ITP Glossary: Wheel Route

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.

Wheel Route

A wheel route is a pass pattern where the receiver circles toward the sideline as if running a swing route or a flat route, but then breaks vertically. This is often seen in a switch concept, where the inside receiver and outside receiver cross paths and after about five yards, the inside man breaks outside, up the sideline. The outside receiver will run a deep pattern to the inside of the field, typically a post route. The inside receiver – who can be in the slot or lined up in the backfield as a running back, executes the wheel route.NFLReview10TBPlay1Still2

The above play art shows the running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Doug Martin, running a wheel route.

In this example, Oregon quarterback Vernon Adams is in the shotgun with 10 personnel on the field, in a doubles alignment with slot formation on each side of the field. Running back Taj Griffin (#5) stands to the left of the QB in the backfield, running the wheel route:CFBReview10OUStill2

The Ducks use the mesh concept on this play, and the target here is Griffin, who runs a wheel route out of the backfield. The running back gets completely lost in the fray:

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The actions of the secondary here indicate perhaps a blown coverage, with some defenders settling into underneath zones, while some seem locked into man coverage. The only player who is completely uncovered is Griffin. Adams identifies the open RB immediately and delivers an accurate throw to Griffin along the sideline. From there, the running back is able to force one missed tackle and races to the end zone for the 49-yard score.

Here is another view of how the running back got lost in the shuffle by the defense:

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This is perfect execution of the wheel route off the mesh concept.

The Wheel-ing Saints

The New Orleans Saints use the wheel route frequently. Here, they use it to assist Willie Snead in creating separation against man coverage:Willie Snead first NFL TD on wheel route markup

The Buccaneers show press man coverage in the secondary, and the Saints dial up a common response to press – a rub, or pick route. Snead lines up in the slot right, while outside receiver Brandin Cooks (#10) runs a quick in-breaking route aimed at cornerback Alterraun Verner (#21), who is lined up on Snead.

Cooks bumps the corner, springing Snead open. He cuts to the flat and then cuts upfield in a wheel route where Drew Brees finds him for the touchdown.

On this play, the Saints empty the backfield, putting running back C.J. Spiller (#28) in a tight slot to the right, with trips on the left. The Dallas Cowboys ‒ and their linebackers ‒ try to figure out their responsibilities as they set up, settling on Cover 1 in the secondary. Spiller runs a quick wheel route to the outside.

Brees, perhaps noticing pre-snap confusion, calls for the snap quickly. Or perhaps he just saw the matchup indicated by the coverage:

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The QB hits Spiller in stride, and now the shifty running back just has to make free safety Barry Church miss. He does, and Spiller takes this play the distance.

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Mark Schofield & Dave Archibald wrote this entry. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofieldFollow Dave on Twitter @davearchie.

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