ITP Glossary: Mirrored Passing Design

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.

Mirrored Passing Design

A mirrored passing design is an offensive play structure in which the receivers to each side of the formation run matching routes. The play is often called from a 2×2 alignment and allows the offense to run a passing concept such as a smash route or a curl/flat route to each side of the field, setting up the mirrored look to the play. The quarterback is given some pre-snap reads based on coverage, defensive formation, and the spot of the football, then executes a half-field read based on those pre-snap indicators as the play unfolds. This design can simplify the offensive structure for the quarterback while still giving the offense potential options on each side of the field.

We often see these designs in the collegiate game, given the way this concept simplifies reads for the quarterback. On this first example from his time at Oregon, Marcus Mariota (#8) is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field in dual slot formations, 2X2. Washington has a 3-3-5 nickel defense in the game that shows Cover 2 in the secondary:MariotaPlayTwoStillOne

The Ducks run a mirrored passing play here, with a dig/curl combination to each side of the field. The outside receivers run deep dig routes while the inside receivers run short curls, creating high/low reads to Mariota’s left and right.

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The Huskies flash Cover 2 at the snap but the cornerbacks bail and roll into Cover 4. Mariota initially reads this play to the short side, but the inside quarter safety on that side squats on the dig route, forcing Mariota to survey the opposite side of the field. The quarterback comes to the dig route on the back-side, makes a strong throw, and the offense moves the chains. This is how the Ducks use mirrored passing plays, with the QB looking first to the short side of the field when the coverage is balanced ‒ as it is in Cover 4.

Given the usage and success of these plays at the college level, NFL offensive coordinators are incorporating this design to give their quarterbacks some familiar reads on Sundays. The Buffalo Bills scored their first touchdown of the 2015 season on such a design. With the ball on their own 49-yard line, QB Tyrod Taylor (#5) lines up under center with 12 offensive personnel in the game, with a tight end and wide receiver on each side of the formation in a wing slot look. The Indianapolis Colts defense has its base 3-4 defensive personnel in the game, while the secondary shows Cover 6:NFLReview1TaylorPlay2Still1

The Bills run a mirrored pass play here, with the two TEs executing quick out routes while the outside receivers run straight vertical streak routes. Percy Harvin (#18), lined up at the bottom of the screen, runs his vertical route against cornerback Darius Butler, who is using off man technique on the Cover 4 side of the coverage. The CB expects to have help from veteran safety Mike Adams (#29) on the inside, so Butler uses outside leverage in an attempt to keep Harvin toward the middle, and his help. But, best-laid plans and all:

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Adams creeps down toward the line of scrimmage, influenced by the out pattern from TE Matthew Mulligan (#82). On the outside, Butler maintains outside leverage for a time, but Harvin’s acceleration eliminates the cushion quickly. When the CB turns his hips to run with Harvin’s vertical route, the WR turns on the afterburners and is able to angle his run to the outside of the defensive back. From here it is a pure foot race.

For his part, Taylor executes a very solid five-step drop from center and, after planting and gathering himself, he launches a perfect rainbow that Harvin runs under right at the goal line. Just the way offensive coordinator Greg Roman drew it up.

Here is another example from the NFL, courtesy of Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs. Smith and the offense face a 2nd and goal at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 6-yard line. They have 12 personnel in the game and the quarterback under center, using a tight slot formation to each side of the field. Pittsburgh has its base 3-4 in the game, showing Cover 1 in the secondary.

The Chiefs run a mirrored passing play here, using the curl/flat combination to each side of the field:NFLR7KCPlay3Still1


The Steelers send the two inside linebackers on a cross blitz while dropping outside linebacker James Harrison into the underneath “hole:”NFLR7KCPlay3Still2


Smith takes the snap and reads this play to the left – the wide side of the field. With the inside receiver breaking out to the flat and the outside receiver working inside on the curl, the Steelers can choose to use a “banjo” call, in which the cornerbacks switch their responsibilities. Or they can each decide to stay with their man as indicated by pre-snap alignment.

If the banjo call was made, someone might have missed the message:

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As TE Demetrius Harris (#84) releases on his curl route from the outside alignment, Harrison drops under him him while safety Robert Golden (#21) rotates over to him. Meanwhile, from the slot, receiver Chris Conley (#17) cuts to the flat. Cornerback Antwon Blake (#41) begins the play over Harris and initially drops with the tight end before breaking on the WR. But the slight delay gives Smith enough of a window to find his wide receiver for the touchdown.

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

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Video and images courtesy NFL Gameday.

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