In football, a scramble refers to a play in which the quarterback makes an unscripted run in order to avoid being tackled by defenders. Scrambling can buy time for the quarterback to throw or result in a rush by the quarterback himself.
In most cases, a scramble is going to occur when a quarterback is facing pressure from the defensive line. Usually when a quarterback starts to scramble the receivers will start to scramble with them as well.
It is important to remember that scrambles in football are not planned. On these plays, the receivers will be expecting a throw from the pocket.
Once the quarterback scrambles the receivers will often be forced to change their routes in order to get open for the quarterback. For example, if the quarterback starts to scramble to the right the receivers will likely scramble to the right as well.
This way the quarterback can still throw to his receivers without throwing across the middle of the field.
What Causes A Quarterback To Scramble?
Now that you understand what a scramble is in football you may be wondering what causes quarterbacks to run out of the pocket.
Pressure From The Defensive Line
The most common reason that a quarterback will start his scramble is that the defensive line has forced him out of the pocket.
On each play, the offensive line has the job of keeping a clean pocket for the quarterback. Unfortunately, the defensive line has the opposite goal and is looking to force the quarterback to keep moving.
When the pocket begins to collapse the quarterback is forced to move out of it in order to avoid a sack.
This will start the quarterback’s scramble, when facing pressure these scrambles can be quite exciting as there is often a defender in hot pursuit of the quarterback.
Another reason that a quarterback may choose to scramble is when there is a lot of open space in front of them. At any point in the play, the quarterback is able to run with the ball to gain yards.
On some plays, the quarterback may notice that leaving the pocket and running with the ball can present a big play. In most cases, this happens when the defenders are playing man coverage against the receivers.
This can lead the defenders deep into the defensive backfield leaving plenty of room for the quarterback to pick up some yards.
Choosing to scramble in these situations can present an easy pickup of a first down.
Noone Open Downfield
The final situation that may cause a quarterback to start scrambling in football is when there are no open receivers downfield. When a quarterback is waiting in the pocket the idea is that he is going to find a receiver to throw to downfield.
If at some point in the play the quarterback realizes that his receivers are covered a scramble may be the next best option.
For pocket passing quarterbacks like Brady or Manning, this is rarely an option they would choose as they do not tend to use their legs very often. But for mobile quarterbacks scrambling in these situations can be a great way to pick up yards.
Instead of throwing the ball away or forcing it into a tight window quarterbacks may choose to put their head down and pick up a few yards on the ground.