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THE PASSING GAME READING FROM HIGH TO LOW ELDER HIGH SCHOOL, OH
I love coming to clinics. I have heard a lot of great high school, college, and professional coaches speak at clinics. It is an honor for me to share with you some of the things that we do in our passing game at Elder High School. We want to be an efficient passing team. We are not going to throw the ball 50 to 60 times per game. However, we want to be efficient with what we do. When I played high school football in the 1980's at Reading High School, there were not a lot of teams throwing the football. My coach at Reading High School changed his philosophy and gave me a chance to throw the ball 25 to 27 times per game. That gave me the opportunity to go to the University of Louisville. In my first year at the University of Louisville, our offensive coordinator happened to be Steve Mariucci. That was a great experience working for Steve. After I got out of college I was fortunate to get into coaching at Reading High School. Then I went to Elder High School as an assistant coach. I learned a lot about the passing game at Elder High School. What I have tried to do with all of the things I have learned is to create a passing game that is effective. By being efficient, we want to be a team that has a high percentage of completions, and we do not want to throw a lot of interceptions. Those items may seem to be simple things, but as a coach you have to work with the quarterbacks and offensive linemen so you can get that done. I have a chart of the passing stats for Elder High School for the last four years. I want to talk about three areas on the chart. 1 ELDER PASSING STATS 1997 - 2001 STATS - TOTAL -PER GAME-PER SEASON 57 1 11.4 GAMES COMP. 607 10.7 121.4 1062 212.4 ATT. 18.6 57.2 57.2 PCT. 57.2 9377 164.5 1875.4 YDS 91 1.59 TD's 18.2 45 .79 INT. 9 You can see the totals for all of the quarterbacks for four years. I have underlined four areas I want to stress. In the last five years, we have completed over 57 percent of our passes. We strive for that 55 to 60 percent range on completions. If we can get that kind of production out of our quarterback, we think that is good. We have the reputation of throwing the football all of the time. You can see we are only throwing the ball a little over 18 times per game. We run on the average 55 plays per game. We are throwing the ball 18.6 times per game. That means we are throwing the ball about 34 percent of the time. The other thing I want to point out is our touchdowns ratio to our interceptions. We are at 2-to-1 in that category. We have 18.2 touchdowns per year and only 9 interceptions per year. That is what we strive for. If we can average 2-to-1 in our touchdowns and interceptions ratio, we feel we will be in good shape. This means we are throwing about .8 interceptions per game. We want to be efficient in the passing game. I have listed seven keys to the passing game that I think are important to be an efficient passing team. The first four keys reflect on the coach.
The first key is pass protection. You have to do something to protect your quarterback. It does not matter what passing game you use, you must protect your quarterback. It is extremely too tough to throw the ball if you are getting hit in the mouth play after play. You may want to "hot read," or send out only one or two receivers, but you have to protect the quarterback. The second key is to move the pocket. To protect the quarterback you must be able to move the pocket. We throw 3, 5, and 8-step drop passes. We throw play-action, bootleg, and sprint-out passes. We want to have a different launch point for our quarterback so the defense does not know where the quarterback will be throwing the ball from. We run the ball from the I-formation very well. At one time this year, we went two games and one-half of the third game without throwing a drop-back pass. Every pass we threw was a playaction pass. If you can run play-action passes, it will make your running game more efficient. The third key in being efficient in the passing game is that you must run screens and draw plays. You must keep the defensive line honest. We do not want to let the defense pin their ears back and come after the quarterback with an all out rush play after play. We feel the screen pass is an easy pass to complete. You can run the bubble screen, and that play is almost like a handoff. It is a highpercentage pass, and it gives one of your better players a chance to run to daylight. The fourth key is spacing in our pass routes. We want to spread the field. We want to spread the field vertically and horizontally. We have eight passing zones on the field. Everyone knows there are five zones underneath and three zones up on top. If the defense is rushing four men, that means they are dropping seven in pass coverage. So what we do is to spread the defense either vertical or horizontal. We want to get the defense in a 3-on2, or a 2-on-1 situation. The defense can not cover every zone. It is our job as coaches to design plays where we can get 2-on-3 and 2-on-1 situations. We want to get four or five receivers out into the route as much as possible. If the defense is only 2
rushing four men, we should be able to block them. We have five offensive linemen. I understand you may need the backs to block in protection at times but you need to get four and five receivers out in the pattern. You must give the receiver the room to run and separate from man coverage. If you are getting man coverage, you cannot have stationary receivers. It is not hard to cover a receiver if he is standing still. You must have routes where the receivers can break away and separate from man coverage. Now, we will sit in the "window" against zone coverage. If you have receivers running at the same level or same depth, no one will get open. As a coach you can implement the first four keys to an efficient passing game. You can run screens and draws, and design routes where the receivers are spread out enough to get open. The next three keys are things the coach must be able to teach the players, in particular, the quarterback. The fifth key is for the quarterback to throw the ball on time. So many times in high school the quarterback will wait until the receiver is open. If the quarterback waits until the receiver is open, by the time the ball gets to the receiver he is not open any longer. You must teach the quarterback to anticipate when the receiver will come open. It comes down to the coach teaching the quarterback to read the defense. He must know his key and who to read in the secondary. On our 5-step drop, when we go to that fifth step, we are going to stop, slide, and throw. I want them to know where the football is going to go when they stop and slide. They may have to adjust and move their feet before they throw the ball, but I want them to know they have to throw the ball when they stop on that fifth step. They are throwing the ball on time. We want to get the ball to the open receiver and give him a chance to make some yardage after he catches the ball. The sixth key to an efficient passing game is to throw to the open receiver. The quarterback must read the defense and take what they give him.
