Drag routes and Crossing patterns. What they look like and why they’re used.

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Let’s start with the Drag route. A simple route that can be run by  most receivers, slots, tight ends, or outside receivers.  They come off the ball and gradually get depth.  Some are extremely shallow at no more than 5 yards, and they can go between 5-10 yards or slightly longer.

Drag route
NFL Drag Route

Drag routes are a form of a crossing pattern, with most crossing patterns deeper down the field. It’s a pretty simple release with the receiver getting depth as he goes. From a time perspective, it’s the anti-slant, because it’s usually further down in the QB’s progressions, the receiver is often on the other side of the field, though he can be hit over the middle with them, as well.

The idea of a crossing pattern is for the WR to drag his guy with him. It’s a man nightmare. Your CB is now chasing you across the field through his own guys. If run well, he’s behind you, either in depth or width. Some receivers run it off of the Umpire when he’s positioned behind the Linebackers in the Red Zone.

If it’s Zone or a combo coverage, the OC will want to have another receiver in the area so he has to cover two guys. These need to be run often as dummy routes so defenses don’t know when to play man/Zone and which guy is the real target.

If the crossing route is heading to the left and it’s not the quarterback’s first read, this can become a difficult pass as he’s throwing across his body and to the opposite side. Plus, for a right handed receiver, he’s catching with his recessive side.

In man, having two receivers, each on either side of the ball, cross each other mid field, can make it a pick play (similar to the Umpire above), depending on the depth. If two corners are chasing their receivers and they cross each other, they’re running into a whole lotta traffic.

Crossing pattern, equal depth

If the receiver’s route is under ten yards, it’s a shallow. Over ten, it’s deep. An example of Shallow is shown above. An example of Deep is shown below.

Deep crossing pattern

One tool that crossing patterns can do, is see if they can get their CB to follow them. The Blue Angels have a maneuver where two pilots fly right at each other, at the last second they each do a 90° turn coming within inches of each other. A thrill to see. Now, imagine bad guys are on their tails. When the planes do their rolls, their chasers don’t know in time and are now facing each other and kaboom.

These are called pick plays. The difference between rub/pick is the depth (click here for a more in-depth look at it). To avoid getting into a rules clinic at this point, if there is contact, it has to happen within one yard of the Line of scrimmage, otherwise a flag will be called. The concept is to create traffic, allowing at least one of the receivers to go free. One is generally the primary target on these plays and the rest of the receivers run dummy routes to draw defenders down the field.

Below is referred to as a Hi-Low combo route with one receiver going deeper and the other one cutting across underneath. It’s another choice, like every crossing pattern in man coverage, that uses a defense against themselves.

Hi-Low combo crossing pattern

The beauty of this play when run correctly, if a QB has the arm and vision to complete it, it confuses defenders. Safeties aren’t sure who’s getting the ball by reading the QB’s eyes because two guys are an option, same for linebackers. An added wrinkle is having the Z or X run a separate route down the sideline. It gives a quarterback two options at almost the same depth, if run correctly, both defenders are behind the football. The bad part is, if the quarterback is off a touch, there’s a lot a guys around to pick it.

Crossing routes can be used in any combo with any amount of eligible hands.

This is just another piece of the puzzle that the offensive coordinator and the quarterback have at their disposal to attack the defense.

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