline.

Right away defenses will see who has the ball and where it is headed. As they adjust their pursuit, your offensive lineman should have anticipated an aiming point to where the defenders are headed and do their best to block this pursuit.

What makes the sweep difficult to run is that offensive lineman may have trouble moving quickly enough to maintain a block while the running back is moving away from them.

Defensive Ends who anticipate where the ball is going are the most likely to stop the play or force it back into the rest of the pursuing defenders. Therefore, coaches who run this play have allowed for some adjustments.

One major adjustment is allowing the RB to read the block of the Defensive End. All lineman are attempting to either reach block if they are covered or pull if they are uncovered.  A reach block by basic definition is when an offensive lineman steps laterally to prevent a defensive lineman from pursuing to the ball carrier outside.

When a lineman can’t reach block a defender, he can never just give up and let him go. Instead, his job is to maintain contact as long as he can and move the defender far enough in that same direction that the running back can cut up behind the block.

Positives to running the Sweep are giving the ball carrier freedom to find clear lanes of open green grass to cut the ball up. Negatives are that there is very little deception to where the ball is going and defenses will recognize the play quickly.

Here’s a diagram and video of a typical Sweep run play.

Jet Sweep

The Jet Sweep is a much different kind of sweep in that involves a RB starting out much wider and then going into a full speed motion before the snap. The quarterback times up the snap so that the ball can be handed off immediately to a full speed runner.

The runner continues outside past all of the interior defensive players and circles the defense to the sideline looking to cut it up at a much wider point then the Sweep.

Because the ball is headed outside so rapidly, it is not necessary for any of the offensive linemen to hold any blocks. The runner simple out runs them. If there is a Tight End in the formation or wider, they still must be reach blocked.

The Jet Sweep is a true perimeter run play and only requires perimeter blocking. That leaves coaches the option of doing whatever they wish with their offensive line.

Most teams will have their Offensive Line block as if they are running a different play. This shows the defense a false key and confuses defenses to what play is coming their way.

Do you need a super fast runner to make this play work? No. Y0u only need to perfect the full speed exchange.  Most running backs at top speed are plenty fast to get to the perimeter without any interior defenders catching them.

Here’s a breakdown and video of the Jet Sweep.

Fly Sweep

The Fly Sweep is a combination of both plays in one. It is similar to the toss in that the RB can read and look to cut up upfield at any point where the defense overreacts. It is also similar to the Jet in that it involves a motion before the snap. The speed of the motion is kept at about 80% instead of all out.

In the Fly Sweep, the running back will come back in an orbit motion from a wing alignment. Wing alignments are usually about a one yard back by one yard outside the widest lineman.

The line should block the Fly like it is a base Sweep.  Uncovered lineman have the option to pull and covered lineman should block for contact as long as possible. If a Defensive lineman cannot be reach blocked, they can be stretched as wide as possible creating lanes to cut up by the Running Back.

Positives to the Fly Sweep are the ability to block it the same as a base Sweep.  This gives the RB options to cut upfield. The Fly Sweep motion is also helpful in setting up counter plays that take advantage of cheating defenders. Another positive is the ability to bring the RB from an alignment side away from the play call, which give the offense an additional blocker at the point of attack.

One negative to the fly sweep is that it is a definite key to where the ball is going. Defenses see the short motion and anticipate the play right away. One positive is that it allows offenses to get an extra blocker at the point of attack by having the ball carrier come from the weak side of a balanced formation. Old School Wing-T offenses hang their hat on their sweeps and this is a direct descendant.

Here’s a breakdown and video of the Fly Sweep.



You need a play to attack the perimeter and avoid defensive pressure.

There are three different kinds of spread offense perimeter runs, each with benefits and negatives of their own.

  1. The Sweep or Toss. If you like to keep it simple and have a talented back that can find green grass, this is your play. Make sure those lineman can stay on their blocks.
  2. The Jet Sweep. If you don’t have a great running back who can find lanes then this is a solid option. You will need to make sure your exchanges are tight and fast to take advantage of the running speed of the RB.
  3. The Fly Sweep. If you have a decent running back and a solid line and want to use the motion to take advantage of overreacting defenses with counters back the other way, then this is your play. You will need to have two solid backs to carry whether it be your QB or another RB.

All of these plays can be run successfully. Some teams are able to run two or even three. My personal recommendation is to start with at least one and then find a few different formations to vary your looks. Lastly, pair your outside run with a good counter that makes defenses pay for cheating on the outside run.

If you like any of these plays explained above, I cover how to run each one against multiple defensive fronts in the Pro Style Spread Offense Insiders that you can learn more about right HERE.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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