Offensive coordinators call them rub concepts. Defensive coordinators call them illegal pick plays. Whatever you call them, they are hard to defend, especially near the goal line, when teams usually play bump-and-run man coverage. Offenses take advantage of aggressive man-to-man coverage by having receivers run routes in close proximity to each other in “hopes” that one receiver would get in the way of a defensive back trying to cover another receiver.
There are quotations around “hope” because, in reality, offenses are designing these plays and training their receivers to essentially set screens to get their teammates wide open. Technically, it’s against the rule to set a pick deliberately, but referees have a hard time judging intentions and they rarely penalize these plays.
How can defenses stop them? Defenses could defend these plays with “banjo” technique.
When playing with a “banjo” technique, defensive backs are still playing man-to-man coverage, but will bracket two receivers and take the receiver who releases immediately into their area.
In this case, the DB on the inside switches assignments with the DB on the outside because the offensive players they were originally assigned to criss-crossed.
Another way to defend rub concepts is to have one DB press while the other plays off coverage. By having the DBs play at different levels, they could potentially avoid the pick.
The DB that is playing off coverage has to drive toward the receiver that he is covering hard to avoid the pick and close the space between him and his assignment. “Banjo” and a combination of off/press technique could be effective ways to play rub concepts if coaches teach it correctly.
Offenses have responded to these defensive techniques with pivot rub concepts where receivers will give an initial look for a regular rub concept, but one of the receivers will pivot away, which could disrupt how DBs are taught to defend these plays.
Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter has some effective pivot rub concepts in his playbook.
(video via @steeztabor)
In this clip, the Lions are practicing this type of play with coaches simulating defenders. The offense first gives a look of a similar pick play to the first GIF on this article.
The defender who is guarding the slot knows he has to drive hard to the outside to avoid a pick rather than trailing on the hip of the receiver.However, the slot breaks back inside. Because the defender is driving so hard to the outside, he doesn’t have a chance to redirect back inside, leaving the slot wide open for the touchdown.
This concept would have been equally effective against banjo coverage.
If the DBs used a “banjo” technique, the defensive back on the inside would have covered X because of his inside release. The DB on the outside would have taken the F, but would be at a major disadvantage, because he would have been positioned so far to the outside and would have likely driven on the F’s outside release.
In this clip, the Lions chose to play one DB pressed and the other off, like discussed earlier. This time, the inside receiver releases vertically while the outside receiver releases inside. The DB guarding the outside receiver thinks the inside receiver is trying to pick him, so he drives hard to the inside to try to avoid it.
However, the outside receiver breaks back outside and ironically the DB ends up getting picked anyway, just from the opposite direction that he initially thought.
Another benefit of the Lions' pivot rub concepts is that it could make a defensive player distrust what he is taught. They spend countless amount of practice time learning their rules and techniques to defend rub concepts, and then the offense is able to get wide open regardless. Once a defense starts to distrust its scheme and technique, the offense has won the mental battle.