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By Jon Klyne

Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator

Langley Rams Football

Editor's Note:  Coach Klyne shares how he applies the common shallow cross concept at multiple levels of play in Canadian, 12 man football.  The same concepts apply well within the 11 man game played in the states.  

You do not have to be an Air-raid purist to believe that the shallow cross is a staple in modern football. The logic is easy; your primary target is little more than 4 yards downfield, 12 yards away from your Quarterback and has virtually no one around him. This makes it a plausible dropback pass for nearly every level of passer. However the details of the play are often glossed over and, like many clinics or articles, offer the play versus ideal situations. Unfortunately if a play is successful for you, defenses will very quickly find ways to put you in ‘less-than-ideal’ circumstances. What I would like to introduce is the shallow cross run against defenses that have prepared to stop it.

The first problem with the shallow cross (SC) is that you always seen it drawn up against 2 safety defenses. The logic behind the play is simple then, in a 2-safety defense, you have only the Mac Linebacker in the box to defend the Shallow. However, more and more teams are reverting back to single safety defenses, in order to be more gap-sound and blitz-heavy. The first problem we see against a single safety is that we now have 2 linebackers (Mac and Sam). We also have to account for the weakside flat defender (Will LB).


  • X – Out. Prefered Outside release. Put inside foot in ground at 9. Head around by 12.
  • H – Hunt. Mandatory Outside release. Breaks at 8 and finds grass behind Will & Mac LBs
  • Y – Shallow. Cross through heels of DL and clear box as fast as possible. Attack far flats
  • Z – Out. Or Tagged
  • A – Check release to strong flats.
  • QB Progression – Out, Shallow, Hunt, Swing
What we immediately notice against in diagram 1 is that we have possibly 3 defenders (Sam, Mac, Will) all capable of defending our 2 primary routes (Shallow/Hunt). What we must first understand is that against this type of defense, we must isolate just the weakside of the field first. The Y receiver must understand that he is getting to the far side flats at all costs. Him and the X will stretch the weak fFlats.

In our version of the Shallow Cross, the QB keys the Will LB in this defense. What he is looking for is the Will to play flat-footed and jam the H. This keys the QB to throw the X out.

Aggressive Will

This aggressive technique by the Will means that he will be in position to defend the Shallow coming across the field. However, if he is playing this technique we are probably seeing a Cover 3 (or something close) to that side of the field. This is opens up our X receiver. This 12 yard out is a pure timing pattern. The QB will take a 5 step drop (3 from gun) and no hitch steps. His 5th step must land in outside his frame putting him in position to throw this pattern. This is preferably run to the Boundary side of the field, although a strong-armed QB could be fine throwing to the Wide side. Another option is a 12 yard curl route, however I like the Out because we are only throwing this pattern against Cover 3, meaning that the Corner will be opening inside and pressing the numbers. The Out insures a first down and also maximizes YAC yard opportunities.

Will leaves

If the Will gives any sort of ground, either buzzing the flats to eliminate the Out or going vertical with the H, we can now look to the Shallow coming underneath him. A 3rd possibility is the Will leaving early to play some sort of deep zone rotation, but that leaves the same scenario, we now have some space for the Shallow.

Mac Read

Once the Will has vacated, we are now concerned with the Mac. If he plays up on the shallow, we are looking the hunt. We do not specifically give our QB a second defensive key. We would like him to know what all the scenarios are, but in actuality we prefer the Mike Leach method of knowing where the pattern is going and "finding grass". Once the QB has seen the Will leave, he is looking for anyone (the mac) to occupy the same area, otherwise he is throwing the Shallow. Also note, that the Sam could possibly jump the Shallow, but we feel that the Y should be able to gain separation by the time we throw the ball. Therefore, the Sam is not a real threat on the shallow. The shallow route itself should be thrown after a hitch step by the QB.

The Hunt.

Lets reiterate that the hunt pattern is an outside release. The reason for this is that we want whoever is covering him (in man) to have his back turned from the shallow. This is another way we maximize YAC yards. However, this makes the Hunt a non-threat against man coverage. We have surrendered our leverage before our break. The only time we throw the hunt is against a zone defense where the Will has vacated early and the Mac has played aggressive on the shallow. It is also possible that the Sam could cross the field to eliminate the Hunt, but that simply means that the H will need to settle early or clear out across the field (Fig 6). Again, the QB should know where the Hunt will end up and find him there. We do not expect him to calculate the coverage and all the defenders at once.

Sam Crossing to the Hunt.

Throwing the hunt is a matter of the technique that the defense is playing in their Zone. By the time we’ve progressed to the hunt, we should have found an open receiver against most zone coverage.

The best way to defend the shallow is a man-drop scenario. This means that the defense is a simple Cover 1, but they are dropping a LB (or possibly a DL) to the low hole to disrupt a crosser (our Shallow route). However to do this, it means that the defense cannot be sending more than 3 or 4 rushers after the QB. We are banking on this theory in order to realistically make it to a 4th progression. I would also like to note that another concern is tight/inside leverage by the SS on our Crossing Y receiver. If a defense is consistently playing this leverage in man coverage, you should have a smash concept wide open between the Y and Z (that can be drawn up another time).

Against a man-drop coverage or any aggressive coverage by the defense, we added a tag to the shallow concept that would keep them honest. We tagged it with an "up" call that would convert the WR out pattern (our first read) into and out & up. This worked against both an aggressive man coverage as well as some Cover 3. We found that the Corner would dismiss the WR as soon as he broke outside. The Corner would then reduce closer to the hash, looking for a seam. This allowed us to sneak the WR vertical.

Of course, if this has been eliminated by some sort of flat-defender help, you still have the swing check down by the RB. Don’t underestimate this option. You are giving your best athlete the ball in space. We prefer the swing pattern over a shoot/flat because we want him facing forward and ready to rumble. We also prefer a check release over a free release by the RB. One of our most important rules is to protect the QB first. If they send 6, we try and block with 6. "Hot" reads are a lot harder than people realize.

To see Coach Klyne's 12 man version of the shallow cross in action, view the video below:


Thank you for reading this article. I know it is lengthy, but I have always felt that the details about some plays are glossed over too much. These are the finer teaching points of running the shallow cross concept that I believe can turn a good offense great.



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