By Mike Kuchar, X&O Labs Senior Research Manager
This article serves as a follow up to last week's re-release of our Four Vertical Study and includes new concepts from Trinity College (CT) who averaged 465 yards per game on offense this season.
Last week, X&O Labs presented the first installment of the four vertical concept, a staple for most programs entering this busy 7-on-7 season. We touched on pre-snap landmarks and post-snap route progressions for the outside and inside receivers as well as QB read off of one and two high safety defenses. Quite frankly, we were impressed with the intricacies of how coaches teach and develop this concept. There are various tweaks and adjustments that coaches make to the scheme based on factors like safety depth, corner leverage and linebacker leverage, etc. so we’ll start this week’s research report on how to utilize the four vertical pass game out of 3x1 formations.
It would be silly to address the four vertical concept without detailing how coaches utilize it out of 3x1 formations. We’ve found that this concept is becoming more present in these unbalanced formations, mainly because of two distinct reasons:
Route Progressions for 3-Man Side: Not surprisingly, we’ve found that when using the four vertical concept out of trips formations, 76.6 percent use the opposite hash mark by the number three receiver in trips as a landmark. Many coaches will call him the "slicer" in the concepts, literally because it’s his job to cut through the defense, ending up on the opposite hash. In whatever way he gets there, he MUST make sure he influences that backside safety to distort his read (Diagram 1).
Nick Hajjar, the offensive coordinator at Ohio Northern University feels that the number three receiver in 3x1 formations should be the catalyst for the success of the play. It’s his job to understand coverage’s and what path he needs to get to his landmark, which is fifteen yards downfield crossing the near safety. Of course, which safety this is may change based on coverage, but he must find the best path to influence that near safety and react off his movement.
"Basically, we tell him (#3) to go over the Sam LB and under the Mike LB (Diagram 2)," said Hajjar. "That Sam should be splitting number two and three or over number three so he’s already underneath the Sam. He’s trying to catch that ball fifteen yards down the field over his shoulder and the ball should be on a rope. The QB shouldn’t be leading him out to dry."
While Hajjar admits that his first read in a 3x1 progression is the X because of the possibility of single coverage, his QB must be able to decipher between "depth" and "width" safeties in any two deep shell. How can a QB tell if a safety will play with width or depth post-snap? Hajjar believes it’s all in the demeanor of the player. "If they are width safeties, they are opening up with their outside foot and getting into a crossover run for three steps and then backpedal," he claims. "Some will weave at an angle, but it’s pretty easy for our QB’s to see their demeanor. If it’s a depth safety he’s on a vertical plane on a backpedal."
So what’s all this mean? "If we get cover two with a safety getting depth, we may be able to throw that ball to the X right in the spot in the 15 yard rule and we’re off to the races (Diagram 3). But, if we see that post snap safety get width, we’re off him now, hoping we can get number three who is replacing his vacated area (Diagram 4)."
"The key for us is the number three receiver must understand whether it is a two-high or one-high safety read, and he has to do it immediately after he clears the Mike linebacker." says Hajjar. "After he gets over the Mike, he has to understand is it one high or two high safeties? If it’s two high, we tell him to ‘split the crotch’ of the backside safety and go right down the middle of the safeties as quick as you can. Once again, we’re reading the boundary safety. If that safety is getting width, there is no way that front side safety to get over to play him. The biggest thing our number three has trouble with is the backside safety doesn’t get to the midline vs. trips. He gets just inside that backside hash and works for depth. By rule, our number three must cross his face, but he will see that it’s two high so he will take the middle of the field. So, if our WR messes up, he needs to just take the top of the route and get vertical and we’ll pass him up on our progression."
Shawn Behrend, the offensive coordinator at Bloomington High School (IN) will also try to create a conflict with that deep safety in his 3x1 sets. "Out of a 3 x 1 look we will usually have our number three receiver cross the face of the safety, trying to get him to turn his hips," he says. "Then we will sneak the number two down the hash, while the number one attacks the outside number of the corner back. In this case we will read the Free Safety. The solo backside receiver must do a good job of eating up the DB's cushion and getting him to turn his hips away from the middle of the field. This is what I tell the QB:
I emphasize the fact we need to get it in there and not hang it up there as good safeties will make a play."
Isolating the X Backside: According to our surveys, 32.1 percent of coaches use comebacks or speed outs by the Single X in trips formations when using the four vertical pass concept. We’ve found that this may vary depending on whom that player is and which route is more effective running, but it also will depend on how much of an influence that receiver is in your package. Some coaches, like Phil Longo, the offensive coordinator at Slippery Rock University (PA) feel that the comeback is a better option because it’s breaking at 15 yards and an outside linebacker can’t get under those as easy as he would on a speed out. Yet, some coaches feel that the speed out takes much too long to develop, particularly if you have a considerable mismatch on the perimeter, and can get the ball to your X in a hurry on an 8-10 yard speed cut.
