In many offensive systems, the receiver on the line of scrimmage, away from the formation strength is called the “X” receiver. For many teams, this is their best receiver. He is a player that can force double coverage or bracketing. His role is to win on his routes, especially when he draws single coverage. Many of today’s defenses match this player by putting their best cover corner on him. The advantage created by the X can be realized when a specific plan of action is in place to attack the defense who leaves him singled up. By making him a focus, the ball can end up in his hands for a big play, or he can create a situation where another player is able to get open because of the defense’s reaction or strategy to stop the X.
The X in Quick game – stick and dash wheel
The basic way to use the X in the quick game attack is to give the quarterback and X the ability to communicate leverage and execute the quick game routes of hitch, slant, quick out, in, and fade. Each of these can be packaged in a number of ways into other routes. Our two favorites were to utilize them with a spread 3 x 1 formation and the stick route combination on the trips side, and with our quick-naked concept which we called Dash Wheel from a tight end-trips formation. Examples of each route within these packages are shown below.
Stick X Hitch
Stick X Fade
Dash X Out
Dash X In
Dash X Slant
The X in Spacing
The 3 x 1 spacing concept(link) is a staple in this offense. It gives us a quick rhythm concept that allows us to attack zone defenses with five evenly spaced routes. When the defense deploys only three or four defenders in underneath zone coverage, the offense is at an advantage. With a corner dropping deep, the linebacker to the boundary is stretched inside and out by the snag concept. Because the X’s route appears to go vertical, the linebacker often let’s him go to defend the swing. This allows the snag route by the X to get into a void as illustrated in the video below.
The X in four verticals
It takes just one time on film for a defense to understand that leaving the corner on an island against the X is a bad idea if the X can win over the top like in this next example.
Once the X has established his vertical threat by running by the corner, the other components of the four vertical concept will present themselves. From the same formation in the game following the 73-yard touchdown, the defense moves a safety over to bracket the X on the vertical route. This gives the tight end the opportunity on his route working across to the boundary hash.
Another example of the defense reacting to stop the X opens up the field landmark on this switch released four vertical play. You will notice that the quarterback starts his progression with the X and scans his eyes across. The quarter-quarter-half coverage leaves the field safety in a bind having to defend the routes. The quarterback steps up and makes a throw at a critical point in the game with under two minutes to go for the go ahead, winning score.
When the defense begins to use the linebacker underneath and the corner softer to maintain a cushion on the X, the X has space underneath to run a comeback route. In the next example, the linebacker to the boundary works under the tight ends route, opening up the space for the quarterback to throw the singled-up X on the comeback.
The running back can be used to keep the linebacker from dropping underneath the comeback by running his route at the linebacker as shown below.
The X is not limited to staying on the boundary. Using field space and the reaction of the defense to get underneath vertical routes opens up opportunities for the X to run a shallow crossing route and catch the ball in space.
Additionally, getting the X matched up with a linebacker within a switched four vertical concept is desirable. We accomplish this on third and long and the X gets open on the switched seam route on the hash.
The X in boundary flood and levels concepts
One of our favorite ways to utilize the X in the drop back game was within our boundary flood and levels concepts. We utilized a pre-snap thought process we learned form Dub Maddox, the offensive coordinator at Jenks High School (OK), to attack the pre-snap and post-snap indicators of the defense. Learn more about his concepts and progression system in From Headset to Helmet: Coaching the R4 Expert System. In both of these concepts, the X and quarterback communicate the route based on what Maddox refers to as “caps and tubes.”
Based on how the defense is aligning in five vertically spaced tubes, the X has opportunities available against each alignment. For the X into the boundary, he is convened only with the tube he is aligned in, and the tube inside of him. Examples of the Post, Vertical, and Out made available by the defense’s alignment are illustrated in diagrams and video below.
In this example, the quarterback uses a pre-snap indicator based on film study to diagnose that the safety will roll away and leave a lane open to throw the post. This third and long completion in the fourthth quarter put the game out of reach for our opponent.
The same process is used in a play-action pass shown below.
We integrated Maddox’s rule into two concepts, but certainly this is a sound attack for any 3 x 1 formation which puts the X on his own.
Dan Gonzalez has been another great resource in helping to organize pass concepts. His book Recoded and Reloaded: An Updated Structure for a Complete Passing Game at Any Level provides for a structured process to organize passing game thoughts. Gonzalez uses what he calls an “advantage principal” to stress the defense. One idea is using what he calls “Redskin” or a deep-to-short progression from the X running an inside stemmed vertical to a back out of the backfield running his landmark vertical to the numbers. We incorporated this idea into the “slash” concept we used from Maddox. The defense is being stretched by this combination horizontally, but because of where the receivers are coming from, it hits on two different levels. The receiver coming out of the backfield causes the linebacker to let go of the inside stemming X who is now running in a void on the hash landmark seam. A diagram of this type of concept and video illustrate it below.
These examples should provide you with some specific ideas of how to utilize your best receiver and make the defense pay for single coverage, as well as providing ways to make the defense pay for the voids they leave when they over-react to defend X.