Navigating the Dual Threat: Can Quarterbacks Run With The Ball?

John Rizzo

Can Quarterbacks Run With The Ball

In the realm of American football, the quarterback stands as an iconic figure, orchestrating plays, making split-second decisions, and leading the offense to victory. 

While their primary role is to pass the ball with precision and accuracy, one intriguing aspect of the quarterback’s skill set lies in their ability to run with the ball. 

This blog post delves into the world of quarterbacks and their dual-threat capabilities, exploring the rules and strategies that govern their ground game.

From classic pocket passers to modern dual-threat sensations, we’ll uncover the evolution of the quarterback’s role and whether can quarterbacks run with the ball.

Whether you’re a die-hard football fan or a newcomer to the sport, understanding the quarterback’s running capabilities is essential to appreciate the multifaceted nature of this pivotal position. Stay focused. 

What Are Quarterbacks in American Football?

Quarterbacks in American football are the central figures on offense, often referred to as the “field generals” of their teams. They play a pivotal role in orchestrating plays, making split-second decisions, and executing passes. 

Quarterbacks are typically the leaders of their respective teams, responsible for calling plays, reading the defense, and communicating with teammates.

Their primary objective is to advance the football down the field by either passing it to receivers or handing it off to running backs. 

Quarterbacks require exceptional arm strength, accuracy, and football IQ to succeed. They must assess the opposing defense’s tactics, make quick decisions under pressure, and throw accurate passes to their targets.

Quarterbacks are often the face of their franchises and bear significant responsibility for their team’s success. 

Star quarterbacks are highly valued and can influence the outcome of games with their skills and leadership. They are a central and iconic position in American football.

Can Quarterbacks Run With The Ball?

Yes, quarterbacks in American football can run with the ball. While their primary role is to pass the ball to receivers or hand it off to running backs, they also have the option to carry the ball themselves and run with it. 

This is known as a quarterback scramble or quarterback sneak. Quarterbacks may choose to run if they see an opportunity to gain yardage by eluding defenders or if the pass play breaks down. 

Running with the ball allows them to use their mobility and speed to advance down the field. However, it also comes with the risk of being tackled by opposing defenders, which can result in a loss of yardage or injury.

Some quarterbacks, known as dual-threat quarterbacks, are particularly skilled at running with the ball and are valued for their ability to both pass and run effectively. 

Running with the ball is an important element of a quarterback’s skill set and can add an extra dimension to their team’s offensive strategy.

The Traditional Quarterback Role

The Traditional Quarterback Role

The traditional quarterback role in American football is a highly specialized and essential position on the offensive side of the game. Here’s an elaboration of the key aspects of this role:

Field General

Quarterbacks are often described as the “field generals” of their teams. They are responsible for leading the offense, making critical decisions, and effectively communicating with teammates.

Passing Expertise

The primary duty of a quarterback is to pass the football accurately to their intended receivers. This requires a strong arm, precision, and the ability to read the defense to identify open targets.

Play Calling

Quarterbacks work closely with coaches to call plays based on the situation, the opponent’s defense, and the team’s overall strategy. They must have a deep understanding of their team’s playbook.


Quarterbacks make quick decisions under pressure. They assess the defense’s alignment, coverage, and potential blitzes to determine the best course of action, whether it’s a pass, run, or audibling to a different play.


As leaders of the offense, quarterbacks must inspire confidence and lead by example. They motivate their teammates, maintain composure, and often serve as the team’s emotional anchor.

Handling the Snap

Quarterbacks receive the snap from the center and set the play in motion. This initial exchange is critical, as it marks the start of every offensive play.

Reading Defenses

Quarterbacks need to read the opposing defense to identify weaknesses, exploit coverage mismatches, and adjust their throws accordingly. 

This involves recognizing defensive schemes, coverages, and potential pass-rush threats.

Pocket Presence

While quarterbacks often pass from the pocket (the area behind the offensive line), they must also have the agility to evade incoming defenders when necessary. 

This ability to navigate the pocket while keeping their eyes downfield is crucial for success.

The traditional quarterback role in American football encompasses leadership, decision-making, passing proficiency, and a deep understanding of the game.

