In this article I will not discuss routes that utilize rub concepts close to the LOS (such as a switch concept). I will have a later article dedicated to rub routes from a Twins set. Many of these are similar to the TE-Flanker Concepts discussed 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 Z-WR, 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.
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.
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.
This is a Z-WR 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 Z-WR but keeps the read in a similar field of view for the QB.
Part of the "Drive" sub-category. As the Z-WR 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.
An X-return concept. 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 Z-WR, or back outside toward the sideline.
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 X-WR moving right into the area vacated by the Z-WR 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. Z-WR may run a COP (Corner-or-Post) route based on deep coverage, or a specific route can be maintained. Work low to high.
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.
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.
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 inside WR 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 outside WR route to a curl.
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 with the two receivers switching their locations. Works good if you also run a lot of "Drive".
Double slants, also known as a panther concept, are a grouping of one-on-one routes. Again, the Z-WR will clear out the underneath coverage with his slant, while the X-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.
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 Z-WR open in space underneath zones. With the angle from the RB, fits within a "Texas" sub-category.
It can also be run with the two WRs, with the X running the drive and the Z running the angle slant.
Also part of a "Texas" sub-category, here the Z-WR 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 inside WR (Cover 3, some Cover 4) this can be very effective in stressing the MIKE in coverage against the RB.
Once defenses start trying to jump the drive and angle, hit them with this double move, which pushes the concept back outside.
"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.
X-Receiver will break back to the QB and then work outside to the soft spot near the sideline. Z-WR 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 Z-WR needs to gain outside leverage on the LB/S and the X-receiver needs to be sharp on his breaks.
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.
See "Levels" section
Similar to Pivot, but now with a hi-lo read to the sideline. Snag may settle underneath the Z-WR's vertical route or work back outside. Also a good way to mimic switch verticals.
Two out routes toward the sideline, with the X-WR route deeper than the Z-WR. 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 Z-WR working toward the corner and the X-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.
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.
A quick route concept that pairs well with play action. The X-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.
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 Z-WR being able to sit and provide and in-out with both the RB and X-WR. 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.
With both receivers being speed guys, either can be the deep or the shallow receiver. Alter the initial split to get the timing right to attack hi-low to the opposite side of the field.
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.
Similar to seam, however the route adjustments will change slightly for the inside WR. As the Z-WR can't work straight vertical without interfering with the outside post, now, if the middle of the field is closed, the Z-WR will flatten his route to cross the safety's face. If the middle of the field is open, the inside receiver 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).
Typically, the Z-WR corner route will work underneath the post route, this will act as a natural rub to the sideline. If the safety tries to work over the top of the post, the Z-WR can flatten his route and the WR wins inside leverage on the CB.
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 outside 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).
A vertical stretch concept. The streak from the inside WR holds the safety inside (he'll 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 X-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 Z-WR get over the top of the coverage.
Z Post Wheel
Post-wheel is one of the more common double move vertical concepts. If your X-WR 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.
RB Double Post Wheel
Similar to Z-WR wheel above, but if you have a RB working toward the flat often. Both WRs will run posts here to hold the safeties inside and take the CBs with them, typically, this will result in the LB alone having to carry the RB.
Combines snag wheel and Post wheel into one concept
Double sluggo is both WRs running the sluggo and working deep. Throw away from the safety.
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.
Tag an outside WR route to the option route from the Z-receiver, the main difference being the initial Stem.
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 Z-WR. 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 Z-WR.
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 X-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.
Sluggo Slay and Seam Sluggo are two ways of hard selling slant or double slant
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 X-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 Z-WR running an out route behind it then acts as an in-out read for the QB.
Pass Concepts (Switch, Mirrored, NCAA, Trips)
Certainly, there are more combinations that can be run. In my opinion, every standard concept you run should have a double-move concept to keep defenses honest to the initial look, and we'll check those out later. 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. Many of these plays will be paired with a concept from the TE-Flanker route concepts in 11 personnel, for instance. 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 run concepts from a twins set. After that we can get into mirrored routes, 2x2 concepts, trips sets, and bunch combinations.