Neck Sharpies: Picking Apart a Snag Comment Count

Seth April 20th, 2016 at 2:34 PM

The last few years Michigan moved toward becoming a major Cover 1 defense, and that looks to continue under Don Brown, whose BC teams were in a Cov1 (“City”) over half the time.

Last weekend I noticed more than a few opponents (and non-opponents) were practicing Cover 1 beaters in their spring games. So I thought I’d show one from Ohio State’s that I found particularly interesting. Hoping the coaches will chime in on this one since I’m not sure of everything I saw. Here’s the play:


It’s a snag package, a thing we talked about in the Borges days because it’s a good way to create those triangles that work against all coverages. Smart Football at that link:

The snag is so synonymous with the triangle concept that some teams simply call it “triangle.” The basic concept involves one receiver in the deep third on a corner route (good by itself against man-to-man), one receiver in the flat, often a runningback or inside receiver (which can also be good against man from a bunch-set), and a third receiver on the “snag” route, sometimes also known as a “slant-settle” or a “mini-curl.”


Building triangles is high up in the scale of offensive complication, because you’re asking the quarterback to ID the coverage and read multiple defenders.

However the first rule of Urban Meyer offenses is keep the thinking to a minimum* and lo and behold their snag isn’t really being run like a triangle. On this play Ohio State doesn’t even bother setting the high-low on the corner. Instead they set some picks on the outside to make it unlikely a CB will be able to cover the stick routes, draw off the rest of the coverage, and isolate the middle linebacker, giving the QB a simple read: See which way the MLB turns his hips, and throw behind him.

If that’s not open, find a guy going long and loft it. And if they’re not there, run around.


* [This is NOT a statement about the academic capability of Ohio State quarterbacks. Keeping things simple is a thing coaches try to do for all players, not just the intellectually incurious ones who’ve never heard of Uber.]

[Hit the jump to see how it works vs. man coverage]

You can see how it worked out against OSU’s kinda weird [it’s not very relevant to us but I covered it at the bottom*] zone coverage.


After everything got sorted out the MLB was responsible for inside help on the SAM’s guy (the Flex TE all the way on the left) and the Z receiver. The weirdness of OSU’s defensive playcall is helpful for our purposes because we get to see it work against Man and Zone on the same play.

Picking a snag

On the bottom the SAM widens to prevent the X receiver from getting a freebie up the seam, then sees the slant route crossing beneath him and trails, expecting the MLB to be in the middle zone. On the top, the CB has that Z receiver in man coverage. That receiver runs his route too shallow so the pick doesn’t even work, but at best the CB is boxed out. The MLB, meanwhile was getting depth to cover the Z’s slant. By the point when the receivers curl back on the hashes, that MLB is in the middle of the Eye of Sauron. The TE is open, and Barrett, reading low-to-high, doesn’t have to come off his first read.


The picks.


The cornerbacks are first and foremost, you imagine, worried about staying over the top of their receivers. A slant is a bitch to cover to begin with, and then add all that traffic a half second before the throw. The CB in man on the top of the screen (Damon Webb) got off the hook thanks to the WR running a shorter route, but if the bottom CB was in man he’s got that inside receiver colliding with the SAM in his path.

Let’s imagine they’re playing Michigan’s base D.


The cornerbacks get rubbed off their man coverage by the picks set by the #2 receivers as they go vertical, and the releasing RB should carry the WLB out of the picture. Again you’ve got the MLB picking a side. The QB looks to whichever snag the MLB isn’t going to, and if that guy isn’t blanketed by a miraculously good CB or some weird coverage he throws it.

And if he’s covered (I mean, Jourdan Lewis is in there), it’s not another read; just find the guy running downfield with one defender on him. Meyer’s offense likes to send a couple guys at the safeties every play just to make sure those safeties aren’t coming down and wreaking havoc on the run game. When he has a freakishly dangerous long man that’s extremely effective. When he has a stable of downfield threats he can tire out your secondary in a hurry.


If I’m a Michigan opponent I’m planning on attacking the linebackers first. Chances are the DL will be good enough not to need too many blitzes or safety help to keep things down, and the secondary is so talented that favorable matchups will be hard to find. Attacking the LBs laterally seems like the thing to do.


* [On OSU’s defense this play: it threw me for a loop but I think it was “Penny 3” by which I mean the field cornerback has the Z receiver in man-to-man wherever he goes and the rest of the defense plays a 10-on-10 cover 3 that’s squished toward the boundary, meaning the boundary side are playing 1/4 zones while the field side the FS and the Nickel are playing 1/2 zones:


The SAM and Nickel are responsible for a quick seam or curl and then cover the flats if they’re threatened (the nickel’s flat is threatened by the RB). Basically it’s a vanilla cover 3 that ignores the Z receiver. I didn’t want to get into it too much because OSU’s spread coverages in the spring game are not very relevant to Michigan.]



