Let's take a look at everyone's favorite play, 4 verts (or 6 based on the Mike Leach lingo).
From everything that I can tell, it is actually one of the first pass plays taught while installing the offense. It's pretty straightforward, really. And yet, complex. We'll get to that later.
On the surface, it is exactly what it sounds like. The 4 wide receivers run vertical routes. The point of this play is to pick up large chunks of yards. The diagram is posted below.
Above is the Doubles or 2x2 formation. Below is a Trips left or 3x1 formation.
Each receiver has a landmark they aim for; outside receivers release to the outside and run down the numbers, inside receivers release inside and run down the hashes. Here's where it can get complicated. Each receiver has an option on their route that is based off the defense. If the QB and WR each make the same read, then there isn't a problem. If they make different reads, the ball's going to hit the turf, or end up in the hands of the defense.
The first read is to see if the defense is in man coverage (CBs and safeties will run with the WR, mirroring the route) or in cover 4, which on this route/play is basically the same thing (the 2 CBs and 2 safeties are responsible for 1/4 of the deep field, which means they will run with the receivers going deep). If the read is made that the defense is in man coverage or cover 4, there are still 2 options for the outside receivers. The read here is based on the skill of the CB. If the CB is really good and can cover the WR step for step, the ball is thrown to the back shoulder (back shoulder fade). If the WR beats the CB, then the ball is thrown over the top, leading the WR deeper downfield.
If thrown properly, the back shoulder fade is nearly impossible to defend. With the CB running with the WR in man coverage (or cover 4), the CB is reading the WR the whole way. When the ball is thrown, the WR stops and turns back to the ball. Since the CB is reading and reacting off the WR, the CB has almost no chance to make a play on the throw.
What about the RB you say? Well, he is responsible for picking up the blitz if there is any. Much like in part 1 of this series, the RB's first duty is to protect the QB. If no threat presents itself, he releases into the pattern. His route is a safety or check down route. He will settle in the middle of the field, underneath the LBs that have fallen back to cover the seams. He gets the ball as a last resort.
Now, if the read is cover 2 (2 deep safeties are responsible each for half of the field, the CBs are responsible for the flats), the QB's eyes should light it. In this scenario, it is very much like running the option. The two CBs don't run with the WRs, they stay closer to the line of scrimmage to cover the flats. The 2 safeties are then left to cover the 4 WRs running deep. Here's the option concept of the play. Each safety has to decide which WR to run with and cover. Once he makes that decision and turns his hips, the QB throws to the WR the safety is leaving. The QB just has to make the correct read and not botch the throw.
In cover 3, 1 safety stays deep and the two outside CBs run, each being responsible for 1/3 of the deep field. Same concept as above. The deep safety is responsible for covering the 2 inside WRs, and no matter who he chooses to cover, he's going to be wrong.
Here are a couple of examples of this play from this past season. Now, I can't say for certain, but I think Kingsbury altered the routes (or Amaro botched his, I prefer to think Kingsbury changed it though). If you notice in both examples, Amaro does not run a vertical route. He runs a kind of underneath, crossing route. This almost seems to be some hybrid of the 4 verts and y-cross plays.
Anyways, in the first example, WVU is running man coverage (because of the blitz) with 1 high safety. Webb makes the read and throws the back-shoulder fade to Davis who was covered by the nickel back and the safety (after he had read the throw). None of the receivers had beaten their man enough for Webb to throw the ball over their heads.
In this second example, Arizona State looks to have been in a Cover 2/man combo coverage (where the two safeties were covering the deep halves, everyone else was in man underneath). Davis beat his man, and the safety was too late to come over and help over the top. Webb throws the ball past the defender and Davis runs underneath it.
If you will remember, Texas Tech/Mike Leach called this play 5 times out of the 6 plays on the final drive vs. Texas in 2008. The first completion went to Baron Batch as a quick check down in the middle of the field. The second play was the only one not called for 4 verts, was a screen to Detron Lewis. Play 3 was a back shoulder fade to Lewis on the right side. Play 4 was a back shoulder fade to Ed Britton on the left. Play 5 was where Harrell scrambled, Britton was coming back to the ball and the pass was deflected into the air where Blake Gideon nearly intercepted it. And finally, play 6 was the back shoulder fade to Crabtree where he scored.
Next time, we will look at another play that was crucial to Texas Tech's offensive success the past couple of years, the Y-Cross (thanks Jace!).