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Football Concepts, Schemes, Formations: TDG Football Seminar Discusses Receiver Patterns

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Oregon State v Minnesota Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images

Welcome back to Week 3 of the second edition of TDG’s Football Seminar. Like the Gophers, we decided to take the bye week off because sometimes life is more important than learning about receiver patterns. No longer though, because this special Tuesday edition of the Football Seminar is all about them.

Two weeks ago, we introduced the basic concept of a route tree. To briefly review, a route tree is a collection of passing routes organized numerically that are the same for each receiver. The idea is to provide a simple system of organization that can be quickly relayed and understood by wide receivers. Why might we want to do this? Apart from the obvious reason that the playcalls are shorter, route trees also help offenses organize how they attack a defense.

In order to understand why, we’re going to have to discuss some geometry. The game of football is played on a rectangle that is 100 yards long and a little over 53 yards wide. To attack a defense, an offense wants to make the defense concerned about being horizontally stretched and vertically stretched. A horizontal stretch is a pattern of routes that place at least two receivers horizontally across some or all of the field to stretch defenders from inside out out.

Courtesy of Smart Football

This is one way to diagram “All Curls.” Notice in this picture how the defense behind the line has to move completely across the field.

In a vertical stretch, the offense uses at least two receivers, and usually no more than three at different distances up the field to stretch the defense. The classic example of this play is called “Smash” and it’s the pass concept to run against Cover 2

A good offense makes the defense concerned about this on every play. How does that apply to passing routes? The answer is triangles. Yep. Triangles.

Not just good for building bridges and annoying 8th graders in geometry class, triangles are also the best shape for making every throw of the the quarterback the same amount of time. Back in the 1960s, Sand Diego Chargers assistant coach Tom Bass was sent by his boss Sid Gillman to meet with a math professor to solve where receivers should be on routes. The first part of the triangle is from the receiver’s starting point to wherever he cuts on a route. The second is from that cut point to where he is supposed to catch the ball. The third is the distance the ball is in the air. The goal was to make all throws the same, and from that insight the modern passing game was born.

Today, pass patterns try to combine vertical and horizontal stretches in a triangle because if they get the right coverage, it will be mathematically impossible for the defense to cover everyone. In the event that the defense plays something else, the triangle is still flexible enough as a pattern to be successful. As defenses have become more sophisticated during presnap looks and through using combination coverages post-snap, having a flexible scheme has taken on increased importance. Today, the triangle routes likely have some kind of man reading scheme specifically to defeat man to man coverage. In the Airraid, that concept is likely to be “Mesh.”

Note in all of these diagrams that the offense is trying to get the defense stretched in multiple ways to free up receivers and open up lanes for yards after the catch.

A reasonable question at this point is to wonder how an offense calls the “right” pattern for a given defense. In order to understand that, next week we’re going to spend some time identifying coverages so you can impress your friends at home by telling them what the defense is doing and where the ball should be thrown. Following that, we will then discuss the most common play patterns that are used to defeat each type of coverage.