2011 Route Efficiency: Post and Corner Routes
2011 Route Efficiency: Post and Corner Routes
Today, in our review of last season’s route stats, we analyze a route that challenges a defense as much as any on the route tree. The post route threatens a defender vertically and involves a break that allows those without truly top-end speed to create separation. Here we are getting into the region of boom-or-bust routes; the league completion percentage was just below 50% on posts, but the yards per completion was more than a quarter of the field.
When an offense connects on a post route they will be collecting not only a first down, but are also significantly altering the field-position battle. This is a crucial fight for teams to win and in terms of touchdown passes was one of the most productive areas for the league’s most explosive passing attacks last season. On post routes the more vertical passing games and receivers start to shine with some youthful names figuring prominently among the receivers.
The post route is philosophically paired with the corner route as both involve a diagonal break from a vertical stem. However, due to how relatively little the corner route was used last season, we will instead be focusing on the post route in this article.
The post is designed to be the ultimate coverage splitter. It is almost chameleon like in the way that it adapts to the coverages it is facing to try and find the seam between two defenders. Depending upon what is thrown at it, a post’s varying looks can resemble anything from an in route that has strayed upfield to the deftest of skinny posts, barely breaking from the vertical stem.
While a simple diagram of a post route highlights it as a 45-degree angle, this does not fully illustrate the versatility of the route. The ideal post splits coverage over the top to break the defense open and a successful one will not only result in a big play, but will also force adjustments from all the three coverage groups (linebackers, corners, safeties). This, in turn, opens up other parts of the defense for the passing game to attack.
No one was more devastating as a receiver on post routes last season than Cincinnati’s rookie sensation A.J. Green. While he was only targeted on eight posts–dwarfed by Roddy White’s 21 post-route targets–he snagged seven of those for 240 yards. His completion percentage trailed only Rob Gronkowski (7-of-7, 115 yards, 4 TDs) and his yards per attempt was bettered only by Jordy Nelson (6-of-9, 274 yards, 3 TDs).
Green is blessed with outstanding physical attributes and he put those to excellent use on his post routes. His combination of size and route running made life a little bit easier for fellow rookie Andy Dalton, who also figures prominently among quarterbacks in terms of completion percentage and yards per attempt. If this is what Dalton and Green can put together on such limited targets, you have to wonder what the potential is for the Bengals’ vertical passing game as these two develop together in the coming seasons. AFC North defensive backfields are on notice.
Size and strength may be important on a post route against good coverage, but with a well-timed pass against zone coverage, speed kills. Both DeSean Jackson and Mike Wallace consistently proved this last season by posting north of 38 yards per completion and Wallace parlaying half of his catches into touchdowns. They are joined in the speedster ranks by Darrius Heyward-Bey who sits just outside of the Top 5 at 20.8 yards per target.
Heyward-Bey developed his route tree tremendously as the 2011 season rolled on and the post was one of his more devastating routes. He didn’t drop a single post pattern last season–progress in itself–and collected a touchdown along with 229 yards on his eight catches from 11 targets. In terms of pure production, he was in lofty company splitting Wallace and Roddy White.
Maximizing the Gains
While certain receivers, such as Green, Heyward-Bey, and Gronkowski, were more efficient than others, most top quarterbacks separated themselves by maximizing the yardages on their completions. Outside of Tom Brady and his crop of receivers in New England (who profited mainly on their efficiency; 16 of 22, 358 yards, 5 TDs), the top quarterbacks were marked out by moderate completion percentage combined with some truly colossal yards-per-completion numbers. One man, in particular, was a cut above the rest.
Tony Romo and his receivers gained nearly half of the field on each of the twelve occasions last season where they connected on post routes. That Romo only attempted 17 posts last season is the most surprising number. Of the three deep routes, the Cowboys had a far greater focus on the go route in 2011. While it may have netted them 10 touchdowns, the completion percentage was south of 35% on 53 attempts.
Romo has lost his most efficient target in terms of a post receiver from 2011 in the shape of Laurent Robinson who snagged 4-of-5 targets for 212 yards, collecting 12 yards after the catch on average. Dez Bryant should be perfectly suited to the speed and physicality that the post route prefers and the Cowboys need to get him more involved than the two targets he saw on them last season.
While the Cowboys look for a receiver to fill the Robinson void next season, their bitter NFC East rivals will be looking for incoming starter (and supposed savior of the franchise) Robert Griffin III to aid their ills at the quarterback position. On post routes last season Rex Grossman and John Beck combined to complete only 17 of their 48 targets, with their receivers only contributing three drops to those incompletions.
That 35.4% completion percentage is far below the league average of 49.6% on posts and is compounded by the six interceptions that Grossman threw on this route against no touchdowns. Their only post route touchdown came on one of John Beck’s two completions on 10 attempts. The Redskins will be desperate for Griffin III to make an immediate hook up with expensive free agent addition Pierre Garcon. Garcon himself suffered through some shoddy passing on post routes last season in Indianapolis, snagging only one of his six targets with no drops.
Falcons Fight Back
While Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints didn’t figure among the best in any particular category last season, on post routes as a team they were extremely productive. Brees tied Aaron Rodgers for the league-lead with nine passing touchdowns on posts. The Falcons played the post against the Saints fairly well last season (2-of-9, 51 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs) but in signing Asante Samuel they have gotten even better.
The path to NFC South glory runs through New Orleans and the Falcons have gone out with a clear statement of intent to shut the Saints vertical passing game down. Three of the Top 4 defenders playing the post last season will be manning the three top corner spots on the Falcons’ depth chart in the upcoming season. Brent Grimes led the way allowing zero catches on seven targets with no drops needed to maintain that shutout. He may not have got an interception but allowing zero completions to a post is truly credit worthy. Combined with Asante Samuel and Dunta Robinson both allowing two completions on eight targets, the Falcons should be formidable defending post routes this season.
At the other end of the scale, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ investment in Eric Wright comes under closer scrutiny as the Lions’ starting pairing from the 2011 season features prominently in the Bottom 5 defenders covering post routes. Chris Houston remains in Detroit having yielded post route stats of 6-of-7, 242 yards, 2 TDs. While new Buccaneer Wright may have yielded fewer yards per attempt, his stats of 8-of-11, 229 yards, 2 TDs are certain to raise further questions over just what the Buccaneers saw in Wright to consider him worthy of a $38 million investment.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.