The 4 Verticals Pass Play

The base concept of most spread offenses is the 4 verticals pass play. This concept gives the Air Raid Offense the ability to strike down the field and attack multiple coverages. The 4 vertical play is often referred to as a deep pass pattern but, in reality, the ball should not be in the quarterback’s hands more than two or three seconds. The play is designed to strike fear into the defense and dictate what coverages they are willing to play. Over the past few seasons we have seen a steady increase in the number of split safety teams because our offense has been outstanding at throwing for large totals of yardage against one-high safety teams. The 4 verticals play makes it very hard for the defense to stay in a one-high safety look because the room to throw the ball into the seams is so large.

The #1 receiver on both sides of the ball in a 2×2 formation runs a fade route and tries to get behind the deep defender. The #2 receivers will run seam routes two yards outside the hash marks and stay locked into those seams if the coverage is a one-high safety look (Diagram #1).

If the coverage observed is a two-high safety look, then the outside receivers will still run fade routes and the Y receiver will stay on a locked seam route two yards outside the hashmarks but the H back will change his seam route into a post route. The H back is coached to avoid the outside linebacker by any means necessary and then break his route into the open area between the two safeties (Diagram #2). The T back is running an option route over the ball at four yards to hold the linebackers. If the linebackers bail into coverage, then the T back is an easy outlet for the quarterback.

A basic rule of thumb that we have given our receivers in regards to two high safeties is that if these safeties are on the hash when the receiver gets to 12 yards, then they turn the route into a dig. If the safeties are bailing off the hash, then the receiver should turn the route into a post. If the defense plays quarters coverage, where the safety is staying with the seam runner, then the dig route is easier to run than the post route. This sort of subtle change has made the routes more effective for us. The post is an easier route to throw when the defense is playing true cover 2 and the dig route is much easier to throw when the defense is playing more of a cover 4 look.


Diagram #1. Texas Tech vs. Cover 3

Diagram #2. Texas Tech vs. Cover 4