Manufacturing Big Plays in the Passing Game

I am a firm believer in throwing short, completable passes, moving the chains, getting first downs and letting blown coverage's and missed tackles provide our big play opportunities. However, I also firmly believe there are times that you need to have things in your offense that really go after the big play, and not just a trick play you may or may not call in a game. These should be built into your game plan.

I read an article where Brian Billick was breaking down statistics from the NFL, the thing that winning teams had most in common, besides Turnover Ratio and Red Zone efficiency, was the number of explosive plays. Categorized as runs over 12 and I believe passes over 20. So big plays make a difference.

Also, since we have focused on explosive plays it has opened up the rest of our offense, and all of the guys running the shorter routes, running the ball, etc, have really improved. The proof is in the pudding, we started doing this more, and our points per game have gone up each of the past four years.

Our big play potential, other than broken tackles or missed coverage, fall into three categories:
1. Built-in routes in base passes
2. Individually tagged routes on base passes
3. Fakes/Complementary Passes to base plays

The first I will not go into great detail, however, I will outline how we do this. Most of our three-step game is called as an audible to take advantage of the defense giving us an opportunity, and most coaches are more familiar with this aspect, and finally there is little I could say that has not already been covered so effectively by Dan Robinson and Andrew Coverdale in their series on the quick passing game.

I will note that we do get many big plays from the three-step game, because that is often what we turn to against man blitzes and single safety defenses, letting our QB choose the play that best takes advantage of the defense's techniques (loose coverage, inside or outside leverage, etc) and I will also note since we changed our three-step protection to a six man slide protection, our success rate has gone way up, as we feel we can essentially call it versus any front and pick it up, inside to out(we tell the QB the 4th man to either side is his) and we throw the ball more versus those aggressive coverage's, have more success, and then begin to see them less, which let's us throw further downfield... it's a fun cycle!

Finally, we do often turn to our four-vertical route, which is very common, at least a few times a game, and that is part of our three-step game.

Next, from our five step, we try to incorporate what Bill Walsh liked to term "Alert" routes, or Mumme at Kentucky called "Peeking deep." Essentially all of our 5-step passes have at least one player running deep, usually a post or go route, that is the QB's initial read on his first three steps(or 1st step under the gun) as his job is to look directly down the field, is to read and see if there is no safety, or if there is if he gets out of position and let's that player get deep. Also, the construction of the plays allows for underneath players, who most commonly get the ball, if they get jumped, there is almost always someone running behind them for six points.

A common example is a simple Curl/flat read with one player, such as a tight end, curling over the middle, and the backside receiver running a post. The QB looks for the post, which either he can throw to or at least holds the safety in the middle to prevent him from interfering with the curl, and if he is not there he looks for the curl on his last 2 steps of his drop, and goes one, two, three from curl, to flat to middle curl.

This kind of "Alert" route usually results in three or four plays a year, however, since we have focused more on play action, we've seen a lot more success getting big plays off of post routes from our base passes.

Which brings me to our next point, is that we are more conscious now of trying to get safeties out of position with the use of play action, be it bootlegs or more traditional play action. This does not mean we fake and then chuck it deep, generally we keep a back and/or a tight end in to help protect and sell the fake, and our QB will still have a simple one, two, three read. This has been very successful for us.

Tagging individual routes has been very good for us, because it has been so easy. The reads don't really change, nor does protection. The most common example is to tag a player with a post route, but the most effective has been when we tag a route that we are planning on running quite a bit.

For example, if we go into a game versus a team that likes to play man with their linebackers on our backs, we'll likely, if we feel we have an advantage, go to the backs quite a bit. So obviously we will first see how well they get to the flat, and send our backs on shoot routes. And, I am sure many of you have success with this, is we will of course at some point have them run a wheel route, or shoot and up the sideline. Any time we tag a receiver that becomes the first read for the QB.

