Passing patterns (or passing routes) can tell you a lot about an offense’s objective on any given play. If you notice a trend in the passing game, you may see which part of the field or which defensive players the offense is trying to exploit. You may also be aware that the defense’s objective is to stop the running game and that the offense may adjust their passing patterns to move defenders away from running lanes. I’m going to address several common passing patterns utilized in all levels of football.
The COMEBACK route is used when a team has a fast receiver. The defender will give the receiver about five yards because the defender wants to catch him. On this play, the receiver sprints 12-20 yards downfield and then turns to catch the football. This is generally a route along the sideline. The QB throws the football prior to the receiver turning to catch it. The receiver must know where the QB expects him to stop and turn.
The CROSSING pattern can be an excellent toll to use against man-to-man coverage because the receiver has the opportunity to lose his defender as he runs across the field. If the receiver lines up on the right side of the line of scrimmage, he can run forward for about 10 yards and then run left across the field, losing his defender with a shoulder fake or stutter step. This route uses two receivers, each lined up on opposite sides of the field. In my example, the receiver who lined up on the left side of the line of scrimmage and interfere with the defender as the two receivers meet. The QB passes to the intended receiver as the receiver runs right in front of the QB’s line of sight.
The CURL and the HOOK are two very similar passing routes. The curl is an 8-12 yard pass where the receiver stops and turns, taking a couple of steps back toward the QB before the pass gets to him. The HOOK is a 5-8 yard pass designed more for tight ends to be the receiver. The tight end makes the turn more quickly because the QB releases the ball before the tight end turns to receive it.
In a POST passing route, a receiver runs along the hash marks toward his end zone. He might hesitate, as if to turn, and then resume his run along the hash marks. The pass is 40-50 yards and this play will be utilized when one of the defensive players (usually a safety) is deep and the offense feels that a fast receiver can get past him. The hesitation in the receiver’s step may cause the safety to slow down, giving the receiver that extra step or two he needs to get past the safety. The QB throws the ball high enouch that the receiver can catch it without breaking his stride.
The SLANT is a route drawn for a receiver who is lined up five yards to the right or to the left of the offensive line. The receiver goes out about 5-8 yards then slants to the left or to the right at an angle towards the sideline across the middle of the field. This route is utilized against both zone and man-to-man coverage.
In the SQUARE-OUT route, the receiver runs forward ten yards then makes a sharp turn toward the sideline. The QB must get the ball to the receiver before he steps out of bounds.
The STREAK (or fly) pass is a 20-40 yard pass to a receiver on the side of the QB’s throwing arm. The receiver is lined up near the sideline and bolts down the sideline as fast as he can. The defensive player (usually a cornerback, who we’ll meet later) is often as fast as the receiver, so the pass must be right on the money. The purpose of this play is to back the defense up off the line of scrimmage since the QB sees that the QB can and will throw deep. The offense, in turn, will be able to complete shorter running plays. The QB must ensure that there isn’t a deep safety on that side of the field who can intercept the pass. If there is a deep safety, the QB will choose another receiver on the field.
A SWING pass is an easy pass to a running back who comes out of the backfield and heads toward the sideline. If the running back is unable to break free from the first few tacklers, he will probably head out of bounds.
The last formation is a SHOTGUN formation. Then San Francisco 49ers head coach Red Hickey put this formation together in 1960 because his team was facing the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), who were known for their pass rushing (going after the QB on passing plays). Hickey had his QB, John Brodie, line up seven yards behind the line of scrimmage in order to buy Brodie more time to release the football. This plan was successful and the 49ers pulled the upset on the Colts. The Shotgun formation is a sure sign to any defense that the offense is going to pass the football. The center must maintain accuracy in snapping the ball that far back to the QB or this formation will not work.
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