Plays and Patterns

The plays that get called at Sunday football have evolved over time, and have come from a number of different sources: flag football, "real" football, the fevered imaginations of the participants.

Here we document the basics (the standard receiver routes) and some of the plays that have developed over the years, and some accompanying terminology.

Routes/Pattern Fundamentals

The basic routes are typical of most football and are not necessarily unique, but for consistency we document them here for consistency, at least for our fundamentals. And we have a few special variations of our own thrown in for good measure.


  • "In" is always towards the QB from the receiver's position, and "out" is away from the QB. e.g. if the receiver is on the right of the QB, "in" is to the left ("<-" for Doug) and and "out" is to the right ("->").
  • "Shallow" (for slants, posts, corners) means closer to parallel to the line of scrimmage, "deep" means closer to straight downfield. So a "shallow" pattern requires a sharper turn from your original "straight downfield" facing than a "regular". A "deep" is an even less sharp turn than "regular".

Basic Principles When Running Patterns

If you're doing a 2 move play (Post-corner, in-out, wheel, etc.) you must sell the first move, as if you expect to get the ball on that, before making the second move. That means:

  • at least 2 steps in that move's direction (more like 3 or 4 on longer plays like the post-corner)
  • Look for the ball after the first move

When doing any play, look straight ahead (in the direction you're running) until you come to your turn point, so as not to tip off the defence. Alternatively, look directly at the defender and try to "lock" eyes with them. Apart from being creepy/romantic, it has a tendency to "freeze" them, making them slower to react to your move when it comes.

Short Routes


At the snap, turn and face the QB and receive the ball. Don't move before then. You may fake a run up to the line of scrimmage before the snap to make the defender back up like you're going long.


Run at an angle in the direction specified (in/out, right/left) without running downfield first. Look over the shoulder closest to the line of scrimmage. e.g. if you're slanting right, right shoulder.

The angle of the slant is not necessarily at 45 degrees. Shallow slants are closer to the line of scrimmage, deeper slants go more down field.

5 (and) In, 5 (and) Out

Run 5 yds (about 3-4 steps for most people) straight downfield, then quickly stop and explode at 90 degrees in the desired direction and look for the ball. You should be moving parallel to the line of scrimmage.

See diagram with 10 In/10 Out.

Medium Routes

10 (and) In, 10 (and) Out

Unlike the 5 in/out, instead of coming to a stop and exploding out of the corner, the idea is to take the corner at full speed. So, at about the 8yd mark (about 5-6 steps) turn hard at full speed until you're parallel to the line of scrimmage and look for the ball.

The important thing to do here is maintain your speed to beat the defender.

Hook/Buttonhook, Down-and-back

Run straight down field like you're going to do a streak, then at 10-12yd stop and cut back towards the QB looking for the ball, hands ready. Button hook turns "in" while a Down-and-back turns "out" about 45 degrees from your original path.

Do not just turn around and keep drifting backwards down field, that's where the defence can easily cut underneath and pick it off.

One variation is the "read hook" in which the receiver makes a "read" to decide whether to turn in or out. That read is based on turning to the side away from the defender.


Run straight down field for about 8-10yd and then curve in or out (as called) until you're coming back to the QB. The radius of the curve is usually about 5yd. Something you can do at a fair clip.

Long Routes

Post, Corner/Flag

Run straight down field, usually for 5yd unless told otherwise. At your turn point, give a quick shoulder/head fake, without losing speed, and then slant in the appropriate direction at about 45 degrees.

Post slants "in", because that's where the goal posts are (or would be) on a football field. Look over your inside shoulder.

Corner slants out ("Flag" or pylon would be on the corner marking the field). Look over your outside shoulder.

As with regular slants, shallow is closer to the line of scrimmage (a sharper turn), deeper is downfield (less turn).

Post-Corner, Corner-Post

Like a regular post or corner, but after 3-4 steps on the slant part cut back to the other direction. Remember to look for the ball after your first move, to fool the defender, and then cut back.