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One of the more interesting X concept variations was submitted by Rodney Bivens Jr., the receiver coach at Pell City High School (AL) who will use a "bang post" concept to the backside of trips in his four vertical pass game. It’s a tagged concept which is a quick post route, made famous by former 49er great Jerry Rice in Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense. Although it’s efficiency was off the charts when Rice ran it, Bivens uses it more as a second option against rotating safety coverage to the trips side. "We used the bang post to create a safety net for the QB when the defense presented us with a strong field side rotation," said Bivens. "It allowed us to essentially create a one on one matchup with a bigger receiver (X) on a smaller corner."
X Receiver Rules on the "Bang Post":
According to Bivens, the post should NEVER conflict with the number three receiver because of the timing of the play. "The QB will release the ball on a quick three-step plant and throw," he said. "It will happen before number three ever reaches the opposite side of the field."
QB Progression on the "Bang Post": Vs. One-High Safety Defenses (Diagram 16): 1. Pick best match-up pre-snap (usually either Y or Z) 2. Hit X, if not there throw Y to B
Vs. Two-High Safety Defenses: 1. Read backside safety for the following two progressions a. If safety remains on the hash, work to the strong side of the play (Diagram 17). b. If safety works off the hash toward the field, execute the bang post throw- quick three and throw (Diagram 18).
Reader Request: Attacking Quarters Coverage adjustments We saved the best question for last in this report and that is how to attack some form of quarters coverage with the four vertical concept. We realize that quarters coverage was implemented for the most part, to protect against four receivers running vertically down the field, so defenses should have a man for a man in coverage (Diagram 24). What we’ve found is that when offenses use the four vertical pass concept against quarters (and many still do) their efficiency lies in one of two areas:
Marzka takes a more aggressive approach and decides to run his vertical regardless of the coverage – and keep all his reads the same, particularly for the inside receivers. "Against cover four, the route that has the most flexibility is the read seam on the back side," says Marzka. "He’s doing the same thing as the front side seam. Which is anytime he reads two high, he knows there will be a bender. He wants to get to his seam landmark, which is three yards outside the hash, and push vertical until he gets to the outside linebacker. Once he gets to the outside linebacker, he’s leaving the seam."
"We bend it behind the linebacker and in front of the safety regardless of his depth," said Marzka. "Now, the angle of the bend will depend on the depth of that safety (Diagram 25). If it’s a cover two half safety, we will have separation on him. If it’s quarters with a tighter safety, then he needs to bend that thing a little harder. He still makes a decision. If that safety is too aggressive, now we have an open seam and we’re going to beat him deep (Diagram 26). We’ve seen guys that are playing a cover four safety at 8 yards. We can beat it deep. It’s all up to the receiver on what he can do. For our QB, it would be a five-step hitch throw for us."
"We practice that read seam 30 times a day every day for the entire year," says Marzka. "It’s a default route for us and I’m confident that we can beat any coverage with it. He’s always reading the deep safety to his side, regardless of coverage. We’re always trying to stem (move) defenders. What we’re trying to do is attack the midline of the defender so that we have a two-way go. If you attack the midline, you take away his leverage, and we step on his toes before we make a cut."
Concluding Report: A quick note that most of us coaches know already: although this four vertical concept with the jig route and the jerk route, etc. looks appetizing, it really must be something you believe in and live by in order to be effective. Perhaps the best nugget of research we got from this report is the fact that John Marzka told us he completes the seam route over 60 percent of the time because he practices it over 30 times a day. Here is a coach committed to the concept. For anyone to install this and run it with any deal of efficiency, it is our belief that you have to be sold on it. When conducting this research, not one of the coaches we spoke with used this play as a "fad"- it was a major part of their offense, a scheme they ran between 10-25 percent of the time. So, good luck this summer with your 7-on-7’s, hopefully you get some mileage out of this concept.
Questions or Comments? Post your questions or comments below and Mike Kuchar will respond shortly.
Copyright 2012 X&O Labs
Love what your doing Mike- great work- please keep it up!
Thanks for reading, Coach. Stay in touch.
hello coach, how can the #3 reciever by neutralized in the 3x1. what we may do is press that #3 and funnel him to outside and get eyes to #2 reciver.
I would suggest that the slicer can also slice back to the right as a flood concept. He is open to the left or right of the up LB.