Sunday, April 24, 2011

Follow Pivot

A good friend of mine wanted to anonymously contribute this article:

As a big fan of football coaching blogs, I am honored to be able to contribute some of my thoughts that will hopefully help some people out there. I have learned a ton by reading articles like this, and I wanted to return the favor.

Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite plays that is popular in College Football today. It may be popular in the NFL too, but who has time to watch that on Sundays? I first learned this play while studying the Meyer/Mullen Florida Gator Offense. I remember sitting at their first Spring Clinic, listening to Dan Mullen talk. Mullen explained that their offense mainly used five passing concepts: All-Go, Smash, Houston (maybe another article in the future), H-Option, and Follow-Pivot. After studying the Follow-Pivot concept, I realized that it was very similar to the NCAA pass (Post-Dig-Drag). However, because of the distribution of routes, this concept is better suited to beat Quarters coverage.    

When I got the chance to install my own offense, I knew that this was a concept I wanted to have in. I have made a couple tweaks to the concept, and it was been good to me. I like it against Quarters, Cover 2, and away from rotation against Cover 3. Since most teams rotate their coverage toward the formation strength, I usually get a good look to run Follow-Pivot to the weak-wide (Post is weak, Follow route is working that way). Against Man-Free, this play can still be good, as long as the guy running the Follow route can get open. While I wouldn’t call this play against Cover 0, you can survive by throwing hot. Against 2-man, the Follow route must win. Overall, this play is very versatile, and I don’t call it enough.

We have already established that the name of the play is Follow-Pivot. There are a ton of ways to call it, but most systems I have seen call it based on tagging the player who runs the “Follow” route. The Follow concept is a variation of “Drive.” With Drive, the tagged outside receiver (i.e. X-Drive, Z-Drive, etc…) runs a Shallow Cross, with the inside receiver pushing vertical to 12 yards, then breaking inside. On the Follow play, the assignments are switched, where the inside receiver will run a Shallow Cross, and the tagged outside receiver (i.e. X-Follow, Y-Follow, Z-Follow, etc..) will “follow” the inside guy by stemming inside, then climbing vertical to 12, and then finally breaking inside. With Follow-Pivot, we get the initial Follow concept, but the inside-most receivers on the left and right side will run Pivot routes. While the name suggests that this concept works off of Follow, it actually is set up by running Stick and Option routes by the inside receivers, which serve to attract the LBs and let the Follow route come open behind them. While Follow-Pivot is usually run out of an Empty look, it can also be run out of 3x1, 2x2, and even a 2-back set.

Conceptually, the play creates a High-Low on the Free Safety, as well as Middle-Triangle working off the two weak-side Linebackers (or weak-side and middle LBs). I always put the Post to the boundary, and have the Follow route coming from the field. I do this because teams will almost always rotate their coverage to the field (which would disrupt my Triangle) or because we see a lot of Quarters with the Strong Safety inside my #2 receiver to the field (which makes it difficult for that receiver to run the Post). I must create a situation where I can isolate the Free Safety for my High-Low read, and my Post and Follow routes can win.

The two receivers closest to the ball will run Pivot routes if displaced or Check-down/Breakout routes from the backfield. Their purpose is to attract the two LBs closest to the Post, or replace those LBs if they disappear in coverage or become pass rushers. Those two LBs are also the players that we are trying to occupy get the Follow route open. A coaching point that we teach to the Pivot & Check-down routes is to have them sit and replace the LB they are aiming for if he rushes the QB or drops into coverage. They will only work outside if they are covered, as this will open up a huge throwing lane over the middle for the Follow route. Finally, the outside receiver to the field runs a Curl, and is there should the QB have to scramble that way.

Will LB is unaccounted for in 5 man protection.

In the Empty formation seen above, we are in a five-man protection, and must be ready to throw hot. The protection scheme we use is Big-on-Big to the front-side, and slide weak (go to the bottom of this article for more info). We will slide the protection away from our Post route to allow our QB to look there first and see any front-side pressure.  The OL will account for up to five down linemen, and however many backside LBs they can handle for a total of five defenders. Against a four-down look, the OL can pick-up one LB. We say that if the backside LB is outside of the #3 receiver, he is in coverage. However, if there is any doubt about whether a backside LB is a threat, we want to send the OL to him and both Pivots will be hot off of the LBs they are working to. In the diagram above, the OL will block the Mike, and the Will LB is the guy we can’t account for in protection. If he rushes, we will throw hot to the Pivot to his side. That Pivot route will see the open grass vacated by the Will, and sit there for an easy completion. Last season in a playoff game, we ran this play on 3rd and 10. The Will came and the QB threw hot as he was coached to do. Our receiver caught the ball and turned up-field before the safety could get there, and it turned into a 25 yard play.

