How To Run The Counter Play In Football – Complete Guide

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Counter in football is one of the most popular plays in spread offensive systems. It gives the offensive advantage to the called side if the defense doesn’t properly adjust to it.

The rules of the counterplay are easy to install, and they can be run practically out of any formation.

In this article, we’re going to show you everything that you need to know about the counter and how you can install it into your offense.

Counter Play Football

Counter is a play in football that results in a running back faking one way and running. It also involves pulling players to the opposite side while the other lineman “gap” blocks away.

The counter has become a staple in the spread offense due to its ability to get linemen easy blocks and running backs into open space. Like inside and outside zones, teams will have some counter play as a staple in their offense.

The counter play has been mastered by teams like Oklahoma and Ohio State. These teams have countless versions of Counter that can be masked by both formations and which players are running it.

In this article, we will cover the basics of the guard and tackle counter (also known as GT counter).

How To Install Counter

The counter, also known as GT counter or counter trey, has two main elements: gap blocking and pulling.

counter play in football

First, the offensive lineman to the called side will be gap blocking or also known as down blocks. This means they will try to push the player in their backside gap, away from the play. The play side guard and tackle will be working a double team to the back side linebacker. This is similar to what we discussed in the power read and 1 back power article.

Gap blocking is one of the easiest blocks to make in football; simply because the offensive player already wins with leverage, they just can’t let the defensive player get across their face.

gap blocking on the counter play

Pulling Guard & Tackle

Next, the counter will always have two players who will be pulling to the play side. To keep it simple, coaches will use the guard and tackle on the backside of the play to pull.

The first guard who pulls is responsible for kicking out the play side defensive end (blocking him toward the sideline). This is the most important block, as the pulling guard will open a hole for the running back.

pull block on the counter play

Once the pulling guard has successfully made his block, it’s up to the tackle to run up the hole before the running back, acting as a lead blocker. It’s important to have a lineman who is mobile when running this scheme.

If your tackle is slow, the running back will beat the tackle to the hole, and it will cause a pile.

follow block on the counter play

The tackle is looping through the hole, looking for the front-side linebacker. Once the tackle locates the linebacker, he will try to block him toward the inside.

Last, the running back should take a delay step or a counter step to let the blocks happen in front of him. If the running back runs directly to the hole, there’s a good chance the blocks won’t be made in time, and it causes a pile.

counter step from running back

Taking a delayed step to the outside should give the guard and tackle enough time to pull.

There you have it, the basics of the counter trey play. Next, we’ll get in-depth about how to make your counters more effective through variation.

Variations Of The Counter Play

As mentioned, counter typically has the guard and the tackle pulling toward the play side.

Coaches like Lincoln Riley have innovated the play to pull the guard to kick out the defensive end but lead a tight end or H back through the hole.

This allows teams to keep the backside tackle in to block if a team is a heavy blitz team.

Remember, the counter play takes time to develop. Any penetration can hurt it.

Teams who have running quarterbacks can also use their quarterback in the counter game. This means faking to the running back and then using the guard and tackle to pull toward the play side.

The fake to the running back often misleads the defense to go the opposite of the play. This gives the advantage to the offensive, who can use these false steps from the defense to gain an advantage on their gap blocks.

Another example of a variation of the counter play is tagging an RPO to it. Teams like Oklahoma use the RPO addition to really keep the opponent’s linebackers in conflict.

Is Counter Trey, GT Counter & Counter All The Same Play?

Yes. All of these names are used to describe counter. These plays all have the guard and the tackle pulling while the running back takes a counterstep.

Coaches have called this play different names over the years, but the word “counter” has stuck as the primary call for the play.

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What Is The Difference Between Power And Counter?

The major difference between power and counter is how many offensive linemen pull toward the play side. In counter, the backside guard and tackle will pull to the play side.

In power, only the backside guard will pull to kick out the defensive end. Power typically requires a full-back or an H-back to lead through the hole. Teams can also reverse the roles of the guard and the fullback/H-back.

Power looks similar to counter, but the main difference is who is pulling and the footwork of the running back. There are no delay steps in power, as it’s a fast-hitting play toward the play side.

Keep Learning

The counter scheme is a productive play for any run game. It allows athletic linemen to pull on the counter path and kick out aggressive, upfield defensive ends.

Teams that run counter will typically have multiple versions of it, which allow them to create different variations of the backfield action.

Learn more about spread offense runs plays from the articles below.

Spread Offensive Run Plays – Complete Guide

The Basics Of The Oklahoma Trey Counter

Running The Power Play In Football – Complete Guide

The Gap Scheme & How It’s Run In Every Offense

Complete Outside Zone Guide & Tutorial

Complete Inside Zone Guide & Tutorial

What Is Power Read In Football? Install Guide

Counter is a play that’s easy to install and can be effective in any offense. It can be run out of any formation and puts the defense in a bind if they don’t adjust correctly.

Every spread team uses counter, as it’s become one of the most popular runs in football today.

If you run a spread offense, we highly recommend installing some counter into your offense. Not only is it highly effective, but defenses also have a hard time stopping it.

Simple gap blocking techniques on the front side make the scheme easy to install and run at any level.

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with information regarding techniques, schemes, and more!

If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page here.

If you have any questions about running counter, let us know on Twitter. Tweet @vIQtorysports and ask your question – we’d be happy to help!

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.