Football question: laterals

I’m relatively new to following football (I live in New Zealand), and I wonder if someone out there can answer this for me.

I understand that players can “lateral” the ball to each other at any time ie pass it sideways, as opposed to a forward pass which can only be thrown once per play. Is this correct? And if so, why is it almost never seen?

Also, suppose the quarterback complates a forward pass to receiver A, who then laterals the ball to receiver B. If receiver B then scores a touchdown, how is this credited statistically, in terms of both the touchdown and the yardage?

I believe the reason that it’s not seen very often is that it’s pretty dangerous to attempt. I think that a dropped lateral pass is ruled as a fumble, and not an incomplete pass.

I sometimes wonder the same thing myself. Yes, it is legal at all times. The short answer as to why you don’t see it more often is that it’s a very risky play–it’s easy to miss connections on a lateral and fumble and lose the ball. You most often see laterals by defensive players after a turnover–defensive players don’t get to handle the ball very often, and they like to show off when they do. I do think, however, that if teams would practice laterals beyond the line of scrimmage and incorporate them into planned offensive plays, they could take a lot of defenses by surprise.


Team A has ball at own 20. QB passes to A at 30, he laterals to B at 25 and B advances to 40. Score 1 reception for 5 yards by A, no reception but 15 receiving yards by B, and a pass completion for 20 yards by QB. If B scored a TD, he would naturally get the receiving TD and points.

I believe the reason that it’s not seen very often is that it’s pretty dangerous to attempt. I think that a dropped lateral pass is ruled as a fumble, and not an incomplete pass.

I believe the reason that it’s not seen very often is that it’s pretty dangerous to attempt. I think that a dropped lateral pass is ruled as a fumble, and not an incomplete pass.

That is, of course, unless you’re out of time and the opposing team’s band is on the field.

(apologies to those who don’t have RealPlayer)

In high school football, you can have multiple forward passes on a play, but only one of the passes can cross the line of scrimmage.

And a lateral doesn’t have to be a short distance. It can cover quite a ways to the side…like the Music City Miracle…so long as it doesn’t go forward.

BobT. Hold on. I think you need to clarify. Don’t you mean that in HS ball once the ball passes the LOS it can not be passed forward again?

Otherwise, according to your literal description, I can pass it once (it crossing the LOS) and then pass it forward again and again (it not crossing the LOS any of those times). I don’t think that’s what you mean, right?

Definitely because a lateral is very dangerous, a lot of the time it can result in a fumble or takeaway. There are designed plays like the “hook and ladder” where you pass it to receiver A who flips it ro receiver B.

On a side note, my friend played on a flag football team that designed every single play with at least 2 or 3 laterals. It was the most amazing thing I’ve seen in football, I was in awe - they were contantly flipping it backwards yet advancing the ball 5 or 10 yards every flip…and they beat everyone. So lateralling works in flag football at least!

Lateral passing would give a sport with zero continuity and flow some excitement.

So, it being football, that would be unnatural.

I have wondered this myself. The only explanation I can think of is that it would then turn into rugby, albeit with more pads and rests.

As far as it being too dangerous, I would offer that players practice the skill more. It doesn’t seem to be as big of a danger in rugby in terms of accurate passes and catches, although the padding and such would probably make it more difficult for football players.

I also don’t know why running a kick-off back with a bunch of laterals isn’t more common. I think if it were done much like advances in rugby, a team could get some serious yards.

Actually, it used to be done more often than you think.

Many college teams such as Oklahoma and Nebraska used to use the option pass. The quarterback would keep the ball, then if he was about to get tackled, he’d lateral the ball to a back, who’d run it some more before being tackled.

Most college football teams have stopped running the option pass in the past few years.

The main reason is that the potential yardage gained is usually not much more than a regular running play, but with the additional danger of losing the football, which would be live.

Another reason is that many times the man was tackled behind the line of scrimmage, leading to a loss. And if you’re going to throw the ball, why not throw it forward where the potential gain would be much greater.

Lastly, pro-football teams do not use the option, for the above reasons. So if you were a college quarterback running the option even on the National Championship team, you wouldn’t get picked in the draft for the NFL, so why go to an option college, since the whole reason for getting into college football was to go into the NFL?

Actually, many college teams still run the option. Of the two you mention, Oklahoma hasn’t been an option offense for several years, but I know for a fact Nebraska is still running the option as recently as 12 hours ago.

I believe the reason most NFL teams don’t run the option is because pro defensive players are so fast they can get to the ball carrier quickly enough to stop the option play before it really gets started. It’s not an inherent weakness in the strategy, it’s just harder to pull off against a professional defensive secondary than it is against a college squad.

