I LOVE going to football games when the fall air is crisp, the sun is out, and the quarterback send the ball sailing down the field. There are no words to describe the excitement (or disappointment, depending on which side of the ball your team is on) as a quarterback cocks his arm back, releases the ball, and finds his receiver in the end zone to pull his team ahead of the opposition. Even more exciting (or disappointing) is when the quarterback is picked off, meaning the ball is intercepted by the other team’s defense. As a fan of a team that has been referred to as “quarterback university,” I LOVE the passing game. For better or for worse, just one pass can change a game.
Timing is a huge issue in the passing game. A quarterback must know where his receivers will be and when they will be there. His offensive line must also protect the quarterback long enough for him to find and reach his target. He needs at least a couple of seconds of good protection in the pocket to execute his play well. As a kid, I always thought that a quarterback would just automatically throw the ball up in the air and someone would find it and catch it (or not). But the passing game is really pretty complex. Sometimes the intended receiver is unable to reach his spot or run the route that was pre-determined because he is being successfully blocked by the defense. The quarterback must have a good eye to find another receiver who is open to catch the ball. Sometimes the offensive line misses its assignments and the quarterback is under pressure to throw the ball. The receivers may have to adjust their routes to get open or to catch a ball that has been poorly thrown. The quarterback may have to decide when to get rid of the ball just to avoid being sacked and sucking up a loss of yards. (A quarterback who has been “sacked” has been tackled while he is in possession of the football).
The players that are most widely used to catch passes are tight ends and wide receivers. Although their name implies differently, running backs are also widely used as receivers as well. Attributes of a good receiver are good hands, sharp concentration skills in the face of adversity, courage in the face of opponents who want to take him down, and strength as he faces the physical aspects of his job. Receivers are expected to block defensive players on plays where they are not the intended receiver, or when running plays are utilized.
Tight ends are players that may not be as fast and agile as wide receivers. They line up on the offensive line and are expected to block big defensive players on many plays. These double-duty players have the build of an offensive lineman and really good tight ends also have the agility of a wide receiver.
There are generally five receivers on the offense: two running backs, two wide receivers, and a tight end. You may hear the wide receivers referred to as X and Z receivers. The X receiver (AKA the “split end,” which is a good thing in football and has nothing to do with hair) lines up on the weak side of a formation. The Z receiver is also called a “flanker” and he lines up on the strong side of the formation. So who is the Y receiver? He is the tight end or the receiver who replaces the tight end on the line of scrimmage.
Here is a diagram to illustrate where these guys line up.
X,Y, and Z represent the respective receivers. The C on the offensive line represents the center. The FB (fullback) and HB (halfback) are the two running backs.
Next time, we’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the just plain ugly of the passing game.