In the NFL Fan School, we’ve looked at some of the most used offensive formations so now I thought I’d move on to some of the most common passing plays that the offenses use. These are some of the most common and often seen in a game but are by no means the only pass patterns (aka routes) that will be seen in a game.

So, let’s get started:

Fly / Go

This is a straight out speed contest between the wide receiver and cornerback who’s tasked with covering him. Although the image above shows a straight line, in actual fact the wide receiver will shape to run an “In” or “Out” pattern at the beginning of his route as a way of putting the covering cornerback off his stride. This initial move(s) are what can get the receiver free and open for the quarterback to throw to way down the field.


The “Out” route is exactly that, the wide receiver runs some 10-yards downfield then cuts towards the sideline. The quarterback will try to get the ball to him whilst he’s heading towards the sideline and will place the ball away from the cornerback who should, hopefully, be a step behind the receiver. A slight variation to this is known as the “Quick Out”. The difference is that the wide receiver cuts out towards the sideline after running just 5-yards downfield.


I’m sure you’ve already guessed this one. It’s the exact opposite of the “Out”. The wide receiver runs 10 or so yards downfield then cuts sharply in towards the hash marks. This play is good against a defense that likes to blitz as the receiver will find himself in the space that the linebackers have left as they blitz to get to the quarterback. If the defense doesn’t blitz, the receiver can find himself in a lot of traffic.


Similar to the “In” route where the receiver cuts in towards the middle of the field. The difference is with the angle he makes his cut at and runs towards the middle. With the “In” route he would cut at 90-degrees but when on a “Slant” route he would cut in at about a 45-degree angle. This difference will take the receiver deeper downfield than the “In”. This is another good route against a blitzing defense.

Hitch and Hook

These two pass patterns are pretty much the same. The wide receiver sets off up the field making it look like he’s off for a long pass. He suddenly stops and ‘hooks’ back towards the quarterback who needs to throw the ball to him before the cornerback can react and realise it’s a shorter route than it first appeared to be. The “Hook” usually goes about 10-yards or so downfield before turning to face the QB whereas a “Hitch” is a quicker version and goes about 5-yards downfield before making it’s move.


The “Post” play is one of the longer routes you’ll see a player run. The Wide Receiver will run between 10-15 yards downfield before cutting in at a 45-degree angle and heading towards the goal post. The QB’s job is to get the ball to him whilst he’s on his way to the posts. This play could be considered to be a cross between a “Slant” and “Fly/Go” route.


The “Corner” route is pretty much the same as the “Post” except for one small difference. Instead of the receiver cutting in towards the posts, he cuts out and heads off towards the corner of the field.

Wide Receiver Screen

The “Wide Receiver Screen” is kind of a trick play. This is where the wide receiver stays behind the line of scrimmage at the start of the play and drifts in towards the QB. Whilst he’s doing this, a couple of offensive linemen will be ‘rolling out’ towards his side of the field in order to form a wall, or ‘screen’, in front of him. The QB then throws the ball to the WR who catches it (hopefully) and runs off up the field behind his personal escort of linemen.
You might see this play done when the defense is set up in deep pass protection meaning there is more space between the line of scrimmage and 10, or so, yards down field. The offense has to then rely on the downfield blocking as well as the speed and agility of the ball carrier.

Hail Mary

This is an absolute last gasp play sometimes seen in games. If the score is close and the clock is running out and the trailing team has the ball, they might try sending all of their receivers deep downfield on Fly/Go, Post and/or Corner routes. The QB then heaves the ball in the general direction of his bunch of receivers and hopes one of them comes up with it – preferably in the endzone for a touchdown!
This can be an exciting play to watch and can immediately change the outcome of a game.


Route Combinations

As I said at the beginning, this isn’t the complete list of passing routes a team will employ but it is the basis for most routes run. A lot of the other routes that are run are a combination of these. By that I mean that a player might start the play running a “Slant” but then turn it into a “Corner” after he’s run a distance along the “Slant” etc.

These routes are the basis of the ones run by all players who are eligible to go out and catch a pass (Tight Ends, Wide Receivers, Slot Receivers and Running Backs).

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the NFL Fan School and Guide to the Game for more information about how this great game works!