After a brief hiatus, I am back to blogging. Studying for the FE exam has taken up a significant portion of my free time the past couple months.
The 2014 Patriots displayed one of the more diverse NFL offenses I have seen in my relatively short life. They displayed the ability to run the ball with two tight ends and a full back, and the next play go empty and let Tom Brady pick apart the secondary. For that reason, this offense has been one of the focal points of my offseason study.
The Patriots can have this diversity due to the repetition of play calls. Over the course of five games that I looked at, the same base concepts appeared more often than a typical NFL team uses their base plays. With opposing defenses knowing this information, the seeming lack of variety must be made up for diversity within each concept. The play that I am going to talk about is an example of this.
The play is called out of an empty set. The core concept is a standard cover 3 beater used by teams at all levels, seam-hitch. The inside receiver to the trips side runs an option route. He will sit over the middle if there is a void. If he feels pressure, he will instead run across the field on a drag route.
Against a single high defense, the two inside linebackers provide the initial post snap read for the quarterback. Their hips won’t lie, if they stay square, move on to the outside combination. If they open their hips and turn upfield, the quarterback will have the option route. Against a cover 3, the middle hook will typically be the choice of the receiver, as in the figure below, a natural void between the two inside linebackers opens up. The figure below also shows the Baltimore Raven’s linebackers staying square, and Brady’s eyes have already moved on to the vertical route.
The initial read on the inside linebackers occurs in the split second after the quarterback gets the ball. It is vital that this decision takes place before the slot receivers get to 10 yards, as anything longer allows the defense to adjust to the concept. Brady then reads the seam-hitch concept, reading the outside linebacker’s hips.
The next figure shows the defense as Brady has released the ball. (On a side note: look at how quick his delivery is. The receivers have only taken two steps in the time it took Brady to read the flat defender and complete his throwing motion!)
The next example shows the same concept against a two high defense. Against this defense, the quarterback will key the option route. The two deep safeties create a 3 on 2 matchup in favor of the defense on the outside, however they expose their middle linebacker in a 1 on 1 matchup against a speedy slot receiver.
The Colts bring a blitz, the WLB rushes and the right defensive end drops to the hook on the opposite side. The protection scheme does not account for the WLB, however Brady gets rid of the ball with proper timing. This timing does not allow a delayed blitz to get to him before he releases the ball. The second figure below was taken as the ball is approaching the inside receiver on the trips side running the drag route.
Brady’s timing is a result of his high intellect along with lots of repetition. Timing can be created by practicing the concept over and over against different looks from the defense, occasionally mixing in random blitzes and coverage rolls. If the quarterback has seen it in practice, he will have the knowledge of how to account for it in a game.
The option route must be taught properly and ran by the proper player. The option route must be ran by a speedy slot type that can separate from a linebacker in man coverage. The receiver must not take long at the top of the route, he should make his decision halfway through the stem. If the receiver elects to run the drag route, he must not look until he has clearly made his cut to continue across the field. This ensures that the quarterback knows which option he has chosen.
Using an option route within an existing core concept can create opportunities against more varieties of coverages. I would love to hear about what option routes you may use/like with certain concepts, Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or comment below!