The shallow cross is a passing concept commonly used in the NFL that involves a shallow crossing route and a middle-hook route that is designed to create a horizontal stretch on linebackers.
The shallow cross passing concept is a west-coast passing concept that is commonly used by many NFL teams. Below is a diagram of this concept from an NFL playbook:
As the diagram above shows, the post is an alert route and is rarely thrown in this concept. The QB’s first read or 1A as the diagram shows is the shallow/hook combination. Since these two routes are attacking similar space, the QB can read both routes in a singular read. After reading the shallow/hook combination, the curl will be the QB’s #2 read and the swing out of the backfield will be his checkdown.
This play is effective against both man and zone coverage. Versus man coverage, the ball will likely go to either the shallow cross route or the middle hook route. Versus zone coverage, the shallow is not as good of an option and the ball will likely go to either the hook, curl, or swing depending upon the type of zone coverage.
Versus man coverage, the shallow cross will likely be able to run away from his defender. In order to create the separation, rather than just turning and running across the field immediately, the slot will take 1 or 2 vertical steps to freeze the defender before breaking and running away from him across the field. There can also be a rub created for the shallow cross with the inside linebacker running outside to cover the swing route by the back.
Below is a video of the ball being thrown to the shallow cross versus man coverage:
If the defense is able to cover the shallow cross route in man coverage, then the offense will likely have a good opportunity to throw the middle hook route.
On this play, the nickel defender (#30) and the MIKE linebacker (#51) switch off on the shallow cross and swing route, which places the MIKE in a good position to take away the shallow. The MIKE driving on the shallow cross route leaves good space trailing behind him to throw the middle hook route, who will pivot away from man coverage.
Versus zone coverage, the shallow cross route will look to sit once he passes the opposite offensive tackle. Within this concept, there is no frontside flat control to create space for the shallow cross versus zone coverage, so the shallow is primarily designed to create space for the middle hook behind it when facing zone. This play is best versus Cover 3, as the shallow cross can pull the the playside inside linebacker to create space for the middle hook behind him. If the backside inside linebacker squeezes the middle hook, then space is created to throw the curl route on the backside.
Below is a video of the offense throwing the middle hook versus Cover 3:
The playside inside linebacker (#59) is moved by the shallow cross route to create space behind him to the middle hook route.
Below is a video of the offense throwing the curl route versus Cover 3:
This time, the backside inside linebacker (#51) squeezes the would-be-open middle hook route; this then creates space on the backside for the curl route. The flat defender is moved by the swing route out of the backfield, which creates space to throw the curl route in between the flat and hook defenders. If the flat defender were to stay in the curl window, the QB would check the ball down to the back in the flat on his swing route.
Although this concept is most effective versus Cover 3, the play can still work against two-high zone coverages. Most of the time versus either quarters or Cover 2, the SAM can take away the shallow cross and the MIKE can take away the middle hook, leaving the quarterback to work back to his curl-flat concept. Versus cover 2, the WILL is likely to sit underneath leaving the quarterback to check the ball down to his swing route as shown below.
Because the swing route does not get immediately out to the flat, the corner is likely to get depth with the curl route, leaving good space to the flat for the running back.
The ball is most likely to go to the swing route against Cover 2, but the offense still has an opportunity to throw the middle hook route versus Cover 2 if the receiver is able to settle away from the MIKE linebacker. An example of this is shown below:
The shallow cross is a relatively simple concept that is effective versus both man and zone coverages. This is one of the reasons that it is a common concept ran by the majority of the NFL.