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How is your Offensive Lines Vertical? Vertical Pass Drops

Offensive Line is the root of all offenses. If you do not have a solid front, no matter what your scheme is it does not work. Protection is another hot topic in table talks across the country, whether to slide, vertical etc. In this article, I will dive into the vertical pass drop from a schematic look. I will talk about the mathematics and the proof of why we use vertical pass protection and how we feel that it is the best for your passing game. We do not have bigger staggers or kick slide with our tackles. We vertical pass drop.

Every offensive coordinator that wants to throw the football is always wanting more time in the pocket. A nice clean area for that quarterback to dismantle the defense while being rushed by large men trying to get home. Vertical sets are commonly used in the Air Raid, but I really set out to prove why inside the game of football, math, and physics why they could be the most superior way to pass protect. I plan to prove that the longer you can delay the point of engagement between the offensive and defensive lineman you are creating more time for the pass play. I plan to prove that the vertical pass set is superior versus line stunts and blitzes because distance= leverage, and leverage is the equalizer for any deficiency we may face. I plan to also prove that we eliminate many of the pass rush moves that defensive line coaches spend a vast amount of drill time teaching.

For just a minute let’s talk football and not about what we like or comfortable with. Take a deep look at force, time, and angles, since that is what really drives football play. To get an idea of who and how we are we will first look at some constants. Take splits we will look at a team that uses uniform 3 foot splits. Now these splits can be adjusted, but for our sake let’s go with that as our constant. I want to also measure the distance created by setting our guards and tackles as deep as possible and still being legal. I would like to use the constant or 3.5 feet as the distance from the centers belt to the point of the football, also regarded as the line of scrimmage. So before the ball is snapped we have a constant distance of 3.5 feet from the defensive lineman. This space is created by setting the corresponding lineman as deep as possible and still being on the line of scrimmage. In our quick game we use a vertical 2 step drop to get to our base point. so we can say we settle at 4.5 from the original line of scrimmage with these 2 steps. So at 4.5 feet is where the combat starts. If we are able to get maintain the 3.5 feet pre-snap distance while dropping the extra 1 foot for quick game, then we have created time.  What does this obvious information mean? We have completed object #1 by creating distance and make space and time. Now for the combat part. The idea of the athletic defensive line man is the norm in football. The old “junk” space eating tackles of the past are basically obsolete, and only used in goal line situations. So what I saying is these defenders are usually more athletic than your 5 protectors. So how to we protect our concept and player versus these odds? By eliminating the tools that they may use, and creating better angles for our players.

The vertical outside rush is the most widely used assault in attacking the quarterback. Using pure speed to get to the quarterbacks drop spot is one of the easiest ways for a defensive end to dominate a tackle. The use of the wide line splits creates a pre-snap distance of 12 feet or 4 yards from the football to the alignment of the tackles outside shoulder. Take into the account the alignment of 3.5 feet depth plus the 1 foot drop of the quick game steps. This really makes the get off speed of the 5 technique to beat you around the edge. This is important but let’s take a deeper look at the math. The geometric term hypotenuse. Using the wide line splits and the right triangle, for the 5 technique must cover 19.21 feet to get to the launch point with a straight angle outside rush. This is not calculating the post snap steps that create another foot of distance to beat with an outside rush.

Master and Control the Triangle. 

Since we have covered the outside rush, what really bothers coaches is the splits creating horizontal space initially, and that leaves us with an inside stab move and the bull rush. To understand how we this does not place us in a bind we may have to look at another position idea on the football field. The defensive corner is one of the most highly skilled position on the field. They have to defend every type of horizontal and vertical space in a large area. How come everyone doesn’t play press man coverage? Simple speed. Cushion allows time, reaction, and staying in square position for a longer amount of time. It eliminates the athletic abilities or lack there of. I believe the same is true for the lineman in a vertical pass set. The vertical pass set elongates the angle of attack. Even facing a bull rush or a hard inside stab. The depth created by initial alignment as well as the vertical drop means our “height” of the triangle never changes, and our ability to adjust the “height” of the triangle is a easily recovered by taking a horizontal step. So on a hard inside stab


move because we maintain the distance, our steps are small considering the 5 techniques longer angle. we are moving the body of the triangle and matching it with his moves. Along with the inside move is making us move near another area of protection our guard. even though he maybe occupied, he is not an invisible window to run through. So we have in a sense collapsed the space window the 5 technique is trying to invade by running him into another wall, as well as maintaining the long hypotenuse we started with pre-snap.

