While the 4-Vertical concept instantly sparks a deep shot play in the minds of many, this concept is one that allows QB’s the chance to push the ball downfield, while getting the ball out fairly quickly.
As you can guess, all 4 receivers are responsible for releasing vertical downfield, either looking to win their matchup, or become available in the open zones of the defense, but as we'll see, the concept is a little more versatile.
Overview & Purpose of the Concept
4 Verticals looks to stretch the defense both vertically and horizontally in order to push the football deep down the field. As many offensive coordinators will tell you, their job is to create and find 1 on 1 matchups to help their offense be successful, and 4 verts looks to do exactly that.
Most offensive coaches start by teaching this play as a full-field read, meaning that the whole formation is involved in the play, as opposed to something like the smash concept.
Coverages it Does Well Against
vs Man- Finding a 1 on 1 look, or open zone void is the key in 4 verticals. QB’s must find a favorable matchup based on the talent of their WR, as well as the leverage and cushion of the defensive matchup. As long as he gives his guy a chance to make a play, good things can happen.
vs Cover 3- As long as the quarterback is able to successfully look off the FS, the seams in a cover 3 defense become a weakness. The void in this coverage is just over LB level on either hash, and becomes a good throw into a zone window for the offense.
Coverages it Doesn’t Do Well Against
Cover 4- With the DBs being responsible for all deep quarters of the field, it becomes harder for the QB to find a favorable look against a soft look from the secondary. If this is the case, the QB’s only favorable route is the option route from the slot receiver, as it will be tough for the other receivers to gain traction against DB’s playing in off coverage.
vs Soft Zone Coverages- While 4 verts a play where matchups and voids can be found against many defenses, timing and anticipation is critical for play-callers. In third and long situations, teams will soften their DBs, and encourage their LBs to gain immediate depth into coverage. In these situations, it becomes difficult for the QB to find open windows, and the play call becomes less efficient.
Route Coaching Points vs Man and Zone/One High and Two High
Tight End- Job is to occupy the boundary, landmark is two yards outside of the hash. No route adjustments.
Tailback- Check pass protection responsibilities, release to check-down.
Slot Receiver- Job is to occupy field hash. Against a 2-high look, cross the field safeties face around 10-12 yards at an angle that allows you to win, becoming available over LB level.
X Receiver- Go route. Best release and look to win.
Z Receiver- Go route. Best release and look to win.
Tight End - Job is to occupy the boundary, landmark is two yards outside of the hash. No route adjustments.
Tailback- Check pass protection responsibilities, release to check-down..
Slot Receiver- Occupy field seam, landmark is two yards outside of the hash. No route adjustments.
X Receiver- Go route. Best release and look to win. If at 15 yards, you aren’t able to gain separation, bring route back downhill into a comeback pattern
Z Receiver- Go route. Best release and look to win. If at 15 yards, you aren’t able to gain separation, bring route back downhill into a comeback pattern
Quarterback Coaching Points and Progression
A critical coaching point for the QB in 4 verts is ensuring that he looks off safeties. Staring directly at intended receivers in this concept creates disasters waiting to happen, as deep safety players have the opportunity to get involved downfield on lofted passes.
As discussed earlier, the type of coverage will have heavy influence where the QB decides to go with the football, his thought process will look a lot different vs cover 2 than man coverage. Due to this, giving the QB tools to be successful identifying defenses is critical in the 4 verts concept.
1) Pre-snap identification (# of safeties, 1 on 1 matchups, man or zone)
2) Find 1 on 1 matchup downfield/void in zone coverage
3) Check-down to RB
It is important to understand that the landmarks for the receivers will remain the same in 4 verts. Out of a 3x1 set, this just means that the TE will work to the opposite hash, and the slot receiver will have a chance to cross the face of the field safety.
This is a great way to isolate your X receiver, as it forces the free safety to make a decision. The QB should use the same process in looking to find a favorable 1 on 1 matchup post-snap. Does the FS give his focus to the TE post-snap? If so, the QB has his best WR isolated. Does the safety play deep over top of the X WR? If so, the QB can transition to his TE working to the opposite hash, and slot WR crossing face of the field safety. This type of decision making process creates clarity for the QB as offenses look to push the ball downfield.
Out of this empty look, you’ll quickly notice that the landmarks of all the receivers remain the same. The RB is tagged with a shallow crossing route that the QB can utilize against blitz, as well as if coverage lifts downfield. As discussed earlier, it is critical for the QB to identify the number of safeties, potential favorable 1 on 1 matchups, and his read on whether it is man or zone.
Against a 1-high defense with soft CBs, the QB should read the FS, to either hit his Y WR working to the opposite hash, or Slot WR up the seam. This thought process remains the same for offenses running 4 verts out of any formation, allowing this concept to be teachable and multiple throughout the season.
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