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siupicBy Mike Kuchar, X&O Labs Senior Research Manager

This in depth 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 article will focus primarily on landmarks, reads and progressions from that set.

By Mike Kuchar

Senior Research Manager

X&O Labs

Insiders Members: Click here to login to the Insiders and read the full-length version of this report.


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.   


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 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.

Four Vertical Concept: Outside Vertical Landmarks and Adjustments

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."

What Are You Missing?

Join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website – Insiders – and you’ll get instant access to the full-length version of this report which inludes complete game film cut-ups of the four vertical concept based on the teaching progressions below.

You’ll also gain access into how coaches teach their QB's to dissect coverage based on the following:

  • One high safety principles
  • Two high safety principles
  • Adjusting footwork and throw mechanics based on read progressions
  • Teaching your receivers to "chase space" for a higher completion percentage

In addition, all X&O Labs Insiders members can now gain access to our complete game film library which includes in-game cutups of various programs four vertical concepts including Grand Valley State University, Albright College, Ohio Northern University, Southern Illinois University and various other high school programs across the country. 

Join the Insiders and Get Instant Access. Click Here.



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