As for an option QB having no future in the NFL, while it’s true there are no pure option offenses currently in the NFL, it seems in recent years teams have been looking more for quarterbacks who can run the ball as well as pass effectively. Your Michael Vick-type quarterbacks are in great demand these days.

Even if you can’t throw well enough to be an NFL quarterback, some quarterbacks who ran the option in college move to other positions like running back or wide receiver when they enter the NFL.

Of course, this didn’t work out for Eric Crouch of the afore-mentioned Nebraska Cornhuskers, but I believe there are other examples of players who made the transition from college option QB to play other positions in the NFL…

OK, that’s just a generalization. I’m from the West Coast, years ago, it seemed like that’s all those teams from OK and NE ever did was run options, now they throw a lot more. The only play I caught from the NE game was that sucker punch thrown at the fan! IMHO, he should have been thrown off the team.

Yes, that’s true, but we’re getting nit-picky here. You see, it is an inherent weakness if it can’t be run against a fast/strong defense.

We’re talking about 2 different things here. A running quarterback does not necessarily have to be an option QB. It’s just an extra dimension to his ability.

And I beg to differ regarding the demand for running QB’s. All other things being equal, most coaches still seem to desire tall and strong QBs over smaller fast ones. Tall and strong QBs do not make for good running QBs and with the size of pro-linemen, you need to be tall to see over them. Generally speaking the quality of tall and the quality of fast seem to be mutually exclusive of each other.

Very, very rare. Perhaps in theory. Name a good one, because I can’t think of one.

But there were myriads of option QBs from OK, NE, etc. who never got a job in the NFL. I don’t think your theory/optimism is much of a solace to them.

One more comment regarding the dearth of option/running QBs in the NFL. They are too valuable to be risked hurt running the football.

Most running backs are built like chunks of concrete and are built tough.

You don’t want to risk the director of your offense (QBs) in running plays where they are liable to get maimed by opposing chunks of concrete (linemen and linebackers).

Mainly, there’s two reasons for a lateral. The first is misdirection. The defense is drawn to the ball, then the lateral flips the play to an area free of defenders.

The other reason is speed. Sometimes, a 300-pound lineman will grab a fumble or interception. He knows he can’t run very fast; he’s built like a dump truck. If a quicker team-mate is nearby, the big guy can flip it to the sprinter, who can make a serious play.

Toronto ran this play against Saskatchewan in a game last month, as discused here. They picked up a gain of 70 yards on the run-back, but lost it on a fumble at the end of the run. I don’t know that it would be successful if they ran it all the time - the element of surprise seemed to play a big role in the run-back.

It’s still a high-risk play, as others have commented. Saskatchewan defence players did this twice this year, on interceptions. The first time, against Hamilton a few weeks ago, the receving Saskatchewan player fumbled the lateral, Hamilton recovered. Cost the Riders a chance at a field goal and the game. (To Hamilton! the only game they won this year!! O, the humiliation!!!)

The second time was in last week’s game against Calgary. This time, the receiving player managed to hang on, went for a few more yards, then got tackled and held on for a turnover.

So, in a very small sample, that’s only a 50% success rate, with an initial turn-over being handed right back. And both of them were very scary to watch.

Rugby also has offside rules which make laterals more feasible. I admit I don’t understand League or Union completely, but I’m pretty sure that defensive players are required to stay on their side of the ball unless they’re making a play on the runner. This is much different than American (and Canadian) football where there may be many defenders behind and to the sides of the ball carrier.

I still haven’t seen a replay of that punch, but it does sound like he was way out of line.

As far as OU and NU, I feel like I can speak with some authority since I attend a Big XII college that loses to these two teams on an annual basis. They do throw the ball some, but I’ve had an opportunity to observe them running the option with great success against my Bears, too. :frowning:

Well, I’m not sure we disagree here. My argument is just that it serves its purpose in college ball.

I think guys like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb demonstrate that a tall quarterback who can run is not unheard-of.

Well, you may have me there. After I posted that I started thinking and I couldn’t come up with one. I think you’re right that ‘pure’ option QBs like Eric Crouch and his kind don’t often get NFL gigs. I think NFL teams are less interested in a guy who is really just an extra running back who happened to throw the ball every once in a while. I think you can contrast those guys with the McNabbs and Vicks who can throw but also are a threat to break up the field.

At any rate, I don’t think there’s a more exciting offense to watch than a well-executed option, except when it’s being run to perfection against your team… :smack:

Eric Crouch is a bad example. He HAD an NFL gig (twice), but he quit each time (Rams because Martz wouldn’t play him as QB, and Green Bay because they tried him as a QB and he sucked on the NFL level and quit before he got cut). He is still technically a Packer - he’s still on their website:

Note his status: Reserve/Retired