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Shallow Cross Concept: Everything You Need to Know

Posted by Throw Deep Publishing Staff on

The core of the shallow cross concept is a basic route, and shallow drag route working from opposite directions of one another. And as any solid passing game concept does, it looks to put defenders in conflict, and possess answers against both man and zone coverage.

Similar to the drive concept in nature, shallow cross looks to put LB level players in a bind, as they must decide whether to drop to cover the basic route, or play low honoring the drag route. Depending on how it is coached, it can offer both a simple triangle read for QBs, or become a great secondary progression for QBs as they move from downfield routes looking to find completions underneath. 

In this article we'll discuss how the shallow cross concept works, and we'll even use an installation video that goes into A TON of detail on this all-purpose pass concept.

Shallow Cross vs 2 High

Overview & Purpose of the Concept

This combination serve the purpose of stressing LB level players to account for both routes over the middle of the field. It provides a great opportunity to get the ball out of the QB’s hand quickly vs blitz, or allow a skilled TE to find voids over the middle of the defense. Similar to the Y Cross concept, this is a great way to attack the middle of the defense and stress the coverage with another horizontal route combination.

In most situations, the quarterback will have the option of throwing other downfield routes, before transitioning to read this combination. As you’ll see, this concept can greatly aid an offense looking to bolster their passing schemes.

Coverages it Does Well Against

Man - With both the drag and basic route runner being able to stay on the move, the QB has great options as long as both players are able to win their 1 on 1 matchup. 

Tampa 2 - With the MLB and 2 safeties dropping to cover the deep thirds of the field, this leaves a likely void at LB level that the basic route runner can look to fill as the defense looks to take away the threat of a downfield pass. 

Cover 4 - With the 4 DBs responsible for the deep quarters of the field, it creates a 3 on 3 look in the box as the drag/basic/flare combination creates a natural triangle read for the QB. As coverage lifts, the QB should have options underneath as the receivers look to stay on the move in open grass/settle in zone voids against the cover 4 defensive look. 

Coverages it Doesn’t Do Well Against

Cover 3 - A traditional cover 3 defense possesses 4 defenders responsible for the flat/hook areas. This naturally gives the defense the numbers advantage to defend the shallow cross concept. While the drag/basic runners can find open voids, offenses are less likely to find a big play underneath. 

Route Coaching Points vs Man and Zone/One High and Two High

vs Man Coverage-

TB- Check pass protection responsibilities, release to flare route. 

TE- Basic route. Landmark is 10-12 yards. Stay on the move. 

Slot Receiver- Shallow drag route. Landmark is 3-4 yards. Stay on the move. 

Z Receiver- Go route. Run to win. 

X Receiver- Post route. Run to win against the CB, keep it skinny over safety level.

Shallow Cross Concept vs 1 High

vs Zone Coverage-

TB- Check pass protection responsibilities, release to flare route. 

TE- Basic route. Landmark is 10-12 yards. Tempo and settle in open zone voids.

Slot Receiver- Shallow drag route. Landmark is 3-4 yards. 

Z Receiver- Go route. Run to win. 

X Receiver- Post route. Run to win against the CB, keep it skinny over safety level.

Quarterback Coaching Points and Progression

The QB is taught to read and analyze his downfield routes before transitioning to the shallow cross combination within this play. However, vs any blitz look, or if the QB feels immediate pressure, transitioning quickly to the drag/basic combination is his answer.

The QB should  get a feel for whether the defense is in man or zone, as both his drag and basic runners will have the option to adjust their routes to settle in voids against zone coverage if so. Pre-snap, the QB should analyze the fade route by the X WR, before transitioning the read the progression post-snap in the following manner below. 


1) Post

2) Drag

3) Basic

4) RB Checkdown


Now let's take a look at a couple of different versions of the shallow cross route.

Variation 1 - Bunch X Shallow Cross

Bunch sets are a great way to scheme players open, while forcing the defense to be able to communicate and pass off routes in coverage. This variation is an efficient progression read for the QB utilizing shallow cross. 

Shallow Cross Bunch Formation

The post-out combination you see in this look is a great answer against 2-high defenses. The QB can read this progression from high to low. If the SS and CB honor the post route, the QB can transition to read the NS. If he fails to widen with the out route, the QB can throw this route on time for a nice gain. If the NS takes away the out pattern, the shallow drag route underneath replaces him, creating an easy completion for the QB. If the MLB runs with the drag route, the basic in behind it becomes the final option in the progression for the QB. 

Variation 2 - Empty Shallow Cross Post-Wheel

As offensive coordinators look to get into empty sets, it is imperative that the QB has answers to get the ball out of his hands quickly against any pressure. The shallow cross concept is a great way to accomplish this. If the QB anticipates blitz, both the drag and basic become great immediate options, as both look to find voids as LBs leave the picture to rush the QB.

Empty Shallow Cross Post-Wheel

Moving to the progression, the glance-wheel combination in the right side of this formation is tough on 1-high defenses. The QB can look to take time to read this progression, before moving back down to the drag-basic combination. If the defense matches the glance-wheel look 2 for 2, with the FS running with the wheel route, getting the ball to the drag route runner replacing him creates an opportunity for a playmaker in space.

Shallow Cross Video Installation

Coach Shawn Liotta, creator of the No Huddle No Mercy Offense, put together a great video on how he teaches the shallow cross concept.

Click below to watch: 

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