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The Deep Choice Concept: One of Football's Most Versatile Pass Plays

Posted by Alex Kirby on

Ever since Tiger Ellison invented the Run and Shoot offense, coaches have been obsessed with using the pass game to find open space in the defense. 

A key feature of the run and shoot over the years has been all the different option routes or "choice" routes in the scheme that are designed to make the defender wrong no matter what.

For those of you curious about the Art Briles offensive system and old Baylor passing game that lit up defenses in the early-to-mid 2010s, those playbooks featured lots of choice routes that caused opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.

Still, for many years the finer points of teaching and coaching these concepts have been hard to come by. Coach Shawn Liotta of Burrell High School in Pennsylvania has won a lot of games and scored a lot of points in his career, and he's hung his hat on the pass game, specifically the choice route.  

Coach Liotta has put together an incredible 8-part video series that includes multiple in-depth videos on the different versions of the Choice concept with his No Huddle No Mercy Offense HERE.

There are a couple of different versions of this play, but today we're going to take a deep dive into one particular iteration of this concept, specifically the deep choice concept. You can also look at this article where we covered the Quick Choice Concept.

Watch the video below or just keep reading to learn the ins and outs of this foundational play in the run and shoot offense.

Keys To Success for the Deep Choice Concept

First of all, just like anything else in football, you need a lot of reps at this. When it comes to the choice route though, you’ll probably need even more.

The deep choice is the kind of play that a lot of coaches refer to as “expensive” because of the disproportionate amount of time it takes to get good at it. There are a lot of “muddy” reads and the quarterback and the wide receiver have to be able to see the same thing at the same time while the game is moving at full speed. The only way that happens is with lots and lots of practice.

Second, you need proper spacing. The deep choice is designed to put that receiver on an island with one defender. The idea is that no matter what coverage the defense calls, they’re going to be one-on-one in space with that receiver. If that receiver doesn’t have the proper spacing, then the safety can roll over to that side and help on the route, or a linebacker can buzz underneath and cut off the throw. You don’t want the defense to be able to cover that choice route without giving up something else, and that’s only possible if the receivers play with proper spacing.

You can see the picture below for a good idea of what that looks like. The defense is dropping eight into coverage, but because of the great spacing on the deep choice route, the offense still manages to get a one-on-one matchup with the defender.

Deep Choice Concept Alignment and Spacing - Shawn Liotta

Finally, you have to know your quarterback. It sounds stupid, but your quarterback has to actually be able to throw the ball well to be able to run this play. He doesn’t have to have a perfect arm, but if he struggles with accuracy or getting the ball out on time, this probably isn’t the best play for you.

Coach Liotta talks more about how they coach the quarterback in this offense HERE.

Alignment and Coaching Points for the Choice Route

If that receiver is lined up to the field, we want him to line up at the top of the numbers. If it’s anything other than that, they want him to line up as wide as five yards from the sideline. Sometimes they may even sneak it all the way to a four yard width. Depending on the arm strength of your quarterback you can even play with that alignment further, playing that same alignment even when the ball is on the opposite hash and your receiver is to the field.

Deep Choice Alignment Rules - Shawn Liotta

Once he’s in his proper alignment, he’s going to find the deep safety and make sure he’s not outside the hash pre-snap. If the safety isn’t lined up that wide, then he shouldn’t be able to affect the choice route and the receiver should be isolated on the defender lined up across from him.

On this play, the only thing they’re concerned with is the “starred” defender- he’s the defender the offense is trying to isolate and read in space, and make him wrong no matter what he does.

The route starts with a speed release. The receiver doesn’t care about an inside or outside release against press coverage, he’s just trying to get off the line as quick as he can and get to his landmark at ten yards depth. 

This is called the “decision point” for the route, and it determines how the rest of the route will develop. The read they give the receiver at this point is very simple:

If you can touch the cornerback: Run by him

If you can’t touch the cornerback: Run a stop route back down the step to the QB

Deep Choice Route Reads and Progression - Shawn Liotta

As the receiver works to get off the line in a hurry, in either direction, they really want to “stack” the corner, in other words, get on top of him and get vertical. If that sounds complicated, it’s coach-speak for beating the corner deep and getting him all the way behind you so he can use his body or hands to affect the flight of the ball as you attempt the catch.

The reason Coach Liotta stresses the need to “stack” the corner is pretty simple. It all comes down to speed. On most football teams, the starting corners are faster than the starting receivers, and so if that receiver beats the corner off the line either inside or outside, and he’s got a step or two on the defender, that’s probably not enough to keep the defender from closing in on the throw and having a chance to knock the ball away. 

Stacking the corner means that even if you beat him straight off the line, you re-establish yourself on the original path and force that defender to come through your body to make a play. This does a lot to negate the speed advantage that defensive back may have on the receiver, because even if he catches up to the guy running the route, he’s still completely out-leveraged and has to either make an amazing play or commit a penalty to knock the ball away and force the incompletion.

The Occupy Route

When it comes to the “triangle” and “circle” defender, they’re really trying to rub and occupy them with the route that is called, you guessed it, the “occupy” route and keep those guys involved so that they can’t help out on the choice route. 

Coach Liotta wants to see a forced outside release by the guy running the occupy route, and then as he says, those guys are “running to get covered”. The coaches don’t necessarily tell them that they’re not getting the ball on this play, but it’s understood that their primary job is to open up space for the choice route to the outside.

If there’s a safety in the middle of the field, they’re going to run right at him so they can occupy him. If he’s sitting on the hash in some kind of two deep coverage or middle of the field open look, they’re going to snap that post route off in front of him, similar to a classic curl route, and then they’ll look to find open space. Against man coverage, they’ll stay on the move on a flat dig route and try to carry those defenders with them.

Backside of the Concept

On the backside, you can really run whatever you want. No matter what it is, the route really isn’t even in the progression as part of the choice route, because the quarterback’s eyes should be staring firmly at the starred defender (usually a corner) to the opposite side of the field. You could put some kind of blitz-beating route to that side, but Coach Liotta usually prefers to run what he calls a “hangout” route.

The hangout route is literally just having that receiver walk off the line of scrimmage at the snap, and gives him a play off when they’re not going to throw him the ball. You might think it’s lazy, and you’re right, but it’s taught that way.

Burrell High School, where he’s coaching, is a small school where the best skill guys play both ways on offense and defense, so if a guy really has no chance at getting the ball, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to have him run 20 yards downfield at full speed, and then run the same distance back to the line of scrimmage. After all, he’s only going to be affecting defenders who can’t do anything about the choice route to the opposite side of the field, so why get him out of breath for no reason?

Now, they can just as easily run the choice route to that side of the field on the next play, and the receiver will be at full strength. 

They can just as easily tag quick game routes to that backside, and they’ve even run a “hangout and go” route where he fakes as if he’s taking the play off and then goes deep, so there are always extra options if that’s something that’s important to you. 

Want More?

Coach Liotta goes into incredible detail on the deep choice concept and the rest of his “No Huddle No Mercy” offense in this 8-part video series HERE.