Football Fundamentals: Switch Route Combinations

If you've been reading me for a while, you've noted that I'm a big fan of switch concepts. I like them for quite a few reasons:

  • They force the defense to define their coverage
  • They force the defense to define their leverage
  • They help attack defenses from a variety of positions/places
  • They can naturally alter the timing of pass plays (thus effecting the coverage defenders reactions to routes) 
  • They can naturally alter the depth of route concepts (this maintains the route timing but moves it shorter)
  • They can change the coverage's technique by altering the reception area and providing a moving target laterally and vertically to hinder the defender's "position maintenance"
  • They naturally "rub" defenders in man coverage
  • They tend to force pre- and post-snap communication and consistent eye discipline
  • They force defenders to move within their zones to effectively play coverage in a zone scheme
  • They can make it more difficult to jam receivers at the LOS
  • Combined with non-switch-concepts, they make it extremely difficult to defend all the threats
  • They provide a natural transition into WR screens and double moves
  • Etc
And I seriously mean etc. There are tons of benefits from utilizing switch concepts as a part of your offense. That doesn't mean you should only run switch concepts, perhaps the greatest benefit of them is because they are paired with your standard releases, but the addition of them makes life so much more difficult for the defense. And they aren't only incorporated into twin sets (as seen below); they can be run with a flanker/TE combination, a Wing/TE combination, a stack set, or even bunch sets with three or more receivers. When you add up the benefits and the minimal amount of work it takes to add to your offense (choose how you'll teach the adjustments to the routes to incorporate the switch, either the timing or the depth, and maintain some consistency with your standard releases) it's no wonder that so many teams utilize this in modern football.

Before you Start
You'll notice this is awfully similar to the twins concepts, because ultimately they are much the same except for the utilization of a switch. I will provide additional information of the benefit of the switch when applicable, otherwise it's highly similar. Because this is a bit of a retread, I will add some things at the end to show how this concepts works against the defense with some standard schemes.

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.X-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 X-WR needs to gain outside leverage and be sharp on his break; a useful move is to threaten the post before breaking into the corner route. Note that against any banjo adjustment, both receivers work away from the defender's leverage

(Route combination number: 71)


Same thought from the X-WR as the smash concept above. This time the Z-WR 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 (and the natural rub allows the Z-WR to get open in "and short" situations where the defense is in man coverage).

(Route Combination Number: 73)

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


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 X-WR 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 slot threatens vertical. Against CBs that like to squat, this can be a quick hit play that goes for big yards. The depth of the slot route also puts him in more space against a LB in coverage or him to match up with a safety in space.

(Route Combination Number: 39)

One-on-One routes are quick hitting routes (typically) 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.

Double Posts

Double posts works very similar to double slants, but rather than attacking the short zone, it attacks the deep zones. If the Z-receiver can win his face across the movement key, then the throw goes to him; otherwise the Z-receiver clears out an area for the X-receiver to work into, often times with leverage on an outside receiver who must respect the fade route.

(Route combination number: 88)

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.


Essentially like a standard all-hitch, this merely has a switch element attacked to it. This overloads the underneath zones and works to pick on one underneath defender. Attached to play action or a QB run threat (where the box defenders have eyes in the backfield), this can become a great way to attack the edge very quickly with an easy read for the QB.


The Scissors concepts is a vertical stretch concept that utilizes the WR leverage to its advantage. Often times, two-high coverages will be committed once the receivers have threatened vertical. Likewise, the scissors concept overloads an outside third vs Cover 3, and gives a downfield run about man coverage. Also, look at it, it is a pain to defend. Teams that wait for the receiver to commit to a release before picking them up are still forced to run through picks at the 2nd level.

(Route combination number: 87)


This is similar to the scissors concept, but utilizes the outside receiver to run the corner route and the inside receiver to run a post. The stem toward each other forms a stack attacking vertical, allowing either receiver to threaten any part of the field. For teams that want to play a banjo adjustment (1st in, 2nd out; 2nd in, 1st out), this will often lead to confusion as they begin to switch upon the stem. It also allows the outside receiver room to work outside, and opens up the middle of the field more for the Z-receiver working against a slower LB or a S that isn't as strong in coverage.

(Route combination number: 78)


A vertical route concept, this overloads a deep zone. The seam can work as a post against Cover 2, or attack open grass in the seam against Cover 3. Likewise, the in-play route adjustments make it a version of the Pole concept. This is perhaps the most popular switch concept, and the natural rub allows for what amounts to a wheel route from the slot, while the inward breaking X-WR can hold the middle defenders and work away from his defender on the outside.