That may sound like a lot, but it is not difficult. If it is third and ten, we do not want our quarterback forcing the ball to a covered receiver that is ten yards down the field just because it is third and ten. If the man open is at five yards, we want to throw the ball to him. Throw the ball to the man that is open. I spend a lot of time in teaching the quarterback to read the defense and to find the open receiver. Just because it is third and ten, I don’t want him to force the throw to a receiver that is covered just because it is third and ten. If we can get the ball to the open man at five yards on third and ten, we are going to give him a chance to run with it to make the extra yards. If we do not get the first down, we will punt the football. I do not want to take a chance of the interception by throwing the ball to a covered man. I would rather punt the ball 30 yards down the field and take a chance with our defense. Turnovers are tough for the offense. We do not jump our quarterback when he throws an interception. We ask him what did he see when he threw the ball. "Trust what you see." Your quarterback is going to throw interceptions. You must get him to trust what he sees. If you are on his back every time he throws an interception, he will start holding on to the ball too long, or he will wait until the receiver gets wide open and then when he does throw it, the receiver is covered. You end up getting more turnovers. That is not what we are all about. We are about throwing to the man that is open and being efficient in the passing game. The seventh key to an efficient passing game is to teach the quarterback to be able to throw the ball away. You must teach him when to run the ball. You must work on a scramble drill to teach him how to run and where to run. You can't expect him to do that without working on it. You have to practice on the scramble. When you are working with the quarterback on the scramble drill, the receivers must know where they are going when the quarterback starts his scramble. They must know where to go on the route as the quarterback starts his scramble. 3 You must work on the mechanics with your quarterbacks. I am not going to cover the mechanics of playing quarterback. These are keys for you as coaches that will help make your passing game more efficient. What does Elder High School try to do with its passing game? We are going to try to get a 3-on-2 situation with you a lot of the time. We create triangles with our passing routes to get the 3-on-2 situations. We are going to pick out individual receivers and run a high-low route against them. We are going to get 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 and throw the ball at different levels. If the defense is a cover-3 type team, that is what we are going to do a lot of the time. We want to get the 3-on-2 as much as we can. We are going to pick out individual defenders and we are going to go highlow on those individuals. At times, we may do both by having a triangle in the middle of the field with a post pattern over the top of the triangle. The quarterback looks for the deep man on the post, and then goes to the triangle underneath if the safetyman takes away the post route. We will always have one route in the play that is good against man coverage. It is what we call a man-beater. It cannot be a receiver who has a blocking assignment. It does not matter the type of action the quarterback takes on the play, we are going to have a man-coverage beater in our patterns. When we come to the line of scrimmage and the defense switches to man coverage, our quarterback knows he is going to look for the receiver that is designated as the man-coverage beater. We are going to take what the defense is giving us on the play. It is important to make sure the man that is going to run the man-beater does not have a blocking assignment. If a running back has to check the linebacker before he goes out on a route, then he cannot be the man-beater. He may have to block the linebacker and stay with him for the entire time of the play. The same is true if you have the tight end in protection. You cannot have
him running the man-beater route. You must have one receiver that is free to run the man-beater route. We are going to try to get the defense where we have 3-on-2, 2-on-1, or get you in a high-low situation, or we are going to create triangles. We are trying to make the system as simple as we possibly can for our quarterback. The way we determine the basic coverage that we see is based on the number of safeties you have on defense. We are not talking about the safety blitz. I am talking about the defense having one safety, two safeties, or zero safeties. Our quarterback has three pre-snap questions that he must ask. First, he wants to know how many safeties the defense has. We know teams will line up with two safeties and roll down to one safety man but the quarterback reads the number of safeties the defense has and takes his key from them as to where he is going with the football. The second question the quarterback must ask is who is the flat defender? He wants to know the player that will play the flat area against our pass play. If he knows the defense is playing man coverage, he forgets everything else and throws to the player we have designated as our man-beater. He does not read progressions on one side or the other. He knows the X end is going to run the post-corner route and that is where he is going with the ball. The third question our quarterback must ask is this: "Are they playing man-to-man defense?"
