Previously we looked at how MSU began adjusting their routes and advancing their pass game with the “Switch Concept”. This time, we’ll look more closely at Cook’s progression as a QB, and his ability to read safeties in order to determine where he decides to take the ball. In this case we’ll look at a play that incorporates two triangles, one based off of a Mesh concept, and the other off of a China concept.
What’s interesting about this play is that it incorporates two common pass concepts in an effort to defeat either both single-high and two-high defenses. While either concept within itself can be adjusted to beat either coverage, here, the concepts will only be used for their optimal coverage beater. It just so happens that by combining the two concepts, two triangles are formed, giving Cook three options in each of his progressions.
Neither of these concepts in and of themselves are anything but simple. PSU ran the mesh concept as a base pass play with their freshman QB Hackenberg under O’Brien. But nonetheless, here MSU puts a common twist on the concept, by using a third receiver, a TE, on a “pull out” or “center” route.
The concept was discussed in further detail here, but in essence, a mesh will occur at mid-field. Here, the receiver coming from the solo side in the 1x3 set will run underneath the rub coming from the crossing route coming in the other direction. Against a zone, the receivers can sit in the first void they encounter on the after the mesh.
In this case, the corner route works as a way of running off the underneath defenders and opening things up underneath. This allows the first receiver in the progression to hopefully get a run-after-catch opportunity if he is thrown to. Furthermore, the RB on the swing route looks to pull the defense horizontally so that they can’t squeeze the play or so the underneath defenders can’t simply catch the receiver coming from the opposite side.
The second receiver in the progression will be the TE sitting in the void, running what looks similar to a drag and follow concept, though it isn't. The QB will then finish his progression by working across the field. With the second receiver drawing some attention, the third receiver in the progression could potentially get open in open space coming across the formation if the man coverage gets caught up inside. More likely, if the progression gets to the third option, it will be with this receiver sitting in a void in a zone.
This route concept can beat both single-high and two-high coverages, but is optimal against single high coverages. That is because against a cover 3 there are simply not enough defenders underneath to defend all the potential voids the receivers can run in or through. Against a cover 1 man free, the rub at the center of the field makes it very difficult for the coverage to stick with their receiver crossing the field.
The China concept is a simple high/low passing concept designed to beat two high defenses. A slight variation of the smash concept, the China concept sees the outside receiver (in the two receiver concept) to run a corner route, while the inside route runs a route to the flat (here the RB runs a swing route, while typically it’s a receiver running a bench or stick or something similar).
In this case, the crossing route coming from the far side of the field acts as the third receiver in the progression.
QB Reads Two-High
This is where it gets interesting watching the play, because you can physically see Cook’s helmet and where he’s looking.
First, off the snap, Cook is looking at the FS to the single receiver side. The FS makes no attempt to hide his coverage, and is clearly working to his half.
The thing with OSU is that they run a bunch of Cover 6, meaning that just because the FS is playing half, doesn’t mean that the corner route is suddenly open. It is, however, already identified to be a two-high coverage. So then Cook looks to the SS and then checks the CB. Noting that at the snap that the SS is doing a poor job gaining width in his coverage (he drops straight back)
At this point Cook knows everything he needs to know. To prevent the CB from sinking quickly underneath the corner route, Cook takes a very quick “glance” to the swing to freeze him.
And this is the result.
Here’s how it looks in the progression.
Note, if the CB does sink, the swing is open. If the CB doesn’t sink (the CB is the primary read in this high-low concept) and the safety is able to work over the top, the WR can gain depth on his route while still working horizontally to take advantage of the void left by the vacating safety.
QB Reads Single-High
Now, let’s say Cook initially read the FS dropping to the center of the field. He would still like to work the defense off, but instead of the quick glance to the swing, he may “lock” on the corner, holding the defensive back in his deep third. But, as QB are taught to do, Cook would be looking at his peripheral, not the corner route, and he would begin noting the underneath coverage as his scanning of the field from left to right gives him the opportunity to do.
Here, his progression will then move from right to left across the field.
What is nice about this play is that it incorporates two very simple concepts into a play that uses both benefits optimally. Within the play design, it also makes it easy for Cook to read the defense and get into the correct progression based on the defensive look. But beyond that, Cook not only correctly reads the defense, he also uses his eyes to draw or hold the defense in certain ways. Confident in his protection and that the receivers know proper ways to run their routes, this is obviously an entire offense with confidence. A far cry from where MSU started in 2013, plays like these showed the growth of the Spartan offense over the course of the year.