A bootleg in football is a play in which the quarterback runs directly toward either sideline prior to throwing the ball. This play allows the quarterback to throw the football from the left or right flat instead of throwing from inside the pocket.
A bootleg in football is often accompanied by a play action pass. This runner on these play actions typically runs the opposite direction of bootleg in order to draw defenders away.
Moving Your Spot
One of the biggest benefits of a bootleg is that you are not going to be throwing from where the defense expects. The vast majority of passes in football come from the pocket.
For this reason, defenses build their strategy in order to get into the pocket before the quarterback throws the ball. By moving the quarterbacks throwing position to near the sideline you are surprising the defense.
This will thwart out many of their pass-rush attempts. And will allow you to pick view the defense from an angle they weren’t expecting.
Yards On The Ground
Another great benefit of the bootleg is that you can pick up yards on the ground. This play is typically run with mobile quarterbacks and can often result in large gains carrying the ball.
Some bootlegs will include several o-line running out the flat. This gives you an opportunity to make a run up the sideline if the opponent does not have adequate defenders on that side of the field.
Even non-mobile qbs can score on bootlegs as you can see in the clip below.
Potential Lapses In Coverage
Another benefit of the bootleg pass is that it may cause a lapse in coverage. This is because the defensive players often are confused by the play fake or they are wary of letting the quarterback run.
This can lead to some players remaining wide open on their routes. This is all part of the plan with a confusing play like this.
No Intentional Grounding
The final benefit of the bootleg pass that we are going to cover is the lack of intentional grounding. Since the quarterback is not spending this play in the pocket he is able to throw the ball out of bounds if he is under pressure.
This will allow the quarterback to reduce the number of sacks he takes.
Leaving Your Quarterback Out In The Open
One negative aspect of the bootleg is that your quarterback is often on an island. Though blockers sometimes travel with the quarterback there is typically a fair amount of space in between them.
This sometimes leads to quarterbacks taking massive hits in their own backfield. This is especially true if the defensive end reads the bootleg and chases the quarterback instead of the power running back.
A Sack Is A Huge Loss
On these plays, quarterbacks step fairly far into their backfield in order to make the throw. This means if they get tackled you are going back quite a few yards.
Luckily since you’re outside the pocket, you can throw the ball away. But if a sack does occur there is a good chance it will be ending your drive due to the deep dropback.
Take Time To Develop
The final negative aspect of this play we are going to cover is the time it takes to develop. Since this play involves a fake handoff and long developing dropback it can take quite a while for the ball to leave the quarterback’s hands.
This gives the defense more time to get to the passer increasing the chance of a sack on the play.
Bootleg Vs Waggle
Bootlegs and waggles are very similar plays in football with the major difference of the two is the protection.
In both a bootleg and a waggle the quarterback is going to run toward the sideline after snapping the ball. The difference is that on most bootlegs a lineman will come with the quarterback in order to block for him.
When the quarterback performs a bootleg without this lineman it is referred to as a naked bootleg or waggle.
Where Did The Name Bootleg Come From?
When a bootleg goes into action the first step is typically faking a handoff to the running back. It is at this point that the quarterback attempts to hide the ball and run in the opposite direction.
This is similar to efforts put into smuggling whiskey during prohibition. Hence the name bootleg as the quarterback is hiding the ball from the opponents as he attempts to make a getaway.