In addition to identifying who we are hot off of, we must also identify the two Linebackers that we need to affect in order to get the Follow route open. Again, these will be the two LBs closest to the Post. We expect our Follow route to beat any LB attempting to wall him off. By inside releasing on the Sam, he will usually let us go since we are not a vertical threat. Should he attempt to stay low and collision us, we would then climb quickly over the top and work to our landmark. We want the Follow route to be at 12 yards when he gets over the Center. Some coaches teach this route almost like an inside-stemmed Dig that is looking for a soft spot to settle in. We run ours more like a crossing route that stays on the run. Both methods can be effective, but I think the way that we do it helps slower receivers get to where they need to be while keeping the QB in rhythm.

We only run this play out of the gun, and will use a 3-step drop. The QB will key the Free Safety on his drop to determine if the Post is there, while also peripherally seeing his hot read. We run our Post at 7-steps, which is about 12 yards. We want him to close the cushion of the Cornerback, and beat him inside and deep, taking an angle to get inside the CB and behind the Safety. In the past, we have only run this as a deep post, but have thought about teaching the Post guy to aim on top of a hash safety expecting the ball deep, or if there is no hash safety, he will expect the ball coming out of his break. This sounds good in theory, but I’m not sure about the practical application.

Going back to our QBs reads, while our QB is looking at the Free Safety, he must also see front-side pressure, and will throw hot to the front-side Pivot if need be. If there is no pressure, we want to hit the Post if it is there. If the Free Safety gets depth, the QB will now work a Middle Triangle off of the two ID LBs. Our thinking is that we want to hit the Follow route, but if it is taken away, replace the LB in coverage with the appropriate Pivot route.

We also run this play out of a 3 x 1 look (above). The concept is almost the same, but now we will be in a 6-man protection, and we don’t have to throw hot off the Will. We will normally run it with a play-fake, which should hopefully freeze the LBs for a step, and give the Follow route a chance to get behind them. The QB will catch the snap, execute a play fake to the RB, then take a quick two-step drop. Our thoughts are still High-Low on the Free Safety, then Follow route, then Pivot/Checkdown.

Here is another 3 x 1 look with the defense rolled to Cover 3 (above). The Sam is in a position to rush the QB, so our protection must account for him. The RB will dual-read Mike to Will, and if neither LB rushes the QB, he will Check-down off the Will. Since the protection accounts for the Sam, our backside Pivot must work all the way across to the Mike. The Follow route must be ready for the ball as soon as he gets in front of the OL. While it is possible for the defense to send 7 rushers, it is highly unlikely since there is a deep safety. One possible adjustment would be to have the Post route sight-adjust to a Slant if both the Will and Mike rushed. Another alternative would be to have the OL work for the Mike, RB blocks Will, and the Pivot is hot off the Sam, but is aiming for the Mike.

There are a couple of ways to run this play out of a 2 x 2 formation. One way is to have the RB dual-read Mike to Sam, and have the OL slide for the Will. We need to affect the Mike and Will for our Middle-Triangle. The downside of this is that there is no built-in hot if Mike and Sam both rush. Alternative A would be to have the Follow route sight-adjust to a Slant if Mike and Sam both rush. Alternative B would be for the OL to pick-up the Mike, the RB checks the Sam but runs his Checkdown route off the Mike, and the Pivot is hot off the Will.

This concept can also be run out of a 2-back set. The drawing above shows a drop-back look with the OL picking up the Mike. The RB on the left checks the Will, and runs a Check-down route off of him. The RB on the right checks the Sam, then runs a Check-down route off of the Mike. QB executes his basic read, going Post to Follow to Check-downs.

A variation out of 2-back involves a play-fake, and the backs working to opposite sides. I call this a “Bopper” tag (backs opposite). The back on the left will slip through the line, and work off the Mike. If the Sam is wide, the OL can account for the Mike. If the Sam is a threat, the OL should account for him and the left RB can pick-up Mike if he rushes. The back on the right will execute a play fake, check the Will, then run his Check-down route off the Will. QB will execute a play-fake and then take a quick two-step drop looking Post to Follow to Check-downs. 

Hopefully this article was beneficial to you. Best of luck to you guys next season.

Chris at Smart Football always does a super job talking about the Shallow Cross concept used by Bobby Petrino at Arkansas here and one of my all-time favorite articles, the Mike Martz Shallow Cross concept here.

Brophy with cut-ups of Saban's Rip/Liz Cover 3 variation here.  For the excellent article explaining it, go here.

Deuce talking about the basics of TCU's 2 Read/Blue coverage here and 2 Read/Blue coverage vs. Trips here.

Lou Judd has a lot of good articles here on coaching and transforming lives:

Hey, email me at if you have 2010 Georgia Southern offense vs Furman defense cut-ups. Any of the old games from the 80's and 90's with the Ga Southern Flexbone vs. Furman would be good too.

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