By Rich Hargitt
Not including screen plays, a team’s passing attack can be broken down into two categories of equal importance: the quick passing game and the dropback passing game.
Most offensive systems lend themselves well to the run-pass option (RPO) system of attack. As such, certain passing game concepts can be packaged with an overall RPO scheme. Among the more common passing game concepts in the air raid system that can be packaged with runs in RPO schemes are the all hitch, the fade/flat and the slant.
All hitch is a simple concept that lends to the quarterback getting a high number of completions. This concept is relatively easy for quarterbacks because it is mirrored – or identical – across the field, allowing the quarterback to locate the best matchup and quickly get rid of the ball.
In this play concept, all of the receivers execute a six-yard vertical release with their arms pumping to sell deep routes – before breaking the route back toward the quarterback and settling at five yards.
These routes are mirrored regardless of formation. One of the best formations to run all hitch from is an empty set, because this formation allows the offense to spread the defense across the width of the field and isolate defenders.
The quarterback should be coached daily in practice to pick his best matchup and throw the ball before the receiver even turns back to him. The quick timing of this throw makes all hitch a highly effective concept for almost any down-and-distance and one that leads to high completion rates and great run-after-the-catch potential.
Many modern defenses have adopted a standard two-high safety look that allows them to easily play Cover 2 or Cover 4 – a coverage shift that has forced air raid offenses to adapt attack methods as well as some basic counter concepts.
One of the primary responses to this proliferation of two-high safety looks is to attack the defensive cornerbacks. Since most cornerbacks are taught to play the flat as well as to cover a deep quarter of the field, these athletes are required to perform a wide array of complex tasks. Not surprisingly, some quarterbacks have tremendous difficulty in successfully accomplishing all of these tasks play after play. As such, the offense can exploit potential vulnerabilities with a concept known as the fade/flat concept.
Commonly called only when the defense is in a two-high safety structure and the offense is working out of a 2-by-2 formation, the fade/flat allows the quarterback to mirror read both cornerbacks.
The basis is simple in that the receivers are trying to create a high-to-low read on the cornerback. The outside receiver executes an outside release fade route and tries to get behind the cornerback as quickly as possible while staying near the sideline. The inside receiver drives upfield for three steps before pushing for a spot five yards deep along the sideline.
The quarterback reads the cornerback and throws opposite to his reaction to these routes. If that defender drops deep to defend the fade route, the quarterback immediately throws to the flat. If the cornerback stays low in his coverage to take the flat route, the quarterback throws to the outside receiver on the fade route.
A key coaching point is that the quarterback must throw the ball with no loft on it. The flat route throw must be executed with a flat trajectory so that the cornerback cannot close the distance on that receiver in time to disrupt the throw. If the quarterback throws the fade route, there is also a danger that the safety may be able to make a play on the ball unless it is thrown flat and hard.
Fade/flat is a simple way to attack two-high safety looks and is easy to teach quarterbacks from the youth level through collegiate ranks.
The slant route is a great way to get the ball to athletes quickly in space, allowing them the potential for gaining significant yards after the catch. This concept has route adjustments built in based upon the defense’s coverage.
For example, if the slant concept is called, and the defense is in a one-high safety look or Cover 3 alignment, then the No. 1 (or outside) receiver runs a three-step slant, and the No. 2 (or inside) receiver runs a bubble route.
If the concept is called from a 3-by-1 (or trips) alignment against this coverage, then the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers both run three-step slant routes, and the inside receiver (No. 3) runs the bubble route.
The slant/bubble combination is designed to place the flat defender or outside linebacker in conflict so that quarterback can throw the pass based off his movement.
For example, if the defender works down toward the bubble route, the ball should be thrown to the slant route behind him. If the flat defender works for depth to cover the slant route, then the ball should be thrown to the bubble route.
The slant concept changes if the coverage is in the two-high safety families of coverages (Cover 2, Cover 4, etc.).
In a 2-by-2 alignment, the outside receiver still runs the three-step slant, but the No. 2 receiver now runs a three-step slant route that stays “skinny” – getting more depth than width – and attempts to pull the outside linebacker and safety toward the middle of the field.
The concept of slant routes extends to the 3-by-1 alignment versus two-high safeties as well. In that 3-by-1 formation, there are three slants, with the inside two routes both being skinny slant routes.
Rich Hargitt is the assistant head football coach and offensive coordinator at Eastside high school in Taylors, S.C. He has served as a head football coach and offensive coordinator at the high school level in Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina and South Carolina.
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