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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Divide Route in the Multiple Smash Concept

The "smash concept" is extremely popular for a reason: It's a great route. And it is simple to teach. The concept is designed to defeat Cover Two in its many forms. As Cover Two has evolved (Tampa 2, "Tough Two" with the corners retreating to ten yards and jumping routes, and Cover Two-Man), the Smash has become more and more popular.

A word here about verbiage. I refer here to the "Smash concept" or the "Smash route." Both refer to a two-man combination with the outside receiver on a 6 yard hitch and the inside receiver on a 12 yard corner route. Some coaches and teams go further and actually refer to either the corner route or the hitch route as a "smash" route. Again, "smash" to me is the combination - i.e. the concept - rather than any individual route.

In any event, the quarterback has a progression read: (1) corner, (2) hitch underneath. In his progression read he will "key" the cornerback: If the cornerback sinks back to stop the corner route, throw the hitch; if he comes up for the hitch, throw the corner. The best way to describe this to a QB is that you have a progression read and you "read" your receivers. You simply "progress" from one to two. In doing this though you have to understand what guys you are "keying," as their reactions should determine your progression. A Quarterback must understand defenses and defender reactions, but at the same time there is no telling where those 11 guys on defense will go, and as long as he knows where his receivers are and if the QB and the receivers are all on the same page we can run a successful play. We tell him his general rule is to throw the corner route until they take it away (though by gameplan or defense you can tell him to always throw the hitch until they come up for it).

I won't belabor the details of coaching up the "smash" portion of the route itself. If you want to understand all the details in depth, I suggest this. See here too for more on the "multiple smash route." (Registration required) Broadly, the inside receiver will run a 12 yard corner route. He has no "reading" on the play, but he must know his techniques. First, he should identify whether it is man or zone. Against man he will need to close his defender's cushion, push or lean him slightly inside, and plant and break hard away from the defender. Against zone he wants to see who he is running the route off of. If there is a deep defender over him he must set this man up inside and jab at the post at 10-12 yards and break for the corner. If there is no one head up on him he will roll cut his route so he loses no speed. It's worth mentioning though that even if he jabs or plants and breaks we want this closer to a "speed cut," as we don't want him to lose too much speed. A receiver can do this best by "jabbing" while having his toes actually pointed where he wants to go and having his "plant" foot not outside the framework of his body. Young receivers too often step way outside their body frames with their toes pointed in the wrong direction.

The corner route will be caught between 22-25 yards downfield. The QB's job is to "throw him open": throw the ball into the open grass. The receiver must react to the ball and go and get it. Against man to man defense to the short side of the field the depth of the route will be 18-22 yards.

See the above linked article for more specifics, but we tell the outside guy he has two portions to his route. First, run a six-yard hitch route (five-steps - three big and two small), and (2) the "option" or "get open" part of his route. We simply want him to find the open spot. If the corner comes up in Cover 2 zone he will push to 6, turn inside, and work inside to the next zone hole.

If the corner is off and he turns and there is a flat defender inside, he just wants to get space from that guy. If that defender hangs the hitch receiver will drift away from him at his 5-6 yard depth as an outlet for the QB.

If the flat defender flies out to cover him he will break inside this player. We'd like him to actually climb over this flat defender because he will better be able to find the zone hole created but if the flat defender hangs back too far he will come inside slightly and settle underneath.

The Divide Route

This is all fairly straightforward stuff that most people do. The point of this article is to talk about adding a bit more of a big-play dimension to theSmash by using the "divide route," which in other coaches terminology may be a "seam read" or a "tube-read." Both the route and the "read" are simple.

The divide route involves a MOFO or MOFC read by the inside receiver. MOFO simply means "middle of the field open," or no deep middle safety. MOFC means "middle of the field closed," or is there a deep middle guy. The nice thing about this read for the "divide route" as opposed to some other contexts is that the route, hence the name, is simply about "dividing" the deep coverage and the receiver has a lot of freedom to find the downfield open grass. It's a deep stretch and it is designed to strike safeties who overplay the smash or simply get out of position.

Obviously the immediate strength of the divide route as shown is that if a two-deep safety to the smash side overplays the route, one can hit the post route for a big play. If you keep the go route on the backside (as diagrammed) and both safeties overplay the Smash side then the "Go" might be open for a big play. The simple reality is that a Cover 2 team really cannot cover this concept effectively.

Against a Cover 3 zone the QB's "peek" is the seam backside. Before the smash part of his progression, he wants to get the F/S moving and hit the seam.

Running the divide to the trips side is even more dangerous. Any team that tries to play Cover 2 to the trips side will struggle mightily. Many defensive coaches instruct their kids to simply check out of Cover 2 against a trips look. Observe that the "divide" principles governing that inside receiver tells him that he will run more of a "skinny" post here inside the Cover 2 safety to break the deep coverage but avoid the safety on the opposite hash. If there is no deep safety the receiver has lots of freedom.

This is because, again, the governing principle of the "divide route" (one reason I like to call it this instead of a "seam-read") is that you can largely just tell the receiver that he has the area between the hashmarks to work to find the deep open vertical grass. A more advanced technique applies if the defense drops super deep so that he cannot effectively "divide" defenders. This will be done by gameplan, but if that is the case we will essentially let him "throttle" down a bit in the voids and the QB will still look to throw it in the open grass, but simply in the open grass in front of those deep dropping safeties.

In any event, see below for how the divide route will work against MOFO and MOFC defenses.

Cover 2:

Cover 3:

Now, what if it is a MOFC defense but that free safety is flying over too much? Well now it's time to be a good Ball Coach and tag the inside receiver on a "middle-read" route. I have previously explained that route here. The similarity with the divide is a post route against MOFO. The difference is a square-in or cross against MOFC. So if that free safety flies over, he will cut inside that guy. Observe that this is the exact same principle we used for that outside hitch receiver.

Backside hitch

Here is a last aspect to the play that I am a big fan of. I think the play is very effective if you keep the backside player on a hitch, particularly in trips. This gives you a great look against any soft coverage. When you do this you ask your QB to be a ball player and get the ball to the backside receiver if the defense gives it. (In other words, it's probably soft Cover 3.) If it's not there he looks over to the smash side and works his normal progression: Peek at the divide route, then work the smash combination.


This is a simple, well designed play that is both a ball-control, high percentage play, but with the divide route and the corner route it has great big-play potential. If the defense plays soft you will take what they give you, but if they play any kind of two-deep or if their safety gets out of position you will make them pay.