Dragon is one of the most pervasive quick game passing concepts in all of football. Popularized by former Stanford head coach Bill Walsh, Dragon tries exposing flat defenders in man and Cover 3 schemes. Stanford used the concept successfully against USC on Saturday.
How does Dragon work?
The dragon concept pairs a slant route with a route to the flat. This can be done out of a variety of personnel packages. Sometimes, the two routes are from two receivers lined up beyond the hash or from one receiver and one running back. In Cover 3, this often exposes one of the outside linebackers. If this linebacker goes with the slant route, then the quarterback will throw it to the man in the flat. Instead, if the linebacker goes with the flat route, then the slant will be open. In man coverage, the slant will often be open because the outside linebacker will usually be matched with the flat route.
On Saturday, USC frequently used a Cover 6 scheme, which mixes elements of Cover 4 and Cover 2. The Cover 2 side of the defense has a cornerback covering the flat and a safety covering half of the field. Meanwhile, the Cover 4 side has two defensive backs playing a quarter of the field. All the linebackers are playing underneath zones.
However, USC’s Cover 6 came with a twist. The cornerback playing the flat on the Cover 2 side would often lock up in man coverage. Last week, Stanford ran the scissors concept in the red zone to put Cover 2 safeties and flat cornerbacks in a bind. Cover 6 was a way for the Trojans to combat this.
However, in this scheme, if the boundary receiver runs an in-breaking route and the defender goes with him, the flat becomes open. Stanford exposed this defect by sending junior running back EJ Smith to the flat. The linebacker didn’t get out to Smith in time, and he’s able to pick up a first down.
The Cardinal used the concept once again on the goal line. Fifth-year receiver Brycen Tremayne once again ran an in-breaking slant, which left the flat to the right side of the field open. Smith ran to the flat, where junior quarterback Tanner McKee hit him in stride for Stanford’s first touchdown of the game.