In our quest to familiarize our readers with some of the more widely used passing schemes continues with a look at the Mills and Smash concepts. These are some basic passing schemes but add a little more complexity than our prior two schemes. What we are trying to show is what the receivers need to do along with what the QB is reading (in the defense) on the play. If the receiver and QB are solid in their jobs it makes it very tough for the defense to stop the play without some adjustments to their normal defensive schemes.
(Play diagrams courtesy of the Weekly Spiral)
The Mills Passing Concept
The Mills passing concept creates two high-low reads for the QB by putting the deep safeties and linebackers in conflict. It can be run at one or two safety defensive schemes and consists of two primary routes, the (X) which is a post and an in breaking route (F) run in front of the safeties. It also encompasses a third supplementary route underneath. As long as the two main routes are run next to each other it is generally considered a Mills concept in route design. The supplementary route is usually a shallow crossing route from the opposite side of the primary routes.
The concept gives teams a chance (with the proper read) to attack deep against a defense but also allows for a high percentage short (underneath) route if the read is not there for the deep ball.
Teams like to run this concept against cover 4 since it forces the playside safety to come up on the 12-14 yard dig which leaves the post in a one on one matchup against the outside corner who cannot be assisted by backside safety. Most teams consider an X receiver to be a great matchup against a lone zone corner across the field who is without safety help.
The QB needs to get a read on the defense presnap or just after the snap to understand where the coverage is. Once he knows the coverage he then reads the safety to see if he runs with the post or steps up to take away the dig route. If the safety steps up the QB pretty much knows he is going deep as long as the receiver can gain a step with inside position on his defender. This way the QB can lead the receiver towards the center of the field and away from the defender without worry.
Here Matt Ryan does just that.
You can see the play side safety moves up to take the dig route even though the linebackers are dropping back to take way that zone. The safety to the opposite side sees the play developing then races towards the middle of the field. The corner who is covering the X receiver is playing outside leverage thinking he has inside help from the safety. Matt Ryan doesn’t waste an opportunity. You can see his head looking straight downfield and directly at the safety. When he gets the look he wants, he loads up the throw which sails into the middle of the field which leads the receiver away from the defender.
Even though the opposite side safety reads the play correctly right away, he doesn’t have the time or ability to make it over to the play to prevent the TD. You can also see that by the dropping into their deep middle zones the linebackers leave the shallow cross wide open at the 45 yard line. If the coverage was there against the post, Ryan would have flipped his head and found a wide open receiver for a nice gain anyway. You can see how those two deeper routes draw coverage leaving the shallow cross alone in space.
Here are the Falcons again running the same play design from the left side of the offense instead of the right. This time they are working against a single high safety who reads the play correctly and moves over to aid in coverage of the post route.
On this play it’s a hot read with the Bears blitzing so there are 6 in coverage with 5 pass rushers. The crossing route stays inside to help the protection, leaving the three deeper routes as the primaries. If no one breaks open he will release late out into the flat to give Ryan an option if he can’t find a receiver.
Ryan again has his focus straight down the field on the single high safety. Once he sees that safety move to his right, Ryan knows his play is with the dig route. He has to wait until the receiver uncovers from the underneath zone coverage then hits him in stride as he breaks into the clear. These are easy reads for the QB.
In this last example Philip Rivers gets the coverage he wants deep when the safety steps up to take the dig route. The problem with the deep route is it takes time so when he sees the pass rush coming on real quick he knows he doesn’t have enough time to let the receiver work open to the middle of the field.
Still he has his crossing route wide open which nets him about 8 yards. It might have been more if he had a little better blocking. Rivers choose the safe option rather than risk a sack by going for the home run ball.
The Mills concept can be run from a lot of different formations as long as you have your 3 routes set up in the formation. You can see the last example the Mills concept was run from a 5 WR set with the far left receiver basically just holding his man to that side of the field. One of the reason that this concept can work so effectively is that it can be rum from a wide variety of looks. The 3 main routes work well against a combination of coverages.
The Smash Passing Concept
The Smash passing concept is a zone beating concept that is used primarily against cover 2 defensive schemes. The reason is because it is designed to put the flat defender in peril by forcing him to show his coverage quickly after the snap. This scheme also works with cover 3 when the LB is in the flat or any coverage that has just two defenders (one short and one deep) to one side of the field. The weakness in cover 2 is the sideline between 15-20 yards downfield in between the corner and the safety coverage. There is also a soft spot in the middle of the field when the safeties widen their positions to try and better cover the sidelines. This passing concept can be run out of many formations, but the concept has a 15-20 yard out type pattern with a “Smash” route run as a hitch or a flat route from the inside. On the backside of the play you want an inside receiver running a post to put pressure on the backside safety in the middle of the field.
