A lot of ink has been spilled over the past year about Todd Haley's emphasis on quick throws and quick decisions by Ben Roethlisberger. What hasn't really been explained, however, is how that emphasis actually translates into plays on Sunday. In this article, I'll try to give an example of a play that illustrates the quick passing concept, and how having a running back that can catch can fit into this concept.
The concept I am going to illustrate is called the "Snag" concept. It has been popularized in college football by Noel Mazzone, currently the offensive coordinator at UCLA. Snag looks like this:
Image courtesy of Smartfootball.com
The play involves a High-Low read with a receiver and a running back and another receiver (in this picture, the Z receiver) running the Snag route. In the above example, the defense is playing Cover 3. Therefore, the Z receiver settles and runs a curl. If the defense was playing man, the Z would attack the outside shoulder of the linebacker and then instead of settling, he would burst back out towards the sidelines.
If Wes Welker catches 100 balls a year, 75 of them come with this route. This is a timing throw. Normally three steps from shotgun and five steps from under center, as soon as the QB hits his last step, the ball should be out. The QB will know pre-snap if he wants to take a shot deep. The illustration throws a flag route by the tight end. It could be a post from a wide receiver. Teams don't make a living off of the deep throw. The snag route combined with the flat route is where teams move the chains and get first downs.
Against cover 3 (as illustrated) the flat defender is put in a bind. Does he jump the snag route? If so, there is no one within 8 yards of the flat route. If he reacts to the flat route, it is pitch and catch between the QB and the Z receiver.
Against cover 2, the corner has the flat. But, the corner has to sink when he gets the go route from the wide receiver or tight end. In cover 2, the safety cannot get beat deep. Their alignment pre snap is going to be about 15 yards deep. They are then going to backpedal another 5 yards at the snap. Therefore, if the corner doesn't sink, the QB is going to throw a laser to the receiver running deep at about 15 yards. Once again, pitch and catch.
When the corner sinks, he is one on one with the running back with a lot of grass around them. The QB can always just throw the snag against cover 2. With the hashes being so narrow in the NFL, the flat is a very large area. It is a lot of ground for the corner to cover. So, when the Z bursts back out to the sidelines (away from the linebacker), there is no way the corner can react. The corner has to respect the flat route. This is where having a slot receiver that is extremely quick becomes so valuable. Hence why Tavon Austin became so a hot commodity during the draft process.
Against man, the snag routes forms a natural pick against the linebacker that has the running back man to man. A great route against man and against the blitz. The Snag route is an automatic hot route. No need to sight adjust or any of that stuff. Just run the Snag.
Really, the only way to defend against this route is to get immediate pressure up the middle. If the offense executes, the play is almost impossible to stop. It is a great first down play to create rhythm for the offense and keep it on schedule. Moreover, it gets the ball quickly into the hands of the offense's two biggest playmakers: the slot receiver and the running back. However, only if the running back can catch.
Willie Parker couldn't catch a cold. Rashad Mendenhall could catch, but Arians seemed to be so infatuated with throwing the ball deep to Mike Wallace, an 8 yard completion seemed to cause him heartburn. As was mentioned previously, the Steelers have pointed out repeatedly that they are excited about Le'Veon Bell's ability to catch the football. It's one thing to be able to catch; it's another thing to be able to catch the ball fluidly and consistently so that yards can be gained after the catch.
The flare route from the running back really puts the defense in a bind with the Snag route. It opens up the Snag route to the Z and allows the Z the opportunity to get yards after the catch. Because of the timing of the throw, it allows the QB a quick and easy throw that can very easily turn into a big play. Routes like this is what the Steelers' offense needs. It is something that keeps the offense consistent and on schedule. It moves the chains while still getting the ball in the hands of the biggest playmakers. Whether the Steelers run the Snag route or something else, having a running back (whether it is Bell or LaRod Stephens-Howling) that can catch greatly opens up the offense.