Understanding The Route Tree In Football

Understanding The Route Tree In Football

Football’s thrill is in the setup and execution of a well-done pass play, which requires complex interaction between the receiver and the quarterback. It includes athleticism and timing, but there is also something called a route tree, which serves as a blueprint for this dance-in-the-sky. This blog post delves into the intriguing world of route trees to provide both players and fans with a better understanding of this integral part of the passing game.

Understanding The Route Tree In Football

What are Route Trees?

Think of it like this: Branching out in every direction after the snap, what can a receiver do? This is exactly what we mean by route tree. It is simply a visual representation and communication tool that displays collectively predetermined paths for wide receivers. Each route has its title and includes specific cuts, depths, and directions created to open up coverage gaps while providing opportunities for receptions.

With different strategies in place over time, route trees have been around for many years now. The earliest ones were all about long straight routes downfield, but things have since changed, with modern times showing more variety from them, including inscurls, and comebacks, among others, that adapt to various defensive formations.

Understanding the route tree is critical for both game participants and fans. For athletes, they are building blocks in terms of properly running routes. Receivers can separate themselves from defenders by understanding these patterns, leading them into areas where they can make catches based on who has been assigned to cover them defensively or adjust their course if needed depending upon the cornerback’s position to expect throws before starting their way inside towards the sideline, where the QB may look first, aiming for easier completion.

These players, equipped with useful knowledge, excel as receivers, consistently catching passes aimed at them, even in the face of tight defense. This makes them reliable targets for quarterbacks during team games. However, at times, they act as a release valve for underneath routes rather than taking risks and making significant plays downfield, as the game plan dictates. And that’s how you go from being a fan of football to someone who understands the artistry behind it all.

For those fans who don’t want to miss anything, the route tree will also prove useful. Understanding which routes are being run allows one to predict what plays the offense is going to call or why certain passes work while others do not. You get to see how the chess match between teams’ offenses and defenses unfolds right in front of your screen as you watch them compete against each other during these games, making everything more interesting than ever before!

Cracking the Code: An Introduction to the Basic Routes

Different patterns emerge from this branch of the route tree, each with its distinct characteristics. Here are some of the most used ones.

  • Go Route: It goes directly downfield, forcing a deep safety away while testing the receiver’s speed and requiring an accurate throw from his quarterback.
  • Slant Route: A quick cut across the field on a diagonal line towards the middle area, usually aimed at attacking below-zone coverage.
  • Out Route: A sharp break towards the sideline forces the corner to turn and sprint with his back turned to stop, while the tight end or flanker curls underneath him for short gains.
  • In Route (or Dig): On this type of pass-rout, the player sprints out then sharply cuts inside as he targets linebackers deep into middle coverage where they might be unable to cover space beneath last-row defenders in secondary since their focus has shifted elsewhere on the field leaving no one directly responsible for that part due primarily because wideouts will operate from either side both ends making them less predictable before deciding whether heading outside again expecting to throw up along sideline first few steps but only angle should change slightly thereby becoming inside from outside another direction thus presenting himself beside him just beyond any potential help defender if necessary depending upon depth available behind linebacker(s).
  • Curl Route: After running forward for about 15 yards, this pass pattern breaks back toward the QB. If no one is open downfield, this could be a check-down throw.
  • Post Route: A vertical route with an inside break at a greater depth compared to a slant. It aims to create a space between the cornerback and the safety.
  • Corner Route: However, the cut on this pattern breaks to the end-line corner, and it hopes to exploit either man-on-man or soft zone coverage.
  • Comeback Route: An elusive route—whereby the receiver runs a certain depth upfield before stopping and then veering back toward the quarterback—can leave defenders stumbling and create space on the underneath routes.

