Prisco: Mastering check-downs super charging passing games
The Dolphins were working with Henne on this in the OTAs. I always wondered why we didn't utilize our backs more.
The Rest of the Article
Mastering check-downs super charging passing games
June 10, 2010
By Pete Prisco
The check-down pass in the NFL was once considered nothing more than a safe play used as a last resort to help a quarterback avoid pressure and maybe keep him off the ground.
That play might have gained 5 to 8 yards, keeping a drive alive or setting up a short-yardage situation on the next down, but more importantly it kept the quarterback upright.
These days, it's much more than that. The check-down pass has become a weapon.
Drew Brees helped lead the New Orleans Saints to a Super Bowl victory last season in large part because of his ability to turn those safe, check-down passes into so many big plays.
Close your eyes for a second. You can visualize Brees scanning the field, looking left, looking right, looking deep and then short, dumping a pass to Reggie Bush or Pierre Thomas, their speed turning what looks like a 5-yard gain into a 15-yard gain -- or more.
"I think with any good passing game it's a must," Saints coach Sean Payton said.
With the emergence of spread offenses in the NFL, including teams using more three- and four-receiver sets on early downs to put pressure on defenses across the field, offensive coaches are seeing more and more chances to make the check-down a weapon.
"Chunk yards in the passing game can be a 6-yard check-down that turns into [a] huge gain," Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "We talk a lot about our quarterbacks throwing check-downs to locations. If the pass is accurate, it can turn the little play into a big one."
It's much more than just calling a play for the ball to be thrown to the back as the No. 1 option. For check-down plays to succeed, it has to be one of the last reads for the quarterback. It can't just be having the quarterback look to the first read and then throw the check-down. That's what young and not-so-good quarterbacks do. They play scared, with the check-down as their security blanket.
What the good ones do is scan the field first, looking for a big play elsewhere, before settling for the check-down. It might be the fourth read on a play, which is why it can be so effective.
That can mean the back is either in one-on-one coverage or he's moving to a vacant spot in the zone, ready to run away from traffic.