In the 4th part of this All-Pro Football 2K8 strategy discussion, the passing game is analyzed. The passing game has evolved greatly over the last 20 years. It has gone from a fairly simple throw and catch, to the early forms of the west coast offense, to the ultra-sophisticated Mike Martz just look at the defense and you have a brand new play style of offense. We’ve seen the invention of the Air Raid offense, The Greatest Show on Turf and whatever they run out in Hawaii. And they all score points. Lots of them.
If you watch (or have tried to watch) any MAC, C-USA, Sun-Belt or any other mid-major conference (or really crap major schools), or if you’ve attempted to watch a D1-AA, D2 or D3 game … or even watched games at some high schools, you may have noticed the horrific football being played by a whole lot of spread teams. Many of these teams have 600 different route combinations, and the coaches ask their QBs to make a whole lot of different throws, all the while the QBs get mauled since coaches are only using base protection.
If you’ve read parts one, two and three of this series you know I emphasize a simpler offense that you can run very well. The same holds true for the passing game. At the core you only need to be able to throw a handful of different patterns well, know how to use of simple hot-routes, and finally learn how a handful of easy reads can keep the chains moving.
The quickest and easiest thing you need to learn how to do is the pre-snap read. Most plays called by the defense will give you a throw just based on alignment. The corners may be playing outside giving you a quick slant, drag, seam or post. Corners playing inside give you easy outs and corners. A secondary playing deep leaves you with halfback swing passes and curls. Finding the quick, easy throw is the first step to passing.
If the defense doesn’t give you a quick pass (by playing bump or rolling the coverage) you can still create one using audibles and hot routes. You should already know what a hot route is, but you may not be using all of them. While the “go” patterns are by far the most popular, they aren't always used properly. Using them as a quick dump versus an outside leverage CB for a 5 or 6 yard quick pass is one of my favorite uses for the "go" patterns. I also like to use the quick out for an easy 3 or 4 yards if the defense is playing off. If I catch the secondary in outside leverage but then the defense rolls a safety into my quick seam I’ll go with a slant. I’ve also used the in-route quite a bit if I find man coverage and need to get some YAC.
Just like the running game, where I advocate mastering a few running plays, the same holds true for hot routes. It's best to pick one hot route for each of the following coverages: outside leverage CB, inside leverage CB, versus a deep secondary, and versus a bump secondary. Once you notice each of those coverages, it's all about mastering the timing and placement of the throw that beats the specific coverage of the defense. Why throw a slant if you can throw an in-pattern better? Why throw either if your quick seam is your best throw? Likewise, if you can’t throw the out, or the slant…then don’t. Stay within your limits while picking a hot route.
Hot Routes and audibles are great for first and 10 or 2nd and 5 situations, but what about when you need more yards? An easy 5 yard pass isn’t worth much on 3rd and 7…and eventually the defense will squat on those short patterns anyway.
That’s when you need to learn combination routes, also known as conceptual passing. These plays are harder to run as you must make reads, often times multiple reads and require more time to throw, but usually go for more yards. A passing concept is pretty simple, as it's simply a combination of patterns that force a defender to choose who he covers, while you as the QB throws to the man the defender doesn't cover.
My favorite combo is the curl/out. Typically the widest receiver (#1) runs a curl while the inside receiver (#2) runs an out. This puts the defender (normally the OLB in Cover 2, SS is Cover 3) in jeopardy because he must either sit on the curl, or leave his man for the out pattern. As a QB you just read this defender and throw it to the person he leaves uncovered. This pattern combo typically has a running back into the flats to occupy the corner sitting in the flats area where the out is being run too…or as your outlet if the corner sits back.
Another simple two man concept is the hitch/corner. In this concept you read the corner. #1 runs a 3 yard hitch (stop route) while #2 runs a deep corner. If the CB squats on the hitch you throw the corner (away from the safety trying to cover it, you need to lead the pass to the sideline). If he bails and covers the corner, you throw the hitch.
Another, harder combo is the go/in. Out of a 2 TE set, one TE runs a go pattern and the other runs an in. If the MLB defends the go (he normally will) you throw the in route under him; if he doesn’t bail, you throw the go. However, you must read the FS as well to make sure he isn’t sitting in cover 3, where he will intercept this pass. You must read this quickly as waiting too long will lead your pass right into the zone of the OLB.
You can also use concepts with three men. Having the two widest receivers run posts while #3 runs an out will “clear out” the out pattern as the DBs bail. If they sit, you have an easy post. Likewise, you can “run off” a corner by having #1 run a go or corner, while #2 and #3 both run outs. The outside LB will either stick to #2 leaving #3 open, or wait for #3 to come into his zone, while #2 breaks open. If the corner sits on the outs instead of going deep, you have a deep pattern open.
There are also deep concepts. Having #1 run a post while #2 runs a corner puts the safety in jeopardy when the men cross, and will give you a very easy read. The same can be done by having a go and corner combination. You can also roll out and have a backside post and play-side corner route. If the safety goes with the corner, you have a post, if he sits and waits for the post, throw the corner.
Like with hot-routes you don’t need to master every concept, and there are many different concepts I didn’t list here. Find a couple of easy reads for yourself with throws that you can make consistently. It's best to master 3 or 4 reads than to guess at 12.
It's also worth noting that you can create concepts by using motion. While the play art may not have an easy read designed in it, putting an extra guy on one side usually will place a defender in jeopardy. It's also helpful for disguising the run if you like to bring blockers in motion.
The passing game has evolved greatly in recent history, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated. It's important to find throws you can accurately and confidently make in a pressure situation and with a pass rush in your face. Realize, as well, that you can combine everything above with simple play action and have the same concepts. You can also use screens and draws to delay the pass rush and give you a little wrinkle. Making a few automatic, or hot reads combined with a handful of passing concepts you can confidently complete will give you a solid basis for your passing game.