The Air Raid – Basic Concepts
At it’s heart, the Air Raid is a simple offensive scheme. So simple, in fact, that real coaches can install the offense in just three days of camp. Execution is the key to the scheme, as there are relatively few offensive play calls. The Air Raid is designed to take advantage of where the defense is weak, using every inch of the field to get good athletes into space where they can make plays. The success of the scheme is dependent on the quarterbacks ability to audible at the line of scrimmage into different plays based on the defensive alignment. In this short blog, you will learn about some of the basic concepts in the Air Raid. After some practice, you’ll learn to recognize what the defense is giving you, and that is when you learn how to call plays like an Air Raid quarterback in NCAA Football 14.
The vast majority of the time you are going to call a pass play coming out of the huddle. A good base play to come out is Four Verticals, as it can be effective against both Cover 2 and Cover 3 plays. Look at the safeties - if they are split on the hashes, chances are good the defense is in a Cover 2 defense. If that is the case, staying in Four Verticals would be a good idea, this takes advantage of the fact there are only two deep safeties to cover four receivers.
Of course, the offense could be in Cover 2 Man, which means that Four Verticals isn’t going to be nearly as effective. If your opponent starts shifting to more man coverage in an attempt to stop you from gaining a mismatch deep, it is time to start calling passing plays that are designed to defeat man coverage. Good examples of these plays are the Shallow Cross series (Z/Y/H Shallow Cross), which attempts to get a receiver into a situation where they have a speed advantage over the defender. In the Shallow Cross series, the speed advantage is identified and that receiver runs a shallow drag route horizontally across the field in an attempt to gain separation and get the ball into open space.
Other good plays to run against man coverage are Mesh and Stick. The Mesh concept is an extension of the cross series discussed above, but the cross is done by multiple receivers running toward each other in an attempt to screen defenders. Stick is a play called often in the Air Raid because it usually provides a high percentage passing opportunity. The combination of a deep streak outside, a slot hitch and a receiver in the flat creates a triangle of opportunity where the quarterback can clearly see which receiver is open. Often, that is the Y receiver on the “Stick” curl. It is very useful against man coverage, but can be used against zone defense as well.
All of these passing concepts are designed to work against both man and zone, which is another reason the Air Raid is powerful. A good example is this is the Smash (Sail) route combination. The outside receiver runs a short curl to pull the defenders shallow and the slot receiver runs a corner route against the safety. If the quarterback is accurate, it is a hard route to defend against Cover 0/1/2 because the receiver can get inside leverage on the defender, forcing the defender to make an exceptional play to break up the pass attempt.
The final two basic pieces of the Air Raid are seemingly simple, but critical. The first is the screen game. Any defense can be successful if they don’t have to think about their responsibilities. Mixing in screens will make the defense worry about defending the perimeter of the field as well as the middle. If you can run screens successfully, getting your athletes out into space where they can wreak havoc, the deep ball will open up.
The second is the running game, which will only be called roughly 25%-35% of offensive plays. Like the screen game, it is critical to keep the defense on their toes with the run game, forcing your opponent to decide if they are free to drop into pass coverage is enough for receivers to gain an edge or not. This small hesitation could provide your receivers with just enough of an advantage to get open. Unless you are mixing some read option into your Air Raid, usually a running play will be called at the line of scrimmage. A good rule is to audible into a running play if the defense has less than 6 defenders in the box.
This is clearly just a primer on the Air Raid. In reality, the talents of the individual components of the offense are just as important as the play calling, as is the organization of practice to allow the athletes to perfect their technique through repetition. Check back in the future for a discussion about recruiting for the Air Raid in NCAA Football 14. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @shaunlmason if you want to talk some more Air Raid!