Dressing Up the Post-Wheel Route Combination in Different Ways
Game Plan Central
There aren’t many route concepts that defensive players and coordinators haven’t seen before. That means the key to great play-calling and game-planning lies less in the route combination itself, and more in the way that the offense gets to that route combination. Few in the NFL put this idea into practice better than Rams Head Coach Sean McVay.
One of the best aspects of the Rams offense under McVay has been that the same route concepts are used repeatedly, just dressed up with different looks to throw the defense off the scent. McVay will use various formations, personnel alignments, timing, and other tactics to keep the defense guessing. And this allows the Rams to keep going back to those staple plays that they are both comfortable with and great at executing regardless of the defense. The approach has helped to consistently make the Rams one of the most explosive passing offenses in the league for 5 years. It played a huge role in their march to a Vince Lombardi Trophy in 2021.
The route combination I’ll focus on in this breakdown is the post-wheel, which McVay loves to lean on for big plays.
On this first example from Week 2 of the 2021 season against the Colts, Van Jefferson would run the post and Cooper Kupp would run the wheel from the slot:
Indianapolis would play quarters coverage to that side. In quarters, the cornerback is responsible for the #1 receiver’s vertical route and the safety is responsible for the #2 receiver’s vertical route:
If there is no vertical threat from the #2 receiver, the safety will look to help out on a possible in-breaking vertical route from #1 (like a post).
However, the timing of the routes on this play muddied the reads for the safety. Kupp utilized a delayed release, so he was still only 5 yards from the line of scrimmage when Jefferson started breaking to the inside on his post:
With Kupp still close to the line of scrimmage, the safety appeared to assume he wouldn’t be running a vertical route. So he turned his attention to Jefferson’s post coming right at him. He gained depth and stayed inside initially. By the time he recognized the wheel, it was too late, and the result was a huge play for the Rams:
Here’s another example from L.A.’s NFC Divisional Playoff win against the Buccaneers. This time, the route combination was designed more to put pressure on the underneath flat defender.
As you can see, Jefferson ran the post, Odell Beckham, Jr. ran the wheel, and Kupp aligned in the backfield before motioning to the flat right before the snap:
Beckham slow played his release off the line, almost making it look like he would be blocking for Kupp on a swing pass. That got the defender over him to bite. With the post taking the cornerback to that side deep, a window appeared for the wheel:
I’ll go back to 2017 to show you another way McVay was able to target the underneath defender on a post-wheel combo. This time, he mixed it in with play-action from under center.