ITP Glossary: Four Verticals Concept

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From cadence to zone blocking, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Four Verticals Concept

A passing concept where four pass catchers go deep at the same time. This concept stretches a defense vertically, but also horizontally as all areas of the field are potential options for the the offense. In addition, this concept is effective against man, as well as a variety of zone coverages.

This design can be run from a variety of formations, including 2×2 and 3×1. When teams run four verticals from a 3×1 formation, team can employ the wrinkle of having the inside trips receiver bend his route toward the middle to truly “stretch” all of the zones. Splitting two high safeties, or running right at a single-high safety can cause momentary hesitation and open up one of the other routes, or expose a hole opened by those other routes. His landmark is usually to end up on the opposite hashmark:



Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has 11 offensive personnel in a 3×1 alignment, with trips to the right. The single receiver is on the left, while WR Fred Ross (#8), is lined up on the inside to the right. The Bulldogs run four verticals here, with each receiver releasing straight down the middle of the field:CFBReview10MSUStill2

Linebacker Michael Scherer (#30) tries to cover Ross’s vertical route, but at the snap of the football, Scherer’s eyes are elsewhere ‒ specifically, in the offensive backfield. Prescott and the running back meet at the mesh point on a run/pass option look. This freezes Scherer for a split-second, allowing Ross to eliminate the pre-snap cushion between the two players. By the time the LB opens his hips to turn and run with the WR, it is too late:

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Freezing With The Bend

The Cincinnati Bengals run the four vertical concept with wide receiver A.J. Green (#18) split wide to the right. Three receivers deploy to the left: tight end Tyler Eifert (#85) and WR Mohamed Sanu (#12) are the two inside receivers set in a stack just outside the left tackle, with Marvin Jones (#82) split wide:NFLReview17Still2

Sanu’s route is crucial to the success of this play. Bending across the formation separates the pass patterns (preventing three receivers clustered in the same area of the field) and puts stress on the safeties, forcing them to read and react to receivers in different areas of the field. Here, the quarterback reads the defense and will choose between the vertical routes based on the Cover 6 defense:NFLReview17Still3Final

On the weakside the defense employs a Cover 2 scheme, with the corner staying with Green on his vertical route while safety Will Hill (#33) looks to cover the weakside half of the field. On the playside, cornerback Jimmy Smith (#22) drops into a quarters look, as does safety Kendrick Lewis (#23). In addition, linebacker Zach Orr (#54) drops into the middle as well, giving this coverage a Tampa 2 element.

As the play develops, watch how Sanu’s route freezes those three defenders (Orr, Smith and Lewis) and creates a throwing window for Eifert’s seam route:

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When Sanu hits the 15-yard line, he begins to bend across the field to the opposite hash mark. Orr is covering the WR, but Sanu has a step on the linebacker and appears to be breaking open. Because of this, Lewis stays home on the hashmark, even taking a step to the middle of the field. In addition, Hill keeps his eyes trained on the WR coming over the middle. But to the outside, both Eifert and Jones are running vertical routes, with Smith trying desperately to split the difference between them. But he cannot cover both receivers, and with the CB to the outside of Eifert, McCarron takes the easy throw to his TE on the seam route for the touchdown.

With A Twist

The Iowa Hawkeyes use a four verticals concept here, with a slight twist, and illustrate how the route scheme works in a 2×2 situation:


Henry Krieger Coble is the TE on the field as the inside trips receiver, but rather than releasing on a route, he stays in to block slot cornerback who blitzes off the edge. The other two trips receivers release on vertical routes. On the backside, receiver Tevaun Smith (#4) also runs a go with an inside release. This opens up the sideline for Mitchell, who runs a wheel route toward the sideline.

Matt VandeBerg (#89) is the middle trips receiver on the right. Once he clears safety Jonathan Crawford (#9) – the underneath zone defender – Beathard uncorks a strong throw towards VandeBerg:

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The QB fits this throw into a very narrow throwing lane between the playside CB and the FS. VandeBerg secures the pass and is able to make a few defenders miss their tackles before he is finally hauled down at the 11-yard line.

From The Line

The Bengals run a variation of the four verticals concept: Jones and Green run straight streak routes, with Jones the outside trips receiver and Green the middle trips receiver. Tyler Kroft, the only receiver on the right side of the formation, also runs a vertical route, releasing to the outside and then upfield along the numbers. The slight twist is the post route from the tight end Eifert (#85), who begins the play on the left, but ends up crossing the formation:NFLReview3BengalsPlay1Still2

Against this coverage, the vertical routes from Green and Eifert bracket the safety, Will Hill (#33). With Eifert’€™s post route crossing in front of him, Hill needs to split the difference between both targets, while reading Dalton’€™s eyes and breaking on the football. If Hill breaks too early, in the wrong direction, or fails to maintain the balance between the two routes ‒ bad things can happen.

Meanwhile, Dalton is waiting on Hill, trying to influence the safety towards one of the two routes, so he can then throw the football to the other option:

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Dalton wins. Although to be fair, this is a very difficult play to defend for a free safety.

Safety Kendrick Lewis (#23) begins this play across from Green, gaining depth as the WR releases vertically. Lewis expects to have some help from Hill, but as you can see from this angle, Hill is still in the middle of the field as Dalton releases the football -€’ because he needs to respect the threat of Eifert’€™s vertical pattern:

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Dalton places this throw perfectly and Green takes care of the rest. The receiver shrugs off tackle attempts by both Jimmy Smith (#22) and Hill, before racing Lewis to the end zone.


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Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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