Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Football Fundamentals: Tight End/Flanker Route Combinations

In this post we will look at some of the standard route concepts run from a TE/Flanker alignment. Obviously, these can be paired with other routes (some I'll show including a RB), but this is to get the fundamental understanding of the routes. I'll try to explain the concept briefly, as well as provide names for what you'll hear the concept called elsewhere at times (these things get lots of names, some people use the same names but have different meanings too, so it can get confusing). If a number is visible near the end of a route, that is the nominal yardage the route will be run to. For more information on specific routes, we took a look at the route tree earlier.

Smash Concept
The smash concept, in my nomenclature, is an outside and underneath route from the #1 and an outward breaking (typically a corner route) from the #2. The goal here is to present a high-low scenario to the sideline. The routes will typically be slightly adjusted based on coverage, but in theory are mostly considered two-high safety beaters.

Note: Some claim the Smash concept to be a specific pair of routes, while the concept described above is called a "China" concept. In my nomenclature, the China concept is inverted to the Smash concept, which we'll get to next.


Z-Receiver will break back to the QB and then work outside to the soft spot near the sideline. TE will run a corner route, flattening it out if there is coverage in the outside third. This is a typical high-low beater against 2-high defenses. Again man coverage, the TE needs to gain outside leverage on the LB/S and the Z-receiver needs to be sharp on his breaks.

(Route combination number: 71)


Same thought from the TE as the smash concept above. This time the Z-receiver threatens deep, forcing his coverage to open and run, before breaking outside hard. The Corner route can be run a bit deeper. Good play against defenses that run 2-high coverage on third and long. Run routes beyond the sticks. Will often times see this run to the wide side of the field with strong armed QB's or paired with roll outs.

(Route Combination Number: 73)

Smash Z-Snag

Often paired with a RB running a swing route (where it may look more like a Z-spot), and often times featuring a China concept (more later). This threatens an underneath drag route before breaking back outside. A good short yardage concept that takes advantage of defenses that try to break over top and in front of inward run routes.

(Route Combination Number: 72)

China Concept
This concept inverts the Smash concept, with the Z-receiver threatening the deep third, while the TE runs a route to the flat area. It is another concept that presents a high-low read on the edge.

China Z-Snag

Similar to the Smash Z-snag, here the Z-receiver utilizes a rub from the TE to help him get open and to force the defense to get through the wash. Also can help define the coverage and help the TE get outside leverage on his defender. This can be run tight to the formation and from more of a bunched set, which in turn can threaten the run as well (further defining the coverage).

(Route Combination Number: 72)


The Hawk Concept sees the Z-receiver run a streak, with an emphasis on getting to a spot about 6 yards from the sideline and outside the coverage. The TE runs an out route. Out route can be broken off early under pressure. Concept pairs nicely with play action and holds the SS inside and down as the TE threatens vertical. Against CBs that like to squat, this can be a quick hit play that goes for big yards. The depth of the TE route also puts him in more space against a LB in coverage or allows bigger bodied TEs to box out safeties in space.

(Route Combination Number: 39)

Diagonal 7

Diagonal, also known as a bench route or a flat route, is the TE, can be an arrow, stick, or bench route. It will often be run between 3-6 yards. The TE will work hard to get an outside release to get position to the outside and get to the edge quickly, giving the QB a built in hot option. The Corner route run by the WR first threatens inside. This creates a quasi-mesh point and forces the defense to tend to work vertical with the receiver. Furthermore, if the CB doesn't work vertical, the Z-receiver tends to have outside position out of his break to the corner. Pairs well with play action to the playside, as the Y-receiver works initially outside the EMOL and the Z-receiver runs a route that is similar to a crack block. Suck the safety down with the PA, and the high-low read becomes even clearer. Can also pair with roll outs as these can be longer developing routes.

(Route combination number: K-17)

One-on-One routes are quick hitting routes that depend on the receiver winning a one-on-one match up (hence the name). These are often some of the earliest concepts players learn, as they get open quick and work the underneath areas against teams stacking the box. Typically, these concepts are described as man-to-man beaters.


The slant route is often paired with an arrow route from the TE or RB. The arrow route clears out the underneath coverage and helps define the QB's movement key. Furthermore, the inward breaking slant acts as a pick for any coverage working inside-to-out to cover the arrow route from the TE. Also known as a "Bench-Slant" route, a "Diagonal-2-quick", or in one word, a "Slay" concept. This combination also works as an in-out route concept, more about later.

(Route combination number: K-12)

Double Slants

Double slants, also known as a panther concept, are a grouping of one-on-one routes. Again, the TE will clear out the underneath coverage with his slant, while the Z-receiver works behind it. The QB has a simple movement key (hook defender) and that defenders movement quickly defines where the QB will throw the ball. Good coverage can mititage this concept a bit, as the TE route works into quite a bit of wash underneath. Often times paired with a RB flat or swing route to work similar to the Slant concept above.

