Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, 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.
The mesh concept is a staple of the Air Raid offenses, dating back to the days of LaVell Edwards at BYU and refined over the years by coaches such as Washington State’s head coach Mike Leach. As described by Leach at a 2014 coaching clinic, “the mesh play is a simple crossing pattern, which BYU under LaVell Edwards ran for two decades. We are famous for that type of play.” The basic design of the mesh concept involves two receivers crossing underneath at a mesh point over the middle. The offense can then incorporate additional elements on the outside to further stretch a defense.
Here is a basic look at the Mesh design, taken from the 1999 Oklahoma Sooners playbook when Leach was the offensive coordinator:
In this example, the offense runs the concept using 21 personnel in a pro right formation, with the X receiver and the tight end (Y receiver) crossing underneath on the “mesh.” The Cougars usually run this play with 20 personnel – or even 10 personnel – as they do on this play against California. QB Luke Falk is in the shotgun with 10 personnel on the field in a “doubles” alignment, meaning the offense has slot formation on each side. The two inside receivers will cross on the mesh:
Notice how, in the playbook design, it is noted that the inside receivers will continue crossing upfield if they read man coverage, but will sit down underneath in soft areas should the defense play zone. That is what happens here:
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As Robert Lewis (#15) and John Thompson (#85) cross, they both read zone coverage, so they cut off their routes and sit in underneath in the soft areas of the zone, looking for the football. Edge pressure forces Falk to climb the pocket, and the two receivers then work toward the outside on the scramble drill. After buying some time by extending the play with his feet, the QB finds Lewis for a nice gain.
With the basic structure identified, we can now look at some of the variations and other elements Leach adds to this concept. Notice on the playbook sheet, under the QB reads, it states: “If middle is open give Z a post.” If the quarterback surveys the defense and sees the middle of the field open, either in Cover 2 or perhaps Cover 0, then he can adjust the Z receiver’s route from a corner route to a post route and try to exploit the open area of the field.
Against Oregon, the Cougars face a 3rd and goal on the Ducks’ 7-yard line and Falk stands in the shotgun with 10 personnel on the field. The offense begins the play with trips formation, but sends Lewis in motion to the left, giving Washington State a doubles look before the snap. Oregon has their 3-3-5 sub package in the game.
Notice the positioning of the two safeties at the snap:
The playside safety is cheating over the slot receiver, standing on the goal line. The backside safety aligns himself just inside the end zone, but outside of the hashmark, having slid to his right in response to the motion from Lewis; this opens up the middle of the field. Washington State runs the mesh concept, with Dom Williams (#80) and River Cracraft (#21) crossing underneath. But, with the middle open, Falk looks for Z receiver Gabe Marks (#9) on the post:
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The receiver establishes inside leverage and Falk hits him in the back of the end zone for the score.
Wheeling Into Space
Another element the offense can add is sending the running back on a wheel route to the outside. With the defense collapsing on the mesh receivers, there is a chance for a big play on the outside.
Here is quarterback Jameis Winston executing this design. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers face 2nd and 6 at the Dallas 47-yard line and align with Winston in the shotgun and 11 personnel, using a doubles formation with a tight slot alignment on each side of the offense. Dallas has a 4-2-5 sub package showing Cover 3 before the play:
The Cowboys roll their secondary to Cover 2, while the Buccaneers run a mesh concept. Tight end Brandon Myers (#82) and wide receiver Donteea Dye (#17) run the underneath crossing routes here, while Mike Evans (#13) runs a deep curl route over the middle. Martin runs a wheel route out of the backfield, while Adam Humphries (#11) runs a flat route to the left:
Winston first checks Martin’s wheel route to see if the back has a chance for a big play up the sideline. But corner Brandon Carr (#39) does a good job of staying in his zone and not getting sucked in by the routes flowing to the inside. Winston then snaps his head toward the middle of the field to read the mesh, and he spots Dye coming across from the left:
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The throw is slightly high, but the rookie wideout pulls in the pass and cuts upfield for 11 yards and a first down inside Dallas territory:
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This was a good display of patience here from Winston; while he wanted the deeper route, he quickly brought his field of vision down to the intermediate routes, read the mesh, and found an open receiver.
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Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass and the Pac-12 Network.