Breaking down the Flat-7, Spot and Dagger routes for the Eagles…

Matt Bowen is writing some great inside-football stuff at National Football Post.  Bowen played safety for seven years in the NFL, from 2000 to 2006, and provides readers with a unique insight into the game from a player’s perspective. Bowen was a sixth-round draft pick of the St. Louis Rams and also played for the Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills. He has a journalism degree from the University of Iowa and has written for a number of publications, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Washington Times and Pro Football Weekly. Bowen received a master’s degree in writing and publishing from DePaul University and is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association.

I’m finding the chalkboard stuff more meaningful than ever as we get closer to real NFL football. Matt Bowen is great at breaking down the X’s and O’s for laymen like me… and lately, he’s been tearing it up at National Football Post.

Here are three offensive pass plays at the top of Andy Reid’s Sunday call sheet …and also, the three pass plays that must be stopped by the Eagles defense in 3rd-down situations, according to Matt Bowen…

Bowen calls them the “three routes you must stop to win in the NFL”…

“It doesn’t matter if we are looking at the game plans of Mike McCarthy, Andy Reid, Mike Martz or Sean Payton— these routes must be defended if you want to limit explosive plays and get off of the field on third downs.”

1. Flat-7

Matt drew this up in Jet personnel (4 WR, 1 RB) in an “Orange” alignment, but this concept can be run out of multiple personnel groupings. We see it vs. Tampa 2 defenses and man-coverage/ pressure fronts throughout the league. Take a look at the route up on the chalkboard…


This play puts the stress on the safeties, as this is the No.1 “Cover 2″ beater in the NFL. And if you want to defend this route, says Bowen, your safeties need to play with enough depth to get off of the numbers and close on the ball. But don’t forget about your CB’s, he says. In Cover 2, if your corners don’t sink (hard) and protect the safety on the 7 (corner) route, you are asking for trouble vs. NFL QBs. The concept is simple: put the bait (Flat route) in front on the CB and force him to squat—leaving a nice throwing lane open to the 7 cut. And that is a gift for a QB such as Indy’s Peyton Manning.

Plus, Bowen warns, vs. pressure or man coverage, you are testing the leverage of your CBs. Play with sloppy technique or lose leverage on the hard inside stem from No.1 (X,Z), there is no help with a route breaking towards the boundary.

2. Spot

Matt drew the Spot route in Regular personnel (2 WR, 1 TE, 2 RB) in a “Pro” alignment with the Z receiver on short divide motion. Bowen calls it “a bunch concept” that will test the discipline of Cover 4 (quarters), Cover 1 and Cover 2. It looks simple, but if you can’t defend the Spot route on 3rd and short to 3rd and medium, you will not get off of the field. And that is a killer when you play good football on first and second down. Check it out on the chalkboard…


Looks simple, right? A 7 route from the TE (Y), the Z on the short inside Curl and the FB (F) running a simple Flat route. However, vs. any bunch concept, if you don’t keep leverage and understand route schemes, you will consistently get beat.

In Cover 4, Bowen says there needs to be a “Box” call made (same as he discussed last week in my Cover 7 breakdown). Play four on three and drive downhill to take away the Curl (or the “Spot”), because that is where the QB wants to go with the football. In Cover 1, the CB needs to play close to the hip of Z and the SS must maintain outside leverage on Y running the 7. And, in Cover 2, the SAM backer (playing in the “seam-hook”) has to break to the Z—who will post up in the hole of the zone. The idea for the offense is to clear out space for the Z to work, and using motion forces the defense to adjust on the fly. Plus, Bowen says, don’t forget about the backside X receiver. A 3×1 formation is an alert to the defense for the backside slant.

3. Dagger

The deep Dig route. or “Dagger”, is drawn here by Bowen in “Posse” personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) in a “Doubles” alignment. Bowen associates this route with Mike Martz’s offense in Chicago, but this is a concept now seen all over the league. Once the route takes shape, we are looking at glorified “Hi-Lo” concept, but Bowen says to focus here on the middle of the field—because that is where the ball is going.


Clear out the middle of the field with the W receiver running the inside vertical seam… Perfect to take the MIKE Backer out of the picture in Cover 2, run off the SS in Cover 4 and distract the FS playing the deep middle of the field in both Cover 1 and Cover 3. Working vs. zone coverage, the offense wants to find the hole between the top of the defense and the underneath droppers. And vs. Cover 1, you are testing the CB’s’ ability to play the vertical release and drive across the field all while maintaining outside leverage. Not easy.

Bowen says look for this route on 3rd and 7-plus situations… because if the QB has protection (and can wait for this concept to develop), this is an easy throw into the middle of the field… Move the sticks and start working your way down the field. From a defensive perspective, your underneath defenders must get enough depth to take away the dig.

Pretty revealing info and instruction from Matt Bowen… It was new realization to me that the CB has to drop at a 45 degree angle to protect the safety against the corner (7) route…. i.e., force the QB to take the check down and then hustle up to make the tackle. CB’s being able to bring the FB down in the open field is then very important for playing Cover 2… and hence the strong emphasis on tackling ability for these players.

Then Matt added this to my observation above: “The CB will sink to protect the safety on the 7 route from the TE (Y) and then break to the flat on the throw to the FB. And the best CB’s will show that they are going to jump the flat only to sink into the throwing lane and make a play on the 7 route.”

“Play deep to short is the best way to teach it…. “

Matt Bowen is bringing a great inside perspective to the sport even as it lies temporarily dormant at the pro level. He’s convinced me to keep learning while “not getting lost in the yearning” for football.

Have a concept or scheme you want to see broken down? Send Matt Bowen an email at:

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.