Inside Todd Monken’s Air Raid offense against split safety coverage
Todd Monken’s Air Raid offense in the SEC will face a split safety coverage defensive scheme, whether it be Cover-4, Cover-2, or any variation.
Vertical attacks and post routes are two areas that give split safety coverage looks in CONNIE calls a difficult time to defend.
In Cover-4, both safeties in a split safety look are tasked with keying the inside receiver, while still being responsible for their deep quadrant of the field (along with the two corners). Many spread concepts, such as Monken’s, look to attack the safeties in that very predicament by putting the inside receiver on a route in front of them while sending and outside receiver on a post route behind them to exploit the coverage.
In a Cover-2 look, there are five defenders covering the field underneath, with only two safeties being responsible for an entire half of the football field, generally, which leaves three holes for the offense to exploit on the deep left — between the corner and safety — middle between the safeties and the linebackers, and deep right between the corner and the safety.
Part of the Air Raid offense is the 6 concept where all four wide receivers are going downfield. The point of the Air Raid 6 is to go get six points where all four wide receivers stretch the field, while exploiting the weaknesses of the split safety looks described above.
The 6 concept, also known as 4 verticals, has both outside receivers — the X and Z — running vertical go routes, while taking an outside release to stretch the defense, yet still leaving space between their bodies and the sideline to shield a defender in the event they need to make an over the shoulder catch with room to spare. The inside receivers are taught to take their vertical release and end up at their landmark, which is typically two yards outside of the college hash marks. If the defense moves to a 1-high safety look, the inside receivers will remain +2 yards outside the hash to make that safety cover more ground. However, if the defense is in the split safety, a 2-high look that Pruitt runs, the inside receivers will bend their route inside of the safety in front of them.
Against a Cover-4 look, the purpose is to act as a decoy where they attract the safety down and open the post route behind them for a home run shot. Quarterbacks will give a hand-signal on 4-verticals to the outside receiver to change their route to a post when they see a defense in a pre-snap Cover-4 look.
Against a Cover-2 look, the bend by the inside receiver becomes a primary, unless the safety decides to not split the inside and outside receiver on their half of the field, the bend route typically gets the ball. Lastly, the running back will check down in front of the linebackers to prevent them from dropping so deep in a split safety look that they can cover the inside receivers. In all of these scenarios, the 6 concept puts a defense in a bind.
Safety play is critical against the Air Raid 6 as the quarterback (right-handed) reads the defense pre-snap to select which side of the defense he will attack. Quarterbacks are taught to attack the lower of the two safeties in a Cover-4 look, in hopes of hitting the post over the top, and versus a Cover-2 look the quarterback attacks either the widest safety pre-snap in hopes of hitting the inside receiver streaking down the middle or he will choose his best matchup. There are several other factors that go into the totality of selecting a side to work, such as knowing tendencies of your opponents or the specific chemistry you have with certain receivers. With four receivers running the defense deep, check downs often become a great option, as well.
A quarterback’s progression can change if a tag is made, for instance, if the X-receiver has a cornerback that is playing off the ball and not in tight coverage. If a quarterback tags SMASH on the weak side, the tag being on the right-side, a tag trumps the progression because the quarterback’s goal is to take the easy 6 yard completion.
The option route is another area of the Air Raid 6.
In an option route, each wide receiver will have landmarks to dictate their way into getting open. The X-receiver will continue with a go-route. The H will run 8-10 yards, the Y-receiver will go 12-14 yards, while the Z-receiver will be 16-18 yards in their route. Different landmarks provide each receiver to be on different levels. The progression coincides with the break in the receivers, creating space to get open. A quarterback would typically scan the full field from a go-route, usually deciding pre-snap if he has a chance, to the H’s option, the Y’s option and then outside to the Z’s route.
Safety play is again critical as they determine if it is needed to come over the top, crashes or plays down. In the Air Raid, wide receivers have the ability to post in a direction they feel a safety is not headed. There is a lot of freedom within the Air Raid offense to make these decisions. There is a large burden on defenders as they need to be able to cover in open space.
The WILL can cover the H if he stays short, and a cornerback can play tight coverage on the X-receiver, providing the free and strong safeties to play the ball deep against other receivers in essentially a no-fly zone.