Also, very good for us versus cover 2 teams, we, and many others like to start running the smash combination, or corner hitch, whatever your team calls it. Usually teams run some kind of combination with a corner route and someone in the flat. Well, what has worked great for us, if for example we are running the corner smash from four wides double slot, the outside receivers still run the 5 yard smash routes, and say the left slot will run his corner, the right slot we may tag him to run what we call a "Treasure Box Route." Essentially, he will run his corner, at 8 yards jab inside, break for the corner at 10, but then after three steps towards the corner and a look at the QB, and often a pump fake by the QB, he will break back for the post. Basically an inverted post-corner. Often we catch the safety overplaying the corner, and he will be wide open for a big play down the middle, if it is not there, the QB will come down to his check-downs and dump it off.

Now, the significance here, and I will elaborate later in this article, is when we do this and how we do it. If we go into a game and know we are going to see a lot of cover 2, and the Corner/smash combo is one we are going to, we will not hesitate to go to the Treasure Box. Usually we build it into our script of our first 15 plays. We will usually run the traditional corner/smash from different formations early, and then somewhere in the first 15 plays come back to one of the earlier formations we ran it from, and run the corner/smash with the Treasure Box Tag.

This has two effects. Often, this results in a big play or touchdown. But also, and maybe more importantly, is now that safety is too scared to overplay the smash, so the rest of the game he will likely not be overplaying the corner, so we can consistently hit that corner route for big yards.

This was something we learned from watching Spurrier.

Play with what you already do and see if there are any individual route adjustments that are directly tied with how they will play a base play of yours, and see if you can generate big play potential from it.

Finally the fake or complementary routes. Again, nothing overly new or innovative here, but the focus is what's important. We generally run two types of these, fake quicks and fake screens.

Fake quicks are simple, we basically run two, the hitch and go and the slant and up. The hitch and go, obviously, is the exact same, protection and all, as our normal hitch, (linemen may know they need to hold their blocks longer) and the QB will pump as the outside receivers run a hitch and then burst upfield. A note on the hitch, when we teach this, we do not teach them to spin out or anything. We work on them bursting back upfield, too many are too slow going from the hitch to back upfield that a cover 3 or loose man corner can recover.

The slant and go is very simple also, the player runs his normal slant, and on the third step of the slant break will plant and break exactly vertical from where he is. He will likely be going somewhere up the hashes.

We like the hitch, and the slant sometimes, versus cover 3 and loose man defenses, and the slant and up primarily against cover 2 and man defenses where the cover 2 safeties or the man defenders try to jump the slant.

Another note on these, is, and we learned this from Joe Tiller's offense, is it is actually usually better for the QB to pump away from where he wants to throw, it often has an even more adverse affect that the DB sees the QB faking the complete other direction. He can always come back if he pumps one way, looks the other and it is not there. Also, these throws are not huge 40 yard bombs, they should be caught, not on a frozen rope, but a fairly un-lob type pass somewhere 20-25 yards downfield.

The others are the fake screens, primarily the fake WR screen. We convert the pass blocking to 6 man slide, or our quick protection. We have toyed with trying to pull one lineman to make it even more convincing, but as of yet we have not had a need. The slot receiver will run like he is going to make his block, and whiff to the inside and then burst up the sideline. There is usually a backside post and the screen receiver becomes the outlet, he runs his screen and comes underneath as a dump off.

The QB will do his normal action and pump and then look for the sideline and the backside post.

This has been one of our staples over the past few seasons.

Again, the key with these is, we combine this in our gameplans. We will evaluate what we are planning to do, if we plan to run a lot of hitches, or a lot of WR screens, you can expect we will throw the fake versions in there, for the above reasons: To get a big play, and then to scare the defenders so badly that they will not react aggressively to the plays themselves. A cover 3 corner is not going to break hard on a hitch, and a cover 2 safety will not break hard on a slant if they are afraid that at any moment the receiver will burst by them for 6.

And again, we will gameplan these, and we will almost always calls these in our first 15 plays. We believe in setting the tone. In 12 games last year, we scored on a fake quick route or fake screen in 9 of the games. Two of the ones we didn't were losses.

As a final note, this has really helped us, is that the kids have really bought into the aggressive attitude, they want to go after the defense, and it has translated to the rest of our offense. And when you get big plays, kids like to one-up each other, and they take it to the five yard hitches we do throw. Let's put it this way: not too many of our kids have been running out of bounds in the past few seasons.

If you have any questions please contact me:
Chris Brown