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.
There are five basic categories of route concepts here (some with sub-categories):
- Levels – Any Route Combination between the numbers that has one underneath and one over top route
- Hi-Lo – Any Route Combination outside the numbers that has one underneath and one over top route
- In-Out – Any Route Combination that attacks adjacent zones at the same level
- One-on-One – Route combination designed to isolate coverage on a receiver. Often option routes
- Vertical – Route combinations designed to attack deep areas of the field
- Delta – Three person concept that attacks Hi-Lo and In-Out
The idea of "Levels" is to attack a single level of the defense (LB level or safety level) with routes that are both in front and behind that portion of the coverage. This can also be sub-divided into "Levels", an intermediate concept where both routes work behind the LB level, and "Drive" where the underneath route will work in front of the LBs in coverage. Note that some may further sub-divide to indicate if the concept is coming from the same side of the formation or opposite.
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.
(Route combination number: 66)
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: 9K-4)
Very similar to "Crease" but with a deeper breaking in route. Here, you won't be expecting the seam route to break on a post, though it may "Bender" into the area where the safety is not (MOFC/MOFO rules). Where as crease really stresses the levels of the coverage, dagger is almost more of a "vertical" type concept in that it is expected to get well behind the LB level and give the outside WR plenty of room to work inside against a CB that he has significantly threatened vertically.
(Route combination number: 96)
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 maintain "In-Out" aspects. Forces LBs to cover the whole area against a match-up issue TE but keeps the read in a similar field of view for the QB.
Similar to spin, however, the TE will run what is defined as a "Ram" route. This route will break immediately to the void they are attacking (rather than necessarily straight vertical) and then settle as the LBs drop post-snap. This means once the TE has released, he may attack in an area over the alignment side guard or center.
(Route combination number: 68)
Part of the "Drive" sub-category. As the TE works vertical, the LBs will gain depth, which then puts them in conflict as the "drive" receiver from the outside starts working underneath them. With the timing of the routes, both receivers stay in a similar QB view window, and as the coverage defender works forward or gains depth, you attack opposite. Receivers may settle against zone, with the drive typically wanting to at least get to the opposite side of the center before settling. QB will work low to high.
(Route combination number: 60)
Also known as "Pivot". As the outside receiver starts having LBs wall off his cross and outside coverage gain depth, the return route is an effective way to work back into a void. The concept initially sells "drive" but stays outside the formation, either settling underneath the cleared out area from the TE, or back outside toward the sideline.
(Route combination number: 62)
Follow + In = Fin. This attacks the same depth as "Drive", but keeps it to the same side of the formation by running the shallow "Follow" route rather than a drive route. Typically, this ends with the WR moving right into the area vacated by the TE getting vertical.
Similar to Fin, but this time with a slant route. Often times, the slant will be slightly delayed to give time for the vertical route to vacate. This can be done with a hard outside fake to sell fade/vertical or even gaining width at the snap to run an angle-slant. TE may run a COP (Corner-or-Post) route based on deep coverage, or a specific route can be maintained. Work low to high.
(Route combination number: 7K-2)
Texas concept (often associated with what is known as a "Texas" route from the RB) will work almost identical to "Knife", with the difference being the slant coming from the backfield. The RB will work outside the formation to sell the route to the flat before working back inside the coverage.
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.
Typically concepts that are used to attack pure zone coverages. The first thing to do with most of these is to identify the safety rotation, which will then dictate the QB's movement key, and based on that movement key defender, the QB will work opposite.
The most standard of in-out concepts, hitches is a simple read of the flat defender. Sell vertical first, then work back to the ball. Can be effective against man too if you have a receiver that's able to get the coverage defender to turn with the vertical threat.
(Route Combination Number: K-00)
Deeper than hitches, same idea. This concept will better sell vertical, which often will mean an easier read for the QB. Helps if you need to get to a certain yard line that is deeper than hitches. Have the TE work comeback or curl depending on the vacated area, or if your QB doesn't have the arm to hit the deep comeback, covert the WR route to a curl.
(Route Combination Number: 55)
Typically associated with a three man concept (with the third defender working toward the flat), spacing can also be a two man concept which acts similar to "hitches", but moves the concept a little further inside and gets a natural rub by the outside receiver stemming underneath the TE. Works good if you also run a lot of "Drive".
(Route Combination Number: K-02)
(Route combination number: K-12)
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)
(Route combination number: K-44)
See above in "Levels" section
Also known as "Drive-and-chase", this is an in-out concept that targets the hook defenders. The RB route must threaten breaking outside before working back into the area vacated by the driving initial receiver. Can be very effective against man coverage, and the drag route can be effective at getting the TE open in space underneath zones. With the angle from the RB, fits within a "Texas" sub-category.
Also part of a "Texas" sub-category, here the TE is going to run an out route with the angle working underneath and back inside. Especially against coverages where the LBs are really widening to defend the TE (Cover 3, some Cover 4) this can be very effective in stressing the MIKE in coverage against the RB.
"Hi-Low" is effectively "Levels" to the outside third of the field. Typically the QB will have a single movement key (such as a CB) and work opposite. This can be sub-divided into several categories: "Smash", in which the TE is running a corner route over top of an underneath route by the outside WR, "Dogs" in which both routes are out breaking, and "Diagonals", in which the TE is threatening the flat and the outside WR the "high" route.