Quarterbacks as Runners – A Historical Perspective

Quarterbacks as Runners - A Historical Perspective

Quarterbacks as runners have played a significant role in the history of American football. Here’s a historical perspective on how quarterbacks’ running abilities have evolved over time:

Early Era

In the early days of football, which dates back to the late 19th century, the forward pass was not as prominent as it is today. Quarterbacks were primarily ball carriers and runners, often executing rushing plays themselves. 

The game was characterized by rugged running plays, and quarterbacks were expected to gain ground on the ground.

Emergence of Passing

As the forward pass became a more integral part of the game in the early 20th century, quarterbacks began to focus more on their passing skills.

Quarterbacks like Sammy Baugh in the 1930s and 1940s were among the pioneers of the passing game, and their success laid the foundation for the modern passing-oriented offense.

Dual-Threat Quarterbacks

In the latter half of the 20th century, the concept of dual-threat quarterbacks gained traction. Quarterbacks like Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Steve Young showcased their ability to both pass and run effectively. 

They added a new dimension to their teams’ offenses by using their mobility to extend plays and gain yardage on the ground.

Evolution of the Spread Offense

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the spread offense became increasingly popular in college football and later in the NFL. 

This offensive scheme often features mobile quarterbacks who are encouraged to run as part of the designed plays. Quarterbacks like Michael Vick and Cam Newton were prominent examples of this era.

Modern Era

In recent years, the NFL has seen a surge in dual-threat quarterbacks who excel in both passing and running. Players like Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray have redefined the quarterback position. 

They use their speed and agility to not only extend plays but also contribute significantly to their teams’ rushing attacks.

Analytical Approach

Coaches and analysts now recognize the value of quarterbacks as runners in today’s game. Quarterbacks are often utilized in read-option plays, where they read the defense and decide whether to hand off or keep the ball and run. 

This approach keeps defenses guessing and puts additional pressure on opposing teams.

Quarterbacks as runners have evolved from being primarily rushers in the early days of football to becoming versatile dual-threat playmakers in the modern era.

The Modern Dual-Threat Quarterback

The Modern Dual-Threat Quarterback

The modern dual-threat quarterback is a dynamic and versatile player who excels at both passing and running, adding a unique dimension to their team’s offensive strategy. 

Here are key characteristics and aspects of the modern dual-threat quarterback:

Passing Prowess

Modern dual-threat quarterbacks are expected to be effective passers. They have the ability to make accurate throws to a variety of targets, from short, quick passes to deep throws down the field. 

Their passing skills are often on par with or even exceed those of traditional pocket passers.

Running Ability

Dual-threat quarterbacks are known for their exceptional athleticism and mobility. 

They can tuck the ball and take off running when the pass play breaks down or when they see an opportunity to gain yardage on the ground. 

Their speed, agility, and elusiveness make them dangerous ball carriers.

Read-Option Plays

Many offenses incorporate read-option plays into their game plans, allowing the dual-threat quarterback to read the defense and make decisions on whether to hand off to a running back or keep the ball and run. 

This read-and-react style of play keeps opposing defenses guessing.

Extending Plays

Dual-threat quarterbacks excel at extending plays beyond the initial snap. 

They can evade pass rushers, buy extra time in the pocket, and create opportunities for their receivers to get open downfield. This ability to improvise is a valuable asset.


These quarterbacks are multi-dimensional threats. They can contribute not only as passers and runners but also as decision-makers who adapt to the ever-changing flow of the game. 

Their versatility allows offenses to be flexible and adapt to various defensive strategies.

Defensive Challenges

Facing a dual-threat quarterback poses significant challenges for opposing defenses. 

Defenders must be prepared to defend both the pass and the run, making it difficult to anticipate the quarterback’s next move. This can lead to breakdowns in coverage and tackling.

Game-Changing Abilities

Dual-threat quarterbacks have the potential to be game-changers. They can single-handedly turn the tide of a match with a well-timed run or a deep touchdown pass. 

Their ability to create big plays keeps their teams competitive in high-stakes situations.

Evolving NFL Landscape

The NFL has seen a rise in dual-threat quarterbacks in recent years, challenging the traditional notion of what a quarterback should be. 

Players like Lamar Jackson, Kyler Murray, and Patrick Mahomes have redefined the position with their athleticism and versatility.

The modern dual-threat quarterback is a dynamic force in American football, capable of impacting games through both their passing and running abilities.

