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“Mills” is a passing game concept originally made famous by Steve Spurrier with the Florida Gators and now widely used in both the NFL and NCAA. The scheme combines a post route from an outside X or Z receiver with a dig route from a slot or inside receiver on the same side of the formation. In today’s NFL, it is primarily used to attack Cover 4, but it can be used to attack single-high safety coverages as well.
The focus of the Mills attack is to bait a safety into overplaying the dig route, opening up the middle of the field behind the safety for the post route. To help set up this play some coaches instruct the receiver running the post route to use a “dino” stem, where the WR breaks to the corner before cutting back to the post. The scheme tests the eyes, discipline, and awareness of the playside safety with the dig route. If the defender gets caught flat-footed, or drives downhill toward the dig, the middle of the field is completely exposed.
The route concept can also be successful against a single-high safety coverage, such as Cover 1 or Cover 3. In this situation, the quarterback reads the free safety, watching whether he drives forward on the dig route or stays deep on the post. Below, the 2014 Atlanta Falcons run Mills with play action against the Chicago Bears, who have just rotated from a two-deep safety look to Cover 3:
The deep safety makes sure to play the post to avoid a touchdown. The linebacker must get depth in his drop to play the dig route. However, the run fake holds the middle linebacker close to the line, creating a void between him and the safety:
As the play progresses, the safety drives downhill, man-keying Hilton with his eyes the entire time. Note that multiple defenders key in on the dig route and have it completely blanketed. This leaves the cornerback alone on the post route, and the middle of the field open for the outside WR.
Overall, Mills is a great way to attack Cover 4 and test a safety’s eye discipline and awareness. The route concept can also be successful against one-high looks and can be run with play action to draw up a linebacker or safety and create a big throwing lane. Mills is also a concept that can take advantage of a great wide receiver as a decoy to open up the field for other players.
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All video and images courtesy NFL Game Rewind.