Why is the TE 'seam route' so tough to defend?

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When I focus on the Xs and Os of the game, I often use the Patriots offensive system because of the multiple route combinations and personnel groupings they display on Sundays. A smart playbook to study when you want to learn more about the game.

Today, let’s look at the “Rail Route” from New England and focus on TE Rob Gronkowski running the inside vertical seam. Check out the replay and then we will get into some coaching points to playing the proper technique to defend this route.

Chargers vs. Patriots
Personnel: Posse (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB)
Route Concept: Rail/TE Seam

Route concept: A 5-man route that gives QB Tom Brady multiple options. Look to the closed (strong) side of the formation. Danny Woodhead is offset with Brady in the gun and will run the “Rail” (similar to a “wheel” concept). The RB will work off the inside release of the “Z” receiver (Chad Ochocinco) and stem his route up the field outside of the numbers. To the open (weak) side, this is a base Smash-7 (corner). That leaves the TE, Gronkowski, to work the middle of the field vs. a safety in a 2-deep look.

Route stem: NFL TEs aren’t going to run straight up the field and allow a DB to sit on the seam route. That’s little league stuff. Here, Gronkowski takes a vertical release (with a slight outside stem) to create some room to break back to the middle of the field.

Leverage: You can’t allow a TE with the size of Gronkowski to break in front of you in a deep half alignment. Its no different than getting a rebound in basketball. Working vs. a TE or a WR with size, you must break on the throw at an angle that puts you in front of the receiver. Don’t hesitate in your route read, take the proper angle and go attack the ball.

Seam vs. 2-deep look: This situation (and route) is similar to what we saw on Vernon Davis’ grab to beat the Saints in the playoffs vs. Cover 2. The TEs in today’s game catch the ball with their hands and use their size to box out defenders at the top of the route stem. And while I am seeing more NFL defenses lean on Cover 2 in the red zone, this route can be a nightmare for a safety that is beat to the inside.

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