Inside the playbook: red zone passing concepts

Today: Red Zone passing concepts

Click here for the previous edition of Inside the Playbook: complex blitz schemes

Click here for the Inside the Playbook series.

Throughout the summer, we have been hitting on a wide range of concepts and going inside the playbooks of the NFL. In an earlier post, we took a look inside the red zone. I broke down a Philip Rivers TD pass to Vincent Jackson vs. the Giants and their 2-Man scheme. The route: a 7-route to the corner of the end zone with the TE, Antonio Gates, running the inside vertical seam.

A solid concept route and a definite 2-Man beater in the red zone.

However, today let’s talk about the top two concepts you will see in the NFL this season once the ball crosses the 20-yard line: the “Pin” and “Scissors” routes. Indianapolis and Peyton Manning will run these two routes all season long, but we will see them in New England, Chicago, Tennessee, etc. Everyone has them in their playbook — because they are effective. We will highlight both on the chalkboard and then watch the “Scissors” route on the TV tape and see how Manning and Reggie Wayne convert for a TD.

The “Pin” route

I put the offense “Posse” or “311” personnel (3 WR, 1 RB, 1 TE) in a 2x2 alignment vs. a base Nickel package on defense playing Cover 4 or quarters.

The route consists of a common concept. A deep dig, or square in, that can be converted to the post by the No. 1 receiver. The No. 2 receiver runs an out route (that can be converted to a shallow dig or the curl) and acts as the bait — key to the offense. His job is simple: draw the attention of the safety.

Let’s check it out on the chalkboard…


The defense is in Cover 4. A common scheme inside of the red zone as it allows the defense to create a four-across look — with the Mike Backer dropping to the middle hook. Plenty of teams do play a form of the Tampa 2 in the red zone, but as we have discussed before, that turns into “Red 2” which gives the defense almost the exact same look with the corners sinking to the goal line instead of jamming the No. 1 WR.

As we can see from the chalkboard drawing, the “Y” (TE) is the No. 2 to the closed side. He runs the out route, curl, or shallow dig for one reason — to get the SS to bite. I have played in this scheme and it is tough as a safety to hold your ground when you see an open player in front of you. More often than not, the safety will jump up on the No. 2 — and this is where the concept comes into play.

Both safeties have to play the inside quarter to their side of the field. In reality, they aren’t playing a receiver, but an area. Force the dig or post to go behind you — because the end line is the 12th defender. Use what is called a “basketball turn” and get underneath the route.

But, as we can see here, the safety jumps the underneath route and leaves a void in the coverage. An easy throw for a Manning, a Brady, etc. I busted on this coverage in Green Bay and in Washington. It is easy to look like a complete fish at the safety position when the bait is right in front of you. Cover 4 or Cover 2, it doesn’t matter. This route is designed to make the safety jump.

The “Scissors” route

Let’s use the same alignment, the same personnel and the same look by the defense for this next concept.
The “Scissors” is a basic 7/post combo. I used the “Y” and the “Z” receiver to the closed side with a smash/7 on the backside. The idea here is to cause confusion between the CB and the SS.

Let’s check it out on the chalkboard…

In Cover 4, there should be an “alert switch” between the SS and the CB. What this does is allow for both players to pass off routes to one another. The SS would hold, turn his hips and run underneath the post, while the corner would fall off and wait for the 7 (or flag route) to come into his zone. Still a tough play, and both the CB and the SS have to read their run/pass keys and read the release of No. 1 and No. 2 to their side.

In “Red 2,” a different read by the defense, but much of the same confusion. The CB will sink and have to protect the safety on the 7 route. But, the SS is in a tough position. He now has to play both the post and the seven. And, in the red zone, one false step leads to a TD.

Again, a basic passing concept that is run throughout the league and sees results.

Let’s look at the “Scissors” route on the TV tape…

Here, we can see the results of the confusion we are talking about. Although the Colts are aligned in a 3x1 look, the concept is the same. The CB to the closed side chases the post in Cover 4 instead of passing off the post to the SS and picking up the 7-route by Reggie Wayne. And, when you chase routes in zone coverage — at any level of football — the results are not good from a defensive perspective.

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