The main emphasis here for the offense is to hit that corner route for a nice gain. The defense realizes this also so the flat defender will try and gain depth to get underneath the corner route. The outside receiver will not run an ordinary corner route but more of a banana type path that helps keep the safety from cheating over to the sideline. This also allows him to get his proper depth on the route. Teams can use the defense’s desire to stop the corner route by using a drag route from the opposite side or a back out of the backfield to work the space vacated by the flat defender. Here the team from Washington uses such a plan against the Buccaneers.
The outside receiver is running what is termed a “burst corner” which simply means he is releasing inside to the middle of the field before he bananas it out to the sideline. He tries to keep that straight downfield movement as long as he can to keep the safety from sliding to the outside. The safety isn’t sure whether he is running the corner or the post pattern so he has to wait until the break before he moves either way.
Since there is no other receiver working towards the flat, the flat defender gains as much depth as he can to take away the sideline out throw. If he gains enough depth the QB will not have the room to fit the ball to the receiver without the danger of an interception. Here Washington uses that fear the Buccaneers have of the corner to get an easy 8 yard gain to start the drive. Again there are a myriad of formations for this with some using TEs or slot receivers in motion or from the opposite side. These types of plays have an easy read and only a few throws for the QB. The formations and players are up the the design of the offensive coordinators. They try to disguise these plays as much as possible.
This next clip shows that the defense will also try to disguise coverage to mess with the head of the QB. This defensive formation at the snap looks like standard cover 2 or quarters coverage with press looks on the corners. Yet the corners are playing pure man coverage with the OLB rolling back outside as the flat defender.
At the snap the WR immediately works inside with the burst before he curves the route back out to the sideline. The corner is caught in the trail position since he missed his jam off the snap. You can see the safety has to wait to see where the outside receiver is going with his route. This is a route that needs to be worked on excessively during practice. The QB and receiver must have have great understanding of where the play is going.
This play is going a little deeper than the average corner route due to the receiver needing more space to get away from man coverage. The receiver has to make enough separation to get a throw into him without allowing the defender a chance at an INT. This throw here is nicely done as the QB waits until the receiver starts his break then leads him perfectly to the sideline with a bullet of a pass.
This play needs a QB with great anticipation but also an arm to get the ball there in a hurry. You can’t have a popgun arm and expect to complete this pass. Tony Dungy is the architect of this defense and knew its weak spots. He had drafted John Lynch to play safety to work against this exact play. He often would get a head start with his reading of the play so he actually would get there quicker than some speedier safeties. Lynch wasn’t real fast, but he was smart with great instincts to read plays well. He was also a ferocious hitter, and Dungy used that as a deterrent to teams running this play. Many times the play would be almost complete, but the receiver was also going to get hit like a ton of bricks. Many times the ball would pop out before the play was complete. You knew as a receiver that if you ran that play to Lynch’s side you were going to get smoked from the back as you made the catch. You had to really earn that catch if you were playing against Lynch.
Like I stated earlier this play can be run from many different formations. When teams run the play from trips formation it forces the defense to switch from cover 2 to cover 3 since they don’t have enough coverage for three players on a single side. This can cause problems as defensive players now have different coverage responsibilities. Here the Buccaneers blow their assignment by letting the corner route run free.
This is what good offenses do. They make defenses switch coverages to match the offense lineup. They could run the same play over and over with different formation thus causing the defense to uses alternative coverages. Here the outside coverage man has the flat, but the inside CB runs with the same man. The throw is poor and makes the receiver wait. Had this pass come sooner and with more velocity this could have been a splash play.
The basic progressions for the QB on this play are to spy the flat defender and throw the route he leaves uncovered. If for some reason the receivers neglect to get open the QB will look backside to the safety on the opposite side and see if the post route is open. Lastly there is usually a drag route built in as a late dump off if the QB can’t find an open receiver.
The Smash concept is a passing scheme with easy reads and a clear progression of receivers for QBs to look for. It can be run on numerous defenses from numerous formations but is a cover 2 staple for offensive coordinators over the years.
I will try an illustrate some more passing schemes in the coming weeks leading up to training camp. Most if not all of these concepts are in the Jets playbook and you will see variations of these schemes throughout the year.
Till next time