Smart Football has moved!

Please check out the new site, All future updates will be made there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

St. Louis Rams Shallow Cross Concepts

While not as prolific as they were just a few years ago, the Rams under offensive coordinator and head coach Mike Martz were maybe the best passing offense of all time. They set a gazillion scoring and passing records, and now teams like the Chiefs and Cardinals run their offense verbatim and others like the Bengals run extremely similar schemes. The offense itself goes way back to the Don Coryell and Sid Gillman days, as interpreted by guys like Ernie Zampese and Norv Turner.

The vertical passing game is well documented and very important (in fact they run the 3-vertical I link to in the previous post), but the shallow cross has been a great tool for them to hit passes underneath the fast dropping linebackers and to get good matchups with speed receivers getting rubs and running away from man to man for big play potential.

The Rams integrate the shallow cross into four main concepts: drive/cross-in combo (same side), hi-lo (shallow/in opposite sides), mesh, and the choice.

Running the Route

The route is designed to be run at a depth of 5-6 yards. It is mandatory that it at least crosses the center, and often can be caught on the opposite side of the field (in fact many pro-teams use the shallow as a way to attack and control the opposite flats). Here is the route shown vs. both man and zone and some coaching points:

1. First step is directly upfield. Vs. press man stutter step and get inside position.
2. Rub underneath any playside receivers inside of you.
3. Initially aim for the heels of the defensive linemen
4. Cross center. Aim for 5-6 yards on opposite hash.
5. Read man or zone (described below)
6. Vs. zone settle in window facing QB past the center-line (usually past the tackle). Get shoulders square to QB, catch the ball and get directly upfield.
7. Vs. man staircase the route (shown above, push upfield a step or two) and then break flat across again and keep running. No staircasing when running mesh.

Reading man or zone: After your initial step, eye the defenders on the opposite side of the centerline. Two questions: who are they looking at? and what does their drop look like?

If they are looking at the receivers releasing to their side and turning their shoulders to run with those receivers, it is probably man (on mesh look if they are following the opposite receiver).

If they are dropping back square and looking at either the QB or at you, it is probably zone. Expect to settle. Even if it is zone and there is nothing but open space, keep running; we'd rather hit a moving receiver than a stationary one.

Now, onto the concepts themselves.


The first is the "drive" concept, as taught in the west coast offense. You can find a great article on the classic form of the play common to west coast offense teams here. Here is a diagram below:

This is the most versatile of all the shallow-cross routes, and my personal favorite. The in route is run at 14-15 yards (can shorten to 10-12 for H.S.) and the corner is a 14 yard route (can also be shortened to 10-12).

The Rams typically use two different reads on the play, depending if it is man or zone. Against man the read is shallow->in->corner (RB dump off). Against zone it is a hi-lo: corner (or wheel), in, to shallow.

The shallow and sometimes a quick flat are good options built in against blitz, and the play can be run from many formations, including the bunch.

Below are some variants. On the right, is incorporating an angle route into the play, and it always gets read inside to out. On the left, the play is run from a balanced one-back set, and the backside can have almost any two-man combination used. Below the smash is shown, but it could be curl/flat, out/seam, post-curl, or any other combination. Typically a pre-snap or post-snap determination can be made based on man/zone or whether the coverage rotates strong.


The hi/lo shallow concepts is similar to how Texas Tech/Mike Leach and the other Airraid gurus run their shallow series. For more info, try the link. Below is what the Rams do.

The in route is at 15 yards as is the post route. Both can be shortened to 10-12 for lower levels. The frontside corner is run at 15 and is only thrown vs. certain man looks.

The base read is in->shallow->RB dump-off. (As a footnote, Texas Tech reads it always shallow->in->RB. I think this is probably the better read for lower levels QBs, since it ensures they will get the ball off quickly and get a sure completion, only throwing the route over the middle when the defenders maul/jump the shallow.)

Also, versus quarters coverage the Rams like to look through the In to the Post route. The idea is that if the safety jumps the In they can hit the post up top behind him. Typically the weak safety (to in/post side) is watched on the early part of the drop, and if he comes up for whatever reason (probably to cover when a blitz is on!) the post becomes the #1 read.

The pass on the right is read the exact same, just some of the responsibilities are switched.


The mesh route has extensive literature and discussion on it and the intricasies of the meshing receivers can be found elsewhere. The basic gist is that two receivers cross over the middle getting a rub, which is very effective versus man. Sometimes it also can be a horizontal stretch against zones with four underneath men. Martz has adjusted the play so instead of a frontside corner hi/lo read or even a post to take the top off like Norm Chow likes, he has the Z receiver running a curl at 12 yards over the center. What happens then is it floods the underneath zones with four defenders to cover five receivers, just like on all-curl. So it is a very effective man and zone play. Also, almost always at least one of the two receivers threatening the flats will run a wheel route, giving a deep option.

