Steelers Film Room: Divide Routes

By Alex Kozora

Throughout the rest of the offseason, we’ll examine specific plays from the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season. We won’t be focusing so much on individual play, though that inevitably comes with any breakdown, but instead, we will focus on concepts used in the pro game to show not just what happened, but why it happened.

This will be an X’s and O’s series focusing on both sides of the ball. The good and bad of the Steelers of last season.
Today, a look into the effectiveness of divide routes in the passing game.

Personnel: Posse (1 RB, 1 TE)

Route: Divide Route

Defense: Nickel

Coverage: Cover 2 Man

Result: Incompletion

As you can already tell, the pass ended up incomplete. So while this breakdown may seem inconsequential, it still provides an excellent moment to break down a concept – what this series is designed around. Let’s jump in.

Calling it 11 personnel but the Detroit Lions are in an empty set. Running back Joique Bell is in a two-point stance beside the right tackle. 3×2 to the wide side of the field.


At the top, Calvin Johnson is lined up in the slot – or the #2 WR – and Kevin Ogletree as the #1 at the top.

Defensively, the Steelers are running Cover 2 man, something I pointed out they did extensively on third and long, in this case 3rd and 8.

Calvin Johnson is running a post and Ogletree a fly route. These types of combination routes are referred to as “divide” routes. Their purpose? Stress the safety. Put the offense in a win-win situation.


Ryan Clark is over the top, responsible for providing support for anything vertical. But with both receivers running vertical, the offense is asking him to make a choice. Carry the post or the fly? Matt Stafford will throw whichever route Clark decides not to cover. Clark follows Johnson on the post.


This leaves William Gay on an island with Ogletree. The corner is stiff in flipping his hips and doesn’t have the strength push the receiver off his stem.



Coupled with a downfield double-move by Ogletree, Gay is in trail position.


Ogletree has him beat by a couple of steps. Had Stafford’s pass not been overthrown, it’s going for a huge gain, possibly a touchdown.

Aside from the cornerback issues, it is a difficult play for Clark. Tough to blame him for choosing Johnson, one of the most dangerous receivers in the league.

However, the best way to counter a divide route is not to choose. Gain depth, read the quarterback’s eyes, and break on the ball. Don’t bite early and make the decision for the QB.

This is one of the more forgivable examples but one that illustrates the poor safety play seen from the Steelers’ secondary in 2013.

Previous Film Room Sessions

Putting Pressure On Rookies

Facing The 46 Defense

Fake Wide Receiver Screen

The Steve McLendon Myth

Cover 2 Man

The Wildcat

Cover 1 And Forced Throws

Slant Flat In Red Zone

About the Author

Alex Kozora
Full-time blogger from mom's basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.
  • DoctorNoah

    This is a great breakdown. My question is what is Ryan Clark instructed or trained to do in LeBeau’s system? Is it his choice? Is he -supposed- to continue to back peddle and not turn hips to chase one or the other receiver? Or to take the inside route as the sideline gives the outside receiver less room to work with and thus makes it a lower percentage completion? It’s easy enough to say the solution is not to choose, but is that what LeBeau teaches them to do? Thx! And keep up this great work. I love these!

  • Jonas

    Good question. Perhaps, as the routes divide in their direction, Clark hasn’t the speed to cover 10/15 yards while the ball is in the air, so he HAS to choose or he can’t defend any of the routes..

    Would be interesting to see what a young Ryan Clark did in such situations!

  • Xclewsive

    It seems to me that Troy was squatting on the post route. Whoever the CB at the bottom of the screen is does a good job of disrupting the WR. Jarvis Jones has to get a deeper drop once he realizes nobody coming through his zone. That would of made that post route option a little harder if Ryan Clark played deeper.

  • Alex Kozora

    Impossible to say for sure, but like I wrote, best thing to do is stay on your landmark, gain depth, and break on the ball. Because once you break before the quarterback has decided, you’ve lost.

  • Alex Kozora

    That was Cortez and yeah, his size/strength makes him an asset in that regard. Able to jam. Gay less able to do that, clearly.

    Jones assignment isn’t to play that deep middle in a Tampa 2 look. Can’t fault him. Have to stay in your zone. Never know who’ll cross through it. Or if Stafford runs.

  • Steve

    If you look at the play Johnson was covered and Clark needed to back peddle and stay on Ogletree. Clark guessed and did not watch the QB and was out of position, what happen often last year.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Good breakdown Alex thanks for giving the detailed names of formations it helps for us armchair Coaches. That is a tough choice for Ryan Clark but it also shows why Matthew Stafford can’t take that next step. He’s really inconsistent. That throw was with a clean pocket giving him plenty of time to step into that throw and he misfires. Add that play along with the pick he threw to Will Allen and I bet there are some Detroit fans calling for his head.

  • Xclewsive

    Correct! Seen Cover 2 but missed the man part. Ryan Clark made a lot of bad plays last season. It seems to me that the entire defense was pressing because they weren’t playing well. But Ryan’s inability to make “the” play resulted in some very big plays. This highlight just sums it up even more.

  • Alex Kozora

    Yup. Gotta make that throw. Three man rush, clean pocket, gotta deliver. Stafford is one of the most physically gifted QBs in the league – top 5 to me – but his stubbornness, inconsistency, and poor mechanics hold him back. Hopefully Caldwell can get him under control.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I watched him play at UGA and he was very inconsistent at times even with all that talent around him (AJ Green Knowshon Moreno and supporting cast). BTW great work on the podcast Alex


    Alex, I really do enjoy these breakdowns. Becoming my favorite part of SD. I admire your ability and appreciate your insight. Thank you.

  • Brendon Glad

    I’d love to see a Steelers FS want the ball itself on occasion. With the new rules, Clark created zero fear because opponents knew he would never attack the ball itself, just the man attempting to catch it. It worked fine when he could knock WR’s out of games with vicious hits, and make them scared for weeks after that…now…not so much. Go get the ball. The new FS’s need to watch Rod Woodson tape, or Ed Reed…because that is how FS needs to be approached from here forward…due to the rules changes. And it wasn’t half bad back then either…an interception here and there never hurts.

  • SfSteeler

    funny, i hear you asking for speed at safety…enter, Mitchell…

    funny, also, how we have Woodson assisting the D this year…

    with this new steeler speed on D, i wonder how long it will take defenses to adjust to it? and with CLE, and BALT as our first two opponents, we might be able to get two division wins before they do adjust… 🙂

  • Benjamin Simpson

    Who exactly moderates the comments for Steelers depot? The fact that my comment was not posted is utterly ridiculous. Unless insightful commentary is not deemed worthy.. I’m a fan of this site but, I may have to give that some thought now..

  • Matthew Marczi

    Frankly, I don’t know why your comment was flagged for approval (maybe because it says “Dick”?), but I think that’s a bit of an overreaction.