Smart offensive coordinators will identify and exploit plus-personnel match ups wherever they find them. A simple way to force man coverage on an elite wide receiver is to align him to the backside (away from the strength of the offensive formation) and run isolation routes (specific routes like a slant or fade in which the ball will be thrown to the targeted receiver). Notice in the image below how much space Green has to work in by aligning outside the numbers away from the formation’s strength. The cornerback must play press coverage to disrupt the route’s timing, as the single-hi safety is located one-yard inside the left hash, making over-the-top help against a vertical route very difficult. In addition, if Green were to catch a quick-game route like a slant or hitch and break a tackle, there is nothing but green grass between the ball and the end zone.
True to his Air Coryell roots, Jackson often attacks down field with 9 routes from Trips/Trey alignments. Against a middle-of-the-field closed coverage like Cover 1 and Cover 3 the free safety must cover half the field to make a play on the ball, effectively taking himself out of the play. Let’s watch Green run a backside 9 route against Seattle.
The Seahawks have checked to a Cover 3 adjustment behind a five-man blitz, forcing the backside cornerback to play MEG (Man Everywhere He Goes) technique. Against an outside release the corner wants to jam with his left hand. pin the receiver to the near sideline, and stay on his inside hip (‘in phase’).
Green creates a free release at the line of scrimmage by using an ‘in-out’ move (fake inside then release outside) that prevents the corner from both jamming and staying over top of the route. Green stacks (pulls in front of the cornerback) by the 40-yard line, allowing Dalton to loft the ball up for an easy pass-catch. Green then uses his open field shakes to cut across the safety’s face to take it in for six.
Lets look at another example of Jackson using the ‘X’ receiver to create a positive personnel match up. In the clip below the Bengals align with a bunch formation to the field (wide-side), forcing the single deep safety to play between the hashes. This alignment effectively prevents the safety from impacting any vertical routes up the sideline as he simply has too much distance to cover.
At the snap the quarterback looks to the let side of the field towards the bunch route concept although he is likely using his eyes to manipulate the safety, forcing him to sit in the middle of the field. Green again uses an ‘in-out’ release to escape the corner’s jam, taking a hard inside step with a shoulder shake to sell an inside-breaking route. The corner takes a slight step inside, all the room a receiver of Green’s caliber needs to cross his face and bend his route towards the sideline. The corner does a decent job staying on his hip, although he looks back for the ball too soon, creating the bit of seperation Green needs to pluck the ball out of the air.