Quarterback Running Plays and Strategies

Quarterback running plays and strategies are an integral part of modern football offenses, especially for dual-threat quarterbacks. Here are some common quarterback running plays and the strategies behind them:


In the read-option play, the quarterback reads the movement of a specific defensive player, often a defensive end or linebacker. If the defender commits to stopping the running back, the quarterback keeps the ball and runs. 

If the defender focuses on the quarterback, the QB hands the ball off to the running back. This play is designed to create uncertainty for the defense and exploit defensive overcommitment.

Quarterback Draw

The quarterback draw is a designed running play where the offensive line initially sets up for pass blocking, creating a pocket. 

The quarterback then takes a few steps back, allowing the defense to rush upfield, and then quickly takes off running through a designed gap in the line. It’s a surprise tactic to catch the defense off guard.


Scrambling is not a designed play but a reaction to a collapsing pocket or pressure from the defense. 

When the pocket breaks down, the quarterback uses their mobility and field awareness to escape and run. This improvisational skill allows them to extend plays and pick up yardage on the ground.


In a bootleg, the quarterback fakes a handoff to a running back and rolls out to one side of the field. 

This play can be designed for a passing option, but the quarterback also has the option to run if the defense doesn’t provide adequate coverage. It capitalizes on the quarterback’s ability to both pass and run.

Designed Quarterback Runs

Some plays are specifically designed for the quarterback to run, often involving direct snaps to the quarterback from the shotgun formation or wildcat formation. 

These plays are similar to running back carries but take advantage of the quarterback’s running ability.


Similar to the read-option, the zone-read play involves the quarterback reading the defensive end’s movements. 

However, in the zone-read, the running back’s path is more fluid, and the quarterback’s decision is based on the defensive end’s actions within a specific “zone.” This provides even more flexibility and complexity to the play.

Strategies Behind These Plays:

Exploiting Defensive Aggression

Quarterback running plays are designed to exploit the natural aggressiveness of defensive players. When defenders focus too much on the running back or overcommit to stop the pass, the quarterback can take advantage by running the ball.

Creating Mismatches

Quarterbacks who can run effectively force defenses to allocate more resources to contain them. This can create mismatches in coverage or blocking assignments that the offense can exploit.

Extended Playmaking

Quarterback mobility allows for extended playmaking opportunities. When a play breaks down, the quarterback can use their legs to buy time, keeping the defense off balance and giving receivers more time to get open.

Red Zone and Short-Yardage Situations

Quarterback running plays are often used in red zone and short-yardage situations when the offense needs to gain a few crucial yards or score touchdowns. The quarterback’s running threat can make these plays more effective.

Incorporating these plays and strategies effectively into an offensive game plan requires a balance between the quarterback’s running ability and the overall offensive scheme.


Can quarterbacks run with the ball in American football?

Yes, quarterbacks can run with the ball in American football. While their primary role is to pass, they can also carry the ball themselves and make running plays, either as a designed run or when a passing play breaks down.

Are there any restrictions on how far a quarterback can run with the ball?

No, there are no specific restrictions on how far a quarterback can run with the ball. They can run as far as they can while staying behind the line of scrimmage. Once they cross the line, they become a runner like any other player.

What happens if a quarterback is tackled while running with the ball?

If a quarterback is tackled while running with the ball, the play ends, and the line of scrimmage for the next play is determined by where the quarterback was tackled. It’s essential to protect the quarterback to prevent injury.

Do quarterbacks receive any special protection when running with the ball?

Quarterbacks do not receive the same level of protection as when they are in a passing posture, but they are still protected by the rules against unnecessary roughness or dangerous hits. 

Defensive players must avoid helmet-to-helmet contact and target the quarterback’s head or knees.

How often do quarterbacks run with the ball in a game?

The frequency of quarterbacks running with the ball varies from game to game and depends on the team’s offensive strategy and the quarterback’s skills.

Some quarterbacks are known for their running ability and may run more often, while others primarily pass and only run when necessary.

Wrapping Up

In American football, the quarterback’s ability to run with the ball adds an electrifying dimension to the game. From legendary scramblers to today’s dual-threat stars, quarterbacks continue to redefine their role. 

As we’ve explored, they can be game-changers, extending plays and keeping defenses on their toes. So, the next time you watch a game, keep an eye on the quarterback. 

They may just surprise you with a breathtaking run, showcasing their versatility and reminding us all why they are the heart and soul of any football team. Thank you so much. 

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn