Posts Tagged ‘cornerback’

Cornerbacks are at a natural disadvantage when in man-to-man coverage. They must react to the wide receivers, and try to predict which route they will run. In order to compensate for that, corners will often sit back, anywhere from 7-12 yards off the line of scrimmage. When that cushion starts to reach the 10 yard mark, coaches try to throw quick hitter passes with the idea that their receiver can catch the ball, make the defender miss an open field tackle, and get down the field for a good gain. The problem is that many coaches, especially at lower levels, will try to throw a short hitch route (2-3 yards down field). However, rarely do high school and small college teams have quarterbacks with the arm strength to be able to get the ball to the receiver in time for him to make a move before the corner can close the gap.


If you really want to run a hitch route effectively you have to get the cornerback to turn his back to the line of scrimmage. The only way to do this with a big cushion like this is for the receiver to drive past the corner, selling a deeper route, then plant a foot in the ground and come back. The ball needs to hit the receiver right after makes his change of direction. This is the only way to get the corner turned around and out of position. If you throw a hitch in front of a corner like this the corner has the receiver in front of him the whole time and can read the play easily.

Instead of trying to throw the ball to a receiver while a corner closes from the other side, the wide receiver screen allows the receiver to back track and create more space, and it makes the throw a shorter, easier throw for the quarterback. Here is a sample wide receiver screen pass from a single back doubles left formation against a 3-5-3 defense with the outside linebackers up on the line (really it looks more like a 5-3 because the outside linebackers have containment responsibilities, this is a popular defense among high school and small college teams). A team may also bring the defensive tackle further inside and put the outside linebacker up on the ball, a step outside the tackle, this should not change any assignments.


In this example, the quarterback will drop back to try and draw the outside linebacker and defensive tackle up field, then throw the ball where they were. The slot receiver will start out on the ball to give him a shorter route to the cornerback, and the outside receiver will start off the ball to make sure that the pass is easily caught behind the line of scrimmage (so the linemen can get down field legally). The tackle will get down field after showing pass to block to draw the outside linebacker up field on a pass rush. The tackle will block the defender that had the slot receiver in man coverage. This block should be made easier by the fact that the defender on the slot has his eyes glued to the slot receiver; as soon as he sees pass he will take a few steps in coverage toward the sideline. The guard will have the toughest block on this play because he is trying to seal off the linebacker who is lined up over his face. Hopefully, the linebacker will take a few steps back into pass coverage and the guard can at least get in front of the defender if he can’t manage to turn his butt to the sideline. The tight end running a vertical route will hopefully make the safety take a few steps to his left (offenses right) and should give the wide receiver a better gap to get through (the red lines). Then the receiver can make a catch running towards the quarterback, behind the line of scrimmage, and have a full head of steam to turn up field and start reading blocks. This gives the receiver an advantage over the hitch where he has to make the catch, turn, and make a move from a dead stop on a corner that has a full head of steam.

An interesting variation on this play would be to swing the running back out to the side of the screen pass. This would give you an effective option read on the outside linebacker who has contain responsibilities and is probably in charge of covering anyone who crosses his face into the flats. If the outside linebacker started to figure this play out and sit on the screen route then the swing pass would be open and the running back would be able to read the same blocks, simply catching the ball headed toward the sideline. Arm strength is not a factor because the quarterback is simply floating the pass out about 10-12 yards to his left.

The quick slant is another great way to take advantage of the big corner cushion, and give the quarterback an easy read and throw. This play is a single back trips left formation to help clear out the middle of the field for the receiver on the right side. This should help move the linebackers out of the way, keeping this a simple read for the quarterback. The defense here is the same 5-3 look from the play above (although, as stated above, the defense may bring the defensive tackle down to a 3 technique and put the outside linebacker/defensive end outside the tackle in a 5 technique, it just depends on the defense).

This play is going to be designed as a quick 1-step or at most 3-step drop for the quarterback. The right guard and tackle will cut their defenders to keep their hands down and help create a passing lane for the quarterback.  Because the cut blocks are quick blocks, the quarterback will have to deliver the ball on the slant, maybe check to the back on the left, or throw the ball into the third row on the left side (the deep verticals will give him a receiver in the area to avoid intentional grounding). The two verticals on the left are used to draw the safety away from the slant.  The big cushion the corner is giving the receiver allows for the receiver to get a free release. Here, the receiver is on the ball so he will take one step down field, with his eyes down field to freeze the corner, then, as soon as he breaks inside the ball should be on its way. The pass should not be completed more than 4-5 yards down field, or else the cornerback will have a chance to get back in and become a factor.

There are some easy variations on this play as well. Once again, if the outside linebacker starts to read the cut block and begins to interrupt the slant lanes, swing the running back out to the other side to give the quarterback an easy check down and only requires him to read one side of the field. I started this play sending the running back away from the slant to keep the middle linebacker from moving with the back and getting in the way of the passing lane. Also, the inside vertical can be changed to a post, and the cut blocks can be turned into regular pass blocks if the quarterback wants to stretch the field to the left side. This will allow the quarterback to read the safety, if he picks to help on the post; the quarterback has a 1-on-1 on the outside, and vice versa. If both deep routes are covered, the quarterback can check down to the mid-range out, then check down to the running back in the flats, probably covered by an outside linebacker.

These are a few of the offensive concepts that can be used to counter moves made by an opposing defense. After the big cushion is beaten a few times with these easy throws, the defense may decide to play bump and run coverage, or switch to a zone defense, there are plenty of ways to counter these moves as well. Football is often described as a violent chess match; this is an example of some of the strategy involved.


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