The Urban Meyer Base Pass Offense Part III: the Meyer/Herman Collaboration

By Ross Fulton on May 16, 2013 at 2:00p

Today I pick up my examination of Urban Meyer's base offense, specifically his passing game concepts. I shift from the base pass plays that comprised Meyer's offense since he became a head coach at Bowling Green to those that have become prominent since his move to Ohio State and collaboration with Tom Herman.


Of those more recent concepts, snag is perhaps first and foremost.

Snag is an example of a triangle stretch that I described last week. In brief, an offense can never be sure what coverage a defense will run. A triangle stretch seeks to combat that by providing both a vertical and horizontal read that gives an quarterback options no matter what coverage is presented. The goal, in effect, is use three wide receivers to incorporate two route combinations into one play. 

Snag is generally run into trips (i.e. three receivers to one side). The middle receiver runs a corner route, the inside receiver a flat route, and the outside receiver runs a mini-curl, looking to sit down in available space.  

Chris Brown writes that this combination provides a quarterback the following options

As a general matter, against a Cover Two defense the quarterback will have a high/low read of the cornerback; if he sinks back he can throw it to the inside receiver in the flat; if the cornerback drops he will throw it to the corner route behind the cornerback [Editor's Note--This hi/lo is similar to the 'Smash' concept]. Against a Cover Three defense, the cornerback should take away the corner route by dropping into the deep third, but the snag/mini-curl and the flat should put a horizontal stretch on the flat defender and one of the two should be open. [Editor's Note--This is similar to a curl/flat combination].

In other words, snag is effectively a combination of smash and curl/flat. Against man coverage, the corner route could beat his man deep, or the mini-curl can work to get open in space, similar to the H-option play.

One can see why this play would be appealing to Meyer. It is another opportunity for a receiver to find space inside to get open against underneath coverage. The snag route also initially looks like a shallow cross, making the plays look alike and preventing a defense from pattern reading

OSU particularly likes this play off sprint out action. Last year the coaching staff moved Corey Brown around to feature on snag, depending on the objective. When they were seeking third down conversions they put him outside and let him work to get open on the curl.

When OSU was in the red-zone they liked to place Brown in the slot, and use the mini-curl as a natural pick for the flat route.


Levels was another OSU staple last fall, particularly against cover-1 or cover-2. The concept is essentially a mirror of the shallow cross play drive. The outside receiver runs a 5 yard in route, with the inside receiver running a 10-12 yard square in. 

The goal is to create a hi-lo vertical stretch on an underneath linebacker. The read is from the underneath route to the square-in. If the defense provides the underneath route the offense takes it. For instance, in the clip below, the inside linebacker deepens to the square-in, allowing the underneath route to come open.

Like snag, levels also mirrors another play, namely smash, another base concept against cover-2. With smash the outside receiver runs a 5 yard hitch, while the inside receiver runs a corner route.


The vertical releases look identical to defenders, again preventing a defense from jumping routes based upon the receivers' initial movement.

By now, a pattern should become clear regarding why Meyer likes certain plays, levels included. If it a) allows his receivers to exploit the middle of the field versus underneath defenders and b) looks similar to other pass patterns to prevent a defense from knowing what is coming, chances are good that it will be a Meyer staple. 

Combining Concepts

An additional 'evolution' for Meyer's offensive scheme is not a play but an idea – combining two passing game concepts. The genesis of the idea comes from the same purpose as triangle routes. An offense cannot know what the defense will do, so a play caller puts different concepts on either side that are good against different coverages. As I wrote last summer.

As with combining a run and pass, the basic premise is to provide an offense options against today's more versatile defenses.  Though a bit simplified, defenses used to hang their hat on a particular coverage, whether it be cover 3 or the 'Tampa 2.'  Passing concepts, in turn, are designed to attack one, perhaps two, coverages.  For example smash is a route designed to attack cover 2, with a 2 on 1 vertical stretch of the cornerback (see below). 

But if the defense is not in cover 2 or otherwise adjusts, the offense is not left with an ideal play call. With defenses increasingly mixing coverages, an offense is increasingly faced with this dilemma.

Enter the idea of combining concepts.  The idea is to put a separate coverage beater to each side.  For example, an offense can put a route combination that works against cover 2 to one side and cover 3 to the opposite side.  Or the offense can place a route that works for zone to one side and man coverage opposite.

