Passing Attack

The drop-back passing game is initiated by our QB taking his drop to the inside hip of the play side Tackle (6 yards deep) while receivers are running route adjustments based on the coverage they are going against. We throw the ball out of a normal snap formation or a shotgun alignment. Throws are made to the receivers based either on “looks” or “reads”. A “look” is a progression from one receiver to the next, based on who should be open in sequential order. A “read” is the process of a QB reading the reaction of a specific defensive player (depending on the scheme that has been called), which in turn he will throw off of that defender’s movement.

Our drop back passes are all scheme-based as opposed to receiver’s running a passing tree. When a scheme is in synchronicity receivers will break on their adjustments as they are moving on the stem of their routes. An interesting note is that when our QB is on his 3rd step the receivers are on their 5th. Basically, just add two steps for the receiver and when the QB can throw the ball when his back foot lands, the timing is a thing of beauty and the defense can rarely recover to make a play the ball. Our receivers are trained to know what coverage they are facing by the time they are into the third step of their route. In the past, we would make a pre-snap determination of the type of coverage and execute routes accordingly. The benefit of our current system is that it is impossible to disguise coverage this late into the play. Regarding coverage recognition, this is taught by quickly assessing which family of coverage the defense is playing and then “feeling” our way to the appropriate break point. This sounds much more difficult than it really is and we have developed specific drills that make this as easy as playing sandlot football.

Pass Schemes

There are six primary passing schemes which all “route adjust” based on the coverage we are facing. We can run many of these out of Even or Trips formations and we can even motion to Trips to change-up the look we give defenses. The base schemes are called, Slide, Scat, Choice, Hook, Curl and Outside. Each scheme is named after the route run by the outside play side receiver. In every practice, we work on every scheme versus all coverage adjustments. “Tiger” Ellison once told me, “If you can’t practice the whole offense in a single session, you are doing too much.” Since the day he told me this in 1989 I have followed his advice to never add something without taking something away.

To write about all these schemes and adjustments would take a book or a lengthy instructional video. To give you a taste of the offense, let me share with you the top two schemes we most enjoy running, Slide & Choice! Slide has evolved from what “Tiger” Ellison called the Frontside Gangster and Choice comes from what was originally called the Backside Gangster.


The Slide scheme is the basis for all the passing game, in that we use this as a drill to teach 80% of our passing attack. The reason for this is that the route adjustments in Slide are executed at some point in the other schemes to a great degree as the QB rolls to the three-receiver side of the formation.

It all begins with the Slide route (In trips) versus a Nickel look (Cover 3 or Man-free). This route starts off with an outside release for 3 steps and from that point the receiver will read the coverage of the defender over him (Cornerback). If the defender bails out, the receiver will execute a Post on his 7th step. If he is playing a man look, the receiver will proceed to run a fade on this man to beat his man deep.

The  #2 receiver will run a bubble route around the numbers on the field, making sure to look inside at the QB at a distance of 1 yard behind the line of scrimmage. The #3 receiver then executes a Pick route. The Pick route is designed to get over top of the outside linebacker that is covering the inside receiver. As he gets over the top of that linebacker, the receiver gets to a depth of 12-14 yards before he applies his “downfield zone rule”. The “downfield zone rule” is applied on the free safety in the following manner, “if the man in the zone is high over the top, the receiver will raise his outside arm and set it down to find the passing lane to the QB”. “If the man in the zone crosses the face of the receiver, the receiver will then run a thin post and expect to score.”

The QB will read the Slide route and throw it if it is open, if not, he can then check to the bubble and finally look to the Pick route, which has had the time to get open.


The Choice scheme is the way that we attack the single receiver side of the formation. The QB starts a roll toward the single receiver and the key to this route is that the stepping pattern of the QB must match up precisely with that of the receiver. The single receiver will release off the line of scrimmage and read the man over him (Cornerback) on the receiver’s 5th step. On that 5th step, if the man over him has bailed out he will run a “speed cut” Out on his 7th step. If the receiver has closed the cushion and the cornerback is outside leverage on the receiver, he will run a post and if he is inside leverage he will adjust his route to a fade.

On the backside of Choice, the three receivers will spread the backside of the field. We run a Go route by the #1 receiver (up the sideline) the #2 receiver will run a “backside stretch” inside the hash mark and the #3 receiver will run a control route at a depth of 5 yards to find a passing lane to the QB.

The QB will read the front side of Choice and throw it if his man is open, if not, he will look backside to the Stretch, then the Go and finally to the Control.

The Choice scheme is a great way to spread the field with our receivers and get the ball into the open seams on the backside, especially if the front side is cloudy.

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