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The dagger concept is a passing game route combination commonly used in college and NFL playbooks. Dagger is a 3-man combination involving a vertical route from the slot receiver, a drag from the weak side for a horizontal stretch, and a 15-yard deep dig or square-in from the primary receiver.
Depending on the coverage, the slot receiver must look to take the top off the defense, clearing out as much of the middle of the field as possible. Often times the vertical bends a bit, towards the post, to occupy defenders. Here is a traditional dagger concept from the Minnesota Vikings:
Against Cover 2 or Cover 4, the vertical route should clear out the play side 2-high safety. Finally, Against Tampa 2 the vertical gets the attention of both the middle linebacker and the play side safety.
Once the slot receiver has occupied as many defenders as possible, the dagger becomes a high-low read between the drag route and the dig. The drag should stretch the field horizontally as much as possible, attracting linebackers and hopefully opening up the dig behind him.
Dagger can also be run from a trips look, with the most inside eligible receiver ‒ often a tight end or H-back ‒ serving as the horizontal stretch to open up the dig.
Note that here, just like the Vikings picture above, the backside receiver can run many different routes, including a curl, fade, slant, comeback, corner, or deep out. The key is still to keep the deep half or deep middle safety from the middle of the field:
Because the dig (or square-in) is the primary target, look for the dagger concept to be used in 2nd and long as well as 3rd and 8+, because it is a great way to get an intermediate throw with room for yards after the catch into the middle of the field. While protection must hold for the dig route to come open, the result can be a first down ‒ or more.
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All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass and/or Game Rewind.