The quarterback reads his usual keys pre and post snap.  Is the middle of the field open (cover 2, 4) or closed (cover 1, 3)?  Once his keys confirm the coverage, he simply works the progression to the appropriate coverage beater to that side.

Meyer and Herman like combining a concept that works the middle of the field with one that attacks outside the hash marks. For instance, one favorite is combining a shallow crossing route such as drive or follow with smash. Another is combining double slants with snag. This combination has the added benefit of different timing for the disparate concepts. Double slants is a quick game play good against man coverage or cover 2 (again providing a hi-lo on a linebacker). The quarterback takes one step (from the shotgun) and reads the play side linebacker. If neither slant is open, the quarterback can then take re-set himself and read the snag progression to the opposite side.

Meyer and Herman's collaboration thus has a common theme. Implementing passing game plays that deal with increasingly complex defensive looks, while remaining true to the passing game principles that Meyer prizes.

Next week I will complete my review of Meyer's offense by examining his emphasis on the play action and movement passing game.


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Roger's picture

"As a general matter, against a Cover Two defense the quarterback will have a high/low read of the quarterback"

The second "quarterback" should be "cornerback".

yrro's picture

Awesome stuff, Ross.
I'm curious - what is the defense's counter to the combo routes, or something like snag where it's at least a good route against most coverage? Get to the QB before someone gets open?
I get how by disguising coverages, the defense can win the rock paper scissors matchup and end up in a cover-2 against a cover-1 or man beater, but what is the defensive fix for something that works against both? I read so much awesome stuff on offense and wonder how it can ever be stopped other than just being out-executed... but obviously it is, somehow, at least some of the time.
Your write-ups are the highlight of my week, though. Thanks.

omahabeef1337's picture

I agree with everything Yrro said, including being a highlight of my week. I always look forward to these on Thursdays. I also have wondered the same thing about defenses. It seems lots of offenses work on paper, but you don't see every team scoring 50 points a game. Is that just because of execution?

buckeyeblur5's picture

I'll throw in my 2 cents, I hope it helps. :-)
It's important to remember that defenses are just as complex as offenses at the collegiate level.  They have answers on paper to everything an offense can do.  Watch the clip of the sprint out snag completion vs. Michigan.  Michigan runs a zone blitz, leaving themselves a player short in pass coverage yet they still have 3 defenders for 3 receivers at the top of the screen.  They accomplish this by "flooding" their zones to the 3 WR side meaning that the underneath defenders push their zones farther over than they normally would vs. a balanced formation.  However, 2 of Michigan's defenders lose their footing leaving 2 OSU receivers wide open.  Execution.  If nobody falls down Braxton is given a choice between throwing #86 a jump ball and trying to fit in a tough pass to #6.  
What if Michigan had not zone blitzed and simply played cover 3?  They would have had yet another linebacker flooding his zone to the 3 WR side, making the play even tougher to complete.  Yet on paper it looks like there is no way a Cover 3 can cover snag.  Hence why games are not played on paper.
Take Snag vs. Cover 2.  In a cover 2 defense you have a flat defender, a deep 1/2 defender, and a curl zone defender to each side.  In the snag route you have a deep corner route (covered by the deep 1/2 player), a flat route (covered by the flat player), and a min-curl or "spot" route (covered by the curl player).  In theory Cover 2 should be just fine vs. Snag.  However, that does not take into account how difficult it is for a deep 1/2 safety to cover the corner route.  In order to assist with this many Cover 2 teams have their corner "sink" underneath this route to force the QB to make a tough decision on where to throw the ball.  I have also seen staffs where the Corner is coached to "bait" the QB by playing heavy on the flat route and then sinking underneath the corner route at the last moment to go for an INT.
Hopefully these few examples help illustrate that football is not a rock/paper/scissors game.  Certain defenses are easier to execute vs. certain plays and certain offensive plays are easier to execute vs. certain defenses.  But in the end coaches are going to teach schemes that can work against everything.  Hence why football strategy is not necessarily about WHAT you do but rather HOW you do it.

Ross Fulton's picture

On the one hand there is a reason that 'triangle stretches' are increasingly popular. On the other, their versatility is also their weakness. That is particularly true horizontally. A curl flat pattern uses all 5 receivers across the field. A cover 3 defense cannot cover it with four underneath defenders.

