The NFL is a Game in the Shallows

-From the FanPosts. -Matt

It's been awhile since I sat down and made a new post here on AP. I thought it was time to prove to DThomas, Chris, and Joel that I'm not dead yet. For those that know me you will recognize the defensive subject matter. For those that don't, just know that pee-wee to college I played LB in every system there is. I don't know squat about offense, unless it's how to read it from the defensive side of the ball. My posts are never short, so if you're looking for a dessert post you should stop reading now. This will be a multi-course meal.

In the pee-wee's the focus is on letting everyone play. Sure, you want to win but just learning some basics and playing a game with friends is what matters. In grade and middle schools the focus turns to winning, playing with sound fundamentals, and running the ball. The kids just simply aren't physically developed to a point of being masters of their own bodies, and coordination. In high school, as boys become men the focus is most definitely on winning. In fact, in places like here in Texas winning on the high school level gets almost as much press and praise as the college game. In smaller communities it may get even more. Passing becomes much more important, and for the first time ever game plans and schemes begin to take shape. By the time college rolls around we see something that almost looks like the football we know in the NFL......ALMOST.

Only the best of the best make it to the NFL, and only the top 10% of those ever make it to "status" in the NFL. The reason is simple: the NFL is a game played in the shallows. College offenses play the spread offence with a mobile QB that dances around the field while coverage scheme heavy defenses drop players back into coverage and give QB's all day to find an open receiver. This is exactly why week after week you watch college games where teams are scoring 40,50 and 60 points while the pros struggle to break 30. The big play and the long pass is what college spread offenses are made of. If the defenses were even 1/2 as good as the offenses the scores would be lower and the games would be more interesting to watch. Then comes the NFL.

More after the jump...

The NFL will always have need for the pocket passer. The mobile QB that was so good in college often comes to the NFL and falls flat on their faces. The long bomb passes of college are few and far between on most NFL fields. One or two huge pass plays a game are all most NFL teams will ever have. The defenses are better, faster, and stronger. Why, you ask?

A smart pocket passer that can read the defense before the snap, identify the hot route, and deliver the ball quickly and accurately is a must have position in the NFL. A mobile QB without read ability may gain some yards with their legs on occasion, but they will not be successful long term on the NFL level.

NFL defensive coordinators like to dial up blitzes to get to the QB and rattle them. They want to limit the QB's time in the pocket to let a play develop, and they do not want to play coverage schemes that allow a QB to wait for a play to develop and a receiver to eventually get open. In college when a QB reads blitz one of 2 things happens: 1) The QB, who is in shotgun, rolls out and runs the ball against slower weaker defenders. 2) The coach's begin setting up max-protect sets where TE's and RB's are kept in for pass protection. This allows for extra blockers to pick up extra blitzers; again affording the QB's time to dance around waiting for a receiver to get open.

It works in college, BUT... in the NFL the QB's don't get to run around all day because TE's and RB's can't block DE's LB' and S's crashing down in blitzes. Fear not, the NFL has its own solution. That solution is called the 'hot route'. INSTEAD of playing max protect offense the QB is expected to identify the defense in a pre-snap read. The play is then either changed, or the receivers, TE's and RB's are expected to key on the blitz and default to a hot route. The QB takes the snap KNOWING that 7 blitzers are coming and only 6 protectors are available to block. The QB's job is to stand in the pocket and QUICKLY pass the ball out to the hot route before the unblocked or chip blocked blitzer can get there. Only a pocket passer QB that can read the defense can get this done. There simply is not enough time for a QB to dance around in the backfield hoping a receiver can get open. After all, this isn't college ball.


The 'hot route' is ALWAYS in the shallows. It might be in the center shallows or it might be in the outside shallows, but it's ALWAYS in the shallows. There's not enough time for the TE, Slot, or RB to get down field for a long 'hot route', so one or more of them will play in the shallows. The NFL game is all about the shallows. Whoever wins the battle in the shallows usually wins the game.

The Shallows are the area of the field behind the LB's and in front of the DB's. It can be inside or outside but it's always between the 2nd and 3rd level of the defense. Not only do blitzing defenses force plays into the shallows, but entire offensive game plans are built around the shallows. It's called a 'play action' pass. Play action passes start out by showing run, and then as the LB's suck up to the line a RB or TE or Slot crosses the middle or drops to the flat in the shallows. The more the LB's crash the line the bigger the shallows become.


