The “smash” route against man coverage

I have previously discussed the smash concept, where an outside receiver runs a short flat or “hitch” route while an inside receiver breaks to the corner. The play works well against cover two zones in particular because it puts the cornerback in a bind: if he plays the man in front of him he opens up a big are for the quarterback to throw the corner route behind him.


One reason this play is useful, however, is because it does more than attack this zone aspect. Again man-to-man coverage the corner route is a very good option — so long as the throw is precise and the route is good. One reason for this is because many defenses who play man coverage use inside leverage to take away the quick slant passes that can gash them for big plays and are easy throws.

Cover 1 RobberMoreover, many man defenses use a deep free-safety or an inside “floater” or “robber” player whose job is simply to read the quarterback’s eyes. The advantage of the corner route is that the throw is away from all these inside defenders who can gum up a normal “who has beaten his man” read.

Finally, the fact that it is the inside receiver rather than the outside one who runs the corner route can get the offense some favorable matchups: Most defenses put their cornerbacks in man coverage on the outside receivers; the inside receivers are thus often guarded by safeties or linebackers or substitute “nickel back” players.

All of these advantages were on display in Penn State’s game against Michigan, as the Nittany Lions scored on the same smash concept from the same formation against the same coverage (indeed, same receiver) twice. Below is a diagram of their play, followed by video, courtesy of mgoblog.


Below is the video:

  • DrB

    We also expect this to be on display for the FSU v Clemson game this weekend. Jimbo loves the Smash pattern.

  • Deaux

    Smash has almost become a better play against one safety defenses than against 2 safety pattern read defenses.

    A well coached split safety team that reps pattern read during practice has the smash route as it’s number defensed play. Unfortunately, I have seen this first hand.

    In the clip above you can see the corner turn his hips away from the post corner or towards the smash route. He also widens, which is almost a sure give away that it’s the smash.

    A good pattern read team will eat this up. Instead of playing just the smash, he can play both the smash and get underneath the post corner for a pass breakup.

  • Co-ach

    We have an adjustment vs two safeties that we call crush. It is Smash to the boundary with a go and a post to the field. We have played against some teams with overly aggressive safeties that float over the top against the corner. Our response is to replace his void with a post. If the backside safety overplays the post we have a one on one 9 route. We have our best deep ball WR on this route.


    Yeah, Dr. B is right.

    Clemson pattern reads and FSU probably throws the smash better than any team in the country.

  • Jason A. Staples

    With as much man-free as FSU plays, I’d be surprised if Clemson didn’t run smash a good bit with Jacoby Ford in the slot. Clemson has put their fastest receiver in the slot for years against FSU, who nearly always puts a much slower safety one-on-one against a burner.

  • steve sharik

    “One reason for this is because many defenses who play man coverage use inside leverage to take away the quick slant passes that can gash them for big plays and are easy throws.”

    This is why Greg Brown, among others, plays cover 1 (aka man-free) with corners in inside or outside leverage depending on the split of the WR. So, in the case explained above, for example, Stevie Brown would’ve been aligned in outside leverage. Yes, the slant is available, but with a MOF safety, it isn’t a TD.

    You may be wondering, “What if it’s cover 0 (i.e., no safety help)?” All defenders use inside leverage. Yes, Stevie Brown would’ve been susceptible to the corner route, but if the D is playing cover 0, they should be sending enough blitzers that the QB doesn’t have time to take a 5-7 step drop and throw a corner route. If he does, then the coverage scheme isn’t the problem; poor timing and/or poor gap responsibility by the blitzers is to blame.

  • Cover two vs Trips rotae the free safety alignment to the MOF then you have Cover two to the Trips side with Cover 1 to the weak Side.

  • sorry last comment was not complete. Free safety can play over the top on the post with Mike support underneath and help on the long ball to the single receiver side.

  • jgordon1

    as Chris said..the route must be presice and the throw accruate..another reason why teams play inside leverage is to have the ball thrown wide , with air and outside…We are only shown the successful routes…How many smash routes were incomplete in those games?

  • John Z

    Against man coverage, the outside WR runs an angle-in, pivot back out to the flat route. Only against zone coverage does the WR run a hitch route automatically. By running this route against man, the WR has some chance of getting open and being an outlet if need be.

  • Dirtybird

    We if we know it is man we like to tag routes by the outside guys. One other poster mentioned the pivot and that is okay but there are a few that we have had much more success with.

    We will take the outside WR and tag “follow” which means he lines up 2 yards outside the inside WR off the ball with in the inside man on the LOS. On the snap he runs inside #2 and climbs to 8 yards. This allows the C to cheat over the traffic. When the WR sees the corner is getting threw the traffic he immediately cuts back under the smash to the sideline. It’s a pick but never called.

    We couple that route and also run a mirrored smash/mesh look. Run it from ACE. Same alignment as above. Outside players will run mesh. If you have run the above route the corner will hesitate waiting for you to come back to him. T flares on either side. Mesh WR on T side should try and run under the OLB. If he can that should be the QBs first read because T will be wide open in the flat.

  • Mister Majestic

    I totally disagree with this entire concept. Maybe in college or above, but at the high school level, the Corner route is a low percentage pass.

    As a veteran high school coach for the last 15 years, my teams never run hitches or corners. Neither of them offer any advantages to our passing game. The worst play in football is All Hitches. The dumbest coaches in America, have All Hitches in their playbook. Whenever this comes up in conference meetings, I always ask them, what’s the read progression in All Hitches ? They have No clue.

    Within my system, we pass the ball about 80 percent of the time, & this pattern mentioned above by Chris, would be worthless to us. Cover 2 stops the Hitch, and the $ Safety plays the corner. Next ?

    And, BTW, my QB last season, set 4 new State passing records, so I apologize, but I DO have some credibility to speak on the subject.

    We don’t run ANY stop routes of ANY kind, like Hitches or Sticks, or Curls, or Hooks.
    All pass routes in my system are rhythm routes. They are MUCH harder to defend, and yet can still be designed within medium to high percentage pass patterns………….

  • Pingback: Advanced Football 101: Analyzing Georgia Tech’s Most Common Passing Plays – GuysGirl()