Chalk Talk: the Counter Trey

Offensive playbooks are becoming more and more advanced every season, but there are a couple of staples that have stood the test of time. Few running plays have proven to be more successful over the years than the counter trey, made famous by Joe Gibbs and his Redskins in the 1980s. Correspondent Jeremy Stoltz breaks down the details of the counter trey.

Have you ever watched a Bears running play and wondered why Roberto Garza and Fred Miller are running parallel to the line of scrimmage instead of blocking the men in front of them? It almost looks as if they forgot what play was called and are running in the wrong direction.

What they are doing is called "pulling."

When an offensive lineman pulls, he releases from his down position and runs towards the other side of the line of scrimmage to serve as the lead blocker for the running back. It is a standard lineman technique that almost all NFL teams employ, as it gives the hefty guard or tackle time to gain momentum before careening into defenders.

One of the most popular and productive plays utilizing pulling linemen is known as the "counter trey."

The counter trey first found success with Joe Gibbs' Washington Redskins in the 1980s. Guard Russ Grimm and tackle Joe Jacoby had the size and speed to move down the line and open up massive holes for running backs John Riggins and Earnest Byner. In Super Bowls XVII and XXII, Gibbs ran the counter trey repeatedly and earned himself a pair of championship rings.

The counter trey falls under the umbrella of "misdirection" running plays -- in essence, the offense is trying to fool the defense. They feign a run in one direction then attack the defense in the opposite direction. When successful, the counter trey flows as smooth as a clear stream in spring and has the potential to rack up big yardage. But one must understand the details of the play in order to truly grasp its beauty.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Picture this:

The Bears have just huddled up for a first-down play. Rex Grossman calls a counter trey to the left side. The team lines up on the ball, with Cedric Benson seven yards behind the quarterback. At the snap, left tackle John Tait, left guard Ruben Brown, and center Olin Kreutz explode off the ball and block hard to their right. This seals off the right defensive linemen and gives the linebackers and safeties the impression that the play will be heading to the right. To complete the ruse, Benson takes one step to the right as if he's about to receive the handoff. Hopefully, these actions will force the defensive secondary to take a crucial step in the wrong direction.

All the while, right guard Garza and right tackle Miller have begun running hard left along the line of scrimmage, heading towards the area recently vacated by Tait and Brown. By the time these two reach the left end of the line, Benson -- who has already cut back to the left -- has the ball and is following them through the hole on the left side.

Garza and Miller use what is called a "kick-out" block on the first defensive players with which they come in contact. They kick the defenders out of the hole -- most of them are already out of position because of the directional fake at the start of the play -- while moving up-field to clear out linebackers and safeties. If everyone has done their job, Benson will have open room to run.

The play develops deliberately and will only work properly if the offense sells the initial fake. Therein lies the beauty, as all 11 players must move in simultaneous perfection to fool the defense. If the fake is not executed correctly, the defense will react accordingly and stuff the play. But when run properly, this slow-moving play can break a game wide open.

So the next time you see two Bears linemen running in what seems to be the wrong direction, you can just point to the television and say, "Hey, that's the counter trey," and know that a big gain on the ground is just seconds away.

Jeremy Stoltz is a graduate of the Columbia College Story Workshop program in Chicago. He is a regular contributor to Bear Report and

Bear Report Top Stories