Monday, July 8, 2013

4-Verticals and Some Rambling on the Passing Game, Part I

This post is by my guest author:

While I love coaching the physical run game as much as anyone, there is something to be said for chucking it around and creating explosive plays in the passing game. The Four-Vertical concept is one of the plays that I have had a lot of success with through the years, but I’m always looking for ways to make it better. For me, this play has evolved from something that I would only call against Cover 3 into something that my offense is going to really try to base our passing game on. I’m not saying I want to run the standard Four-Vertical play everything down. Instead I think you can use that as a foundation, with solid rules and skills that are mastered, and then building on that by adding simple tags and adjustments, I believe there is the possibility to attack almost any defensive coverage and create a plethora of different looks without changing a lot for the offense. I know what you are probably thinking now: “That sounds pretty cliché. Every coach says that his offense strives to be simple while appearing complex to the defense.” Give me some time to explain, and hopefully you will see where I am coming from regarding this concept.

Without further adieu, here is my basic Four-Vertical play:

***Using the R4 principles discussed in my previous article, I will now go through how my offense reads this play, as well as the different tags and variations that can be created. This article uses some R4 language and principles, but is not intended to replace the actual R4 book and DVD series. I would recommend that interested readers invest in those materials if they want to know more about R4.

On our basic Four-Vertical play and with all of our dropback concepts, we start with our Rhythm route. Here it is what we call a “Locked-Seam.” When we call this play, the player running the Locked-Seam is identified within the play-call (Y-Verts, Z-Verts, H-Verts, etc…). The Locked-Seam is a vertical route that does not have any adjustment (unless of course the ball takes him off his track). Our QB has a pre-snap clue of whether or not this route should be there based on the presence and depth (or “CAP”) of a safety. CAP is an acronym for Coverage-Angle-Personnel, and those are the factors in determining whether or not a receiver is open. The QB will then take his drop and confirm or react to the CAP of the safety (or lack thereof) and either throw the Locked-Seam when his back foot hits, or hitch to his next option. The sooner the QB can eliminate this throw, the sooner his eyes can move to his Read route.  

The second component of the basic play is what we call a Seam-Read. The inside receiver who is not tagged is the Seam-Reader. Like the name suggests, this is a “Read” route. We also call it a Seam-Read because it is a Seam route that has the freedom to read the coverage and adjust to open grass (or unCAPed space). We start with the idea that we want to win deep down the Seam. The receiver needs to read the presnap CAP, and make a post-snap confirmation or adjustment. Our base plan is to decide at 10 yards whether we can run by the Safety or not. If the receiver can win deep, he does. Depending on the leverage of the Safety, he could even run this route as a skinny post if that was his best path. If the  receiver can’t win deep, he breaks the route off inside at 12-yards and takes the best angle to open grass. This break can be influenced by the under-coverage. Against a hard wall, the receiver should execute a throw-by technique and break flat inside. If there is no wall or a trailing defender, the receiver can roll into his break and gain upfield slightly. The route may be different each time you run it, because the defense may be different. It is important that the receiver is able to recognize where the best grass is, and go there decisively. By the time the QB looks to the Seam-Read, he should have established where he is going to let the QB see where the ball should be thrown. I would recommend that the receiver you assign to run this route be one of your team’s best receivers.

The third part of the progression of the basic Four-Verts play is the Check-down to the RB, which we call a “Dump” route. Our Dump route will first check for blitz, and if there is none, he will work to a depth of five-yards in front of the QB. He will face the QB and sit if unmatched. If he is matched, he will work toward the Read route, which by default is the Seam-Read. We do this for a few of reasons. First, the QB’s eyes have an easy time working from the Seam-Read to the Dump route when they are in the same vicinity. Also, by working toward the Seam-Read the Dump route can help clean up the throwing lane to the Seam-Read.  Finally, if the Seam-Read is taken away by the LB inside him, that area is now vacated for the Dump route to attack. As mentioned before, a Rush route can serve as a check-down and is sometimes a quasi hot throw. On this play, our Rush route is a check-release route, and may be lost in blitz pickup. The QB must be aware of this fact and will elevate his need to scramble in a pressure situation.  

The final part of our basic play is the Release. The possibility exists for the three primary routes to be covered. If this is the case more than likely the coverage has dropped deep, and the Dump route covered by the MLB. This creates the opportunity for the QB to step up and take a wide-open running lane and sprint for big yards. That is our first choice if the protection holds up. If the protection breaks down, the QB should avoid the rush and look to release outside and work into a scramble drill. The importance of working a scramble drill often and against different scenarios cannot be said enough.

Now that the basic Four-Verts play has been established, I want to now talk about how we tag our basic play to create different variations.

