Looking at a Favorite Red Zone Concept

Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images

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As the end zone draws closer and the field shrinks, offenses change. Defenders break on routes quicker as the threat of the vertical passing game evaporates. Offenses look to their favorite matchups but also lean on motion, formation manipulation, and leverage advantages to pry open small windows that can lead to touchdowns.

The best offenses do not hesitate to look around the NFL (or other leagues) for inspiration when trying to get six points on the board. One red zone concept that has spread across the NFL in 2023 is what is labeled Slither below:

Slither has a few key elements. First, the final formation will be a 3×1 bunch set with a running back in the backfield away from the bunch. Next, the three bunch receivers will work across the field and create traffic as the running back leaks into the flat to the bunch’s original side. Finally, the isolated wide receiver will also work across the field as a potential second option for the quarterback.

Starting out in an empty set and motioning the running back into the backfield can tip the offense off that the defense is in man coverage when a linebacker follows the running back the whole way. Against man coverage, Slither forces the defense to work through the road blocks the offense has created and puts extra pressure on whoever is responsible for tracking the running back. The play ends up like a super-charged version of Mesh.

During Week 11, three teams ran Slither for a touchdown. One of those teams was the Buffalo Bills, whose offensive coordinator Joe Brady was the passing game coordinator at LSU in 2019 where the above image comes from.

In Week 16, the Dolphins ran Slither with the added wrinkle of having the running back appear to exit the backfield at the snap before turning back to execute the concept. This type of motion can encourage the player responsible for the running back to bump over or force the defense to anticipate an empty formation. The Dolphins were also able to defend the play in the same game:

Despite notable instances across the league this year, Slither is not new to the NFL. It is similar to Sean McVay’s Cowboy concept and has been used by the Chiefs in the past:

At the college level, teams like Kentucky, Colorado, and Florida State have all used Slither:

Slither challenges the defense’s spacing, communication, and speed. Linebackers eager to stuff the run on the goal line may find themselves in a bind as they try to chase a running back into the flat. This all happens while three receivers are darting across the field with the goal of creating just enough traffic. As the concept continues to spread across the NFL, we will see what defenses begin to do to stop it.

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