The Running Back Wheel Route

With Flip coming in as the new OC, Brown’s fans have heard rumblings that the backs will be a big part of the passing game this year.

During last week’s minicamp we were treated to this Vine showing a beautiful wheel route from RB Shuan Draughn on LB Paul Kruger.

Although it’s tough to see the routes from the sideline angle, this looks like a horizontal stretch concept (think all hitches) with a tagged wheel route.  You can see how difficult it is for a starting NFL LB to stay with a RB who likely won’t see the 53 man roster. Imagine what happens when Duke Johnson runs it.

Wheel routes out of the backfield work well for 3 reasons:

1, They create two-man route combos to the weakside where you will find LOTS of room to work.  Slant/wheels and post/wheels create explosive plays because if you hit it, there’s ALOT of grass to run in with few defenders covering.

2. Wheel routes create mismatches between a skill player (particularly a fast RB) and a LB.  This is some oversimplification, but in most defenses a LB will be responsible for the flat/flat-runner.  Most LB’s simply don’t have the top end speed, short area burst, and fluid hips to turn and run with a RB.

3. Tagging a wheel route is a great way to protect flat routes from the RB/FB.  If the LB is “cheating” the flat route by aggressively breaking downhill as soon as he reads the RB/FB’s release, use that aggression against him by showing him what he wants to see and simply running by him with the wheel.  Beat him once with a wheel and his flat break will slow down, creating more room for YAC with the flat routes.  The routes are complimentary.

After viewing the Vine, I decided to put the running game on hold to go back and look at tape for some more examples of wheel routes out of the backfield.

I quickly found a great example of a backside wheel route from the week 17 Denver game that resulted in a 38 yard gain.
The Play…

The strongside route combo is a basic OVS (Outside Vertical Stretch) or “Flood” concept. The play concept is an Airraid favorite, the “Y-Sail”, out of a twin WR/Wing look.  To the backside the offense runs a dig by the X and the wheel by the RB.

The Routes….

– The #1 WR (when numbering WR’s count outside-o-in) runs a “clear out” to run off the CB, creating room for the routes breaking underneath.

-The #2 WR runs a 14ish yard out route into the area previously occupied by the CB.

-The #3 WR runs a flat route.

The concept’s progression is generally:

1. “Peak” at the clear out route, meaning don’t throw it unless the WR gets clear and immediate separation at the LOS.  This route is rarely thrown.

2. The 2nd level route, in this case the out

3. The flat route.

The route concept creates a “vertical stretch” against the flat player in a zone defense.  This stretch is often referred to as a “Hi-Li” read.  If the flat defenders sinks to cushion the speed out, throw the flat.  If the flat defender break on the flat route, throw the speed out over his head.

Here’s how the concept plays out against Cover 3 “Buzz”:

Notice that the stronside curl/flat defender (The SAM in this case) has routes coming both underneath and overtop.  If read correctly, the throw will make him wrong if he cushions the out OR breaks on the flat.  His curl/flat drop rules are conflicted here.

Against man this concept works best when paired with play action, as the offense’s false run keys should slow the interior defenders from getting to their man.

Let’s move up top next.  We see a dig and the wheel route.

A couple things going on here.

The dig is run to “clear out” the CB.  The sideline must be clear for the wheel route to be run properly. The ILB to the RB’s side will have him if he releases into a pass route.  This is the mismatch potential the offense is looking for.  Again the goal is the “show” the flat route, widening the LB and pulling him towards the LOS, then running right by him.

Without viewing more film of the concept I can’t say for certain if the wheel route is part of the backside route structure, if it was tagged for *this* particular play because the LB was getting nosy, or if the RB has the option of converting the flat to a wheel based on the coverage.

I want to emphasize that in this play concept the wheel route is a 4th/5th option, or dump off.  Against zone the ball is going to the “Flood” concept.  However, the reason these backside options are tagged becomes apparent by looking at the play again with a focus on the defensive coverage shell.

The coverage looks like a Cover 3 “push” to the trey side. It is apparent very quickly that the OVS is covered at all three levels.  Time to move to the backside.

First look at the dig.  Notice how much space the wheel route has now that the CB is cleared from the sideline.  If the “down” safety didn’t have his eyes on the OVS the dig would have taken him away from the wheel as well.

Focus on the RB.  Notice how he sells the flat route by both his initial flat route stem to the sideline and getting his head around like he is looking for the ball before turning upfield.

I cut off the end of the play, but the LB eventually pushes the RB out of bounds near the 50 for an explosive gain of a backside 4th/5th option.

In my next post we’ll look at a 5-receiver pass concept in which the RB is the primary read.

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