"Go that way, real fast". Run in a straight line, do NOT bend/curve in or out. Dodge the defender if you have to and then resume the straight course. Look over your inside shoulder for the ball unless told to expect it somewhere else.


Essentially this is a variation on the Fly. here's the play from a football coaching video:

Special Variations

Reversing calls: In-out, Out-in

Similar principle to a post-corner/corner-post, but you're doing a 180 degree turn instead of just 90-ish degrees. Do your in or out for 2-3 steps, then stop and double back in the other direction.

Repeated calls: Post-post, out-and-out, etc.

When you get a repeated call, what the quarterback wants you to do is to do the first move, then fake the cut back to the usual double move (post-corner, in-out, etc.) but then continue in the original direction. It should only be a quick stutter step in the fake direction, enough to make the defender pause or start to turn.

Stop and Go/Hook and go

Run straight then stop and turn for the ball and then turn back downfield and run like the blazes.

Stutter and Go

Start running full speed like you're doing a streak. After about 3 steps, start to slow down like you're doing a hook (but don't turn around) and then take off again. Good to throw in after a bunch of hooks. Used most effectively with Shad at flag football.

Fly and Die

Run like a streak, full out. Expect the ball to be underthrown to the outside. Once it leaves the QB hands you judge the right time to stop and turn back to the outside to catch the ball as the defender overshoots.


Do an out, looking for the ball, and then turn straight downfield again. "Wheel" means do it faster, with rounded corners like you do for a 10 out (though the wheel may be done shorter), whereas the others tend to want a proper "5 out" square first corner.

Graham In/Post(-and)-in, Graham Out/Corner(-and)-out

Named for Blake's friend Graham who came out once, it was really just his way of running outs and ins because he had bad knees. We've turned it into a play. Run a post or corner, then after 3 steps of the slant, turn again so that you continue parallel to the line of scrimmage.

Post-out, Corner-in

Pretty much the opposite of the "Graham", you're turning 135 degrees. Start your post or corner, 3 steps looking for the ball, then turn back parallel to the line of scrimmage in the other direction.

House (Post or Corner)

Post or corner, followed by angle back toward the line of scrimmage like a down-and-back.


Sometimes there's a fixed set of routes that are rolled together into a play with a short name or description.

Bobby Starburst


This is typically a long-yardage play. You're expecting to hit the "starburst" receiver 10-15yd deep down the middle.


Receivers (at least 3) split on either side of QB. "Starburst" receiver, designated in the huddle, is usually the insidemost receiver on a side with at least 2 receivers.


All receivers slant in from either side. All but the "starburst" receiver "bump" when they meet and then slant back out (actually "bumping" is unnecessary, just approach and then turn back). "Starburst" receiver turns straight up the field through the area where the "bump" happened.


Named for it's inventor, Bob/Blade/Blake and the pretty pattern it makes. Sometimes derisively known as the Raging Clown Circle, though that term has been loosely applied to many plays.

Step-up & Slant out


Good for short yardage


Usually used with all receivers or all but 1 of the receivers on one side of the QB.


All but 1 step up one yard, block their defender. Remaining receiver runs behind this wall (closer to the QB than the defence) looking for the pass. Not even really a slant, typically runs straight out along the line of scrimmage.


Mike claims inventorship of this one, from back in the original Lister Hall grass field days.

Sweep left/right, "x" slant right/left


Good for short to medium yardage.


Doesn't really matter.


All but 1 receiver slant one direction (left or right). Remaining receiver "x" delays and then slants the opposite direction underneath all the others.


Invented by Doug (or maybe Mark) for flag football.

Devil's Post


Good for long yardage.


Doesn't really matter. At least 3 receivers.


All but 1 receiver do buttonhooks or down-and-backs. Remaining receiver does a post over top of the hooks. Usually one of the outside receivers in the formation.


Not sure who invented it, but I think Doug named it, because the "down-and-back" is also known as a '6' in our standard numbered "play tree", so you have 6-6-6-post.