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NCAA Football: Navy at Hawaii

Run & Shoot Primer: Levels and Streak

A new concept and a trusted old friend

Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be the first game week Monday. So this space should have been used to break down Utah State. But it is not and won’t be and now I hate everything. Instead, let’s continue breaking down the Run & Shoot with a look at Levels, which we didn’t see in the Air Raid, and Streak, which we saw a whole lot of over the previous eight seasons, albeit in a slightly different form aka the greatest best play in football on this earth.

Levels is a concept that isn’t specifically a Run & Shoot idea. But it is so prevalent a concept in the offense that it has become a recognizable aspect of the offensive scheme. The Run & Shoot runs a lot of vertical releases in its combinations, and Levels helps to break that look up somewhat by stressing the defense a little more horizontally than vertically. As the name suggests, Levels looks to attack a defense, usually a zone or combo coverage, at multiple depths. If Levels is coming from a two-man formation, the most common routes are a five-yard in with a 12-to-14-yard square in behind it. If the defender jumps the quick in, the deep in should open up in the area the defender vacates. If he bails to the deep in, the quick in will run in open space underneath the defender. And if the trips side is running levels, the defense will often be attacked by a trailing in at about seven yards to exploit a defender that bails late.

We focused primarily on the X receiver when we talked about the Choice concept, but in some of those clips, the trips side of the offense was running Levels. Those two concepts pair well with each other because of the vertical stretch of the X. That pulls defenders up and away from the in-breaking routes on the backside. Levels is also often paired with Streak or Switch (both of which we discuss down below) in a balanced set, again because it complements the vertical stretch of the opposite side.

Not a great throw by Cole McDonald on the clip below from 2018 Hawai’i, but you can see the space open up for the quick in. I really would have liked to have seen the outside receiver trail the quick in as well. Lots of space there once the deep in clears the vertical.

Here’s a look at a common tag or variation on Levels. Instead of the slot running a 12-to-14 yard square in, he runs what’s usually referred to as a Smash route; 10-to-12 yards vertical, then run at angle to the sideline, away from both the deep safety and the underneath defender who should be occupied by the quick in. This route absolutely murders Cover 2, so if the deep safety is squatting on the deep in, this is an effective counter to that.

Let’s talk about Streak. When you break it down to its elements, Streak is just the Run & Shoot version of the best play in football, our old Air Raid friend “6” or Four Verts. Where the Run & Shoot varies a little bit from the Air Raid with this concept is by relying on the seam read as the “primary” target. If you need a refresher on 6, check this link, and if you need a rundown on what the seam read is, I covered that in the previous installment of the Primer, so give that a gander.

The basic ideas behind Streak and 6 are the same; outnumber the defense regardless of what coverage they throw at you. But with the versatility of the Run & Shoot’s seam read, it arguably both simplifies the route and makes it more complex at the same time. Streak simplifies it by allowing the quarterback to primarily focus on the seam read. He knows, based on coverage, the outside receivers are going to do one of two things 99% of the time; they’ll either go vertical, or if they’re capped, break it off and work back to the QB. One slot has a mandatory vertical, and his spacing is critical. He must be two yards outside the hash, dividing the field equally and putting deep coverage defenders in a two-on-one situation.

The other slot will be the key to this play, as he is with all of the core concepts of the Run & Shoot, because he’ll have the seam read. Unless there’s a specific coverage they want to attack, the QB is going to rely on the seam read to work its magic and pop open. But the more complex element to this play is that the seam read has many more options than does any one particular receiver in the Air Raid’s Four Verts. Thus, it again relies on the QB and the seam reader to be on the exact same page at the exact same time.

Here’s a look at Streak (Divide, which functions similar to Streak, but requires the seam read to “divide” the near safety. H/t to derekx76 for the correction.) out of Trips from Hawai’i.

This gives us another really good look at the seam read. The inside slot is going to run it, and he presses vertical until he clears the underneath defender, then hooks inside in front of the deep safety. It’s kind of frustrating to my steeped-in-the-Air-Raid-for-eight-years lizard brain because, if this were Air Raid, the inside slot would release to the middle aiming for the far hash, split the linebackers and get vertical and there’s so much space in that part of the field because the ‘backers split and it would be a simple pitch and catch and he’d be running free down the middle of the field and pain pain it just hurts a lot so much pain.

[deep sigh]

A concept that the Run & Shoot likes to blend with a few of its primary routes, and particularly runs well with Streak is the Switch concept. It’s really as simple as it sounds; two receivers are going to switch landmarks and route concepts. So in this case, the outside receiver is going to release to the hash and run either the vertical or the seam read, depending on if he’s on the front side or back side of the route. The inside slot will break to the numbers and run the vertical/comeback. There’s also the added benefit of creating a potentail rub built in to the concept to make life miserable for man-to-man defenders. It’s a relatively simple change-up to several of the route concepts that breaks up some of the sameness of the look the offense presents to the defense, and it can really test the eye discipline of the defenders in coverage.

They throw away from it here, but this is the basic idea behind Switch—exchange the routes and release angles to get defenders on the wrong foot.

They will Switch on several different route combinations, not just on Streak. It sometimes looks pretty chaotic, particularly when they Switch out of trips to the short side of the field. It’s basically a jumbled mess of receivers until suddenly one of them pops free and gets the ball. But it’s an organized chaos.

So there you have a few more elements of the Run & Shoot. I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable in sight recognizing the various combinations of the offense (of course, slamming the “rewind 10 seconds” button in YouTube helps) so here’s hoping you are as well. There are a few more route concepts that I’d like to bring out down the road, including Snag, the screen game, and possibly the RPO pieces Nick Rolovich began mixing into the soup. So look for those as we navigate this black pit of despair and dismay that is an autumn sans Cougar Football Saturdays.


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