Rub routes, or picks as several people might call them, are commonly used every week in every level of football. It is an attempt to give receivers separation from defensive backs, by rubbing off the defender with another player. The Pittsburgh Steelers run these types of combination routes week in and week out and we see them a lot out of their bunch formation.
Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs we saw it executed perfectly by Emmanuel Sanders and Heath Miller, which led to quarterback Byron Leftwich hitting Sanders across the middle for a 31 yard gain on 3rd down and 9.
Below are two animated gifs that illustrate the rub in action.
The Steelers are in 11 personnel on the play with the bunch to the right. The running back, Jonathan Dwyer, is offset sidecar weak-side to Leftwich, who is in the shotgun. The Chiefs are in their cover-2 dime defense with man-under coverage.
Safety Eric Berry has the responsibility of covering Miller out of the bunch, while cornerback Javier Arenas has coverage on Sanders. Miller has to identify where Arenas is lined up on the play as he is the defender needing to be rubbed off.
At the snap Miller starts his route by running right at Berry until he gets to the same depth level of Arenas. At that point he will break his route quickly inside in order to provide the pick on Arenas.
The timing by Sanders on this play is very important as well. You will see him take a hop step to his right before running right at Arenas. This gives Miller enough time to get out into his route to perform the rub. As soon as Miller makes his cut outside, Sanders makes his cut to the middle of the field to open space. The slight delay by Arenas caused by Miller cutting him off momentarily allows Sanders a good two steps worth of separation on the play and makes him an easy target for Leftwich to hit.
The great thing about the Chiefs being in their dime with man coverage here is that inside linebacker Derrick Johnson has responsibility for the weak-side Dwyer on the play. Dwyer drifts out just enough to his left that Johnson must mirror him, which in turn ensures that he will not be anywhere near the middle of the field. In addition, Mike Wallace takes the other two defensive backs on his side away from the center of the field with his decoy route down the left side of the field. You can see that all Sanders has to do is make the catch and he has tons of space to pick up additional YAC after that.