For the next eight weeks, I will write one column a week regarding different concepts the Saints will use either on offense or in defensive packages in 2009.
Today's version talks about the intricacies of the slant route and the routes and ideas that are related to this route.
The slant route is perhaps the oldest route in all of football. It has always been an integral part of the short passing game from Sid Gilman to Don Coryell to Bill Walsh, and now to all of today's offensive geniuses; and among them Sean Payton is high on the list.
Payton has used the slant in many key situations over the past few seasons. In fact, it's been a go-to route on third-and-short or medium situations.
Marques Colston is often the guy who catches these quick strikes from Drew Brees.
As with any route, timing is so incredibly crucial to the pass/fail element of this route.
There are two key elements on any route, but especially the slant.
The first is the receiver's release.
Most often, the receiver will place the opposite foot, of the side of the field he is on, in front. This is generally true for slant routes as well, although there are occasions where a receiver may change his feet based on how many steps he is taking to get into his route.
We will assume though, that he is taking the opposite-foot-approach.
He must be able to get his back foot going immediately after the ball is snapped. If he does not, the chance of success drops immeasurably.
If he stutter steps, his chances also go down, unless the corner is playing press, and he's using a stutter release (more on that later).
Assuming the corner is off, the receiver is aiming to get that back foot out quickly and get distance in that stride. Then his front leg in his stance comes next and again, he tries to get some distance all the while running straight at the corner in an attempt to get him backpedaling.
Meanwhile, the QB, whether he's working from under center or in the gun, needs to get out quickly and get his fingers on the laces.
By the second step, he should be ready to throw.
That was all meant to show a release and the timing of the beginning of the route versus "soft" coverage.
Versus a press, it is quite common for the receiver to intentionally stutter step while using a swat technique, similar to what a defensive end will using when rushing the passer.
The stutter step is designed to get the defensive back leaning toward the sideline to gain inside leverage. The swat is used to get the hands off so the receiver is able to prepare his hands to catch a football that will be coming into his chest within a quarter of a second.
Once the release is understood and executed well, receivers coaches can move to the next most important element of the route, the "stick."
This is the final step for the receiver in the slant route.
In the stick portion of the route, the receiver throws his third (outside) leg toward the sideline, once again to get the defender leaning that way.
He then plants at a 45 degree angle back toward the middle.
A common error that many receivers make is not really "sticking" their foot in the ground. Instead, they "round" their break.
In other words, they don't plant their foot in the ground but make only a quick understated cut.
A good stick includes the heel literally "sticking" in the ground and is accompanied by a head bob. These elements become even more important with tight coverage, in which he will often throw his outside arm at the defender to thwart coverage.
Schematic Elements to the Slant
When a coach calls in a play that has a slant in it, the quarterback knows he has to look at a lot of things and make determinations on whether he will throw that route.
When it is a play in which the QB is supposed to drop three steps, the slant is a primary route. When the QB is designed to take a longer drop, sometimes a slant will be called "hot." This means that if the QB reads blitz he can throw the slant in order to avoid a sack.
Assuming the play is designed so that the "slant read" is primary, the Quarterback must look at a few things pre-snap to see if the slant can be thrown.
First, he must know what kind of look he is getting from the corner or other defender. Many quarterbacks don't feel comfortable (and receivers for that matter) throwing the slant if the defender starts the play inside of the receiver.
For Drew Brees, he will still throw it as long as he knows Colston, Moore, Henderson, or Meachem are going to get that original defender to the outside of him.
Often times, if the corner is showing "press," the Saints will convert this to a one-step instead of the more conventional three-step slant.
Additionally, it is possible to convert the route to a go-route or something else that fits against that given defender.
And almost always in goal-line situations, the slant is automatically a one-step.
Once the snap is taken, Brees now must read to see if a linebacker or safety is playing what's called curl-to-flat. Curl-to-flat is the area where the slant will generally end up.
Even if he is playing this zone, it is possible to still throw the route if the linebacker/defender drops his pads or turns his shoulders, which is generally an indication that he is running straight toward the flat (sideline).
Ideally, that is what both QB and receiver want. But, if he stays balanced and straight up, the QB must then check off.
Most of the time, when a slant is called, there will be a corresponding out-breaking route in order to occupy that linebacker/defender.
Thus the reason why the slant is so effective for New Orleans is because that out-breaking route is often a swing or flat route performed by Reggie Bush.
Ultimately, a linebacker is going to view Reggie as more dangerous than Marques Colston.
Best Slant Receiver for the Saints: Marques Colston
Other Slant Concepts
There are two main routes that are based off the success of the slant route that New Orleans and most offenses use.
The more well-known is called a "sluggo" or slant-and-go.
Within this alteration, the receiver still runs his slant in much the same way, but this plays on that linebacker who plays the slant, and an aggressive safety who desires to come up and make a mind-blowing hit.
Because a linebacker and safety both get overanxious, the receiver must only provide another stick back toward the sideline.
He then gets vertical on the seam.
At the corresponding time that the receiver gives his initial stick on the slant, the QB will often pump his way, hitch up, and prepare to throw the seam route, which is generally wide open.
Unfortunately, this route doesn't work as well against a cover-two defense where the safeties, while aggressive, don't allow anyone behind them.
But, against a cover 0 (no safety) or one Man (one deep safety) occupied by deep routes on the other side, this can still be successful.
Best Sluggo Receiver: Marques Colston
The second, and more common in today's game is the whip or pivot route.
Once again, the receiver will do everything he does in the slant route. Only now, after he sticks, he will take one step and then plant his stick foot in the ground and literally pivot to "box out" the linebacker.
This is eerily reminiscent of a basketball move.
He then must work himself back toward the sideline at worst flat. If he goes upfield, the route is ruined.
It is okay, to an extent, if he even brings his route back to the quarterback (always a key coaching point: it's better to come back than to drift upfield).
But ideally, he would stay exactly straight back toward the sideline to keep the spacing since there could also be a flat or swing route coming in the same direction.
Best Whip Route Receiver: Devery Henderson
Believe it or not, there is actually a lot more I could have wrote about this route because it is even more complex than I have shared.
But, if you understand these concepts, then you have a pretty good feeling of what a slant route is and how, when, and why it can be effective.
Until next week, Geaux Saints!