This post is intended to provide some insight into a few of the basic passing game concepts that you see duplicated at all levels and fit into different styles or brands of offense like spread, airraid, west coast, power I and more. You can find these core concepts in many different playbooks – and although, from team to team, the terminology may differ, the execution will remain the same – each with different combinations of personnel, formations, motions and route packages to ‘dress up’ the play and make it their own. The impetus of these concepts can be traced back to Bill Walsh and the ‘west coast offense’ in what he terms, X & Z Spot & Y-Stick. (Be sure to keep reading below for a more detailed observation of some memorable 49er moments from the past.) True to form of the ‘west coast offense’ these concepts are excellent ball control, short passing plays which rely on accuracy and timing between the QB & WRs to take advantage of different defensive structures and coverages.
Snag is a great passing concept that is used at all levels. Read a breakdown from Chris Brown, of smartfootball.com, on how it’s used in the college game here and in the NFL here (from NY Times Fifth Down Blog). One of the great things about the snag concept is that it has a high value against both man and zone coverages, and when packaged with quick game route combinations on the backside of the play, answers to strong and weak-side pressures as well.
Brown continues to explain the play in detail:
The snag is a variant of the smash, where one point is to get a high-low with the corner route and the flat route (except now the flat is controlled by the runningback), with the added dimension of an outside receiver running the “snag” route — a one-step slant where he settles inside at 5-6 yards. This gives you a “triangle” stretch, where you have both a high/low read (corner to RB in the flat) and a horizontal read from inside to outside (snag route to the RB in the flat).
Here is a basic college playbook excerpt diagramming the play:
Here is a west coast playbook example of X & Z Spot:
The top left diagram on the second page is an example of packaging the snag concept with a quick game concept. Here we used a simple slant/arrow combination to take advantage of a pressing slot defender with no safety help over the top – hoping to clear out the underneath defender to hit the slant against off-man coverage. If the QB was to see a safety over the top of the two WRs before the snap, then he would look to the snag side and read the flat defender to decide where to go with the ball.
I found some good video clips illustrating this diverse but simple concept on Youtube from otowncoach and Bodezepha. The first clip is from Mike Leach and his wide open ‘airraid’ offense, made popular at Texas Tech University, and incorporates the mesh concept (read more about the mesh concept and the ‘airraid’ offense here). The remaining clips are from the HS level and display how simple the play can be in terms of execution:
This next cutup is from the 2010 season and is a compilation of Arizona State Offensive Coordinator, Noel Mazzone’s, use of his ‘3-man’ snag concept – notice the HOT throw against a strong side zone blitz executed at the 37 second mark:
Coach Mazzone also runs a ‘2-man’ version of the snag/spot concept which essentially works as a horizontal stretch on underneath coverage and is an excellent high percentage short yardage play as well:
Another high percentage and widely used concept similar to the Snag and Spot concepts is the Y-Stick concept. Y-Stick is similar to Snag and Spot in the attempt to stretch the underneath coverage horizontally with a fast hitting route in the flat (usually a RB swinging or running an arrow or shoot type route). The play can also be packaged in the same vein as Snag and has similar pre-snap capabilities to deal with man, zone and blitz.
Here is Y-Stick from the college playbook:
As you can see, there are many different personnel, formation and motion variations to use around this concept. Many spread and airraid teams have adapted the play in the packaging manner described previously with Snag. For example, view the video below, from EAPlayMaker, to see how Dana Holgerson (noted Mike Leach and airraid disciple), now the Head Coach at West Virginia University, employed the play as Offensive Coordinator for the University of Houston:
For SF west coast offense purists, enjoy this litany of additional cutups of the SF 49ers running y-stick. Check out Ricky Waters at the 7:43 mark scoring a 55 yard touchdown against the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, breaking the game open on a variation of the play called ‘X-stick H Seam’. The great thing that the 49ers coaching staff did prior to that game, in the regular season and playoffs (also included in film), was to run a lot of Y-stick from similar formations and motions. This probably started to give defenses a false sense of security as their underneath players would anticipate the play when they recognized familiar sets and motions consistent with down and distance breakdowns (from film study) – prompting them to jump the flat and stick routes. 49ers Offensive Coordinator at the time, Mike Shanahan, took advantage of this conditioned stimulus response he was creating, and added variations such as Stick Nod (a double move by the TE), and Stick Lion (a quick skinny route from the back-side to take advantage of weak ILB strong flow to the primary side), but saved the most effective quick strike variation with the H seam component for the title game of the 1994 season. This play was able to rip a whole right through the heart of the Charger Defense as they undoubtedly overplayed the arrow route and became vulnerable to Waters’ fine tuned route running and pass receiving skills (a quintessential element of the ‘west coast offense’) as he faked to the flat and burst to the seam for a dramatic throw, catch and run. The best part is that they set the whole thing up and most likely knew they were going to score on that play from that area of the field before they ever kicked off to start the game. Now that’s planning for success.
Previous to the Steve Young, Brent Jones, Jerry Rice, and Ricky Waters version, there is also footage of the stick concept’s effectiveness on scoring plays from Joe Montana to Rice in the 49ers 1989 Super Bowl XXIV victory over the Denver Broncos. Mike Holmgren was the offensive coordinator who molded Walsh’s concept into a true staple through the likes of Montana, Jones, Rice, and Roger Craig. At the 3:12 mark Montana hits Rice on a back-side ‘sit’ or ‘replace’ route as his number 3 receiver in progression for a 20 yard touchdown pass (film from Bodezepha):
The New Orleans Saints ‘spacing’ concept shares similar elements with snag, spot and y-stick as well (from Bodezepha):
Here, Purdue University uses some creative empty and bunch formations using the 2-man & 3-man snag concepts and a ‘double stick’ concept – a variation of y-stick (from EAPlayMaker):
Now, when you recognize these plays on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday in the fall, you can play armchair quarterback with the best of them and let the naysayers know that the ‘west coast offense’ is still alive and well today . . . and it is all over the football land scape from high school to the pros.