The Rub Route (or the Pick Play) is the NFL version of the NBA's Pick N Roll play. An absolute must have for every offense and used in various forms all over the field. Some offenses totally rely upon it while others used it at key junctures. Here is a quick look at 2 plays that show how to run it and how NOT to run it.
2nd Quarter, 2-9-OAK 26 (11:07) (Shotgun) D.Carr pass incomplete short right to A.Cooper (P.Williams)
Here's a look at the play.
It looks innocuous enough and goes into the books as a simple incompletion, but as we take a closer look, it's an absolutely perfect play call against this defensive set and there's just one minor execution flaw that kills it.
The Break Down
Here's a closer look at the details of the play, how it is designed and how it should unfold, and then the key failing that causes the incompletion.
1. Set up
Raiders are in 10 Personnel, 1 RB (Latavius Murray) and no Tight Ends. 4 Wide Receivers are Amari Cooper, Andre Holmes, Seth Roberts, and Michael Crabtree.
Saints respond with Nickel, bringing in CB #21 De'Vante Harris, and line up in man coverage with a single deep safety, Jairus Byrd
2. Rub Route with Murray and Cooper
The rub route happens at the top of the screen (there's also a very similar rub combination at the bottom with Holmes and Roberts).
Amari takes a jab step inside as if he's taking an inside release to go downfield. This gets the CB #25 PJ Williams to turn his shoulders away from the incoming Rub (Latavius Murray).
Murray takes a step downfield and then drives down towards inside.
3. The Clearing
Latavius sets up and makes a clean Pick on PJ Williams. LB #52 Craig Robertson has man coverage on Murray so he breaks inside with the RB.
MLB James Laurinaitis is blitzing. This brings 5 rushers towards Carr. 3 DBs are on the opposite side and once the pick happens, there's an outside lane and one man to beat.
It's a big play opportunity with the ball in the team's playmaker. Beautiful.
Why is this legal and not Offensive Pass Interference?
Here's the key rule from the Official NFL Rulebook Rule 8, Section 5, Article 1 :
It is pass interference by either team when any act by a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders an eligible player's opportunity to catch the ball.
There's effectively an "Anything Goes" (as far as PI goes) Zone from 1 yard past the line of scrimmage and that stretches into the backfield.
So if a Pick Play happens within that Zone, then it is perfectly legal to intentionally seek out and contact the opposing players.
This is why the more obvious pick plays happen close to the line of scrimmage while the downfield rub routes are designed to look accidental.
With that in mind, look back at the image.
The ball is set at the 26 yard line, so that means the No PI Zone reaches out to the 27 yard line.
And when we look at the route design, Latavius Murray sets up exactly at the 27 yardline.
As the play unfolds, we see the Rub happening. Amari gets PJ Williams on his back hip and is breaking to the outside while Latavius is dropping down and setting the pick.
5. The Throw
Notice that Derek Carr is already releasing the ball, anticipating the rub freeing up Amari.
Also see how the middle of the field is cleared out because of the blitz. The opposite side is also in man coverage and they have their eyes on their receivers and have turned their backs to the play.
6. Running after the Catch and One Man to Beat
Latavius has set the pick at the 27 yardline and is free to attack and knock PJ Williams off of Amari.
If Amari catches the ball, he's turning the corner and it's 1-on-1 v Jairus Byrd.
But the play never gets that far because the play is broken up and here is a zoomed in look that shows what happens on the execution :
It does not really LOOK like a Pick play. In fact, there's no pick.
One more time, even closer and slower :
Latavius has perfect position and at 6'3" 230 lbs, he makes a perfect wall. Instead of seeking out the 6' 195 lbs PJ Williams and giving him a hard chuck into the chest, Latavius jumps out of the way, which allows Williams to continue trailing Amari and to eventually make the pass breakup.
Great play by Williams. And actually, it really should be emphasized that this is a fantastic play by PJ Williams to react with Amari, trail him, and then burst hard to break up the pass.
But this is a play that he should not have been in position to do. Instead, he should have been knocked off and into the ground. Legally.
Every game we see rub routes everywhere and they always seem to frustrate the defense and leads to big yards or crucial first downs for the offense. What we see here is that it is an excellent play that is called against the perfect defense. But in this case, the execution fails and what should have been a big play (and perhaps even a touchdown), ends up as a footnote in the game.
In this game, Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave was splitting the RBs out wide often. Sometimes motioning them and returning them to the backfield, sometimes motioning them to a stack formation, and sometimes just leaving them out there. With the receiving talent at the RB position (Murray, DeAndre, and Jalen) and with both FBs being former WRs (Jamize and Marcel Reece), it really augments the receiving corps and sets up some very interesting potential plays, including rub routes.
The Raiders several have an interesting plays that work to the flat. The most famous one from last year was Amari's TD on the screen against San Diego. Notice that this play draws up like the inverse of that one; instead of Amari jabbing out and then coming back towards the formation to receive the pass, this time Amari jabs in and then breaks to the outside.
Musgrave is putting together some inventive plays to get the ball into the playmaker's hands with space and that's exciting. But as important as the play design will be the execution.
This game was marred by a great many mistakes which is not unusual considering that this is such a young and relatively inexperienced team that is still growing. This play is a new one and Murray has not been called to run the rub previously, but you do expect a player in his 4th season to not make such a mistake. As with most things, it's a learning process and this is not the last time one of the young players will make a major mistake.