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)
Also known by some as "China", this is similar to smash, but either after the hitch or immediately, the outside route will work back inside rather than out.
(Route combination number: 7K-4)
See "Levels" section
Similar to Z-Return, but now with a hi-lo read to the sideline. Snag may settle underneath the TE's vertical route or work back outside. Works well with a "switch" concept on the release to provide a natural rub.
(Route combination number: 72)
Two out routes toward the sideline, with the WR route deeper than the TE. Reduce the initial split if your QB has trouble reaching the far sideline. The quick underneath route puts the two routes in a similar view window for the QB.
A sort of vertical route concept, this ends up with both receivers typically working toward the sideline. Great to sell double post, ends with the TE working toward the corner and the WR running a comeback after breaking on the post.
A corner route paired with a deep out. Because the deep out threatens vertical, this will often be more of a deep in-out type concept as it avoids any underneath coverage. Great way to leverage the coverage, as it is rare that the safety and CB will both maintain outside leverage on the receivers once threatened vertically.
(Route Combination Number: 39)
(Route combination number: K-17)
(Route combination number: K-14)
Follow + Out = Fout. The follow route works into the vacated area from the vertical working TE, who will work the out route especially vs inside leverage. A great Cover 2 beater or where the LB is carrying the TE vertically.
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). Note that the intermediate route will sometimes come from the opposite side crosser.
A double move concept, this sells slant-flat and then attacks vertically.
Note that the corner route can also turn into a slot fade for all the "smash" type concepets.
These routes are designed to stress the deep coverage.
(Route combination number: 99)
Similar to seam, however the route adjustments will change slightly for the TE. As the TE can't work straight vertical without interfering with the outside post, now, if the middle of the field is closed, the TE will flatten his route to cross the safety's face. If the middle of the field is open, the TE will work directly to the middle of the field. Similarly, the outside WR will adjust his post to work away from the outside leverage defender (more vertical vs Cover 2/4, more diagonal to the hash vs Cover 3).
(Route combination number: 78)
Similar to scissors, but this time the two receivers won't switch routes. This will sell double post, and as the CB jumps inside the post, the WR can run a corner back outside. This "shake route" can also be a Circus route where the receivers become stacked prior to working back outside (this may be particularly true vs Cloud).
(Route combination number: 87)
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)
Post-wheel is one of the more common double move vertical concepts. If your TE is often working towards the flat, here is a way to get defenses to jump that flat route and then attack vertically. The post holds the safety inside, throw away from the safety.
Similar to TE wheel above, but if you have a RB working toward the flat often. Keep the TE in to pass protect or have him run some sort of vertical route (comeback, dig, post) to wall off the LB coverage from tracking the RB. This will often help define the LB's coverage, and if the LB works underneath the vertical TE, the wheel will typically be open.
Theoretically you can sluggo both the WR and TE, but main part here is to hold the safety coverage inside. So the seam/bender is good to do that. Works great vs man coverage as the seam will attract the safety as he also seems the initial "slant" look from the outside WR. Work away from the safety when it's time to pass.
These routes will attack a matchup, often with an option route away from leverage, with a rub to free up a receiver, or with a deep route that can adjust depending on how the coverage is played.
COP is a Corner-or-Post route depending on the coverage. Safety outside on the vertical release, work post, safety inside, work corner. This route can be defined if it is felt there are too many things to read here, because the main route is the underneath option route. Note the inside stem to get undereath the vertical Y-TE. This receiver will then work away from his coverage, settling vs zone, breaking vs man leverage.
Also known as Y-Option. The TE's turn to run an option route. Can settle vs zone or run away from man coverage (many teams will also allow the TE to work a dig route on the option). Tag an outside route along with it, depending on the coverage you may get, expectation for what the Y-option may become, or to sell a different concept.
Utilizing the RB out of the backfield as the option receiver. The Y-TE drives the inside coverage out of the window and the WR pushes vertical and holds the safety. This vacates two or three defenders from the area, and gets the RB the one-v-one matchup that is desired.
More of a man coverage beater wheel concept. Here, the snag acts as a natural rub on the defender covering the TE. If that defender works below the snag, the wheel is open. If he works over top of the snag (which the WR should work hard to make sure can't happen without a collision), work back to the snag receiver. Should be plenty of room to the sideline to work away from a MOF safety.
Slightly harder to execute well, but possibly more deadly than the snag-wheel. Here, the "rub" is downfield, based on a curl route. This has the added benefit of often attracting the safety's attention, really opening up the wheel from the TE.
(Route combination number: K-18)
(Route combination number: K-17)
Some will use it as an In-out concept more than a one-on-one, but it works as either. This works similarly to the Diagonal-Curl concept or a diagonal 8. This time, however, the Z-receiver can continue across the field until against man, gaining separation on his final horizontal break, or sit in a void against zone. Often paired with a vertical stretch from the opposite side to force the safeties to respect deep.
(Route combination number: K-16)
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). He will stack the CB in man coverage or if the CB has deep 1/3 to win over the top. If he feels the CB in cloud support, he will find the safety, where he may either continue to push vertical if he can beat the safety over the top, or start to settle near the sideline as more of a high-low on the flat defender.
(Route combination number: K-19)
These are three man concepts, in this case, with the third receiver coming from the backfield. They pair a in-out and and high-low read.
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.
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.
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.