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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.


Ted Seay said...

Chris: Once more, you provide an essential chunk of information for the rest of us. Thanks for doing the grinding work of watching film and doodling these concepts for us, then laying them out with such clarity.

Now, a bone to pick. A small one, and it has always been a sore point with me, so you are welcome to ignore me.

Point one: When we send receivers to block defensive backs who are dropping off at the snap, we send them downfield, right?

Point two: And when we speak of pass rushers, we refer to them coming hard upfield, yes?

Point three: Can we therefore agree that the direction the offense is facing before the snap should be called "downfield," and the opposite direction, where most of the defense should be looking at the snap, should be "upfield?"

Then can we stick with those definitions consistently?

The moving "upfield/downfield" definition, she make me crazy...


Chris said...

Thanks for the complement. Using the terms in a mish/mash way is confusing, and now that you've pointed it out to me I'm sure it will stick out to me badly. For you Ted, I'll try to keep them straight. :)

Chris said...

P.S. Ted Google likes me again. I'll never understand what that was about!

Chris said...

I have some tape of them not from this past season but over the past few, and a copy of their 1999 or 2000 playbook is floating around. You can probably find it on eBay or even as a PDF.

I did that article a couple months ago on pattern reading and shallow crosses and I wanted to show how a sophisticated pro-offense shallow crosses. Also, these passes are more completable and adaptable to HS than some of the ones with 20 yard in routes and 18 yard comebacks. Last, to show how they didn't really invent any of them, though they may read them different and do some different things.

As a footnote, this came up on a football board but the Rams actually (even then) do a lot of 7 man protection, and do try to limit some of their hot reads. Their shallow stuff is really where they feel more comfortable only protecting 5 or 6 (other than 3-step) because it has built in hot routes.

Zennie said...

Hi. I think there's an "Air Raid" website which presents these concepts as well.

SAY, I've noticed the Balimore Ravens are starting to vary their launch points and use three step drops, throwing "stick" patterns. So, even though they claim to have told Kyle Boller to get better, they have started to use more concepts in the passing game.

Zennie said...

Also Happy New Year and thanks for this wonderful blog site!

Unknown said...


the mesh play you have drawn up from twins-open is one of our 5 "major" plays we run from that set. i'm a big believer in it. works good vs both man & zone. compliments other schemes as well (or other schemes compliment it - whichever way you choose to look at it)

great post (as usual) and great site.

coach huey

SmittyWerbenmanjensen said...


The first 2 plays look nauseatingly similar to BILL WALSH'S "2 Jet Flanker Drive".

So to attribute it to MIKE MARTZ and the Rams is almost insulting.

And I've been using that play since BEFORE the advent of the "Greatest Show on Turf".

Anonymous said...

I've tried to run the same Mesh look this year. Split back double tight(necessary for the introductory level of the game).

Looks the exact same, motion 20(wide) so the QB gets a presnap read. Then he can combine that with hard count to get a blitz read.

If he reads blitz look for the motion slant, no blitz but he sees the motion slant flash he tries to hold the safety to the weak side.

One cover he tries to clear the mesh, two cover he gets inside the up safety as the slant deepens to a post.

He has the double slant look off the wide side, two parallel routes at different speeds. Once the MESH clears he has our fastest TE(and tallest target) coming back to the cleared side off motion.

Our clear side continues the route and pushes the numbers, holding any DB high for the back clearing his side to push sideline off an out release.

The weakside off MESH reads space to lead. Up position on the defender to cross and sit in front of, off the tackle extended, if he has not located a lead pass. Key is seeing his teammate chased to look for a lead pass, otherwise he settles on eye contact.

The backs shoot with the clear side pushing. The weak side shoots to sideline then moves up, assuming the TE off MESH his side can clear or sit(his route stays consistent to give space for either option to work).

Going motion helps sell hard count for a free throw, and gives the cover key read. Then he can look blitz and read flash to determine how he's leading the MESH(clear side) or lead/settle to zone side from who cleans his cover through traffic on the rub.

The backs give it max protect look, high tempo goes off first read hot(less thinking to do, same exact progression), then backs and MESH can still work under, or push over, if the passer follows the block they provide.

It worked amazingly well in practice, I based it on kids doing throwarounds originally(both TE got some pass reps ahead of time). It was nice to see it diagrammed to nearly the exact same specs.

Doubtful it gets used in game time though, I'm not calling plays this go around. The time I did so went off a script(scored 2td in the first six plays) then we asked players "what do you feel?" to keep their confidence into the second quarter when the formation lulled. If it matched what we saw we went with it, otherwise we went with our two play calls so they could go no huddle after successful hookups.

At times we gave them three plays. The refs started holding onto the ball extra so other teams could substitute or change strategy.

Nobody else in the league scored 40 points, we did it six times.

Final game is this week, only team that beat us is playing. Others called the plays then and will this week...

sometimes being an assistant coach isn't all it's supposed to be.


Anonymous said...

We played the final game, lost in the last minute, but came back just before the 2:00 minute mark to take a lead after the conversion 22-21.

He changed the D from 2 deep, we gave up a lot of big plays as a result that led to scores in one cover. It took the team a few plays to settle but the opponent got into penalty trouble and that helped us initially. Plays caused by our ends getting into the plans upfield and drawing block fouls or holds worked quite well. Until the decision was made to pinch them down on run support instead of sending a blitz to the C gap. We blitzed C more in the second half but at times the ends lost contain from having broke technique back inside on other looks and calls. You change the defense and forget that the same things failed in the prior game. Fortunately the players overcame some of this on the field with good technique and great effort.