April 20th, 2016 at 2:59 PM ^

These routes seem more like rub concept curls (old-school buttonhooks) than "Snag" concepts. These look like 4-vert concepts with curls tagged for the outside receivers. Or even "Smash" concepts attacking the low safties instead of the outside Hi-Lo.

kevin holt

April 20th, 2016 at 3:11 PM ^

Do you think Brown has something up his sleeve for this type of play other than the base coverage? The solution to the problem always being aggression, I feel like a LB blitz could force a quick throw. Problem is this play is designed to open quick throws right to the LB area. I assume, though, that Brown isn't going to let the other team dictate the defense. So there must be some way to have a blitz package that still isn't easily beaten by this type of play, right?

kevin holt

April 20th, 2016 at 3:39 PM ^

I think I read that it's really hard to jam receivers in a bunch formation or otherwise close together. And that can play into their hands because you're close to the receiver and can be picked easily. Lastly, the ref calls offensive PI when the offensive player intentionally causes contact; if the defender is initiating contact himself, it's less likely that OPI would be called when he gets picked.

These types of plays scare me a lot because they get used so often and penalties called so seldom. If you execute it correctly, it seems almost impossible to defend. I feel like the OPI rule needs to be expanded or more strictly enforced.

kevin holt

April 20th, 2016 at 4:19 PM ^

Oh absolutely. I just meant that's the rule. It should be called about 50x more than it is. Another reason I fucking hate the play.

Also Notre Dame loves to run it and loves to complain when the refs finally realize they're run blocking on a pass play. Kelly seems to run it because he knows refs will be reluctant to call it in big situations. As a defensive-minded person, these plays drive me nuts.

Space Coyote

April 20th, 2016 at 4:30 PM ^

Meaning the inside WR is up and the outside WR is off.  Plus the formation is tight. This makes it a bit more difficult to press at the LOS. There are also route adjustments to account for it. Essentially, a jam may result in a quick slant with a lot of green grass behind it and likely isn't the best option here.

Space Coyote

April 20th, 2016 at 3:46 PM ^

OSU Defense

OSU is in their standard quarters coverage here. The CB to the top of the screen (field) is in MEG on #1 (outer most WR to that side), meaning he's playing the WR in man coverage everywhere that WR goes.

The CB to the bottom of the screen (boundary) is playing MOD, meaning he only plays man coverage if #1 works vertical. As soon as #1 goes inside, he gains depth and helps outside of #2. By the time the play developes, he's essentially in man coverage on the WR that runs the post (the one to the boundary).

The primary issue on this play for OSU's defense is their OLBs, particularly the one to the boundary (bottom of the screen). His eyes are locked on #2 as he tries to reroute him going down the seam. That's correct if both receivers on that side are going vertical, but he has to get off that receiver quicker and latch onto the #1 (outer most WR) working inside. The preferred thing for him to do would be to see #1 working inside and "wall" him off, essentially not allowing him into the middle of the field. The OLB to the field won't do this because the CB to his side is in man, so he needs to work quicker to the flat.

OSU Offense

The play that OSU is running here is actually "Follow Pivot" (essentially a dig-snag combo which you see to the field side). The play itself is a further iteration to "drag and follow" (also known as "Drive and Chase"). I wrote about Northwestern running this against Michigan and Michigan's counter to it a while back here. Interestingly, Michigan was also playing Cover 4 that game.

This is a play, like essentially all Meyer plays, that is intended to beat any coverage. The reads are limited; this is not a triangle read as most West Coast Offenses would call for. Essentially all of Meyer's plays have a single movement key and then a 2 to 3 person progression. This play is no different. 

The QB here is reading boundary to field: snag-dig-snag. These are all underneath routes. The movement key is the OLB I noted earlier. The post to the boundary is window dressing (or launch it if nothing is open; basically, it spaces the field and holds the safeties deep). The release from the RB is a late dump off if needed. The snag routes sell the drag and work back to the flat vs man coverage. Against zone they settle at about 5 yards.

This works vs man because 1) There is a natural rub; 2) all 3 receivers essentially sell different routes (the pivot sells drag before working back to the flat; the dig sells a skinny post before working across the field horizontally). I works vs zone because all routes can naturally settle in the voids and overload underneath coverage.

How to Defend It

There are two primary ways to defend a play like this. 1) Really tight man coverage with good communication. Tight coverage defeats the natural rubs; good communication allows the LBs and CBs to switch coverage and play this better (this can be done in the Cover 4 scheme as well, but it needs to be communicated). 2) Some kind of cover 2, which puts enough defenders in the short zone to not allow the offense to overload the coverage underneath. Straight Cover 2, of course, is risky against a lot of the other plays in OSU's playbook, though, so it would need to be something like "Trap" that Brown loves to run.

Evil Empire

April 20th, 2016 at 4:31 PM ^

Or am I having that dream where you show up for the final of a course you didn't attend all semester?  I don't grok very much of this but as long as Don Brown does, I don't need to.

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