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NCAA Football: Mountain West Championship-Hawaii at Boise State. Quarterback Cole McDonald of Hawai’i prepares to throw downfield

Run & Shoot Primer: The Seam Read and the "Choice" Concept

Breaking down the new WSU offense

Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports

Part two! I hope you had a happy and safe Independence Day and were able to make colorful explosions in the sky or watch other people do that. Because America. We’ll tackle two more Run & Shoot concepts in this one: the seam read, which pops up in the majority of the passing combinations throughout the offense, and the Choice concept which epitomizes the Run & Shoot offense. Let’s get to it.


The Run & Shoot essentially operates as one big if-then flowchart; if the defender does X, the receiver does Y in response. The seam read magnifies that, forcing the receiver to work through a multiple-step process within about two seconds. The short version of what you would instruct a receiver to do is “get deep between two defenders, but if one caps you then break to the inside and run a post or settle into a gap in the zone.” The long version runs more like this:

  • Identify the safeties pre-snap. Specifically whether there’s a safety in the middle of the field or it’s a split safety look.
  • At the snap, attack the safety closest to you, regardless of his depth or alignment. Read him initially, and by 10 yards you should know what you’re doing.
  • Against a single-high safety, if he stays middle of the field, continue running the seam and expect the ball at about 18 yards.
  • If the single-high overreacts to formation, cross his face but continue upfield for a deep post.
  • If the single-high works to your hash, break off the route into a square in and hunt for windows (or run through against man).
  • If it’s a split safety look, break to the middle of the field and split the two deep safeties.
  • If the safeties play deep, break to the square in and hunt windows or run through.

It’s a lot of information to process as you’re reading it. Imagine doing it in about a second and a half in front of forty thousand to one hundred thousand of your closest friends against a defense that is doing its best to confuse those keys. But receivers in this offense are going to rep this route hundreds of times per week, if not more. It is, from what I understand, usually the first route that is installed on Day One of any practice or camp for a team that wants to run the Run & Shoot. It is the most important piece of this offense. As an observer, if you can spot the receiver running the seam read and pick up the defense’s keys, you’ll be able to see this offense pretty close to the way the coaching staff in the box does.


Choice is the quintessential Run & Shoot route combination. It’s right there in the name; you force the defense to choose and whatever choice they make is wrong. And if you take a look at the basic diagram of the play, you can see that they have a lot of choices for which they’ll potentially get to be wrong.

Even this diagram, which is from John Jenkins and Houston in the early ‘90s, doesn’t show every single possible route option for the receivers. As defenses have become more adept at disguising coverages, the options have expanded to match. You’ll notice the seam read by the H only has three options, and we’ve already seen how much more multiple that particular route can be. We’ll go through each route and its options in a little more detail shortly.

Like Go, Choice is designed to be a 3x1 route combination. In fact, it is largely used as a counter to defenses overplaying the three receiver side of the offense to try and take away Go. Whereas the X is an afterthought in Go, X is the primary receiver in Choice. If a defense is over-rotating to the trips side, the X will often be left in isolation against the corner on his side. Because of that possibility, you’ll often see Run & Shoot teams put their best receiver at the X to exploit a one-on-one opportunity. And based on the coverage the corner shows, the receiver adjusts his route to best take advantage of space and leverage. Burn that corner enough and eventually the defense plays more neutral in order to give that corner covering the X some help, which opens the Go combination back up on the trips side.

Let’s start on the trips side. As he did with Go, the outside receiver has a mandatory outside release to a vertical route. The difference with Choice is that because there isn’t a receiver running to the flat underneath him, if the defense has him capped the Z does have the option of throwing on the brakes at 12-14 yards and running a comeback route. The Z fills the same role as the X in Go; he’s mostly just out there because he has to be, but a favorable one-on-one matchup might get the ball thrown his way.

Diagram showing the basic shallow cross concept run out of the Ace formation.
Look familiar?

For the inside receivers, the middle slot will run the seam read. And again, it’s all about what the near safety does. Because you generally anticipate seeing a defense shifted to the trips side when you call Choice, the seam read will often come down to how the backside coverage handles the crossing inside receiver. The interplay between the two inside receivers is reminiscent of the Shallow concept from the Air Raid, and in fact, a lot of Run & Shoot teams have integrated the shallow cross into their attack. In Choice in particular, the inside slot is crossing the face of the defense. In the early days, that inside slot often ran through linebacker level, having to work through contact and collision from the defenders. With the adjustment to the shallow cross, having that receiver run underneath the linebackers makes him a more viable second option if the quarterback has to come off the X receiver. And keep in mind, we’re anticipating a defense coverage that is shifted to the trips side, meaning that when the X takes off vertical and takes the corner with him, there’s not a lot left to defend the Y if he makes it all the way across. And that was pretty much the point of 90; Verticals to clear space for the shallow cross to find open grass.

It’s also very common for the offense to mix and match elements of the offense. Because Choice is essentially designed for the single receiver, it gives the offense quite a bit of flexibility on the trips side. They can call something like Levels on the trips side and tag X-Choice on the single side. That’s a pretty significant difference from the Air Raid. There were plenty of tagged routes on each individual play, but you generally didn’t see too many blended concepts like that.

The X receiver has three options on the play. If he’s facing a press corner with no help over the top, it’s pretty simple—get off the line and beat him deep. If the corner is playing off with inside leverage, the X will burst off the line and then break off a 10-12 yard out. If the corner is playing with outside leverage, the receiver runs a skinny post or glance route, staying vertical and outside the hash, but using the inside space given up by the defender. The X will also take a peek inside to the nearest linebacker, and if he sees that linebacker blitz, he’ll put his foot in the ground at three steps and break off into a quick slant as a release valve. It’s a fairly simple read concept, but it is dependent on the receiver and the quarterback seeing the same thing at the same time from the defense. Less experienced Run & Shoot teams will sometimes have pre-determined reads and will make the call at the line of scrimmage pre-snap. But, even considering the truncated timetable Nick Rolovich will have this summer, I anticipate whoever wins the starting job will have this mastered enough to read it on the fly.

Pop Quiz! I’m going to post a pre-snap screenshot of Hawai’i running Choice, and you figure out, based on the keys, what route the single receiver is going to run.

Hawaii offense against San Diego State defense. The Hawaii offense is in a Shotgun Trips formation, with three receivers to the left of formation. San Diego State’s defense has six at the line of scrimmage, showing a blitz look, with one deep safety and man coverage across the board. The single corner is in press coverage.

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Got it figured out?

Hopefully your thought process went something like this: Press coverage, safety on the inside takes away the glance route, release outside and run vertical. Speed kills.

One more.

Hawaii offense against San Diego State defense. Hawaii is in a trips formation to offense’s right. San Diego State has six defenders at the line of scrimmage, with the defensive backfield playing a soft coverage.

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This one may have been a little tougher.

So we should be thinking this way: off coverage should cap the vertical, safety sitting inside takes away the glance, so we’re running the 10-12 and out. Extra credit if you noticed the quick peek the receiver took inside to check whether the stand up on his side blitzed. If he had, that would have keyed the quick slant. Since he bails to coverage, the receiver continues the stem to the out.


So there you have the Choice concept and the seam read. At this point, you should have a pretty good handle on the core of the offense, particularly with the seam read. Next up we’ll take a look at Levels, which is a relatively new addition to the Run & Shoot, and how the big boys up front will protect their quarterback.

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