This variation is the result of tagging the boundary slot to be the Locked-Seam. The field slot is now the Seam-Read. The RB check-releases and runs his Dump route which breaks toward the field if he is matched. Why would you call this version over the other? It may be the your strong-side slot is better at running the route, the Strong Safety does not cover as well, or maybe your QB likes throwing to the receiver breaking toward him rather than across his face. Other than that, the preference of who is your Locked-Seam and who is your Read-Seam is up to the play-caller.
Now we must talk about the outside receivers before the next tag is introduces. Even though we treat this play as a Four-Vertical concept, the outside receivers are not locked verticals. Our outside guys have a Stop or Go option based on the cushion of the CB, and are considered “Read” routes. They start with the intention of running by the CB, and if by 10-yards they feel they can win they will take it deep. If they are CAPed by the CB, they will break down at 13-yards and work down the stem and outside. Depending on the speed of the receiver, you may want to make this break slightly shorter or deeper. The key is the QB needs to see what the receiver is doing and be able to make the throw off one hitch step, so if the receiver is going to break down the QB would need to see that before he commits to the throw.

The variation shown above incorporates the outside receivers in what I refer to as a directional tag. If we call the play and give the QB a “Right” signal, that tells him he is working the right side of the field, Inside-Outside-Dump. This tag is useful in incorporating the outside receivers into this play when the OLBs become very seam-conscious (vs. Quarters or Cover 3) or as a horizontal stretch on the Strong Safety (vs. Cover 2). The directional tag overrides the RBs default route and he will now work to the called direction if he is matched. To recap, the Rhythm throw is the slot receiver on the Locked-Seam, if he is CAPed, the QB hitches to the outside receiver on the Read route, and if that is not there he moves to his Rush route (Dump). The directional tag does not affect the backside receivers. While the backside receivers are eliminated from the progression, they are still possible options if the QB has to scramble.

Building on the directional tag, we can change up the Rush route by tagging one of the backside receivers to run a Shallow cross. While these versions do not offer a true Four-Vertical look, I consider them part of the same family because our rules stem from the base Four-Vertical play, and involve only a small adjustment. These variations can create a drastically different look for the defense, and do so without changing much for the offense. The progression for the QB in the above diagrams is nearly the same as the regular directional tag, starting with the Locked-Seam, then to the Outside receiver on the Stop/Go, but now the Shallow serves as the Rush route. There are numerous advantages to using a WR on a Shallow as the Rush route instead of the RB on a Dump. The first one is it offers you a chance to keep the RB in for protection purposes if you are having trouble protecting the QB. It also provides an opportunity to involve a more athletic WR as your third option instead of a RB. The Shallow may also provide for a more explosive Rush route than the Dump. Our RBs are taught that anytime we are bringing a Shallow route from the backside, they let that receiver clear before they run their Dump route, and they will also work to where the Shallow came from if they are matched. The untagged backside receiver runs his normal route. As far as specifics of the Shallow route, there are different schools of thought on it. Some coaches want him full-speed across the field no matter what. Some coaches want him fast until he clears the far Tackle, and then throttling if open (vs. zone). I recommend using the method already found in your offensive system. If you do not currently run this route and want to put it in, I think the one where the receiver stays on the run is easier to teach.

By providing the outside receiver with a chance to adjust his route to win based on the CB, he has a chance to win against most looks, but there is some grey area that could make it difficult for this receiver to get open, especially to the wide-side. Some CBs will play over the top of the receiver with just enough cushion to not let the receiver get behind them, while at the same time anticipating a break-off route and jumping it. This, coupled with the long distance of the throw can make a contested Stop route unappealing, and the QB may pass him up. One way to combat this is with a called double-move by the outside receiver (as the Read route) with a directional call. Here the QB will look to throw his Rhythm route to the Locked-Seam like he normally does, but if that is CAPed he will hitch and throw to the double-move outside. The specific route you chose may vary based on what you run the most, but the main idea is that it should time up to where the QB can throw it off of one hitch. If the Read route is CAPed somehow, the QB will hitch again and look to hit the Dump route as his Rush. This could also be run with the Shallow as the Rush route instead of the Dump.  

Another double-move variation is a Corner-Post move by the slot receiver normally assigned to run the Seam-Read. This tag is useful against Safeties that overplay Corner routes or jump the first break by the slot. The QB has his normal Rhythm look to the Locked-Seam, and if that is CAPed he will hitch to the tagged Corner-Post (Read route). We run this route as 6-steps vertical, stick to the Corner for 3 steps, then back to the Post. The RB’s normal Dump rule applies, as he should work toward the Read route. Even though the QB is working through his standard progression, we don’t allow our Seam-Read to use double-moves unless tagged so the QB knows what he is doing and can make an accurate throw on time.