If the defense has one safety man, the quarterback knows there is a good chance we are going to see cover-three or man coverage. Against one safety we want to know who the flat defender is going to be. Against the four under and three deep, the Sam linebacker is going to cover the flat. If we face two safeties, the flat coverage is by the corner. We are going to find that corner and see how he covers the flat.
TWO SAFETIES If the defense plays four deep across the back of the coverage, we treat that as two safeties with the corners covering outside.
TWO SAFETIES - FOUR ACROSS For our quarterback, we have made it very simple. He has to ask three questions. The first question is, “How many safeties?” The second question is, “Who is playing the flat?” The third question the quarterback must ask is, “Is the defense playing man-to-man coverage?” If he can determine the answers to those three questions, he can master our system. 4
On our triangle reads, the quarterback usually reads from the outside to the inside. We are going to create a triangle to the three-man side with the wide receiver, end, and halfback. The quarterback reads the receivers from the outside to the inside.
If the corner drops deep, we know the flat will be covered from a player from the inside. When the quarterback sees the corner drop, he works from the outside back to the inside. He is going to hit the back outside in the flat if the Sam linebacker is not outside to cover him. We must know who the flat defender is on the defense. If the Sam linebacker widens to cover the outside man, we are going to get the ball to the man inside. If the Mike linebacker widens to cover the flat, our end will just replace the Mike linebacker. He goes to the area where the Mike linebacker was at the snap of the ball. This gives us a 3-on-2 situation. In cover-three, the corner should be playing the wide-out on the deep route. If he doesn't back out to cover the deep man, we will throw the ball deep against him. We read the triangle from the outside to the inside. If we are playing against a team that plays two safeties and it can be a cover-four or half coverage, we run the same route. We want to remove one of the two defenders. We want to move the Sam linebacker or the free safety. The man we want to get out of the picture is the free safety. We want to create the triangle, but we may have to use different receivers to get into the same areas on the field. We drive the free safety off the ball by sending the end deep. Again, the corner must get depth against the wide receiver that is going deep. If the corner squats and plays the corner, we will be 2-on-1 against the free safety. If we get that situation, we throw the ball over the defender’s head to the deep receiver. In most cases when we send two receivers vertical, the corner will run out and cover deep. 5 If the Mike linebacker tries to get outside to help on the two outside receivers, we have the backside end coming across the formation four yards deep in the area where the Mike linebacker vacated. Again, we are reading from the outside to the inside. It is the same exact read for the quarterback. He is still reading the same defenders. Against two safeties, we still read the triangle from the outside to the inside. If the defense does not cover the deep route on the outside or the tight end on the out route, we want to get them the ball immediately.