The QB will get a pre-snap read for the wheel route, basically checking to see if a LB has him in man and/or if the deep defender to that side might squeeze down with no immediate deep threat. The read is then right to left, X-Z-Y, or shallow, in, shallow. Again, as before, the shallows will look to settle vs. zone but they need to get a little wider here. Also, as explained elsewhere for the mesh the Y sets the top of the mesh at 6 yards and X comes underneath at 5. It is best if they can cross going full speed, but must navigate the LBs and undercoverage (and the ref!). If all is covered vs. zone the ball can be dropped off to the flat to the RB or tight end/H-back.


The Rams call the play with numbers and will tag either the post/middle read or the shallow so I'm not sure what they call it, but the play is adapted from the old run and shoot choice route. The choice route has been successful for teams for years, and the Rams are only happy to incorporate its concepts.

However, while the choice is typically read from the single receiver side over, the Rams read it opposite, with the single receiver side the late read and the middle-read the primary. The play is really intended as a spring to a slot receiver or RB in the seam with the ability to read on the fly.

They change the reads up for the post/seam pattern here run by F and H, but essentially it is similar to the middle read on the 3-vertical play, where he reads MOFO or MOFC and looks to attack the deep middle against open coverage and break flat across underneath a deep middle safety. The Rams also give him the option to break it off against blitzes and, in the case of getting H out in the second diagram, versus "wide" coverage (i.e. a LB squatting outside waiting for him to go to the flat) he can stick it at the LOS or just beyond and run an angle back inside (it helps to have Marshall Faulk!).

The read is post-read->shallow->comeback/flat read. So if they squeeze the post-read the shallow is next and then the QB works the comeback and the flat off a hi/lo read. In the second diagram the seam just clears out or breaks off his route if there is a blitz.

I suggest against having hot reads and sight adjustments to both sides combined with a multi-direction read route unless you are the St. Louis Rams. It is still an excellent play if you keep at least 6 in to block and let the shallow be the hot read, or you can even run it as a 7 man protection if you take away the backside comeback route.


That's a brief overview of the various ways they go about it and the reads. A HS team needs one, maybe two ways of doing this. Lots of teams have been successful using some of these. Florida State won a championship and Charlie Ward a Heisman trophy running the drive version, where if the D dropped off and covered the shallow, swing, and curl, he ran a draw. All of these are high percentage throws. Remember: speed in space! It's a motto that scores points and wins games.

Corner Routes/3-Verticals

Just wanted to mention that I watched the bowl game between Arizona St and Rutgers, and Arizona St used the 3-vertical play at least 10 if not 15 times. Rutgers runs a lot of Cover 2 (HC Schiano came from Miami where he did the same thing) and this is maybe the best play against it. They ran it from all kinds of sets, from gun, with play action, etc. ASU racked up over 600 yards of offense and I swear at least 200 or 250 and several TDs came off this one pass play. Check out this old article I did on the play here.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Norm Chow on Playcalling

Grabbed this from this article here. But this was too good so it got its own article. We all like to discuss coverages, etc but this is extremely true:

We are going to try to take advantage of what the other team is doing on defense. During the course of a game, with the sophistication of defenses, coverages are disguised and the use of zone blitzes and fire blitzes become very hard to beat. We’d be lying if we said we sat up in the box and knew what coverages were being run. What we try to do is take a portion of the football field, the weak flat for example, and we will attack that until we can figure out what the defense’s intentions are. Then we try to attack the coverage that we see. It is very difficult to cover the whole field. We are not going to try to fool anybody. We are going to take little portions of the field and try to attack them until the defense declares what it intends to do.

That is wisdom right there. First, to admit that you can't stand back and make magical judgments about what the defense is doing or what its intentions are. Second, the proper response is to try to turn the game into something manageable--i.e. attacking these "portions" of the field with mirrored reads, flood routes, etc.

Here's another good one:

Number one, we are going to protect the quarterback. If you decide to rush seven, we will block seven. If you decide to rush 10, we will try to block 10. We are going to try to protect the quarterback. Lance and Roger spend a lot of time picking up blitzes and that is the basic tenet that we have. You may be better than we are, but schematically we will try to protect the quarterback.

How often is this forgotten! I am a spread guy, I have roots of the pro-spread, the run and shoot, and there is a fact that the defense can always bring one more than you can protect, but protection first is the proper mindset. Hot routes are not what you build your offense on and you do not declare that you are a four wide team and that this fact is immutable. You have the ability to adapt to different defensive responses and protect your kid back there who is trying to find receivers without getting his head taken off.

Airraid Info

I'm pretty swamped the next couple of weeks, so I'll do the "lazy blogger" technique and post some links and info, this time all about the Airraid offense, in honor of the Mike Leach article that came out yesterday.

If you want to learn more I suggest checking out the Valdosta St/Chris Hatcher tapes on the Airraid offense and routes for the Y receiver/tight end.

Practice, Drills, Teaching:

Nike Coach of the Year Clinic - Hal Mumme (1999)
Nike Coach of the Year Clinic - Mike Leach (1998) - Great article
Hal Mumme Practice Plan

Schemes and articles:

Hal Mumme Clinic Notes - Shallow Cross Series
Valdosta St - Chris Hatcher - Crossing Routes
Texas Tech - 4 Verticals Package


Valdosta St - Spring Playbook
Chucknduck Site - Airraid (from 1999 Oklahoma Playbook)

Remember, they got much of their offense from BYU's offense from the 80s and, even today has lots of similarities with what Norm Chow did at BYU, NC State, and Southern Cal.