Take a look at the picture beside us. As the defensive rusher is stemming inside we are moving vertical, maintaining the pre-snap spacing. In your mind you know that the quickest route to anything is a straight line, and this is 100% true. But in math the height of the right triangle plays a large part in lengthening the hypotenuse. Which we know makes more distance allowing more time to react and throw. The vertical set allows the lineman to “match” the angle change of the rush with greater ease, and prolong the time to combat. The picture to the left uses the variables we listed above in the left half. The 3ft width of a human body + the 3.5 pre-snap distance creates an “meeting point” (defined as where combat engagement begins) of 4.6 feet. On the right we do a similar idea using shorter distance at the meeting point. If we were head up from each other with .5 feet of space between us, that creates a meeting point of 1.58 feet. This mean basically a half a stride and a move and the protection is compromised. Think back to secondary play, and how much more skilled you have to be to play press man coverage. Feet, Hands, Reactions, etc. If not it will be 88 and out the gate, strike up the band. The whole idea about this is, the picture on the left shows that if I maintain my pre-snap space, if we get a hard inside stab or bull rush move, Our offensive tackle has to move basically one step to match the inside charge of the defender. For proof purposes go out on the field and measure this off and take the different angles to see how little you have to move to take away the charges angle change. The depth of our vertical drop also prolongs the timing to immediately need to match the angle of the rush, since we are controlling the “H” of the triangle. 

One Group of Uniform Setting Wall

Now the defense must get fancy with long stems and overloads. Getting back to the idea of press man coverage, we must go back to cushion. The initial pre-snap depth, wider splits and vertical drop means we are not chasing immediately at the snap. We have time to “sort” it out and allow us to let them “come to us.” When line stunts are called they are made to cause lineman to chase, and by mean chase turn their shoulders. Leaving the square of a “closed” door and moving to an “open” door position in order to meet combat the movement. Because we are a vertical drop team, all of this stemming happens in front of us with space for it to sort out. So referring to the skepticism of “gap integrity” we control the “H” of the triangle, and thus this allows the idea behind this attack to be a lot less effective.

The next question that arises about wide splits paired with vertical sets is, “do you ever have anyone just line up in the gaps?” Well we do have shade fronts, and some attempts at a true middle gap alignment. 

The key is understanding that it does not help the geometry of the player to do this. It may look intimidating, but is not anymore harmless. If we take a look at the picture on the left the initial alignment looks far more vulnerable. The example on the left takes into account the possibility of the pre-snap distance from LOS, and then with the dotted circles the drop depth. As you can see by the two red triangles the geometry doe not change because we control the “H” of the right triangle.

Finally we will get to the whole key of the equation. The answer is: The faster your lineman can get to his landmark (meaning his pass set depth) the better your chances are at protection. The whole key is the speed at which you can get to your depth under balance and control to maintain the depth established pre-snap. Is that not why defensive back coaches work so long on how to shuffle, back pedal and several other types of foot work.

Getting to your set depth fast ensures:

  • Extended Protection Time
  • Longer Processing Time (stems, stunts, bull, speed, etc)
  • Longer Communication Time
  • Staying Square Longer to the LOS
  • Maintaining Gap Pacing
  • and delaying the time for the initial blow of combat.

The last bullet may really throw some people off, but at the first strike of hand to hand combat is when power, strength, and athleticism is matched. From the first strike of contact the quarterback has about 1-1.5 seconds to make a decision. The speed at getting to the landmark delays the contact by maintaining pre-snap spacing. A hump move, swim, dip and rip, push and pull, and all other moves pass rushers use are void if done on air. It would be like a boxer in a round throwing punches on air. By delaying the initial point of contact, you are literally handcuffing the opponents arsenal, and winning a match up with a lesser player. If the lineman has feet, he can be a lot better pass protector than a one that is just big and brute strong.

I believe that vertical pass setting is essential because it:

  • Makes Footwork Simplified, which allows mastery
  •  Allows lineman to stay square longer
  • More time to recognize stunts and blitzes and exotic packages
  • Extends the time before hand to hand combat occurs
  • Minimizes effective defensive line pass rush moves
  • Allows you to get better at one thing.

Get on the field and do the math……

Written by:

Coach Patrick Taylor

Twitter: @patrick_taylor4

Offensive Coordinator/North Surry Greyhounds/ Toast NC

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