Spread Offense Pass Plays – Using Deep Pass Concepts to Take Advantage of the Defense

Deep passing concepts are an important part of any good offense that is able to manipulate the defense and take advantage of the coverages presented in front of them. Most spread offense deep pass plays are run from 3 or 4 receiver sets in order to spread the field with speed, space and athleticism to outmatch the defensive secondary. When used correctly, these types of plays offer a very aggressive way of getting the ball downfield quickly and effectively. This is even more so true when the defense is presenting you with a particular coverage for the majority of the game. If you can identify what coverage they are running or how their secondary likes to play in defending the pass, you can pick apart their structure play after play. If your offense wants to play aggressive and keep defences on the back foot, you can utilise deep passing concepts as part of your standard offense to take advantage of certain looks in the defense. Even more effective is using these concepts on 1st and 2nd down to bully the secondary defenders early and place them in serious conflict. The New Orleans Saints vs Minnesota Vikings 2017 Week 1 game is a great example of how to use deep passing concepts to take advantage of the defense.

New Orleans Saints vs Minnesota Vikings (Week 1, Sep 11. 2017)

The Week 1 game between the Saints and the Vikings served to quell the fears and worries of Vikings fans, many of whom were doubtful of how well their team would perform with Sam Bradford at the helm of the offense. On the contrary, Sam Bradford outgunned top calibre QB Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, throwing for 346 yards on 27 completions from 32 attempts and scoring 3 passing touchdowns. Bradford averaged 12.8 yards per completion and led the Vikings offense to a strong 29 point game and comfortable victory over the Saints. These numbers were achieved with several deep passing concepts used to take advantage of the Saints defensive structures. The plays discussed in this article include verticals, flood, smash, and variations of these concepts.

Pass Play 1 – Verticals

The first example of a deep passing concept used by the Vikings was the four verticals concept. The Vikings identified that the Saints were in a 2-high (2 safeties at the 3rd level of the secondary) defensive structure and playing either cover 2 or cover 4. This allowed Bradford and company to use the verticals play to take advantage of the open window over the deep middle of the field (between both safeties) for a 35 yard gain to receiver Adam Thielen. This play is run out of a 3×2 empty formation with a trips receiver set and TE on the single side. The RB motions to the single side and lines up at the flanker position pre-snap. He then runs a drag route across the field. The TE releases vertical and then breaks on a deep out to draw any defenders away from the middle of the field. The H runs a straight vertical route while the Z has a fade. The X receiver runs a post over the middle of the field to split the two safeties and gain separation from the 3rd level defenders.

This play design out of an empty formation works to stretch the Saints secondary and is an effective way of opening up the space over the middle of the field for an easy throw and catch on the post route. This verticals concept is great for taking advantage of a cover 2 or cover 4 defense.

The next verticals concept the Vikings used was out of a 3×1 formation and brought them their biggest completion of the game for 44 yards to receiver Adam Thielen. This time, Bradford recognises that the Saints safeties are down in the box and the LB’s are showing blitz. He immediately checks the play and changes it to a verticals concept. On this play the RB and TE have pass protection (to account for all the defenders showing blitz), X and Z run fade routes while the H runs a vertical route drifting to the middle of the field (where he would be on the post route). Again, this concept is taking advantage of the open void over the middle of the field against a cover 2 defense.

Pass Play 2 – Flood

The next deep passing concept the Vikings implemented to beat the Saints coverage was the flood concept. The first time the Vikings ran this concept they did it out of a 2×2 formation and completed it to Jarius Wright on the deep drag for a 21 yard gain. On this play, the TE is in pass protection and the RB check releases (waits for blitzing defender to block, if no one blitzes he releases on a route) on a flare route. The Z runs a fade route, the H runs a 10 yard deep drag across the field and the X runs a 15 yard dig. The QB reads the OLB to the play side. If he backs up to cover the deep drag, the QB throws the flare. If he comes down to cover the flare, the QB throws the deep drag. If nothing is open the QB resets to throw the 15 yard dig.

The second version of the flood concept used by the Vikings got them into the endzone for a smooth 18 yard touchdown to WR Stefon Diggs. This play was executed from a 3×1 bunch condensed formation and was run off of a play action power run. On this play the TE down blocks the DE, while the X fakes a down block and releases to the flat. The Z also fakes a block at the second level and then releases on a vertical corner route drifting to use the open space and get into endzone. The play design of disguising the flood concept with a play action from a condensed set is an effective way of drawing all the defenders into the box to run fit, and then releasing receivers over the top to take advantage of the open space in behind the defense (putting the defenders is conflict) for a wide open throw and easy touchdown.

Pass Play 3 – Smash

The final deep passing concept the Vikings used to bombard the Saints defense with was the smash concept. The first version of this play was run from a standard 2×2 formation and resulted in a 20 yard gain to WR Stefon Diggs; again taking advantage of the Saints cover 2 defense. Both WR’s run burst corner routes, while both slots run speed outs. The RB check releases on a hook route out of the backfield. The QB reads the CB, if he sits down to cover the flat, the QB throws the corner. If the CB backs up to cover the corner, the QB throws the speed out. If neither route is open the QB throws the checkdown to the RB on the hook route.

The next variation of the smash concept was run from a 3×1 bunch condensed set. On this play the TE motions to join the trips formation pre-snap, and then runs a speed out. The H runs a corner route and the X runs a vertical route. What’s interesting to note here is that the X is running a rub ‘pick’ for the H receiver running the corner. The H trails tight to the X’s hip and breaks on his corner route like normal. This allows for a rub on the FS or 3rd level defender, which opens up a big passing lane for the QB to throw the ball to the corner route. The QB still reads the CB to determine whether he throws the corner or the speed out. This variation to the smash concept was the most effective as it allowed the Vikings to take advantage of both the Saint’s cover 1 and cover 2 defenses. The first time they ran this deep passing concept the Vikings completed it to Thielen on the corner route for 24 yards against cover 1 man.

The second time, the Vikings completed it to Thielen yet again for a gain of 27 yards, but this time against a cover 2 structure.

The final variation of this concept came when the Vikings were in scoring position in the Saints red zone. They went to a smash + scat concept to get the ball into the endzone. This play is run out of a 3×1 formation with the TE on the single side. The receivers to the trips side are running a scat concept. The TE and RB are running a smash concept to the single side with the TE on the corner route and RB running a hook route to draw the CB off of the TE. The QB reads the CB to determine where he throws the football.

Variations in Deep Passing Concepts

A general rule to go by when executing pass plays is, ‘if a concept works don’t change it, just dress it up and add different variations to give you the same look’. This not only allows you to take repeatedly take advantage of the defensive coverage you see in front of you, but also keeps the secondary on the backfoot if you keep hitting them with different formations and route variations. Also, disguising deep pass plays off of play action fakes as well as using rub or ‘pick’ routes is a great way of putting the secondary defenders in serious conflict and isolating receivers one on one with outleveraged defenders. If your offense can string together various combinations of these concepts, along with adding in some play action fakes and ‘pick’ play designs, you will undoutedly cause headaches to defensive secondaries, opening up receivers for easy throws deep down the field.

Feature image photo credit:

photo credit: Keith Allison <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/27003603@N00/26600152089″>Stefon Diggs</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>



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