I was arguing this with my friend. He claims that if a quarterback sees that his receiver is much faster, he should throw a quick pass and let the receiver juke his way past the cornerback. My argument is that the receiver should get downfield as fast as possible and have the quarterback throw a deep pass.

In the absence of safety help, what is the correct play?

  • 2
    I think this question is likely to solicit argument. You even state "I was arguing". I don't think we'll find a correct/definitive answer to this.
    – Ste
    May 30 '12 at 11:04
  • 1
    A draw play with a run to that side.
    – Chad
    Jun 13 '12 at 18:58
  • Ever hear of throwing a receiver open?
    – JeffO
    Nov 22 '12 at 4:45

It really depends on the current play called. Ideally there won't need to be a change in the route. This is because many offensive schemes/formations predict that the mismatch will occur and there is a set plan for exploiting the mismatch. However, sometimes the defense will simply screw up coverage, or sending a receiver in motion will create the mismatch by changing coverage. In these instances where the mismatch is unanticipated there are two primary options (which happen to be the two you and your friend were arguing about):

  1. In press coverage, the receiver will exploit the mismatch by going deep.
  2. In soft coverage, the QB will throw a quicker ball to the receiver and hope the speed mismatch leads to a larger gain.

Apologies for the lack of links as I am basing this off my (limited) playing experience, but it seems to be the case when I watch NFL and College games as well.


There is no right answer. It depends on the receiver, the quarterback and cornerback's positioning.

The quarterback being better at short or long passes affects the decision.

If the receiver is fast but not shifty then a short pass may invite more risk than reward as the corner is going to be coming at him full bore once the catch is made. Thus, the long pass is the preferred route. However, if the receiver is difficult to tackle then a short pass can easily turn into a long gainer. So if the corner plays back then a short pass is the way to go. If the receiver is tall then the long pass may be the best play regardless of situation.

However, the over-riding factor is that it depends on where the cornerback is playing. Generally, if the cornerback knows the receiver is faster and they aren't going to get safety help then they aren't going to put themselves in a position to get beat deep. So they'll play loose and a short pass will guarantee a 5 to 10 yard gain with almost no risk. If they play bump and run then the quarterback hopes the receiver gets off the line and they'll be looking long. However, with no safety help, that means a blitz is coming and if the receiver doesn't get off the line cleanly then there better be an alternative receiver or the quarterback is going down or risking an interception.

So bottom line, you are both correct and you are both wrong.


In the absence of safety help? Throw a quick pass. All else being equal, shorter passes are easier to throw accurately than longer passes. If there's no need to worry about a safety coming in to disrupt the receiver's attempt to catch the ball, get him the ball ASAP. The only reason I could see for delaying the pass is if the corner is playing so far off the line that the receiver hasn't actually caught up to him yet.

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    But the benefit of going deep is that the quicker receiver can run faster without being touched without the ball. Once he has the ball, he is in danger of being tackled. Why take the risk that he can't outjuke the cornerback? Also, can't any competent quarterback make a one-on-one throw to a mismatched receiver in his sleep? May 27 '12 at 23:35
  • @you-any competent quarterback can certainly make the throw...on the practice field when there aren't 5 or 6 300+ pound guys looking to kill him...but add a pass rush and it becomes quite a bit more challenging. Also, if the corner knows that he has no safety help then they aren't going to let the receiver go deep on him, instead they'll give up the pass in front and hope for an errant thrown or hard hit.
    – Dunk
    May 29 '12 at 21:21

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