A triangle stretch, on the other hand, only gives you a 2-man stretch. A defense can rotate their coverage towards the trips to try to take it away. To combat that an offense can put a tag on the backside receiver, but that guy has to be able to beat their man...

buckeyeblur5's picture

Ross, what do you mean by "A triangle stretch...only gives you a 2-man stretch?"  Isn't a triangle always a 3 man stretch since a triangle has 3 sides?

Ross Fulton's picture

Sorry if that was confusing.  A triangle stretch only gives you a two man vertical stretch or horizontal stretch.  As opposed to getting a five man horizontal stretch that you would with say a curl-flat pattern.

In other words, you are limiting your 'stretch' to one part of the field. Which is why defenses can roll their coverage to try and take it away (as opposed to if it was across the entire field).

216ToThe614's picture

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I remember reading an interview of Braxton and Stoneburner for the play against Penn State shown above and heard Braxton say he told Jake to run a go route and he would get him the ball due to the slower and undersized safety covering him. So wouldn't that make the play almost schoolyard-esque in its made up nature? I just didn't understand how that was still a 'Snag', 'Smash' or 'Double Crosses' concept. The left side of the field seems to run a 'Snag' but it has nothing to do with the play, it was just a decoy. Other then that great stuff, as always. Looking forward to next week's material!

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!

omahabeef1337's picture

That was a double slant, was it not? I think Stoneburner just got more vertical once he had inside leverage.

yrro's picture

The plays are just a guideline - you always have to adjust your route to the guy guarding you, within the limits of the play concept.
Just because they didn't throw to the other side doesn't make it not part of the play concept - it just means that Brax knew with the matchup he had on with Stoneburner he was going to look there first.

Ross Fulton's picture

One man's two concepts is another man's decoy. As I just alluded to, when teams see trips, they are going to tend to roll their coverage to that side. OSU wants the defense to see snag, see snag, then overplay it.

Once they do that, then you get favorable match-ups on the backside, and just have to beat one man inside with double slants and you are off to the races.

buckeyeblur5's picture

"I just didn't understand how that was still a 'Snag', 'Smash' or 'Double Crosses' concept. The left side of the field seems to run a 'Snag' but it has nothing to do with the play, it was just a decoy."
The play is called something like this: "Thunder Right 51 X Snag Z Slant"
Thunder Right puts the Z and Y on the right with the other receivers in a Spread Bunch on the left.  51 is the pass protection (5 man protection with the man on the left side, zone on the right).  X Snag means that on the X side the receivers are running the Snag concept.  Z Slant means that on the Z side the receivers are running the slant concept.
Snag is easier to execute vs. Zone.  Slant is easier to execute vs. Man.
Braxton comes to the line.  Pause the video at :02.  Every single defender is within 6 yards of the line of scrimmage.  Each split receiver has 1 defender lined up over them.  This looks like man.  Since Braxton gets a pre-snap read of man he simply disregards the snag concept and throws the slant concept.  It is a slant, the reason it looks kind of like a go route is because Braxton waits longer than normal to make the throw since a linebacker dropped under the original route.
The reason the snag route wasn't just a decoy is because if Penn State had shown a zone coverage pre-snap Braxton should have looked to the snag side.  In this case the slant concept would look like a decoy.
Herman packages a different concept on each side so that we have an easy play to execute, in theory, no matter what the defense does.  Hope that helps. :-)

Ross Fulton's picture

Great post--Couldn't have said it better myself. 


As BuckeyeBlur5 indicates, Meyer's dropback series is 50 and 51. 50 indicates half slide right, 51 half slide left. 


Perhaps the better example (which I also have in my Penn State post) is the earlier double slant completion to Spencer. Same play. Its just on this one Stoney and Braxton made a nice adjustment.

216ToThe614's picture

Thanks guys! Just trying to understand :P (This makes me sooooo much better at NCAA 13)

Pick up your feet, turn your corners square! And DRIVE DRIVE DRIVE!!!

Hovenaut's picture

This offense is going to be nasty......

SilverBulletNYC's picture

Thank you, Ross. Another great article!

The South will NOT rise again!

Crimson's picture

Must figure out way to upvote staff . . .