Phrase of the Day: Rub Play & The Pick, a deeper look into each

The phrase of the day is the “rub play”, it’s been addressed briefly here, but will expand on it more below.

The rub play is a legal offensive concept if it is done correctly.

Rub Route simply explained
NFL Rub Route

Part 1 shows the play diagram and the intentions of both the offense (routes) and the defense (man coverage).

The X & Y Receiver are going to run the rub game before getting into their routes. They do this to try to make the two DBs crash into each other. If this happens then both receivers likely get a free release and could easily lead to a big play.

At times, one of the receivers might be more of a sacrificial lamb with the offensive plan being that they are trying to free X or Y on any given play, but normally both will still shift out into a route.

One key is for the offensive guy not to initiate contact with the defender  one yard beyond the LOS, but you are wanting the defender to change his course, or slow him down a bit to give your teammate a chance to get open.

At the bottom of the post you will see a graphic with the Pass Interference Rules listed. One area to concentrate on is Article 4. It states.

“Blocking more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage by an offensive player prior to a pass being thrown is offensive pass interference.” 

The key for the rub route is for the contact to occur less within that one yard frame. If it does, it’s perfectly legal.  This is also why “pick” plays (with contact)  downfield are illegal 100% of the time even if some are actually missed by the six blind mice.


Rub Route NFL
Rub Route NFL

Part 2 is divided into an offensive portion and a defensive portion.


Please note that you will see 2 of each player, and they are the same player just simply further down the field.

If the rub route works correctly then the N and CB aren’t step for step with the X & Y, but are a bit behind them.  In a perfect world  the QB is hitting the X in stride for a touchdown. They don’t always work, but they normally give the offense an edge, otherwise they wouldn’t be run. The Broncos during the Peyton Manning era(sans Kubiak) and the Patriots* have been the best at running them over the past 5+ years. Wes Welker was hard to cover in either uniform. He was lethal around the goal line, which is one reason he had a career high 10 TD catches in 2013. It will be nice to see Mike McCoy return this concept to the playbook and have it run at higher rate than say the last two seasons (Kubiak).


From a defensive perspective they can be hard to stop. The defense generally has two ways to approach it.

A) Stay with your assignment. In the first image above, you see the N locked on Y and the CB locked on X in man-to-man coverage.  Staying with your assignment is where more contact tends to occur because the DB is moving with the WR.

B) Switch men after the WR make their move.  This is shown in the 2nd graphic as you see the CB is now with the Y who is running an out, and the N is now with the X whose running a hybrid/slant/in route. Routes aren’t exactly as precise when they are following the rub game because contact is unpredictable and it is about getting open at that point.

Pick Plays

Often, the Rub and the Pick are used interchangeably, and the people that do that aren’t entirely wrong because the rub at LOS is a pick play it’s simply a legal variation of it if run correctly. When they aren’t run correctly they turn into pick plays and if the refs catch it then it’s flagged as Offensive Pass Interference, which is a 10-yard penalty and you repeat the down. One thing to keep in mind on the play diagramed below. Nothing about it is a rub. It’s set to be a pick and that is where a lot of  minor confusion comes from. The Rub is at the LOS, it is a form of a pick, but the pick is downfield.

NFL Pick Play
Pick Play NFL

The play above is shown being run by the New England Patriots* as an example of this of a pick play. It sets their two most popular targets up to feed off of a pick. Rob Gronkowski (87) is such a physical specimen that when he’s on a SS, even T.J. Ward is often a mismatch.

Teams usually need to dedicate an extra body to him, but on this play, he’s running a drag route that crosses the slant route run by Julian Edelman (11).  The routes are in red so that they stand out from the other Patriot routes (in navy).  They run this game quite a bit and get away with it quite often because they both are running routes, as long as they avoid contact with the opposition it’s within the rules, but there are times that contact is made and a flag is dropped.

With Gronkowski being so big and Edelman being so quick it’s a great contrast where any hesitation by the defense favors the Patriots*. If it looks like one is intentionally trying to set up the other, then it increases the chances of the OPI(offensive pass interference)  flag being thrown.

Pass Interference Rules

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