By John Haberman
Offensive Coordinator & Quarterbacks Coach
St. Stanislaus High School (MS)
In 2018, our offense struggled to throw the football, completing less than 50% of our throws for less than 150 yards per game. We scored just 19 points per game and our inability to consistently throw the ball was a huge part of that because it limited our ability to create big plays and we struggled to convert 3rd downs.
Things changed drastically last season. With the same QB and WR core, we scored 33.5 points per game, led the state in passing yards per game (280/game), completed 65% of our throws, and were second in passing touchdowns (39) in all classifications in Mississippi.
The biggest reason for this jump in production was a complete overhaul in the way our offensive staff taught and communicated the basic tenets of the Air Raid. We adapted routes, reads, and language to make the offense easier to understand for our players.
I'm going to go through a few of the concepts that were most responsible for the success we had throwing the ball last year. I would love to discuss all our passing game with you if you reach out via email. I'll also go into how we changed the way we taught and installed the concepts during the off-season, which gave us a more efficient way to communicate during games and while watching the film.
Before I do this, I know the Air Raid has a sort of cult following to it and that in many ways we have changed not only the concepts themselves, but the way that we teach them, including the route progressions. Although the basic structure of this is ‘Air Raid’ some of it is substantially different from what most would call traditional Air Raid.
One of the major advantages of the Air Raid system is each concept has a name and corresponding number. We are primarily a no-huddle team, and although we do not always push the tempo, the ability to signal plays from coaches to players and from players to players in multiple ways was an advantage all coaches should be utilizing. I mention up-tempo because this multifaceted communication system would be even more useful in high tempo situations. The numbers we used were totally arbitrary, though you could easily develop a numbering system that would communicate more than just play. For example, 40’s concepts are supposed to be mirrored, but we don’t mirror anything, so it has lost that meaning for us. The names of the concepts are what we use to communicate with each other in the classroom and on the field. This gives us another way to signal our base plays (for example, we have a number signal for Smash and a hand signal for Smash). This is useful not just for coach to player signaling from the sideline, but in two-minute situations our QBs can call Smash by yelling either “61” or by using a hand signal to their receivers, which means nothing to defensive backs, whereas yelling the more commonly known “Smash” would likely give the play away to the defense.
Our base drop-back concepts are as follows (I’m going to leave the numbers out that we use, but would happily share more info via email with coaches) :
# - Mesh
# - Flood
# - Cross
# - Seam Read (Dagger)
61 - Smash
# - Spacing
# - Drag
# - Choice
# - Levels
# - Four Verticals
Each of these concepts can also be 'flipped' by tagging a receiver to the concept call (if no letter is attached to the concept it means Y, so in 2x2 'ace' formation, we can run '61' which is Smash to the Y or '61-X' which is Smash to the X).
Additionally, you can help add more depth to your language by naming your concepts (we do this with our run game but are just starting to do this with our pass game). For example, most defensive players would immediately pick up on a ‘mesh’ call from QB to WRs but having a verbal call of ‘Leach’ would take some time for defenders to figure out.
Philosophy Behind the Base Concepts:
Regardless of the defense, each play has a progression that doesn’t change. The most basic part of our passing game is that all our plays have a constant set of defined reads regardless of coverage. This process is not complicated. We want our quarterbacks to play confidently, and these straightforward constant reads help them do that.
- Almost all our plays are based on reading one defender and making him wrong, most commonly the overhang defender and/or the deep hash defender. I know this sounds rudimentary, but the simplicity of this process is its strength because our QBs don't have to spend extra time memorizing different 'plans' for different coverages which can lead to uncertainty during the game. We don't want our QBs thinking "is it this coverage and I do this, or is it that coverage and I do that". It is also important to realize that we as coaches can understand the subtle and not so subtle differences between cover 2, read 2, cover 4, cover 6, roll 3, etc. and apply that knowledge to make quick decisions, but can our high school quarterback do the same under pressure? (the Bum Phillips quote: “coaching is not how much you know. It’s how much you can get players to do”) I believe it is vital to free your quarterback from being bogged down by the burden of over-processing. Equip him with a plan that will make him successful, rep it relentlessly, and then just let him play confidently.
- Make the defense cover the whole field. Almost all of our concepts have either a pre-snap ‘gift’ throw or a quick 3-step throw built into the read. Making the defense defend the box and all the under zones, makes it much harder for them to disguise what they're doing and properly cover the deep zones. This also allows an offense to essentially use the passing game as an extension of the run game. We stress our quarterbacks not to shy away from deep throws in a 1 on 1 situation. Even though those are lower percentage throws, going 2-6 on deep throws in a game could be 14 points and the difference between winning and losing. We completed a crazy amount of 5-yard hitch and speed outs which helped us