Another Rush route adjustment is to tag an outside receiver to run what is commonly referred to as a “Fin” route. This is a 5-yard In route that could settle if he finds a void. Coupled with the Seam-Read, these two routes combine to create a version of a popular play called “Levels.” In our version, the QB starts with the Locked-Seam as the Rhythm throw. If that route is CAPed, he would work to the Seam-Read as the Read route, and finally the tagged Fin is the Rush route. Just like with the directional tag and the Shallow tag, the Fin tag is a way to use a receiver to replace the RB as the third route in the progression. This allows the RB to stay in protection if needed, and guarantees that there will be a Rush route available in the event of a blitz. The Fin route provides an easy completion and is a way to make OLBs pay for aggressively walling off vertical routes. This tag can be to the field or boundary, but is called to the outside receiver away from the Locked-Seam. The only new teaching for the RB is that his route must work away from the Fin route. We want him to run a Flare when set away from the Fin, or if set toward where the Fin, he will work through the line toward the opposite Flat. This Flare route by the RB along, with the QB’s eyes looking at the Locked-Seam should get the MLB to open in that direction, therefore opening a nice window inside to hit the Seam-Read, or the Fin should the WLB wall that off. An important clarification is that a Fin route is very different from a Shallow route. The Fin pushes vertical to 5-yards (which could be a 7-yard vertical stem if that receiver is off the ball) and allows the inside receiver to clear before breaking inside. A Fin route can also settle in a void, and should be hit way before he gets to the Center. The Shallow route mentioned earlier is an immediate inside release and clear the Center kind of route, which will be hit outside the Tackle at the earliest, if not wider (remember, this is thrown after the QB drops and hitches twice).

This next tag is one that changes the Rhythm route from the Locked-Seam to a Shallow. The result is a picture that is similar to the old West Coast “Drive” play. Up until now, every tag used is given after the initial play call (Y-Verts X-Shallow, Z-Verts X-Fin, Y-Verts Right, etc…). When we want the QB to look at the Shallow first, it will be called before the normal Verts play name (something like X-Shallow Y-Verts). By calling the play like this, it makes it easy for the QB to remember, since the first thing we call is his first look (which in this case is the Shallow route). If the Shallow is CAPed, the QB hitches to his Seam-Read. If that is CAPed, the QB then goes to the RB on the Dump route. The RB has already been taught that when there is a Shallow route in the play, he will let the Shallow clear and then work to where that receiver came from. With the play diagram above, we can create a look that to the defense is an entirely new pass concept, but there is minimal change for our offense. Some coaches may argue that it is better to use a different name for a play if for all intents and purposes is its own concept, and they may be right (“If you are gonna run “Drive”, why not just call it “Drive?”). However, unless your QBs are studying old Bill Walsh tape, they probably have no clue what “Flanker Drive” is, and will learn your plays as whatever you decide to call them. Remember, what I wanted to show here is how you can create a very diverse and effective drop-back passing offense using a base play and tagging it to create different looks.


The last tag I will discuss is what we call “Switch.” Switch is a way to change assignments between two adjacent receivers. Depending on speed, you may need to shorten the break points (both inside and outside receivers) a little due to the receivers having to travel a longer distance to get to the same depth (geometry, triangles, hypotenuse…). This tag does require a fair amount of new teaching, but still is not difficult to incorporate into an offense. So why do you use the Switch tag? There are a few reasons, which depending on your situation may or may not include “Because I want more ways to tag Four-Verticals.” One of the ways good defenses will try to take away your Seam routes is by using collision and or rerouting the slots with the LBs. By switching the releases of your receivers, you make it much more difficult for the LBs to collision and or reroute your Seam routes, thus allowing those routes to clear the under-coverage much easier. This goes back to one of the basic principles of R4, in that if a route isn’t open when the QB is ready to throw it, the QB will move on to his next option. Another benefit of using the Switch tag is to create rubs against man coverage on the slot receiver. Still another benefit of running “Switch” is the ability to put receivers in different spots to do their same jobs or to allow them to run different routes that may help them get open. The use of the Switch tag can be a frontside thing to just change who the Locked-Seam is, could be a backside thing to change who runs the Seam-Read, or you could Switch both sides (shown in the diagrams above). In addition, by incorporating the other tags explained earlier a play-caller has a ridiculous number of variations that the offense can easily execute.

This concludes Part 1 of what I hope is a 2-part thing on the Four-Verticals play and tags.  I look forward to going into 3 x 1 variations next time. 


  1. Great stuff Coach Hoover! Can't wait to see part 2.

  2. Very well executed play design. GO DEEP!!!