The Quick Passing Game in The Spread Offense
The Quick Passing Game in the Spread Offense:
One of the big advantages of the spread offense is to use the quick passing game (i.e., slants, stops, speed ins, sticks) as well as other routes and combinations to exploit the defense. At the most basic level, the quick passing game works well because it is high percentage passing, beats blitzes, minimizes an aggressive pass rush, and allows your best athletes – usually your slot receivers - to make moves on linebackers in space. The plays that I will discuss are good for all down and distances – even a 3rd and long scenario - if your opponent has a high blitz tendency in that situation. With that foundation, let’s learn how to properly execute the quick game from the very beginning.
First, the quarterback should be in a shotgun stance, with heels 5 to 5 ½ yards from the LOS. I will walk through the progression of the play assuming we have a right handed QB. The QB must pick which side he is going to go to pre-snap, and can not change his decision regardless of what happens. Using daily drills, the QB must get used to catching the ball while using his peripheral vision downfield. Assuming the QB is throwing to the right, he must plant his right foot in the ground as he would usually, rotate his hips and throw all in one motion, as his feet are already in position to release the ball. When throwing to the left, the same rules apply; the QB’s hips are already open to that side, so plant the right foot in the ground, step and throw. (I use a rapid fire drill where I get 5 footballs and set up 5 receivers across the field, with our routes at designated positions and shotgun snap the ball to the QB, so he understands to just catch and throw.)
Second, the role of the Offensive Line in the quick passing game is crucial. Obviously, they do not need to hold their protection for a long period of time, but do need to open passing lanes and prevent balls from being batted down. We still use our basic slide protection for these plays. However, unlike our vertical passing game, we allow the linemen to cut the DL, helping to prevent them from getting their hands up and in passing lanes. Should a DL deliberately choose to not rush the passer and is only worried about getting his hands up, we will work on legally striking him in the midsection so as to avoid having balls batted down.
The third and perhaps most neglected aspect of the quick game is the role on the running back (s) – whether there is one or two in the backfield, you can use them to your advantage. In my opinion, you do not need either of them as a checkdown option in the quick passing game because the ball should be out of the QB’s hands. Therefore, when not using the RB to checkdown, we use him in protection. We line him up on one side of the QB and call the slide to the side he is on, meaning that he must cross in front of the QB to pick up backside pressure. The cross action freezes LB’s who must respect our zone running attack. By making the LB’s go flat footed for a second, larger windows are opened to execute a slant, drag, speed in, or even a stop route. The QB does not need to fake to the RB, as the cross action does enough to hold the LB’s without disrupting our timing. There are also situations where we use the RB to be part of the routes. In these cases, the RB is not used as a checkdown or as an extra blocker in pass protection; rather, he is part of the primary read, meaning the back will be hot to his route – usually an arrow flat route. The arrow flat route works best with the stick play which I will diagram at the end.
The final component of the quick passing game is the receivers. Our best quick game formations are a 2x2, 3x1, or empty set. We are able to run all quick routes in all formations, making us more difficult to defend. It is best to view the plays from the diagram at the bottom, but I will discuss the execution of each of the routes. In general, when running the slant, we want the outside receiver to make his break after the 3rd step. He must punch and break at a 45 degree angle. The inside slant will take one step and punch, so that each slant is on a different plane, creating a clearer read for the QB. When running double slants in a 2x2 set, each side will mirror each other and the QB should pick the side he likes most (softest coverage, nearest alley defender). The QB will read the guy covering the #2 receiver; if that defender covers #2, we throw the outside slant now. Should he expand out and #2 can beat him inside, we throw to #2 now. The same read progression applies for running double speed ins.
Again, we want the routes to be on different planes, so we run the inside speed in at 5 yards and the outside one at 6; since our slot receiver is lined up one a yard off the ball, they should both be turning their heads at the same time. When running both of those plays in a 3x1 or empty set, we have the #3 receiver on the strong side run a seam route. He must create a wall on the first LB either head up or inside of him, to prevent the LB from covering. In all of those scenarios, we will cross the RB in front of the QB to freeze the LB’s. Another staple of the quick passing game is all stops – which are run out of all three formations and are self-explanatory. Every receiver runs through 6 yards, turns around and should expect the ball to be on them.
For the QB, we choose a side by identifying either softest coverage or if coverage is balanced, the shortest throw or best leverage against defenders. The stops need to be completed as close to 100% of the time as possible - in essence, we view the stop pattern as an extended handoff. We utilize the RB in the same way we do on double slants and speed ins with the cross action. The last play I will discuss is the stick route. We can run this out of all 3 formations as well. In a 2x2 set, we run stick on one side and any of the route combinations I previously discussed on the other side. The stick route is for the slot receiver - he will run through 6 yards, plant off the first LB to his inside (the Mike) and stick out. The outside receiver to the stick side will run a fade to occupy the corner. This is the situation where we use the RB to run and arrow flat. What we want to do is occupy the flat defender – whether the corner in cover 2, the OLB in man, cover 4 or 3, we want him to be occupied.
Speed In Routes
This will open up the window to throw the stick route. When there is no immediate flat defender, we will throw the arrow flat to the back now. Should the Mike LB blitz, the man running the stick should just turn around at 4 yards and expect the ball, and should not run the complete stick route. When running the stick route out of empty or a 3x1 set, we call it double stick. We want the #1 receiver on the 3 receiver side to still run his fade, #2 to run a roll over speed out (start to roll at 2 yards and gain depth to 5), with the #3 receiver running the traditional stick route. The read for the QB is the same on each - if the flat defender commits immediately, throw the stick, if there is no flat defender, throw the flat now.
I did not include bubble or a stay route because I consider them to be more of a screen package than the quick game. The plays that I discussed are great in all down and distance situations and are designed to advance the ball downfield in an attacking mode. The most important thing is timing, since these routes are shorter. The QB’s and WR’s must practice each of these routes daily, without too much stress on the QB’s arm or the WR’s legs.
I hope that this piece was helpful to you; if you have any questions, do not hesitate to email me at: [email protected] - Greg Nejmeh - The College Of New Jersey.
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