The eight man up front did help some plays, but they mostly tried to go into the trick plays with a lead and it let us come back a good bit, more so than the scheme design (outside of the double C blitz) worked.

He also tried to go with a different formation for the final game, with a run/pass option. Played favorites for who got reps and the lead blocking was not working as a result to the ISO side. Tried to use trick plays all first quarter and killed the offense.

Otherwise the D might have held up.

Finally went to what we did best and ran leads from standard, sprintouts from the same, and some quick passes in our traditional spread with sprintouts and QB sneaks. The spread was made to force the defense to show its hand early, we called mostly QB runs and quick passes from it for the year, after I finally convinced the team to drop the shotgun and keep our quick QB under center so his reads and runs could occur quicker.

Again the changes others wanted were implemented on the final week to try and be a bit too pretty.
Instead, he wanted a one back slot that was not developing for the trick plays. A look we were not familiar with and had not used all year. We ran a two back slot early in the season before going pro double tight with one wideout, but not a one back slot with two tight ends to the strong side(wing). It's too hard to lead a pitch out for a halfback pass with no lead blocker, but you can't tell people until they learn in game time. We had not used that play call all year(halfback pass). It would have really worked in the system we already had. Breakdowns on the edge would happen because you could gap wide of it from the start, and no fullback was there to pick up the extra player on a blitz in the new set. So the option play out of the different look never worked(teams always know something is up on a formation change anyways).

We scrapped the trick look and moved the ball quite well with the regular playbook in the second half.

Still there were times we used the new look after getting across midfield, to stall two possible scoring drives on go ahead efforts.

A penalty resulted from the change in tactics across midfield, and a goal line fumble killed other drives in the second half(it looked like the QB got the ball in on the effort but the refs said otherwise). Their D would get a lot of jumps to try and bait false starts, we got calls and they did also. Once we developed command over the tactic they scrapped it as three scores in almost the span of the third quarter(counting the first play of qtr 4) went through in the second half.

It was good to give the players some room to make calls from the line, we'd key forms or players and run opposite to keep them from getting to the ball. The team was quite confident in that style and the best three skill players really developed a command of that tactic, all workable in the base set.

Still, we went ahead with 2 min left and were within a half a football length(or even in the end zone) for the other lost scoring chance. They made plays in the last 2 min and took the win back from our hard playing Vikings, two long runs.

We got the ball back past midfield as well, but the scorers ran the clock off the possession change before we even got a play out, so we burned a time out that was needed on that. We never heard why the clock was started up, other than a relative of the timekeeper on the other team was coaching.

Those kind of situations you have to anticipate and respond to, our guys got it to inside the 30 yard line anyways before having the final play of ours result in a QB sack on 4th down.

The team we played will be their teammates as well at the next level so it really was not a loss over the long haul. The local HS went 10-0 in the regular season but lost to a great coach and team. He's still much admired here, coached a neighboring school(mine) before his move across the state to a program new to the bigger conference designations.

I hope he wins it all. We hated seeing players coached prior lose in the big game, but getting there was quite a journey and more great things will be in store. There's no other coach out there I'd like to see win it aside from who played the HS, if it couldn't be one our local leaders.

He deserved a better offer and tenure here. He's visited several pro training camps and integrated much of what he's learned into their system.

His team is really good with the MASH and rub routes, and they have an amazing running game(he set all time State records for rushing/scoring here).

They run a double wing t and pass from spread, check down to a hot(cant say which until season is over) and they use a counter trey often.

A ton of line pulling on the interior, combined with a zone/combo edge. Hybrid attacks like that really make it hard to key one item for everyone. The kids use flawless technique.

There's essentially two keys to take, one from the inside and a different one outside.

If you apply the same key to both you're likely to be out of position on the flow or get caught in a trap. I'd say more but here's to hoping his team wins through.

People coming downhill can get trapped and people reading up can still lose themselves in keys or the flow.

They pulled more than we did and it was quite a challenge. Both teams played quite well on the whole. Each team made great plays but they finished more of them, by forcing a fumble on our longest run and by taking better care of the ball on special teams(we had a punt blocked).

So the football weekend was a full slate. Three of the four local playoff teams lost in round one, players I've coached with and against in all of the teams. It's a let down of sorts, but getting to the post season is itself an accomplishment to be proud of.

Our Jr League really didn't have a losing team, everyone got better and won some games and all of them bought into the team concept. Only so many teams can have the good record, but every team can improve, be competitive and experience winning. For us we were fortunate to be the 2 seed and beat most opponents by healthy margins. The field results reflected much of the practice effort.

The HS had a tremendous season and set several school records in a new conference, before a homeboy came back to a coaching triumph.He beat the two time defending champs the year prior decisively but missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker after an injury spree/losing streak occurred, with one less loss than he has this year. Let's hope well for him now.

One local team still has the playoffs to go, I look forward to cheering them on via radio...


Anonymous said...

A very important item to discuss before we address scheme is technique.

Why do you staircase/stagger crossing routes vs. man?


Anonymous said...

Wekk done Chris!
Dave Cisar