By Mike Kuchar, X&O Labs Senior Research Manager
Check out our updated version of our 4 Verticals research report fresh with new videos and insight.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
Editor's Note: Part 1 of X&O Labs research report on the four vertical pass concept will focus primarily on the research we found regarding receivers landmarks and route technique as well as the QB's read progression based on coverage. Since over 60 percent of coaches surveyed run the concept out of 2x2 formations, this week will focus primarily on that set. In Part 2 next week, X&O Labs will detail the four vertical concept out of 3x1 sets, 4x1 sets, tying the running back or fifth receiver into the route and ways to attack quarters coverage- which was our reader request in our survey.
From Mouse Davis to Hal Mumme to Mike Leach, the four vertical pass concept has redefined offensive football and continued to leave its footprint on the landscape of every level. Each coach that experiments with it, leaves their own distinct tweak on it, and in turn a football benchmark is developed. X&O Labs first delved into the topic in an extensive interview with Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter (click here to read the interview) that opened up the floodgates to an in-depth research project that culminates with what you see below.
The four vertical pass concept is a football discipline that gets researched every off-season (for various reasons which we will detail below) and for that reason, we wanted to provide what we felt were various ways to implement and more importantly devise the concept in ways that can fit your personnel. We’ve found that perhaps what started as a "run straight down the seams for the end zone" concept has morphed into a "take what the coverage gives you" opportunity to make plays in space.
So, right in time for 7-on-7 season, we present the first of a two-part series on the four vertical pass game. What you see below will focus more on researched based information that we’ve found were the most efficient ways to be successful running the scheme. Next week we will detail some tweaks and changeups to the original concepts that coaches have used.
Considering all things equal, with the ball inside the hashes, 59.8 percent of coaches teach the bottom of the numbers as a post-snap landmark for their outside receivers. In the four vertical concept, it’s the outside receiver’s (or number one as their commonly referred) job to stretch the cornerback and adjust this route off of them. While giving coaches the option of whether they teach a comeback, stop or speed out route on the outside - 67.8 percent teach comeback routes (Diagram 1) in their four vertical package. Of these 67.8 percent of coaches that teach the comeback, 36.3 percent teach a 15-yard break point while 32.6 teach a 12 yard break point when making their decision to adjust to the corner. We’ve found that this all depends on where the receiver can get leverage on the corner, thus making it an easier throw for the quarterback.
It seems that the drop out comeback could be an efficient "take what they give you" throw, particularly to the boundary where there is less room to work with. Most coaches we spoke with wouldn’t dare throw the field side comeback (unless the QB had the arm strength to do so) but the productivity of the comeback could prove for an easy pitch and catch, so much so that Dublin Scioto High School (OH) offensive coordinator Doug Taracuk tagged his comeback route the "Winner Route." He uses it as a pre-determined throw to the best matchup he has on the outside regardless of coverage.
But what Taracuk does, that we thought was interesting, is have the QB react to the coverage and not the receiver. Of course, this thought process is contrary to the entire principle of the four vertical passing game that relies on receivers making post-snap reads on defenders in space. Taracuk will tell his QB’s to throw the ball deep if coverage allows it (and the receiver has gained space on the corner) but if he hasn’t, he will instruct his QB to throw at the back of the head of the WR, similar to a Mike Leach concept, which forces the receiver to adjust and react to the throw. The receiver will look for the ball at 17-18 yards deep and react to the throw.
"The receiver will break inside or outside based on the defensive back’s leverage," said Taracuk. "It eliminated the QB misreading the intention of the receiver. We used to get overthrown balls when the receiver broke and underthrown balls when he kept going vertical. The back shoulder throw is now easy to see because the receiver reacts to the thrown ball. Our only concern with the route is making sure the receiver is running a track which allows us to catch the thrown ball at his head."
Each week, Taracuk and his staff will look for the weakest cover defender by identifying his best match-up. One of the ways he will do it is run a "twist" by the Y and Z (Diagram 2) to create personnel issues. Here, the Z runs the winner against the strong safety and the Y is a mismatch on the Sam backer if they do not switch.
Ohio Northern offensive coordinator Nick Hajjar doesn’t always run the drop out comeback route and is in the 43.7 percent of coaches who will adjust the outside receiver’s route based on the reaction of the cornerback.
"We have three different reads, all of which start with a vertical plane" said Hajjar. "If you’re winning the vertical route we tell him to take the top off the route and beat him deep (Diagram 3). If you’re even with him or at his hips, we also will continue to work vertical. If you have a soft corner who is bailing, you’re dropping your route off at a 16-yard landmark (Diagram 4), which we may adjust depending on the arm strength of our QB."
Phil Longo, the offensive coordinator at Slippery Rock University (PA) is more specific with his landmarks for the outside receivers. He has his receivers make the adjustment at 12 yards to get the throw out quicker. "We will push up to at least 12 yards and make a decision," said Longo. "If the corner is high and over the top we will work the drop out route right now. If he’s even at 12 yards with him, he is going on a vertical push keeping his spacing at the bottom of the numbers. Basically we tell him he’s vertical unless. Either the ball is thrown to him on the vertical or they redirect their route and find the football."
