Brian mentioned a "triangle" route during the offensive UFR last week. I wanted to highlight that play, not just because I don't remember if we've covered what that means, but because it illustrates how the emergence of Funchess as a complementary deep threat to Gallon makes defenses do unsound (read: relatively easy to exploit) things.
A triangle is another passing concept for picking on zone, and works pretty well against different coverages. We've covered smash/high-low (which attacks the top and bottom of a zone simultaneously) and 4-verts (which gets guys to either side of a zone). A triangle is actually putting dudes to three sides of a zone. It's a slightly more complicated version of high-low, the triple-option version of it if you will.
Here's a play from the Indiana UFR. I want you to watch the bottom of the screen and how the Funchess, Gallon, and Toussaint routes work together:
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O24||2||8||Shotgun 4-wide tight||1||1||3||4-3 over||Pass||TE out||Butt||Inc|
|IME Gardner blows this read presnap by going to the short side of the field. He's got three guys on the wide side and Toussaint's flare is going to be open as M runs a triangle there. Instead he's looking at the wheel/out combo M is running a lot this year. Both are covered; Gardner tries to fit a ball into Butt in a tiny window, LB breaks it up. (BR, 1, protection 1/1)|
The left side is a high-low. The right side of the play, even though Gardner didn't go there, is the triangle we're looking at.
I don't know if Gallon's route was a deep curl or an out or flag or whatever; it doesn't matter. I drew curl just to make the picture smaller.
In this case Gallon and Toussaint are smashing the corner's Cover 2 zone, while Funchess's curl route keeps the SAM linebacker from interfering with that. The cornerback went with Gallon (from alignment it was obvious he was more worried about the deep part of his zone than anything underneath), and that left the SAM to deal with Funchess and Toussaint. He chose Funchess, and Toussaint's flare route was open.
This is the odd triangle that doesn't use a snag route. Here's Indiana using the same thing against us in 2010:
Evidence to the "Borges runs the other team's playbook" theory
Funchess's route did what the outside receiver's snag route above was meant to accomplish: keep that SAM away from the smash read.
The cool thing about a triangle route is it can work no matter which coverage is thrown out there. Smart Football:
The weakness of the triangle stretch is that it’s typically only possible to only get a two-man horizontal or vertical stretch, whereas with a true “flood” you can place three (or more) receivers across the field on a given plane to truly defeat a defense. This limitation means that a triangle can be throttled by certain coverages that rotate to the triangle side.
But all this is counterbalanced by the triangle’s versatility: the route concept should result in a completion against almost any coverage, and, as will be shown further below, triangle stretches are also usually conducive to having a man-beating concept within them. And if the defense does roll to the triangle side, some kind of backside combination of passes or runs can be used to keep the defense honest.
What you complicate in making a double-read you gain back by not necessarily needing to know what the defense intends to throw at you:
Gallons of Fun Chess™
What I like about this is it takes advantage of the Funchess and Gallon scare factors. The middle linebacker see a giant terror beast and a guy en route to a record-breaking receiving day both going straight upfield and have to respect that this could become a verts situation.
If, for example, it was Jeremy Jackson and Jake Butt releasing to that side, the coverage to that side should be more confident they can stay with anything that goes over the top, and thus can be more aggressive. The big thing making anything to the left side tough is the defense has numbers (to that in a second), but another is that the coverage to that side can play more aggressively without fear of getting burned by Michigan's danger men. The corner can make sure Butt doesn't do anything in his zone, then shuffles leisurely sideways to get into Jackson's hip pocket. Reading this, Gardner tried to get it to Butt on the abandoned inside of that cornerback's zone, however the WILL could be confident enough in safety help over the top to set his feet in the path of a seam, then ride Butt's hip and watch the quarterback's eyes. This got him a great read on the pass in time to step in front of Butt—if this pass was too far inside or the WILL was a little bit faster it's a pick.
Compare the alignment of the free safety and boundary corner to that of the strong safety and field corner:
Left side: Corner is five yards off the LOS and safety is sitting at the first down marker (eight yards off). Their feet are planted as they read the play. No fear; result is little room for the offense to operate.
Right side: Corner is eight yards off and safety is ten; at the snap they're both backing up. Much fear; result is a lot of space for the offense to operate.
It's not just the running game that you open up when the defensive backs stay away from the box! On the side with Gallon and Funchess the coverage is giving themselves a big cushion to help keep those dudes in front of them. This isn't sound. That safety has to know the middle linebacker isn't going to be able to help much since he has to stay in to respect a Gardner run. That means once Gallon clears out the corner there's only a linebacker to deal with any short routes to that side.
Indiana was probably hoping to entice Michigan into quick hitches to Gallon, hoping Gardner's throw would be inaccurate and the corner could run down and stop it for minimal gain—put Michigan in 3rd and 2 and maybe they'll try to power run into a stacked box or something. Borges exploited this mercilessly with triangles and floods.
This Was a Bad Pre-Snap Read
The smash on the backside of the play was there in case the defense rolled their coverage to the frontside, for example if the free safety was centered over Gardner. He wasn't:
It's not just the majority of Michigan's talent advantage hanging out to the field side; because Toussaint was lined up over there, Gardner should have recognized he had numbers to the right.
Will It Work Against Michigan State?
Well MSU will tend to play their cornerbacks tight and try to prevent the route from ever developing. But yeah, the curl route is a check against their beloved Double-A gap blitz. When not sending the house the Spartans' favorite coverage is quarters, the thing that's all the rage in NFL defenses. Triangles are the counter du jour for that stuff.
Depending on things. The cornerback can latch onto Gallon and keep him from getting his route deep, shrinking the triangle. If the safety sees Funchess stop, that's his cue to attack, and by the time the ball arrives, is caught, and the back has time to turn upfield, the safety may have closed much of that distance. Finally the SAM may see Toussaint leaking out of the backfield and decide to take away the flat, which opens up Funchess's curl but with a good MLB in the next zone over and the safety coming down on the curl, it'll be a tight window. So that's the downside of triangling: you're unlikely to get much more than a short pass unless you can wait long enough for the Z receiver's route to develop (not likely given our OL situation), so even executed well it's just a shot gain machine.