Wes Welker makes his bones in the shallows. So did Bobby Engram, Amani Toomer, Chris Henry, Tony Gonzalez, Zach Miller, etc etc.... the list goes on and on. Because the NFL is played in the shallows. Should a team decide to make up for the line crashing LB's and slip the safeties/corners up to shorten the shallows then guys like Randy Moss and Terrell Owens will easily slip behind the DB's and take the big play. But as I said before, in the NFL big plays come few and far between.

I have read (and argued against) the idea that LB's don't need to have coverage skills over and over on AP. The shallows are the LB's bread and butter and also their problem to defend. If a team's LB's cannot pass cover in the shallows they may as well take off the helmets and forfeit the game. I have been watching the Chiefs LB's and to put it lightly: their coverage skills need vast improvement.

As an example: Offense lines up with a TE strong 21 personnel. (21 = 2 backs, 1 TE) or a TE strong 11 personnel (you figure it out). At the snap of the ball the back goes HARD to the weak side 2 gap, the QB turns to hand off to the RB and then......... ......the LB's crash the gaps to play the run just as the QB pulls the ball back in. The TE is now in the shallows strong side running a crossing route behind the LB that have given up the shallows to pursue the run.

IF your LB's CANT play coverage then they play poor technique. When they realize that the ball was not handed off they turn 90-100 degrees to the strong and LOOK for the TE. They see him running a crossing route BEHIND them and then they take off to catch up. The QB easily passes the ball to the TE who catches it for a 3-10 yard gain + whatever YAC (yards after catch) he can get.

If your LB's CAN play coverage then they play good technique. When they realize the ball was NOT handed off they turn 180 degrees and immediately run FULL SPRINT behind them. They don't waste time looking for the TE. They get to where he WILL BE to receive the pass, not where is currently is, while crossing the field to get behind them. It seems like a little thing, but that tiny amount of reaction time is the difference between a LB being able to challenge the pass in the shallows, and the TE getting an easy catch and run in the center shallows.

The same holds true for OLB's in the flats. Only instead of turning 180 they need to turn 135 degrees and blast the sideline for the out route. Neither the ILB's or the OLB's have the time to THINK or LOOK for the ball. Instead they have to react to the play and protect the shallows.

Once a LB gets into position to disrupt the pay they have to have the skills to take on a BIG TALL TE or a small FAST RB or a SLIPPERY Slot receiver. They WILL BE OUTMATCHED; either in speed, height, strength, or agility. They cannot let being outmatched mean getting beat. Their coverage technique HAS TO BE so good that with almost zero reactionary time they can blanket a potential receiver and make a play on the BALL. --- That's right, the ball... not the player.

With their back to the QB a LB in coverage has to be able to watch the receiver and know when to make their break/move/jump on the ball based off of the receivers reaction to it. In order to do that their read and react coverage skills have to be tremendous. If they aren't then the LB's team is going to give up 3-12 yard plays in the shallows all day.

As another example: The offense lines up in a 4 wide empty set. (No backs, 1 TE aka 01 personnel or 'empty set') The defense is showing blitz. They are sending 3 linemen, 2 LB's and a safety in to blitz. There are 7 defenders blitzing and only 6 blockers to pick them up.

The offense immediately recognizes blitz. The QB sees is and KNOWS that there will be an unblocked defender. The QB also KNOWS that his #1 receiver will be in single man to man coverage DEEP. The QB also knows that the slot receiver is his 'hot route'. The slot will be running an outside shallows weak. The #1 receiver will streak down the field in man to man coverage, the OLB will be coming in a blitz and the slot will be covered by an inside LB as he slips into the shallows of the area the #1 receiver just vacated.

The QB has only 1 thing to look for after the snap: Did the #1 receiver IMMEDIATELY blow past the CB in coverage at the line. If he DID it's a deep ball pass to the #1. If he did NOT the QB takes the snap and throws to the Slot in the outside shallows.

The only one to protect the entire side of the field is the ILB. If that LB cannot play pass coverage the slot will have 30 yards of open running room before the non-blitzing safety can get over to help. Once again the team that wins the battle in the shallows wins the day.

The NFL is a game in the shallows, more so than any other place on the field. The defenders in the shallows are the LB's.

If your LB's can't play smart football, and play pass coverage then pack your gear up and go home because any pocket passer is going to pick you apart all game long. The Chief's currently cannot play coverage from the LB position. They may get better as the season progresses, but at the moment they are losing the game ---- in the shallows.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Arrowhead Pride

You must be a member of Arrowhead Pride to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Arrowhead Pride. You should read them.

Join Arrowhead Pride

You must be a member of Arrowhead Pride to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Arrowhead Pride. You should read them.




Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.