(Route combination number: K-22)

Diagonal 8

Also known as a "Depot" concept, this pairs an arrow route from the TE with a post route from the Z-receiver. Initially looking like a slay concept, this pushes the defense vertical. Teams that like to run man coverage will be threatened by bringing the safety down to cover the TE, therefore leaving the Z-receiver in a lot of space against a CB. Pairs well with play action to help suck up the safeties.

(Route combination number: K-18)

The In-Out concept is very effective against single-high defenses. In cover 1 or man coverages, they tend to provide natural rubs. Against cover 3, they tend to stress the underneath coverage and provide easy movement keys for the QB.

Described above.

(Route combination number: K-12)

Diagonal Curl

Also works as a high-low concept (with sight adjustments to the routes), this in-out look targets the flat defender with an inward breaking route behind and outward breaking route. The TE flat tends to clear out the underneath coverage, who will be looking back at the field. The Curl gets behind the first layer and comes back to the football before they reach the deep third.

(Route combination number: K-14)


A vertical stretch concept. The streak from the TE holds the safety inside (the TE will run to open field depending on coverage) and forces single coverage on the outside. Threatening streaks, the CB must respect the vertical threat from the Z-receiver, especially in a man defense or Cover 4. Against Cover 3, the receiver will settle between the underneath coverage and the deep third. Against cover 2 coverage, he can work to the open spot on the field. Pairs well with draw play-action, as this slow developing play action resembles the vertical releases from the receiver, and may help the TE get over the top of the coverage.

(Route combination number: 95)

Diagonal 6

More an in-out concept than One-on-One, this works similarly to the Diagonal-Curl concept. This time, however, the Z-receiver can continue across the field until against man, and sit in a void against zone. Often paired with a vertical stretch from the opposite side to force the safeties to respect deep, this can be a good levels concept in the middle of the field as well.

(Route combination number: K-16)

Drag and Follow

Also known as "Drive-and-chase", this is an in-out concept that targets the hook defenders. The RB route must threatens breaking outside. Can be very effective against man coverage, and the drag route can be effective at getting the TE open in space underneath zones.


This concept utilizes the angle route from the RB again, but the TE clears the defense out to the outward direction now. The main difference between this and the Drag-and-Follow is that the primary in-out movement key will be the playside hook defender.


This play works very much like double slants, with a similar read as far as who to throw to. The main difference is that this concept pushes the defender vertical first before the inward cut. Make sure not to fade downfield on those inward cuts, work inside and then back to the football. Works great with a weak play action fake to freeze the defense.

(Route combination number: K-44)



This is a great combination against any cover 2 or cover 3 teams, as it stresses the defense vertically. This Y-TE will often run what is called a "Bender" route, in which he attacks open grass depending on the safety position. 2-high, or Middle-of-field-open (MOFO) runs inside the safety to the middle of the field. A one-high safety look, or middle-of-field-closed (MOFC) runs up the seam.

(Route combination number: 99)

The hi-low concept works the similar to the Smash or China concept, except it doesn't utilize outward breaking routes from the Z-receiver. It can work to high-low the sideline defender, In this case, we'll differentiate it from a Levels concepts, which will present a hi-lo read in the middle of the field. This is typically a 2-high safety beater.

Diagonal Curl

Described above.

(Route combination number: K-14)

Diagonal 9

A quick route concept that pairs well with play action. The Z-receiver runs a streak immediately down the field (no hesitation or double move threat) in an effort to quickly attack the flat defender.

(Route combination number: K-19)

Diagonal Corner

This looks initially the same as the Depot concept described above. The inward breaking post route holds the safety inside, and hopes to get him to jump down to cover the post, before breaking back out on the corner route. Likewise, it presents a high-low on the CB to provide an easy movement key for the QB. Will be run more as an out against a single-high safety look.

(Route combination number: K-17)


The Dog concept is typically paired with a moving pocket, typically sprint out from the QB, this route concept gets a quick high-low on the edge and outflanks a stacked box. An easy read for the QB near to far, it is important that the QB get his eyes to the flat defender as quick as possible so as to decide where to throw. Again, this is intended to be a quick throw to get outside the defense, so get the ball out of the QB's hand.


This deep crossing concept is one of the one of the standards for the Air Coryll, play action heavy offense. Running a hard play action to suck up the defense, this puts a lot of stress on both man and zone defenses. Against zone defenses, the coverage on the far side of the field (which is often stressed from the play action) has to have their eyes on the receivers coming from the opposite side. The X-WR will try to get deeper than the deepest and to the sideline, getting over top of the zone and beating the man coverage across the field. The shallow cross holds the defense forward, a defense that hopefully has already been stressed forward by the play action. A simple read for the QB due to the long developing route, can work well with 7 and 8 man protection schemes.

