Creating Explosive Plays in the Passing Game – Dan Gonzalez

I want to thank Dan Gonzalez for his guest post on this site.  I read Dan’s first book Concept Passing: Teaching the Modern Passing Game
and it changed the way I thought about teaching the passing game.  I first contacted Dan in 2009, and I have been talking ball with him since.  Dan has rethought the passing game with the idea of simplifying teaching for the players sake.  His new book Recoded and Reloaded presents all of the concepts from the first book repackaged in a simpler way.  I reviewed Dan’s book. Read the review here.

Creating Explosive Plays in the Passing Game by Dan Gonzalez

Right behind ball security, the ability to generate big plays serves as the greatest indicator of offensive success.   No matter what level of football, if a team has the edge on its opponent in these two categories, it wins at a rate greater than 90%.  In knowing the truth in this statistic, defenses will naturally focus their efforts into 1) forcing turnovers and 2) eliminating the “big” play.   And while offenses have become accomplished at creating easy completions for the quarterback (thus minimizing the risks he must take), one thing I have seen at all levels is that it is getting harder and harder to create explosives in the dropback passing game.

I remember a time when Steve Spurrier’s Florida teams could throw (and complete) the flag route on the SMASH pattern (Diagram 1) for what seemed like ten times a game.

Gonzalez Fla Gators Smash

And while an offense can catch a defense in a man-to-man coverage on occasion, it is not anywhere near the frequency of what it used to be; with the emergence of pattern reading, even two-deep zone teams are lessening their vulnerability to SMASH (Diagram 2).

Gonzalez covering up smash

Defenses are, in general, becoming more well versed in minimizing the damage caused by some of the old staples in the passing game (for example “4 Verticals” versus Cover 3).  In studying these tactics, I have come up with some simple ways to “engineer” some explosive plays, without deviating too far from what many teams are doing offensively.

Gonzalez covering 4 verts

Get receivers into the intermediate zones. 

3-Level (Play Action).  With the emphasis put on the quick passing game, I feel this is an area where defenses nowadays are really getting a free pass.  In many instances, I see teams that will throw the occasional “go” route sprinkled in among several screens and quick passes; the problem is that this strategy doesn’t really attack the same people.  I see even huge holes in the defense if only the offensive coach would allow his players to press deeper, creating true 3-tiered stretches of the defense.  While many high schools do not possess a Division 1 arm talent at QB or speed at WR, these shortcomings can be overcome through the use of play action to get receivers into the 15-18 yard level.  From a one-back setting, we have used either the gap pass action or zone pass action (Diagram 4) in order to create cavities for the receiver in the defense.

86 bomb

RB Vertical.  From a straight drop back passing perspective, using the running back as the deep option in a DEEP TO SHORT stretch is a great way to jumpstart an offense.   Because of the emphasis on re-routing and bracketing receivers, a coach can dictate some great matchups for the offense.  Diagram 5 shows one such look; if the W linebacker isn’t extremely disciplined,   a relatively short completion can go a long way.

gold 8 dot

Diagram 6 takes advantage of a defense that gets into an 8-man front versus 2-back sets.  This trend has trickled down to the high school ranks, as hybrid safety/outside linebacker types give the defense flexibility.  This flexibility however can be turned against the defense, using a variation of the 4 VERTICALS pattern:

r box gator

Dictate a blitz.  As I’ve intimated before in my blog on game-planning in the Scoring Zone (here at, taking advantage of defensive “automatics” can be a great place to start.  Here, we give the FORK route runner an early look at defeating a man-to-man safety (Diagram 7).  The defense, seeing an EMPTY set, checks to a blitz, only to find that the pattern is fully protected.  The offense has all the rushers blocked, and the safety is on an island.

y fit gator

Protection adjustments.  With the prevalence of spread out offenses, many offenses simply rely on quick or HOT throws to counter blitzes.  While this is part of the solution, an offense can make a ZONE BLITZ pay dearly if the QB has the ability to adjust the protection.  In Diagram 8, the use of cadence and tempo in a no-huddle setting forces the defense to show its hand; the QB is able to re-direct his protection, and attack where the defense is most vulnerable – in the seams.

5 beamer gator

DASH.  Not to be confused with SPRINTOUT, which actually lessens the ability of the offense to stretch the defense, DASH can be designed to attack the full field (Diagram 9).   The DASH action is nothing new; what is innovative is the use of the initial drop to take a quick rhythm shot in the seam if there, and if not, moving the pocket to buy time to get routes deeper than normal.  This will expose the defense to stems they just aren’t used to defending.


Attack the Middle Linebacker.  With today’s matchup zone techniques, defenses can insulate themselves from traditional pass patterns.  However, with two patterns on either side of the MIKE, there will be space away from his rotation (Diagram 10):

hide ram

These are just a few of the many thoughts we have in regard to designing explosive plays in the passing game; I hope they have given some insight, and look forward to any questions you may have.

 Read more from Dan on his website:



2 thoughts on “Creating Explosive Plays in the Passing Game – Dan Gonzalez

  1. Loved the post! My question is how the examples are incorporated into the offense? Is one to view these as “specials” per game plan or established plays in the playbook?

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