Regular readers of the site know that I am a huge fan of Chris Brown, who's written about X's and O's at Smart Football and more recently Grantland.
Yesterday Chris posted some YouTube footage of Coach Richt talking about one of his favorite passing concepts, one which he brought to Georgia from Tallahassee, the shallow cross series. If you ever have the chance to hear Coach Richt lecture on this topic (which he does at a lot of coaching clinics because he's one of the masters of it), take it. If you ever ask him a question about it (as I did once when discussing Joe Cox's transition to starter from reserve) expect to get an earful. Mark Richt is an evangelist for the shallow cross, and with good reason.
It's a deceptively simple set of routes(Richt has the basic set up on the projectionscreen behind him in the video Chris posted) which can be run using a variety of personnel.Sometimes it's three receivers bunched. Sometimes it's twin receivers and a tight end. Sometimes it's a receiver, a tight end and the back out of the backfield into the flat.
Mark Richt wasn't the first one to use it, either. Lavelle Edwards won a lot of games with it at BYU, and it's been a staple of the West Coast, Run-and-Gun, Air Raid, and every other pass happy offense of the past 30 years. Every defensive coordinator from high school to the NFL has seen it, coached against it, and understands it well.
However, that shallow cross is still maddeningly effective for the reasons highlighted in Coach Richt's presentation on the subject: it forces defenders to make choices at full speed. If you look at the accompanying video you'll see this principal in action over and over again. One thing you'll notice is that Coach Richt (and now Coach Bobo) aren't afraid to employ this route pattern anywhere on the field. This goes hand in hand with the fact that it can be run with any set of receiving personnel. Theoretically it could be done on the goal line with an H-Back, a tailback, and a tight end, or example.
Another distinct advantage of the shallow cross series is that it seriously simplifies the quarterback's job. As Coach Richt notes, there are 3 receivers to be considered in quick succession. If none of them is open and you're Charlie Ward or D.J. Shockley, you take off running. If you're David Greene or Chris Weinke, you throw it into the 20th row and come back on the next down. And most of the throws involved rely more on accuracy than pure arm strength, so you don't have to be Matt Stafford to churn out yardage with it.
Add in the occasional use of play action by the quarterback and you have a plan that drives linebackers nuts. Executed correctly the shallow cross maximizes the potential of athletic receivers, hides the inadequacies of inexperienced and noodle-armed quarterbacks, and does so without being obvious pre-snap so that it's easy to spot and adjust to. It's not the perfect offense, but when run correctly it's damned good. Another advantage of the shallow cross noted by Richt is that it doesn't rely on long downfield routes and 5 step drops. As a result you don't see a lot of sacks using this scheme absent an indecisive QB or a total mental breakdown on the offensive line. There have been times during the Richt regime when that aspect of the shallow cross has made it a nice arrow to have in the metaphorical quiver.
As Chris notes there's also some footage of the "stick" and "sail" passing attacks that Coach Richt used a lot of and which Coach Bobo has continued. Chris links to some excellent explanatory posts from other places on those concepts as well, which are well worth your time if you want to log some chalkboard time this summer. These concepts share with the shallow cross series the common trait that they aren't revolutionary, complicated, or novel. They're simple schemes which when run properly by good players are hard to stop, and when run by world class athletes are just scary.
If I've learned one thing watching football and writing about it, it's this: there is no one way to move the ball down the field or stop it from being moved. The key is to have a plan, teach it well, and execute it consistently. Mark Richt and Mike Bobo have done that, and it's the reason that year after year Georgia has scored a lot of points without being in the avant garde of offensive thought. I'd rather be successful than edgy any day of the week, anyhow. Until later . . .