One of the staple concepts of the new wave of Kyle Shanahan coaching tree offenses is the 3x1 dagger concept. It’s a concept that Matthew Stafford and the Rams have perfected and it’s a concept that Jared Goff brought with him to the Lions after he was traded away. Head coach Matt LaFleur, off the Shanahan tree, naturally gravitated toward the concept after the Rams had so much success with it.
It’s a concept the Green Bay Packers run with regularity, whether it’s the 2-man version or the 3x1 version. It’s great against nearly all coverages and has answers for each. But to be clear, every offense in the NFL runs dagger. In the 3x1 variant, it’s just a new wrinkle that the coaching tree uses put defenders in conflict and give the quarterback better answers.
First, let’s look at the basic 2-man dagger concept.
Dagger route concept
The dagger concept is usually run off of play action, currently one of LaFleur’s preferred play action pass calls outside of drift/strike. It’s a two-man route concept with a deep crossing route and deep in-breaking route behind it. The play itself is primarily a cover-2/split safety coverage beater and secondarily can be a single high safety coverage (cover-1 and cover-3) beater depending on the variants.
However, the way the Packers run the 2-man version is almost never a good call versus cover-3 unless there is a defender that can threaten the hook defender to the dagger side of the concept.
With nothing to occupy the weak side safety, the dagger route is an automatic no-go due to the safety sitting in the throwing window. However, the built-in answer on dagger is the intermediate crossing route if the corner on the backside doesn’t fall off the go route. The result is wide open space across the field away from the safety.
Dagger versus split safety coverage
In week 12 at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day, the Packers threw dagger twice on the same drive against cover-2 and quarters coverage.
They’re in shotgun here with Christian Watson on a motion from right to left where Love snaps the ball when Watson gets to his landmark outside of Jayden Reed on a deep through route.
Against cover-2 fire zone pressure, the Lions gain depth and could potentially squeeze the dagger route from the inside hook defender and the cornerback. The pressure got to Love so he didn’t have time to rip a throw into the second dagger window, which might have been there and his aggressiveness in this game might have allowed him to throw it.
He also could potentially throw the deep through route by Reed that splits the safeties. He just didn’t have time for either route but you can see how having no underneath route to influence the hook defender allows the defender to gain depth into the dagger window.
Later on this drive, Love goes under center to run dagger play action with the offense in 12 personnel YY nub closed formation. The two tight ends are aligned on the right side of the offensive line with the receivers on the left side.
The Lions are in quarters coverage here and Love is able to hit the dagger route in behind the middle hook defender for a nice gain. The check down out of the backfield releases through the offensive line and pulls the overhang/hook defender to the flat with him, which gives Love the window to rip the dagger throw into.
3x1 Dagger concept
One way the dagger concept gives near-universal answers to every coverage is to run it from a 3x1 trips formation with a 3rd route attached to the concept. This is done with an underneath pivot route. Some offenses call it a “coin” route (choice out or in depending on the coverage/leverage) or an “arrow” route. The backside of the play is usually run with an alert go route the quarterback can throw versus a favorable matchup.
It’s not necessarily a new concept either. Within the Shanahan tree of coaches, there is a deeper version of this concept run with the dagger route breaking across at 15 yards and ending up at 20 yards downfield.
This clip from the 49ers week five 2023 game against Dallas with the 49ers running the deep version of this play versus Tampa-2 coverage.
The Rams have perfected this concept to a shorter version where the dig route breaks off inside at 10 yards and rolls to 12 yards, making it a quicker-hitting concept.
Putting the third route in the trips bunch gives the offense multiple options to run the route distribution from but the final distribution places the pivot route underneath the dagger. There are even a couple of clips from this season with Stafford ripping the alert go route on the backside.
Packers 3x1 dagger concept
I don’t really remember if this is a play call the Packers ever really called for Aaron Rodgers but I’ve started seeing it multiple times this season called for Jordan Love and right away too from week one to the present.
The Packers run this from the same formation alignment as the Rams usually do with certain exceptions.
The Buccaneers are in a 3-deep/3-under fire zone rotating their coverage to the trips. Adding two additional rushers from the perimeter including a corner blitz from the single receiver side.
Love hits the deep crosser from the #3 inside receiver with a no-look throw over the linebacker’s head. You can see the coverage play with leverage on the dagger route by playing inside underneath and taking away the throw as well as sitting on the pivot route. Love’s aggression works him to the deep over route his pass clears the linebacker in no-man’s land.
Here are a couple of clips of Love throwing the dagger route on the concept versus the Bears and Broncos.
And here’s the concept being completed to the pivot route twice versus the Lions in week four.