The levels concept works to attack the short and intermediate levels in front and behind the LBs. LBs, typically not as strong in coverage, are forced to defend both high and low, and run with receivers. Often times the underneath route will run off the LB and allow the above route to sit in a void. If the LBs don't follow the underneath route, often times the route will come open in space on the other side of the defense. This also stresses to far-side defense to scan the entire field and worry about threats coming from the other side of the field.


This will get paired with multiple levels from the far side of the field in later pieces for some three man concepts, but for now, this provides more of a downfield stretch option to high-low the safeties. The TE, who gets behind the LBs, can sit in a void at the intermediate level. It is often the safety that has to come down in coverage to defend that, which causes the CB to lose his inside help as the deep dig fills in behind it.


This is a TE option route, where they can break inward, outward, or sit, based on the defenses reaction to his route. In that way, it can also serve as a high-low in the seam, as well as an in-out route. Forces LBs to cover the whole area against a match-up issue TE.


The Drive you will remember from the Drag and Follow concept (aka "Drive and Chase") and is the drag route from the receiver.Because it's coming from the outside, often times the LBs are run deep by the TE going vertical. Likewise, if the LBs see the drag route coming, the intermediate depth behind them comes open for the TE to fill. If safeties are aggressive coming down in coverage, the TE can get over top of them as well.

(Route combination number: 60)


Mills works as both a Levels and a Hi-Low concept. It is a great Cover 4 beater as the deep half or middle quarter player must choose between coming down on the dig or respecting the inside leverage of the post.

(Route combination number: 68)


Crease is essentially an inverted Mills concept. It sees the Z-receiver threaten the seam (or Post against a MOFO) and the X-receiver cross behind the LB level but in front of the safeties (which are also engaged with the seam/post). This is a great way of isolating CBs in a Cover 4 MEG scheme or attacking Cover 2 with LBs that struggle in coverage. The intermediate dig also adds an additional benefit against Cover 3 teams, as it becomes difficult for the CB to defend an inward breaking intermediate route as the middle safety is held by the seam threat of the Z-receiver.

(Route combination number: 86)

Three Man Concepts
These concepts will include a RB leaking to the TE-Flanker side of the field. As you can imagine, they can just as well be run with an H-back or a 2nd receiver to that side. You'll note that these concepts often take advantage of several of the concepts above, and also include what is known as a "Delta" concept, also known as a triangle concept, which threatens a Hi-Low and In-Out concept packaged into one, and therefore is an All-Coverage Beater.


A delta concept here. The Z-receiver runs a streak to blow the top off the defense. The RB leaks out on an arrow route. This arrow route and streak is essentially the Diagonal 9 Hi-Low Concept. Likewise, the RB arrow pulls any flat defender coming up in a cover 3 scheme. The TE running an out route behind it then acts as an in-out read for the QB.


Likely one of the most common flood concepts, this threatens three layers of the defense (deep, intermediate, short) near the sideline. It also works as a triangle, with the TE being able to sit and provide and in-out with both the RB and Z-receiver. Often paired with roll outs and play action (to suck the defense to the middle of the field)



Similar to the sail concept, but inverts the TE and receiver. The Z-receiver's inward breaking route allows for an in-out concept with both the TE and the RB. Likewise, three levels are attacked again on the edge, providing a hi-low.


Called Hank I assume after Hank Hill (this is not true). Anyway, this is essentially a pole concept with a RB running an arrow. Provides a triangle which threatens three layers of the defense, ans well as in-out concepts on the edge. TE will run to open field.


These plays work in the same way. They tend to give an in-out read underneath, and a hi-lo read to the sideline. Likewise, the Stick or Snag route tend to seal the defense inside and often make it difficult to get out to the RB on the swing or arrow route.


Certainly, there are more combinations that can be run. There are also other names used to define the concepts, but I wanted to stick with a basic nomenclature, and these are often the names you'll find for these concepts. One thing that you'll often find is that a single-high beater and a two-high beater will be paired on the same play, but on opposite sides of the formation. Either from an Ace set with two TEs, or 10 personnel, or 11 personnel. The QB simply reads the number of safeties, and that dictates the side he throws to. While these concepts can be adjusted to beat any coverage, they are typically optimal for for coverage. By pairing concepts, you can theoretically defeat any coverage on any given play.

Next up we'll look at concepts from a twins set. After that we can get into mirrored routes, 2x2 concepts, trips sets, and bunch combinations.

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