The air raid offense is an increasingly popular choice for high school offenses around the country because anyone can be successful running it. You don’t need 300-pound lineman, 4.4 speed receivers, or even a rocket arm quarterback (although we would all gladly take those players). The air raid forces a defense to cover the entirety of the field before attacking the weak points or taking advantage of the athletic mismatches. Above all else, this offense is fun and engaging for high school players.
If you’ve heard of the air raid offense, you’ve probably heard of the mesh concept. This versatile passing concept can be run out of a wide range of formations while remaining simple for the offense to master. The mismatch we are able to capitalize on with this play is between a slot receiver and a linebacker in space. We are in shotgun 100% of the time and use more traditional spread formations such as doubles, trips, empty, etc. I believe that there is a place in every offense for a mesh concept, because it is so effective at putting linebackers in a horizontal stretch.
Linebackers are run-first defenders. That means the majority of their reps in practice are spent on just that, stopping the run. Inside linebackers more specifically, tend to have less lateral quickness than outside backers so we want to expose that. We want to get in a position where inside backers are forced to cover a much faster slot receiver. We want an inside backer to have to work his eyes from one receiver to another without being in a position to make the play. This forces hesitation and slower reaction time for the defense.
The overall idea in the mesh concept is straight forward. You have two players on opposite sides of the ball cross in the middle of the field at a depth of 4-5 yards. In practice we literally have these two players high-five as they pass each other, and that’s how close the spacing needs to be. Tight spacing like this often times creates a legal pick play and clogs up the middle of the field with backers.
We determine that our Y always goes underneath, and our S always goes on top. Those responsibilities never change regardless of the formation. At the end of the play, they end up at the same depth anyways. If we know the Y is going to end up on our playside, we prefer him to be the underneath receiver. He is more likely to come open as the underneath receiver and will have less ground to cover. Let's take a look at our mesh concept out of 2X2 and a couple different scenarios.
Reading the OLB
In a 2X2 look, we teach our QB to read the playside outside linebacker. If that linebacker has running back responsibility, then he will be flying out to the flat. Our QB sees that backer take the RB, so we wait for our Y to come across and replace him. When it comes to the playside outside WR, there are a lot of different tags you use. The most simplistic approach is to send him on an outside release go-route. If the corner is showing press coverage, this go-route becomes the hot. The idea here is to get the cornerback out of the picture and clear out space for either the RB in the flat, or the slot coming across the field. A ten-twelve yard out is another excellent alternative because it clears out the corner, while also providing the QB with an initial read if the corner is showing a soft cushion. The backside post is really more of an immediate post. It is meant to hold the free safety and keep him back pedaling instead of breaking and driving on the ball when he recognizes the crossing routes.
Don’t be afraid to throw to the running back…a lot. If that outside receiver takes the corner with him and the outside backer/safety over #2 stays home then take the gift. Don’t overthink a good thing. Good things happen when you get the ball to your athletes' in space.
Replacing the Blitz
Let's talk about the second iteration of the mesh concept: replacing the blitz and beating the zone. Pre-play you see the inside LB walk up to the line and show blitz. Our goal is to replace that player. In game our S and our Y still need to high five each other. Why practice the high five if we are not going to execute it in a game? It sounds goofy, but it is important for the integrity of the play. After they slap hands, we give them an option based on the grass in front of them: keep running or settle down. In this example, the players slap hands in the middle of the field and the Y sees that the inside LB is gone and that the OLB dropped to the seam. In this case the Y needs to stop running and settle down where the LB originally was.
There is an answer for every scenario with this one play. Your slot receivers should be able to replace any blitzing linebacker. They can continue running out their shallow cross if they find themselves manned up. As long as your QB and receivers understands what you are trying to accomplish with this play, it will be successful.
We ran a variation of mesh 17 times last season. We were sacked once, had one holding penalty, and we completed it 15/15 times for 129 yards and 2 TDs.
This is a just a very brief overview of the mesh concept and how we teach it. Everyone runs it and teaches it a little different, but the overarching consistency is the meshing players that cross midfield. This essentially creates a natural pick and forces LBs to hesitate and work laterally when they are naturally downhill players. Teaching receivers how to settle down into the soft spots in the zone vs. continuing their routes to the sideline against man creates a no-win situation for a defense.
Offensive Coordinator/QB Coach
Charles Wright Academy