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Without question, the inside vertical route is the most frequented choice by quarterbacks in the four vertical package. These are the receivers that have the opportunity to do the most damage, considering they have the quickest access through the middle of the field, thus the best opportunity for a big play.
When conducting our research, we found that coaches are excited about attacking the defense with the inside verticals because there are so many possibilities and adjustments these players can make to get the ball. We’ve found that many coaches now call this the "read seam" route because his reactions will all depend on what their read indicator does. It’s the receiver that has to make the adjustment, not the QB. Now the read indicators can change based on coverage. According to the coaches surveyed, 48.8 percent have their inside receiver focus on the single high safety against single high safety coverage while 62 percent focus on the play side safety against two high safeties.
Since 63.4 percent of our coaches choose to run the four vertical concept out of 10 personnel, 2x2 formations, we will begin there. John Marzka, the head coach at Albright College (PA) will have his reads based off of the single high safety on any one high safety coverage. He will have his inside receivers run vertically up the seam, for a width of about three yards outside the hash and a depth of approximately 16 yards. Based on our survey, the majority of coaches (48.2 percent) taught 17 yards as the vertical landmark for the inside vertical while 40 percent taught the hash as the horizontal landmark. According to Marzka, a Mumme/Leach disciple, the key to success in the scheme is not the front side seam but the back side seam route, which he says he has a 60 percent completion rate. He will tell his back side seam player to read that safety for one of three things:
Anytime there are two high defenders post-snap (with MFO) and the four vertical route is called, one of the two inside receivers must be a "bender" bending his route to attack the middle of the field. While this is standard knowledge for those that run the scheme, we’ve found there are various ways to teach that receiver to adjust on his own based on what that front side safety is doing.
Troy Rothenbuhler, the offensive coordinator at Finley College, teaches a "width through hand" concept to his inside vertical receivers when reading the near safety. Rothenbuhler tells his inside receivers to release to a landmark of 1-2 yards outside the near hash at 12 yards at which point he will read the safety. If there is a single high safety occupying the middle of the field and not near the landmark, they will stay on their landmark (mentioned above). If there is a safety near their landmark (in two high situations), Rothenbuhler tells them to make the following adjustments:
Because of the extensive time and research that was devoted to this project, we decided to break it down into two parts. Next week we will focus on the last two case studies: variations out of trips and empty as well as getting the single back involved in the package. We’ll also address our most common readers request: attacking quarters coverage with the four vertical package. As usual, we’ll have corresponding video to go with it.
Questions or Comments? Post your questions or comments below and Mike Kuchar will respond shortly.
Copyright 2012 X&O Labs
Did you get any feedback about how coaches teach QBs to choose between inside and outside receivers - when to throw to each? Since we have traditionally seen cover 3, I have taught verts as a S read that almost always goes to inside receivers. Starting to see more 2-high cover. Would like to know more about teaching Qs and receivers to adapt.
Think about having one of your inside receivers convert to a dig. We have the wide side slot convert at a depth of 10-12 yds. With the ball in the middle of the field, we make it the guy on the right since our QBs are all right-handed.
Vs 2-high coverage, teams will designate 1 player (Y, S, H, etc) to be the bender while the opposite #2 runs the seam. Did you receive feedback as to how coaches designate a position or player to be the bender (TE vs slot WR, or frontside vs. backside #2) when coaching this play?
What attributes are you looking for from the bender player? Lastly, did the survey reveal if teams use tags to vary that bender assignment between different players or positions during the game?
We've found that often the playmaker, or the player the coach wants to the ball to go to is designated as the bender in two-high. But, as what was mentioned in the report- many teams are not reading the back side safety to make their decision. Attributes were not a survey questions, but as you'll see in the video component, tight ends, flankers and slots can all be benders.
Anybody needing help implementing the most uptempo brand of football the state of Texas has seen contact me we have other own for over 9000 yards the last 2 seasons easy to install and I'm willing to help grow your program
ooach, I was intrigued by your no huddle story, could you tell me more about what you do?
I love reading how others teach a concept we already use. Very helpful. The high school coaches' opinions are most meaningful to me because we share the same hash marks. It may be the same game, but hashes make H.S, college, and the NFL game very different.
Coached receivers at Bryant University (Smithfield RI) for several years. Head Coach/OC believe in declaring the "field hash" as the bender vs 2 high. Assumption is that the field hash will be naturally expanding. The route mark can be adjusted to several yards outside the hash to create safety movement. Break point was 16 yards with same concept on proximity of safety. Wide stay high. Tight break away.
Great info. 1 question though. With 2 high safety look coaches have a "bender." Great. Now are most coaches having the outside rec's get vertical, and in light of a cov 2 shell look, are they the first read? (anticipating that "hole" shot.)
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When we run verticals in our 10 Pers. (Trips/Trips Open) we teach our B back (#3) receiver to threaten Lb leverage and then read safety and make bend opposite his angle.