The Art of Reading Defenses and Adjusting Routes

Imagine playing chess with the ability to change how your pieces move during the game. Essentially, that’s what reading defenses do, as well as adjusting routes. Quarterbacks function as grandmasters by scanning defense pre-snap and post-snap to recognize coverage schemes. This is where magic comes in:

  • Pre-snap reads: Are linebackers moving towards the line of scrimmage? This may be an indication of a blitz situation, thus forcing the quarterback to look for a quick outlet route. On the other hand, safeties positioned deep may indicate zone coverage, opening up opportunities for deeper throws.
  • Post-snap adjustments: With the ball snapped, receivers become the kingpins in this chess game. They can shift their course based on how they react to defenders after their initial routes have been cleared. A simple slant route can turn into a curl depending on the cornerback’s positioning.

This constant communication between quarterback and receiver is often done through subtle glances or unspoken cues; it demonstrates the great teamwork that must exist in football.

Remember: Effective route adjustments exploit weaknesses in the defense. The time will come when a well-timed dig route finds a soft spot in the zone, or even when a corner route exploits an opponent following a decoy.

Let’s see this in action:

Tom Brady’s game-winning drive in Super Bowl LI: Facing a seemingly impenetrable coverage scheme, Brady adjusted his throws and routes accordingly through the Patriots’ “stick” concept, culminating in Julian Edelman taking home the championship with a TD catch.

Route Trees and Offensive Systems: A Match Made in Football Heaven

Route trees shine best within specific offensive systems, despite being versatile tools everywhere else. Here’s how various systems leverage these routes:

  • West Coast Offense: This meticulous system emphasizes short, precise throws. The route tree focuses on slants, curls, and out routes, which are designed to quickly and efficiently find open receivers. Think of the San Francisco 49ers under Joe Montana, where surgical passes with Jerry Rice and John Taylor were a beautiful sight.
  • Air Raid Offense: This high-octane offense prioritizes explosive plays. The route tree leans towards deep passes, featuring digs, posts, and go routes. Remember when coaches like Air Raid architect Mike Leach led pass-happy offenses and quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes just threw the ball all over?
  • Spread Offense: This space-oriented system aims to stretch the defense horizontally and vertically. The route tree is a healthy mix of short and deep routes, with screens and draws thrown in for good measure. Think about the Philadelphia Eagles’ dynamic offenses under Chip Kelly; rapid throws combined with fast receivers left defenses unsure all season long.

Case Studies in Route Tree Efficiency:

  • New England Patriots under Bill Belichick: Belichick’s genius lies in his ability to adapt the route tree based on personnel and opponent. Tom Brady’s mastery of reading defenses allowed them to exploit weaknesses through a diverse route tree.
  • Kansas City Chiefs under Andy Reid: Reid’s offensive philosophy centers around creating mismatches through route combinations. The Chiefs’ offensive prowess, fueled by Patrick Mahomes’ remarkable arm strength and a versatile route tree, makes them a constant threat to score at any moment.

Avoiding Misconceptions About Route Trees

Route trees can get pretty complicated, but there are a few misconceptions that always seem to get in the way of understanding:

  • Myth: Routes are unyielding and static.
  • Reality: Adjustments in route running are vital, and offenses worthy of their name should be able to change routes depending on what the defense is doing.
  • Myth: Only deep routes work.
  • Reality: Short, accurate completions can be just as costly, especially against a loaded box.
  • Myth: It is easy to master the route tree.
  • Reality: Successful route running requires hours of practice and a thorough understanding of defensive coverages.

Pro Tip! Look for some details! Observe how receivers initially “stem” their routes, then make a break based on the defender’s positioning. This subtle movement creates separation and opens throwing windows.


Understanding the route tree reveals football’s strategic depth, turning chaos into harmony. Like deciphering ancient hieroglyphs uncovers mysteries, understanding route trees allows fans to see the intricate dance of this game. Watch the next game closely; look at receivers’ movements, adjustments, and how they exploit defenses. Appreciate quarterbacks’ ability to read defenses and pass with a fresh eye. But it’s just the beginning. Go deeper into route concepts, coverages, and offensive strategies. The world is ready for you; follow the path provided by the route tree!

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