Norm Chow - BYU Passing Game Article - Great Article!
Chucknduck - BYU Passing game
Playbook - BYU 1995

Last, here are Norm Chow's reads for his passing plays (see the Chucknduck link for quick reference to diagrams). The reads for the Airraid are very similar, if not the same in all respects.


“61 Y OPTION” – 5 step drop. Eye Y and throw it to him unless taken away from the outside by S/S (then hit Z), OR inside by ILB (then hit FB). Don’t throw option route vs. man until receiver makes eye contact with you. Vs. zone – can put it in seam. Vs. zone – no hitch step. Vs. man – MAY need hitch step.

“62” MESH – 5 step drop. Take a peek at F/S – if he’s up hit Z on post. Otherwise watch X-Y mesh occur – somebody will pop open – let him have ball. Vs. zone – throw to Fullback.

“63” DIG – 5 step drop and hitch (7 steps permissible). Read F/S: X = #1; Z = #2; Y OR HB = #3.

“64” OUT– 5 step drop. Key best located Safety on 1st step. Vs. 3 deep look at F/S – if he goes weak – go strong (Z = #1 to FB = #2 off S/S); if he goes straight back or strong – go weak (X = #1 to HB = #2 off Will LB). Vs. 5 under man – Y is your only choice. Vs. 5 under zone – X & Z will fade.

“65” FLOOD ("Y-Sail") – 5 step drop and hitch. Read the S/S. Peek at Z #1; Y = #2; FB = #3. As you eyeball #2 & see color (F/S flash to Y) go to post to X. Vs. 2 deep zone go to Z = #1 to Y = #2 off S/S.

“66” ALL CURL– 5 step drop and hitch. On your first step read Mike LB (MLB or first LB inside Will in 3-4). If Mike goes straight back or strong – go weak (X = #1; HB = #2). If Mike goes weak – go strong (Y = #1; Z = #2; FB = #3). This is an inside-out progression. NOT GOOD vs. 2 deep 5 under.

“67” CORNER/POST/CORNER ("Shakes") – 5 step drop and hitch. Read receiver (WR) rather than defender (Corner). Vs. 2 deep go from Y = #1 to Z = #2. Vs. 3 deep read same as “64” pass (Will LB) for X = #1 or HB = #2. Equally good vs Cover 2 regardless if man OR zone under.

“68 SMASH” SMASH– 5 step drop and hitch. Vs. 2 deep look HB = #1; FB = #2 (shoot); Z = #3. Vs. 3 deep – stretch long to short to either side. Vs. man – go to WR’s on “returns”.

“69 Y-CROSS/H-Option – 5 step drop - hitch up only if you need to. Eye HB: HB = #1; Y = #2. QB & receiver MUST make eye contact vs. man. Vs. zone – receiver finds seam (takes it a little wider vs. 5 under). Only time you go to Y is if Will LB and Mike LB squeeze HB. If Will comes & F/S moves over on HB – HB is “HOT” and will turn flat quick and run away from F/S. Otherwise HB runs at his man to reinforce his position before making his break.

That should give plenty of insight into the Airraid! If you want to learn more than this, contact Texas Tech and/or Valdosta St. Both are quite generous with their time (I think Leach even has a session for HS coaches in the sprin). The best (and some might say only) way to learn an offense is to visit and watch them put it in.

Additional materials would be the Valdosta videos, and actually Norm Chow has a great video floating around about his offense, from back in the BYU days.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Reading the "square" to determine coverage

I didn't invent this, but thought I'd pass it along. Sorry that I don't have any diagrams, those would help. From what I remember a lot of this came from Lindy Infante, but it's been used by lots of great passing coaches for a long time. This deescription is close to what I've always taught:


The most important area for determining secondary coverages is the middle of the field about 15 to 25 yards deep and about 2 yards inside of each hash. We call this area the “square”.

We normally read the “square” in our drop back passing game. Reading the “square” becomes necessary when it is impossible to determine what the coverage they are in before the snap or to make sure of secondary coverage after the snap.

In reading the “square” the QB simply looks down the middle of the field. He should not focus on either Safety but see them both in his peripheral vision.

A) If neither Safety shows up in the “square”, and both are deep, it will indicate a form of Cover 2. A quick check of Corner alignment and play will indicate whether it is a 2/Man or 2/Zone. If neither Safety shows up in the “square” and both are shallow, it will indicate a Cover 0 (blitz look).

B) If the Strong Safety shows up in the “square”, this will indicate a Cover 3 rolled weak or possibly a Cover 1.

C) If the Weak Safety shows up in the “square”, this will indicate a strong side coverage. It could be a Cover 3 or a Cover 1. If the coverage is Cover 3, it could be a Cover 3/Sky (Safety), or a Cover 3/Cloud (Corner), depending on who has the short zone.

NOTE: When either of the Safeties shows up in the “square”, the best percentage area to throw the ball in is the side that he came from! If NEITHER of the Safeties show up in the “square” – throwing the ball into the “square” is a high percentage throw.