The X's and O's: Triangulating Touchdowns
The three-level oblique stretch is a perfect passing concept for Mettenberger and Kragthorpe
By Billy GomilaPosted Sep 19, 2012
Stodgy and unimaginative are two words commonly used to describe the LSU passing game in the last few seasons, but that’s beginning to change.
It is mostly due to the presence of talent like Zach Mettenberger, but the metamorphosis began last season, as passing game coordinator Steve Kragthorpe brought his conceptual approach to the passing game to Baton Rouge.
Kragthorpe’s passing game isn’t built around a collection of plays, but predictions that certain route combinations will manipulate defensive coverage. He thinks in terms of concepts rather than plays.
One of those concepts was on display during Mettenberger’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Kadron Boone against Washington: the three-level oblique stretch.
Let’s break it down:
The playside triangle
The three-level concept is based upon the idea of creating a triangle in the defensive backfield – three points on an area of the field that is advantageous for the quarterback.
It’s designed to attack zone coverage by forcing a single defender to cover multiple receivers. If the defense shifts defenders toward the triangle, it creates a favorable matchup for the receiver on the back side.
The triangle itself is created using three distinct routes:
The vertical: On the play side, an outside receiver will run a vertical route up the sideline, such as a streak or a post pattern. His primary responsibility here is to, in ESPN parlance, “take the top off the defense” by driving the deep coverage, either the corner or safety, far away from the line of scrimmage. This was Boone’s position on the play.
The curl/out: Another inside receiver will run to a depth of about 12 to 14 yards and will either curl toward the sideline or break out, depending on how the nearest defender is playing him and what creates more space. This was run by Jarvis Landry.
The flat: A third receiver will attack the flat area of the field, within five yards of the line of scrimmage, forming the bottom of the triangle. Spencer Ware came out of the backfield to run this route.
In addition to the triangle, the player features two other routes: a deep threat backside and a safety net close to the line of scrimmage.
The backside dig: A 16-yard “dig,” or in-cut route, designed to push coverage back, this provides the quarterback with an advantage should the defense over-play the front side. James Wright had this responsibility.
The check down: Generally a running back for LSU – it was Alfred Blue on this play – this player is a safety net for the quarterback if all other options are covered.
The quarterback’s progressions
For the quarterback, the progressions on this play begin with the deep routes and work their way in. During his drop-back (typically three or five steps), he will glance to the backside receiver (4) to see if he is singled up in coverage or drawing an additional safety.
If that option isn’t open once he hits the back foot of his drop, the quarterback will look to the deep route on the play side (1). If the deep route draws two defenders (a corner and safety, typically), he will then look to the intermediate (2) and flat receivers (3), and choose based on which player is open. If all are covered, he’ll then check down to his running back (5) or tight end.
In blitz situations, the flat receiver (3) will serve as the “hot” route.
In the case of Mettenberger’s pass to Boone, he correctly read that the Washington cornerback had broken off on Landry’s intermediate route, and that the deep safety was late in his drop. This resulted in a wide-open Boone downfield for six.
People tend to think that great passing attacks are built around complex adjustments and combinations of plays, but the truth is actually the opposite. Simple concepts, taught correctly and practiced repeatedly, create a clear focus for quarterbacks and receivers. If understood and read correctly, a concept like the three-level is one that will always allow a quarterback to take what the defense gives him, be it a deep, intermediate, or short throw.