We will take a play until the defense stops us. We run play action on the route with the fullback
coming inside to hold the Mike linebacker. When the Mike linebacker vacates the area, it gives the backside end a chance to come across the middle at a depth of about fifteen yards. If the Mike linebacker does not go for the fake and stays in the middle of the field, we have an adjustment to make. The A-back runs his comeback route in front of the free safety. It is the same read for the quarterback. It is from the outside to the inside. On our bootleg play, it is the same type of read for our quarterback. If the flat defender does not widen on the play, we are going to throw the ball to the flat right away. We game-plan the play and we may start out by throwing the post-corner route first. We throw to the back coming out in the flat second. We can change it up and look for the back first.
If a team wants to play us with two safeties, we have one particular play that we like to use. This came from a book by Andrew Coverdale entitled the Bunch Attack. He calls the play "Mesh.”
We have the tight end coming across at ten yards deep. This is the way we create triangles with our passing game. It is the same type of read for the quarterback. That is all we are doing with the triangle. We are reading from the outside to the inside. Next, we want to look at the high-low routes. Our quarterback is going to read high first and low second. We are not as concerned about the flat coverage here. We send our wide receiver on a deep post. The tight end runs a 10- to 12-yard speed-out route. The back goes to the flat at a depth of three yards. We are running vertical routes, and we are reading from high to low. We are not concerned about the width at first because we are looking to go deep at first. 6
We are trying to isolate the cornerback on the strong side. We want to run a high-low against him. If the corner starts to back up as the ball is snapped, we want to throw to the flat in front of the corner. If he waits for our receiver to get to the flat, we are going to throw the ball over his head. The key to the play is the man running the flag route. It is his job to keep the safetyman on his back. The slot man bends the route so he can get outside on the deep man. We want him to bend the route away from the safety. If we throw the ball deep, the safety has a good angle on the ball. If the receiver bends the route into the open area, the safety has a hard time getting to the ball. We tell the quarterback to throw the ball away from the
safety. If the corner is sitting in the flat, he cannot make the play on the deep ball. We tell the quarterback to never throw the ball over a retreating cornerback. If the corner is backing out of the flat, do not throw the ball deep. We can throw the ball to the flat in front of the corner. We are isolating on that one man. We will throw at the cornerback a lot. We are going to force the corner to make decisions on how he is going to play the flat area. Our next progression is where we do both reads. The quarterback reads from deep area to the triangle. If the defense is going to play us with four deep secondary men, we are going to work on the post area. We want to work on the free safetyman. If the free safety is playing man on our tight end, we are going to throw the post route immediately. We will take shots at the corners with our wide receivers. If the safeties try to come up to play the curl routes, we are going to throw the ball over their head to the wide receivers to the inside. If the free safety gets depth and covers the inside post, we work on the triangle in the middle.
going to rub shoulders as they cross on the route. In this case the tight end must get a depth of five yards. That is his job. The job of the wingback is to make sure he gets close enough to the tight end to rub his shoulder pads. If it is man coverage, we are forcing the defense to either trail behind us or to run over the top of the defense. It is a rub-off, and it is not a pick.
If the defense is a four-across defense, we like to run this next play over and over. We are going to run the high-low off the post route. We are going to work on the rover on the strong side. If the defense is playing man, the rover will take the second man inside man-to-man most of the time. If the rover gets depth, the quarterback can see that as he drops back. If the rover gets depth, the quarterback is not looking for the post route. Now he has to triangle-read. We send the back to the flat and force the defense to come outside to cover the back, or we throw the ball inside to the second wide receiver.
We tell our backs they are to end up about four yards deep on their route. It is an area of about four yards where the tight end would be if he were lined up inside. We want to use the play action to hold the linebackers. We run the crossing routes to open up the deep routes. We want the receiver that is not the primary receiver to set the depth of the route. If the intended receiver is the wingback, we want the tight end to set the depth of the route. They are 7
This is no different than what we have been doing. We do switch the routes up to give the defense a different look. In each one of our routes, we have the man-beater routes. We are going to run corner routes, and regular routes, and crossing routes. In each of our routes the defense is going to see those types of routes. If the defense wants to play us man-to-man and up tight to the inside, we will throw the man-beater most of the time. If the defender is setting inside two or three yards off the receiver, there is no way he should be able to cover our wide receiver. We will start him inside and take him up the field and then break outside. There is no way he can cover us to the outside. All the quarterback has to do is to throw the ball to the outside and let the receiver run under the ball. I see my time is up. This is how we attack the defense with our passing game. I do appreciate the opportunity to speak on this clinic. Thank you.
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