Four Verticals

Four Verticals:

Four Verticals is a very common passing concept and can be found in most every offensive playbook.  This past NFL season it was memorably used by the Bengals in their last minute victory over the Ravens.

Four Verticals is a simple concept.  By sending four receivers down field the offense hopes to overwhelm the defense by forcing the defenders responsible for deep-zones to cover two receivers at once.   Most defenses are Cover 2 shells (where there are two deep safeties and the other defenders either in shallow zones or in man coverage, some teams use the “Tampa Two” which is where the two safeties cover the deep sideline while middle linebacker drops back deep as well and the other defenders are also in zone coverage) or with a single high safety (these are either Cover 1 man defenses with one safety deep, one defender in a “robber” zone or blitzing, and the other defenders in man coverage or Cover 3 zone defenses with one safety and two cornerbacks in deep zones with the other defenders in shallow zones).  However, if the defense uses a Cover 4 shell and four defenders cover deep zones some coaches allow the receivers the options of cutting off their routes to undercut the defensive backs at about 14 yards downfield.

In most cases in a Four Wide formation the two outside receivers head directly up field running go-routes while one slot receiver will run a go route straight up field, but the opposite slot receiver , will typically run a route where he reads the coverage and adjust his route accordingly.  In its simplest form the route ran by the slot receiver is called a “bender”.  The slot receiver is given two choices, run a go-route straight down the seam, or run a post route where he runs straight towards the opposite pylon.  In this case the slot receiver will watch the safeties, if a safety covers the middle of the field (as in a Cover 3 or Cover 1, which will be referred to as M.O.F.C. from this point forward) he will continue his go-route straight up the seam, but if the safeties both cover the sideline (as they would in a Cover 2 defense, this will be referred to as M.O.F.O. from now on) then he will run the post route crossing through the empty deep middle of the field.  Allowing the slot receiver the ability to modify his route during the play makes this concept almost impossible to defend.

Some coaches however give their outside receivers the ability to cut off their go-routes and turn back towards the quarterback at about 14 yards and present even more options to their slot receiver.  This means that if the defense is in a Cover 4 shell with four deep defenders the outside receivers can cut off their routes for a 14 yards gain.  This means that four verticals is not a concept that will primarily lead to deep passes, but will instead lead to 14-20 yard passes to the outside receivers on the “streak-reads” or the slot receiver on his “divide” route, which is described bellow.

The primary difference between the “divide” route and the “bender” route described above is that the receiver running the “divide” route is given instructions in case the defense drops deep enough to negate both the post and the go-route up the seam.  The “divide” receiver is still given the same basic choices as the receiver running the bender route a post route or a go-route up the seam, as the name would imply he wants to “divide” the deep coverage and find a hole in the zone.  Like the “bender” receiver the “divide” receiver reads the safeties, if he determines M.O.F.C. (Cover 1 or Cover 3) he will run his go-route up the seam, but if he reads M.O.F.O. (Cover 2) he will run a post route.  However, if as I said the receiver reads the defenders are dropping back very deep he has the option to slow down and turn their vertical go-routes into comebacks so that they are open about 14 yards down field.  A fourth and rarely used option is to let the “divide” receiver run a deep crossing route so that he can undercut the free safety.

Here is a famous example of the outside receivers turning their go-routes to deep curls in Texas Tech’s last second victory over the University of Texas.  *Thanks to Chris Brown for the youtube link.*

Here is how four verticals would look in a four wide set if the slot receiver ran a “divide” route and the outside receivers were able to cut-off their routes.



Then in a trips set.

Thanks to Dan Gonzalez for the two images above.

Some Air Raid coaches will have the outside receivers run routes that don’t turn into true comeback routes.  Instead they will instruct the receivers to try and beat their man deep and if that is not possible to just turn around and face the quarterback after about 14 yards.  The same instruction is also given to the slot receiver who typically runs the “bender” or “divide” route.  Below is a video of this version of the Air Raid teams running this concept, again thanks to Chris Brown for the video.

As a quick side note, I have been referring to “the slot receiver” as the one who runs the “divide” or “beater” route, but this still a choice that has to be made.  Some coaches just place their best receiver in the slot and let him run the “beater” or “divide” route while other coaches just let their quarterbacks decide before the snap.

The quarterback will watch the safety to determine where to go with the ball as usual, but with the reads being made by the receivers the quarterbacks reads are even more important.  If the safety retreats deep to cover the go-routes the slot receiver will come open running the divide or “beater” route.  If the safety slides over to cover the divide or “beater” route the opposite slot receiver will be open or in single coverage.  In a situation where four defensive backs drop back into deep zones, the receivers will cut off their routes and should be open for a modest 14 yard gain.  As you have probably noticed the quarterback makes essentially the same reads as the slot receiver.

Here is video of this play being run by the Bengals in their last minute victory over the Ravens.

This play can also be run out of a trips formation.  This is something that is often done to force defenses into playing a Cover 1 or single safety high defense.  When an offense comes out in a trips formation the  defense will practically be forced into not calling the common Cover 2 defense, because it would mean one safety would be responsible for covering three wide receivers.  In this formation the receiver closest to the offensive line will run what looks like a deep crossing route, but in fact is just a vertical route run to the opposite hashmark.

Here is this passing concept on the chalkboard out of a trips set and a video below showing the same play being run by the New Orleans Saints against the Philadelphia Eagles.



Both the video and the diagram came from Chris Brown’s article on the NY Times “Fifth Down” blog.

If you are looking for more information on this concept:


One Response to “Four Verticals”

  1. Four Verticals Resources | Coach and Coordinator Says:

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