(Route combination number: 98)

Drag and Follow

Also known as "Drive-and-chase", this is an in-out concept that targets the hook defenders. This works the same as the drag and follow with the RB, but not splits it away from the formation. It can be very effective against man coverage, and the drag route can be effective at getting the slot open in space underneath zones. This also essentially works as the switch version of double slants.

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 slot, 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.


Similar to the Drive concept, you will remember from the Drag and Follow concept (aka "Drive and Chase") and is the drag route from the X-WR. Because it's coming from the outside, often times the LBs are run deep by the slot going vertical. Likewise, if the LBs see the drag route coming, the intermediate depth behind them comes open for the slot to fill. If safeties are aggressive coming down in coverage, the slot 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 from the Z-WR or respecting the inside leverage of the X-WR running the post.

(Route combination number: 86)


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: 68)

Switch concepts have several applications, as noted in the introduction. Against man coverage, the inside receiver must deal with the "rub" action. This is not unlike many of the rub concepts you see, such as

However, by employing switch concepts, you now make it so that the "diagonal" or arrow route is not the only threat. Instead, the Z-WR can threaten vertically (Switch Vertical) or back to the inside (Switch Crash). In this way, you have forced the defender to try to cheat into the flat but also account for all the other possibilities, leaving him to play his defense straight up. And by playing straight up, he is at a liability at defending plays such as the Diagonal Curl concept above. Any teams that prefer to stay away from coverage adjustments by playing "Lock" coverage are at a major disadvantage now, because it is so difficult to fight through the wash. And with the ability to run these routes with standard splits, going to a coverage adjustment isn't always obvious. So you're forcing defenses to make adjustments that potentially leave them more susceptible to other route combinations, including those that don't come from a switch concept, because they are so worried about the threats posed by switching the receivers off the LOS.

Before we look at those adjustments, let's also look how the switch concept leads to running WR screens against lock coverage. Because the switch at the snap is such a threat, the defenders must remain very tight to the receiver to avoid being picked by the switch action. Seeing that the switch concept is a means to get into a route, they must respect the initial release and follow tightly. What that means is that the defend is essentially acting as another blocker on the other defender.

So clearly, being in locked man-to-man coverage has serious disadvantages. So you either run zone or you run an adjustment. Lets, for example, take a look at a banjo adjustment. Now, with the switch concept, you have made the defense's intentions clear, and you have defined the leverage because the inside defender needs to be able to see both receivers (and thus be inside of both) and the outside defender must do the same (and thus line up outside of both). By doing that, you can run concepts that take advantage of that leverage, such as this, where the Z-WR breaks back to the middle of the field while pinning the defender outside.

By being a moving target and threatening all areas of the field, it becomes difficult for the defender to get into proper position and maintain his correct position following the switch, and now offenses can attack cheating defenses and defenses that attempt to play it honest. In a banjo coverage, the defense will want to follow inside a bit to reduce that leverage, but now the defender is worrying about another aspect of his coverage that isn't the receiver, thus allowing the receiver to play potentially faster and get favorable position on the defender.

One of the other primary means to stop this would be to go to a zone coverage, but that has its weaknesses too. For instance, the switch makes it suddenly more difficult to carry the seam. Likewise, the switch concept almost begs the offense to run defenders out of their zone and leave voids. By running what can amount to running three people into a zone, you really force the defense to be able to pick up a receiver almost like man coverage out of their zone structure.

Note above that the Z-receiver is initially in the hook/curl zone. Then he runs out and the X-WR commits to that zone. He runs the coverage out, and the Z-WR reenters. If this isn't respected, concepts such as Spacing can be employed when the zone coverage is soft.

And what about press coverage? Typically, it is difficult to press the receiver that is off the LOS. To avoid being pressed on the outside, some teams will invert their receivers and have the slot up on the LOS. This forces the defender to play him much more straight up depending on the coverage, as the slot receiver can threaten inside out.

But regardless, by running a switch concept, the off receiver can also become the first man through if the on receiver is being pressed. By doing this, the first receiver through is essentially acting as a pick on the press defender. Utilizing this natural rub, now the pressing defender is forced immediately into a trail position where he cannot utilize his body to assist him in coverage. This means he can't see the ball, means the receiver has room to run moves on him, meaning the receiver can get open.


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