Understanding Urban: Smash & Grab, A Sticky Situation
By Ken Pryor
(Editor’s Note: Ken Pryor is an offensive coordinator who works with the wide receivers at North Point High School in Waldorf, Md. He has been a long-time contributor to The-Ozone, and has been asked to help us better understand Ohio State’s new offense since Urban Meyer was hired back in November.)
Did you ever wonder why coaches have playbooks that seem to rival the New York metropolitan area phone book?
One major reason could very well be the ‘Smash’ concept.
While the Smash concept is simple in theory, its execution seems to know no bounds in terms of formations and actual pass routes that are borne of it.
In our last installment of the Understanding Urban series, we talked about the bubble screen. It is a pass play which creates, then exploits, matchup problems for the defense when the ball is in the hands of playmakers in space.
Continuing with the theme of the concept-based passing game, let’s delve into the popularity of the Smash concept, which is being used by just about every high school, college and NFL team in the country.
The simplicity of the ‘Smash’ concept, coupled with its versatility, makes it a great route combination for any offensive passing game.
Let’s take a look at just what the Smash concept is, and why so many teams at all levels are inclined to incorporate it into their passing attacks.
Stretching the Defense
When trying to exploit a defense in ‘zone coverage,’ offensive coordinators look to force defenders to cover more area than they possibly can. This is called “stretching” a defense, which can be done either horizontally or vertically.
The Smash concept creates a vertical stretch on the defense.
Creating the Vertical Stretch
The vertical stretch is created by the Smash concept as it places stress on the cornerback and safety to one or both sides of the field. The “stretch” is created with the route combination of the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers.
The No. 1 receiver (the receiver furthest away from the line of scrimmage) will run a shorter route, such as a simple hitch route at 5-7 yards. He MUST sell the route. In other words, the receiver must come out of his stance hard, making the defender think he is running a deeper route.
I like to use the term “getting out of the gate hard and fast” with my own players. We liken the process to a horse at the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby.
The actual football term is called “driving,” and the aiming point for the receiver is at the shoulder of the cornerback across from him. If the corner is inside of him, he will open to the outside. If the corner is outside, he will open inside.
If the receiver has created space — which can only happen by driving hard and forcing the defensive back to open his hips to turn and run sooner than he desires — the quarterback will look to complete the pass to him on his “soft shoulder” — the side away from the defender.
The offensive coordinator should teach his quarterback to look for the ‘high-low’ void created by the stretching action of the routes. The high-low void occurs when/if the corner stays up tight to take away the hitch route.
That opens a window for the No. 2 receiver to catch the ball behind him.
The No. 2 receiver is running a corner route. He drives off the ball aiming directly at the deep safety, running right on the hash to a depth of 8-12 yards, then breaking out at an angle path toward the corner pylon. This ball will be caught between 17-25 yards deep, right over top of the corner.
The safety has to stay deeper than any receiver, so the pass is caught underneath him.
The Final Piece of the Puzzle
The final element of the Smash is what happens in the middle. While the corners and safeties are occupied by the vertical stretch pulling them toward the outside, the middle of the field is left open.
Now, the middle linebacker could defend this area — but only some of it.
Any offensive coordinator not named Jim Bollman would see this void and attack it with impunity by releasing a running back into the open area. If the middle backer drops back into deep coverage (a la Tampa 2 coverage), the back will curl underneath and replace the linebacker in the middle of the field at about 8 yards.
If the middle linebacker is sitting in that would-be curl area, the running back simply takes off down the middle of the field. Imagine that for a moment. An offense that takes full advantage of its speed mismatches.
Norm Chow would be proud, while Bollman would scoff at the craftiness, and it’s simplicity in nature. The same concept can be employed with a tight end, or even an H-back, with a backside seam route (aka “divide route”) to threaten the deep safeties.
The running back running over the top is illustrated in the photo below:
We’re going to find out if former Michigan standout Steve Everitt was right. Ohio State will be “stuck” with these guys; otherwise opposing defenses will be “stuck” trying to defend them.
As previously mentioned, the Smash concept is probably best utilized with some variation of routes on the backside designed to attack the middle of the field. Many teams teach the Smash to both sides as a “mirrored” concept.
In other words, the same route concept is being run on both sides of the line. Sometimes this concept is so good to the offense, a coordinator can become predictable as a play caller. The problem comes when both safeties overplay the corner routes to their respective sides of the field.
The backside read on this concept prevents the safety from overplaying the corner route. The quarterback reads the coverage then decides which side has the biggest advantage.
The read route can be taught different ways.
One way instructs the backside receiver to read the nearside safety. Based on what the safety does, the receiver will run a vertical go route, a post, or a dig (deep cross) route. Theoretically, in the Smash concept vs. cover 2 the strong safety will be occupied with the corner route.
The backside No. 2 receiver will be able to run the read route and post to the opening in the middle of the field. When running the Smash concept — or any concept for that matter — it is always good to have a backside option to keep the defense honest.
Backside read routes provide your offense with different options off the same play. In the song ‘One Note Samba,’ Sinatra said “Some people talk and talk and talk and say nothing.” They ought to call the backside read the ‘One Note Samba play,’ as it gives your offense the appearance of doing a lot while not really having done much of anything.
Smash vs. Man Coverage
One reason this play is particularly useful, however, is because it does more than attack this zone aspect. Against man-to-man coverage, the corner route is a very good option — so long as the throw is on the mark and the route is precise and crisp.
One reason for this is because many defenses that play man coverage use inside leverage to take away the easy quick slant passes.
Moreover, many man defenses use a deep free safety as a “robber,” whose job is simply to read the quarterback’s eyes. The robber can/will take away the seam route we previously discussed. However, the corner route is thrown away from him, rendering him powerless to stop it.
Finally, the inside receiver (rather than the outside receiver) runs the corner route, giving the offense a very favorable matchup. Most defenses put their cornerbacks in man coverage on the outside receivers; thus the inside receivers are guarded by safeties, linebackers or backup cornerbacks (i.e. “nickel back”).
With Ohio State’s stable of receivers, there is the potential to bring about many sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators. Regardless of how much Urban Meyer downplays this unit, the current receiving corps of Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Jake Stoneburner, Mike Thomas, Evan Spencer and Chris Fields can lay devastation on any defense they face.
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