In yesterday’s scouting report of Ladarius Green, I touched on one concept I saw used in the red zone in San Diego that worked to a high level of success. The slot fade. I wanted to explore it more in a separate post and look at what San Diego did, what Todd Haley does, and how the two can be married.
Wrote it up yesterday but as a refresher to what the idea is. Run a vertical route from the slot, stemming your route slightly outside. It’s an extremely difficult route for a defender to cover, especially if they are head up or have inside leverage. The defender is forced to defend the vertical and horizontal elements without the benefit of the sideline. Puts the defender in a tough spot.
The Steelers used it to success last year, even in some 3rd and short situations.
This first example comes on 3rd and 6 against New England in the opener. 3×1 set. The #1 receiver runs a curl to the sticks to hold the corner. Antonio Brown, lined up as the #2 in the slot, against a cornerback with inside leverage (man-free), releases outside and stems his route halfway between the numbers and the sideline. The pass connects for a gain of 37.
Fast forward a couple weeks later and the Steelers run it again, this time on 3rd and 3, against the San Diego Chargers. Same exact playcall, 3×1 with identical route combinations, only with Mike Vick under center. The coverage is better from the corner, pushing Brown off his spot, and frankly, Brown sort of slows up to the ball, expecting a flag.
There were other examples of similar or identical calls from Haley. But now, you get the idea.
How can Green fit in?
We know the Chargers used the same route from him. Only their preference was to use it near the red zone. Twice, Philip Rivers hit Green for a pair of 19 yard touchdowns over a span of three weeks. Let’s look at them.
The first is one we highlighted yesterday. 3×2 with mirrored concepts on the outside. Each #2 receiver, Green is to the bottom, runs the slot fade with the #1 faking a quick screen to again, hold the outside corner. With the Packers rotating to Cover 1 Robber, single high safety, linebacker Clay Matthews has zero help on Green. And that is a definite mismatch in the NFL. Rivers floats the ball in perfectly, Green tracks it, makes the grab, and finishes the catch.
And here it is versus Cleveland, the one we didn’t show you yesterday. Empty set again, 3×2, dressed a little differently, but still the same idea. Mirrored concept to each side. Browns are in a blitz-heavy look and drop out, but it’s still essentially Cover 0 over the top. No help for anyone. Green runs the slot fade over Donte Whitner, who is unable to compete at the catch point. Green finds it, adjusts, and scores.
I know many of you were asking about what Green can bring to fix the offense’s red zone woes. I hadn’t ignored or discounted it, though it runs a little deeper than tall players equate to success.
But this is a concept I’d expect Pittsburgh to implement in its red zone offense, given Green’s obvious strengths and matchup problems. If I’m Haley, I’m hiding it in the preseason, busting it out Week One, and wishing the defense the best of luck in figuring how the heck to stop it. Because if you’re in single high coverage, you aren’t doing it.