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Attacking the Flat Defender (and Beyond): Part 2

Auburn uses a third concept that targets the flat defender and then alters that concept to attack downfield. Fourth in a series on the Tiger passing game. Previously: Coverages, Routes, Targeting the Flat: Part 1

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

As we saw in the last post, the Smash and the Flag-Flat concepts are great at putting a corner in conflict. By putting a receiver in front of and behind him, the quarterback can just throw to the one the corner doesn't cover. Specifically, Flag-Flat works well against various coverages, it's reliable enough to be used in some third down situations, and it can be paired with various backside routes without affecting the primary reads.

If the Flag-Flat concept is so useful, why use anything else to attack the flat defender? Well, the Flag route is not exactly an easy throw. The open zone between a Cover 2 corner and safety can close quickly, the receiver can get too close to the sideline, and the Flag route is a longer pass than you might think since it runs away from the quarterback. As it turns out, Auburn pairs the Speed Out with another route that's an easier throw while still picking on the flat defender.

The Post-Flat Combo

The Post-Flat concept is similar to the Flag-Flat concept except that the #1 receiver turns inside on a Post route instead of outside on a Flag. It's also more reliant on rhythm than the Flag-Flat, but the #2 receiver still runs the Speed Out and the tailback still gives the quarterback a checkdown. At Tulsa, it was known as 28/98 (the 2-man or 9-man running an 8-route) and Kansas. (Flat? Kansas? Get it?)

Post-Flat Diagram

The Playside Receivers

The 9-man runs the Bang-8 version of the Post route, getting 10 yards downfield and then turning inside at a 45 degree angle. Bang-8 means that the quarterback fires the ball at the receiver right out of his break instead of floating it downfield. Because the route ultimately turns inside, the receiver must beat his defender inside as soon as possible. No matter what, though, the 9-man must not cut the route short. If he's covered inside and he runs the route correctly, the ball won't be coming his way, but the other receivers should be open. If he's covered inside and he ends the route early, defenders won't be as far from the other targets which could muddy the quarterback's progression or limit the yards gained.

The 9-man also has an important post-snap read. If he beats the corner, then the Post route should be run as described above, but if the corner is especially deep, like in Cover 3, then the Post route should be flattened into a Dig route.

Against Western Carolina in 2013, the slot receiver drew the safety covering him outside, which opened a passing lane for the Post/Dig. However, the ball was thrown a bit behind the receiver and the corner was able to knock the pass down. If the route had been flattened into a Dig route, I don't think the corner could have reached it. Also, notice that the tailback stayed in the pocket to help in pass protection. He won't always be able to provide a checkdown for the passer.

The 3-man and the 4-man run the same routes as they do in the Flag-Flat combo. The 3-man runs the Speed Out after showing motion toward the outside linebacker and the 4-man checks for extra blitzers before settling as a checkdown just past the line of scrimmage.

The backside receivers

Just like with Smash and Flag-Flat, this concept only requires two receivers on one side of the ball, plus the running back. So, just like with Smash and Flag-Flat, the backside receivers can mirror the concept or run another route combo altogether. In the diagram above, the 5-man and 2-man are mirroring the Post-Flat. This can come in handy against single high defenses when the free safety starts to cheat toward the playside. Generally, Post-Flat would be run toward the boundary since it's a shorter throw, but if that safety starts to creep over in that direction, the quarterback can focus on the same progressions to the field.

The quarterback...

The Post should be an easier throw than the Flag because it is a shorter throw not only in yards downfield but in actual distance traveled. But that doesn't mean the Bang-8 Post is simple. The pass to a Bang-8 Post is flatter and travels through more of the defense, so the quarterback has to be aware of defenders in the underneath zones before throwing. That's why this concept has to be executed in rhythm. The Speed Out not only provides a second option, but it also helps to open a passing lane to the Post by drawing an underneath defender toward the sideline.

Route Distances

So the technique and timing are a bit different, but the progression itself, deep-short-checkdown, is the same as the other two concepts' progressions.

When and Where to use this play

If the coverage looks favorable, Post-Flat is a great play between 25 and 30 yards away from the endzone. From this distance, a completion to the Post route should pick up most of the yards remaining while the opponent's safeties are still playing at typical depths. Any closer and the field remaining starts to shrink, limiting the effectiveness of a deep pass over the middle.

Whereas Smash and Flag-Flat are particularly suited to combat Cover 2, Post-Flat works better against defenses with either a single high safety (Cover 1) or a retreating cornerback (Cover 3). Plus, it's perfect for the relatively rare Invert defense, a sort of Cover 2 where the corners take deep zones while both safeties play underneath zones. The 9-man's ability to alter his route based on the coverage really helps this play be as versatile as it is.

However, this play is not ideal when facing the more common, non-inverted version of Cover 2. The Post and the Speed Out run directly into the safety's and corner's zones. This concept is at such a disadvantage versus two deep safeties that Gus Malzahn actually coaches his quarterbacks to check to Flag-Flat if they see Cover 2 indicators. But, if it's time to pick on a Cover 2 safety instead, there is another option.

The Post-Wheel Combo

Ah, the Wheel route, the only thing that rivals FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN on #CFBTwitter's list of favorite things. At Tulsa, the Wheel route paired with the Post was also called 28/98 since it is really just an alteration of the Post-Flat concept, but instead of being called Kansas, it was called Bama. (Wheels roll? Tides roll? Get it?)

Post-Wheel Diagram

In a previous post, I said that Malzahn calls a Wheel route with an initial downfield component "Rail", but for SEO's sake familiarity's sake, I'll refer to it as "Wheel" too.

The Playside receivers

The 9-man runs the same route, the Bang-8 Post. No different.

The 5-man looks like he's running the same route, the Speed Out, for a while. He even looks back to the quarterback after that initial cut outside. This head fake should get the flat defender to position himself between the quarterback and the receiver. Once that happens, the 5-man should have no trouble turning downfield, preferably no closer to the sideline than the bottom of the numbers on the field. You may have noticed that the slot receiver in the GIF above actually ran this route.

The backside receivers

Once again, the the 2-man and 5-man are not constrained by the playside concept.

The quarterback

If it is open, the quarterback should still go for the Post in rhythm after his three-step drop. If it is covered by that Cover 2 safety or an underneath defender, he should shuffle up in the pocket to buy a little more time as the Wheel route develops. Then, assuming the flat defender didn't manage to stay on top of the 3-man's route, the quarterback hits the Wheel route in stride. If that's not an option, the checkdown should still be available.

When and Where to use this play

This play is especially good for the first few yards in the red zone. That close to the end zone, the Post route is going to be viewed as a big threat, so defenders will be quick to chase in-breaking routes. That should leave a wide open space down the sideline for the Wheel route. In fact, Marcus Davis scored from 17 yards out on this very play vs Ole Miss last year.

Of course, Malzahn will also just keep using it over and over because it keeps working.

By adding the Wheel element to the Speed Out, the concept morphs from Cover 1 and Cover 3 beater back to a Cover 2 beater, just like Flag-Flat. The Wheel attacks the same area of the field that the Flag route does, so the Post-Wheel is actually a way to run both the Post and the Flag at the same time while showing the same formation and initial motions as the previous plays we've discussed.

And one more thing. It introduces us to a new way to attack defenses. So far, each concept discussed has attacked the flat defender by putting a receiving threat in front of and behind him, a so-called vertical stretch. Post-Wheel puts a receiving threat to each side of the deep zone defender, a so-called horizontal stretch. And rather than a long and short threat, both options are at least 15 yards downfield. Next time, we'll see how Auburn uses the horizontal stretch deep across the entire field.