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The Air Raid offense is known to be one of the simplest passing offenses to install. Even if you don't know anything about the passing game or never coached a QB before in your life, you can put this offense in and see results.
Why is it so simple? Because the originators of the Air Raid decided to change the way football passing offenses were traditionally installed and even more importantly, changing how teams practice.
If you go to a typical high school football practice today, you will probably see these old practice traditions still being used - even though they have long been proved a waste of time.
1. Long lines of players waiting for one player to pass them the ball on a single route run.
2. 20 plus minutes just warming up and stretching before even starting practice.
3. Another 15+ minutes of just running conditioning at the end of practice because "we have to win the battle of conditioning."
There's more but I won't go into it.
If you go to an Air Raid team practice, not only will you not see any of these things, but you will also see the following:
1. Warmups designed to also include skill work like throwing and catching the ball. No more stretch lines and endless high knees and butt kickers!
2. Every receiver in every route catching a ball all thrown in progression from up to 5 Quarterbacks (or coaches) simultaneously. My favorite drill here is called Routes on Air.
3. NO CONDITIONING! Just lots of sprinting all practice. If you have so much standing around a practice that you need conditioning, you need to change the practice tempo and design. Guys should be conditioned within practice...and even then, not conditioned hard every single day! It never made sense to me why coaches would condition every single day...that's a perfect recipe for burnout and slow legs.
So don't just run these plays (or find 11 more awesome Air Raid Plays here). It was the practice strategies as much as the plays themselves that make the Air Raid what it now is today.
Learn more from coaches who have entire game breakdowns you can see diagrammed like Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma.
The mesh concept is one of Mike Leach’s favorites. It is a fairly simple concept but one that can give teams quite a bit of trouble. Crossing routes challenge the speed of defenders and also can cause confusion based on the idea that offensive players are crossing paths. Receivers know if it's man they keep running, if it's zone, they sit it down. A simple rub from your inside receivers gives the QB an easy read and the routes by X and Z can be tweaked to attack different coverages. For example, you can run a post behind the mesh to challenge the safeties and take them out of the equation on a deeper mesh concept.
This double slant concept is a great way of putting flat defenders in a bind. On the front side with the Y and Z we have two option routes. The Y will read the corner and the Z will read the outside backer. The key read is on the Y and Z side. It is a “rub” concept. The outside backer is the read. A way to switch this play up and add defensive conflict is to put the back on the Y/Z side and swing him to add a read for the outside backer.
The Post-Wheel concept is a staple of the Air raid. The Y wants to split the safeties. If they bail, the Y can sit. Another rub concept here with the H and Z. The Z has to read whether to stretch the safety on a post or shorten his route into a slant if the window is there. The checkdown is the back swing and the X dig backside.
Here is another double slant concept, but this time we have a fade/out on the front side of the formation. The QB will make pre-snap reads based on defender alignments and will make a decision on what will be his read side. Typically if a defense is in Cover two, the QB will try and hit the fade in between the corner and safety, if a man concept is detected, he should go frontside to the double slant.
The Y Option play is a staple in most passing offenses. There is a great clip from Cowboy’s great, Jason Witten on this play concept. The Y option provides an option route for one of your inside receivers. The F flash will hopefully draw the Sam out of the box and open up a window for the Y. If the Sam sits on the Y then the F flash should be open fairly quickly. This is a great play for a team that has a QB and Y that are on the same page.
The four vertical concept is potentially the epitome of what the air raid offense is all about. Here is a 2x2 version that shows that all four wide-outs have options in their vertical routes. Gone are the days of 4 straight fly routes. Now receivers are reading coverages and bending routes to stem defenders and open windows for their QB’s.
Here we have the 3x1 version of the four vertical concept. This version gives us another Y option but instead of a stick concept we now utilize a vertical or drag. The Y will read the backside safety and make a decision on when to bend the route in.
Another mesh concept in the Mike Leach shallow series. This route concept provides a ton of options for a QB. Essentially it is a high-low read. There are tons of options and a QB has to be seasoned enough to understand the reads here. The X and Y should be the first key for the QB, with the F being a quick option if the outside backer is stacking back on the Y. H or Z are really drawing attention in this play but Z can be a killer threat here if the Strong Safety jumps the Y dig here and the corner is overleveraged.
The inside zone RPO is probably the most used RPO in the game right now. Establishing your run game and “marrying” it to a quick pass game concept can be a deadly concept for any offensive coordinator. Generally, a QB will check the box and see where the numbers are. An inside zone track is used by the RB and the QB will make a decision on whether to give or pull the ball. The key read on this play is the Mike who is marked in red below. If he steps up, the QB should pull and throw to the Y. If he sits, the QB should give. A simple play that can build significantly and put defensive players in a bind.
The bubble concept is not “new” to football by any means but it is still an effective and simple play for air raid offenses to implement into their playbooks. There are so many different concepts that you can build off the bubble that it can serve as a great base play for almost any offense. Getting “air-raid” receivers to buy into blocking can be the biggest challenge to a pass-first offense screen game.
You can always start simple and just run one or two of these concepts. Mesh is an absolute must have concept and with just a few tags, you can make it tough for defense who think they have it stopped.
Take control of your passing game and know that you have options well beyond throwing fades (the lowest possible percentage throw in football). Show your QB's the simple progression and then all you have to teach them is how to move quickly through it.
The simpler you keep it the better and there is no need to get greedy with your passing game. Just take what they are giving you and soon enough somebody will miss something and you will get the huge plays you are looking for.