Air Raid Concepts: Smash, Divide, and Conquer

As we have seen in previous editions, plays in the Air Raid system are comprised of simple concepts that are meant to strain a defense vertically and horizontally. The Smash concept is another one of those simple-yet-effective play types designed to create – or attack – open space. Originally designed against Cover 2, this play can also be run against man.

The Smash Concept

The term “simple” is overused to describe many of these concepts, but it is true. Smash is the combination of two routes: a 5-6 yard hook route by the outside receiver that draws a defensive back, and a 10-12 yard corner route by the inside receiver in the open space created over the hook. In the figure below (via: Billy Gomila), “1” is the sideline receiver, and “2” is the inside receiver, which can be mirrored to the other side.

Smash Concept

For the quarterback, their first read is the corner route and the position of the cornerback over the “1” receiver. If the CB defends the hitch, this creates an open space behind the CB for the corner route. If the corner drops back to defend the corner route, the hitch is open. The hitch route has some options as well. If the nickel back comes out to defend the flat, the receiver can then roll over the back, then inside towards a soft spot. The “2” receiver has to be able to eat up any cushion against his man forcing him inside, or sell a post route against a dee[ zone defender before breaking hard to the outside. As always, Smart Football has some additional information and resources regarding the receivers’ role and technique.

The play below is good demonstration of this concept versus zone. The offense is in Ace formation in Leach-speak. (Many of the formation nomenclature is derived from the Coug Center site or from Leach’s old OU playbook). We will focus on the far side of the field where the play happens.

Smash Left

The runningback releases for a swing pass after having no one to block. The cornerback gives the outside receiver a 5 or 6 yard cushion. The safety is lined up over inside receiver, while the nickelback is eyeing the flat. Connor Davis, the inside receiver, releases downfield and fakes an inside route, causing the NB to hesitate slightly and turn his hips upfield. The CB covering the outside receiver continues to give the cushion eyeing Davis as Davis rolls his route to the corner – while also taking away the safety – and Derris Prater (sleeper alert) is open on the hitch route underneath. Approximately two seconds elapse from snap to Shanbour’s pass.

On the near side of the field, the play is mirrored, but they are covered the whole way. I would like to point out how open the middle of the field became as the safeties are pulled to the sidelines. This can allow for a number of defensive exploits, including a draw play, a variety of routes for the runningback, or a deep seam attack.

The Divide Route

The Smash concept can be a quick passing option underneath, or a chain mover with the corner route. But how can we add an explosive home run option?

The Divide route is essentially a seam read by the inside receiver that exploits soft areas of Cover 2 and Cover 3. It strains the defense vertically and opens up the Smash routes, or creates a big play downfield. On its own, the divide route reads the position of the safeties. If the middle is open, the receiver takes the deep post, “dividing” the safeties. If there is safety help over the top, the receiver can streak along the hashes.

The play below has a Smash combined with a Divide. The offense is in what looks to be a Trips Late formation (though I called it Trips Open in the Y-stick article). On the far sideline, Rutherford runs the hitch while Buyers runs the corner route. The Y receiver, Kelvin Smith, runs the divide route. The near receiver likely runs a fade or a curl, but the camera cuts them out.

Smash Divide

The cornerback over Rutherford is giving him a 10 yard cushion, the safety eyes Buyers, and nickelback lines up with inside leverage against a larger Smith. The other safety sits 10 yards deep on the near hash, and the left cornerback presses against the near receiver. There is a mismatch between Smith and his man, who is beat almost immediately. The right cornerback is sucked in by the [wide open] hitch route, Buyers beats his safety for the [open] corner route. The nickelback receives no safety help, and Shanbour decides to go for the home run as soon as the far safety turns to follow Buyers. While the ball was a tad short, Smith uses his frame to secure the aggressive throw over the mismatched opponent for a touchdown. Approximately 3 seconds elapsed from snap to pass. While not necessarily advisable with two other open guys, if this is first down, I say do it.

Final Thoughts

The Smash concept with the added divide route can be a Cover 2 and Cover 3 killer. It encompasses the Air Raid philosophy of stretching the defense horizontally, and straining them vertically. Big guys like Kelvin Smith create mismatches against linebackers all day, while receivers like Goree and Rutherford can attack the sideline.

Additionally, we have seen this formation before. The Y-stick is also run out of this Trips formation. Not only will defenses have a difficult time keying in on a specific play, playcalling can change based on what the defense gives them out of the same formation.