What Is a Seam Route in Football? The Ultimate Guide

A college receiver gets tackled by two defenders.

If you’ve watched football, you’ve noticed that the receivers on the team run different routes on each play. One of the most effective of these is the “seam” route, which is part of every team’s playbook.

So, what is a seam route in football?

A seam route is a pass-catching route where a receiver runs right along the edges (the seam) of the coverage between two defenders. The route usually involves the slot receiver or tight end, running in a straight line alongside the hash marks, with the purpose of “splitting” the defensive coverage.

Because the goal of the offense is to exploit areas where a defense might be the most vulnerable, it’s important to understand the strategy surrounding seam routes. Proper execution of this route can go a long way to helping the offense move the ball downfield and keep the defense reeling.

Because the goal of the offense is to exploit areas where a defense might be the most vulnerable, it’s important to understand the strategy surrounding seam routes. Proper execution of this route can go a long way to helping the offense move the ball downfield and keep the defense reeling.

Why Are Seam Routes So Effective?

The seam route is effective for a variety of reasons.

  • The route exploits the vulnerabilities of the defense. – In zone coverage, the defenders in the secondary are assigned “zones” or areas of the field where they’re to cover and prevent completions. A seam route is run alongside the hash marks, right down the edge of two defensive zones. This simple route forces the defenders to defend the edge of their areas, rather than playing in the middle of their zone. A seam route can help other receivers get open, usually where the defender previously was stationed. It can also allow the seam receiver to get open to receive the pass, should the defender not want to commit to guarding the edge of his area.
  • The route is very easy to run. – Basically, the route is a straight line, run near the hash marks for about 10-15 yards past the line of scrimmage.
  • The route allows for yards to be gained after the catch. – Should the receiver determine that the defender is not covering him, he simply needs to catch the pass and hustle downfield for additional yards. If not defended properly, seam routes can provide a one or two-step advantage for the receiver, and at times that’s all the advantage a player needs to make a big gain or score a touchdown.
  • The route allows for other players to get open. – Should the defender attempt to guard the seam route receiver, another receiver can enter into the zone that was just occupied by the defender to get open for a pass. At times, the seam route is used to force the safety or linebacker to choose which player they’ll have to cover.

When Is the Best Time to Use a Seam Route?

There are a variety of defenses that teams can use to defend the pass, but primarily they are based on two kinds of coverages; man-to-man, where each defender covers a receiver, or zone where each defender is assigned a particular part of the field to defend. The seam route works best when defenses are playing zone coverage.

Can Any Player Run a Seam Route?

Any player can run a pass route alongside the hash marks, including the running back who might release from the backfield. However, seam routes are usually run by a slot receiver or tight end to minimize the amount of time the quarterback has to hold onto the football before passing it.

Who Invented the Seam Route?

While the seam route has been used for many years, the concept of stretching the field and the use of a slot receiver is attributed to Sid Gillman. Before 1950, most teams employed a dual running back strategy and used offenses that focused on running the football rather than passing it.

Gillman decided to take one of the running backs and place them on the line of scrimmage in the gap between the tight end and the wide receiver. According to the book, Sid Gillman, Father of the Modern Day Passing Game, Gillman believed in the seam route, primarily because it controlled the middle of the field, and gave the offense an advantage in the passing game.

When Did Passing Become a Such Big Deal in Football?

A high school quarterback warms up before the game.

In 1978, as the NFL changed the rules prohibiting defenders from making contact with receivers over 5 yards past the line of scrimmage, coach Don Coryell of the San Diego Chargers decided to take advantage of the rule changes.

His offensive strategy, known as Air Coryell, emphasized passing the ball deeper down the field. The immediate result was that teams started passing more and scoring was at an all-time high.

Since then, many versions of a passing attack have emerged, including offense plays designed to spread out defenses, so that gaps in coverage can be exploited. These passing routes tend to make the field harder to defend, thereby giving the offense an advantage.

Are There Other Things an Offense can do to Enhance the Success of Seam Routes?

A play-action pass can freeze defenders and allow receivers to get by the safety or linebacker. Additionally, RPOs make the defense choose between defending the run or pass, allowing for the seam receiver to get open.

What Are Some Other Passing Routes the Offense Can Run?

While there are a variety of routes that can be used by offenses, there are nine primary routes that offenses use.

  1. Flat – This is an out route where the receiver runs a short distance down the field and breaks toward the sideline in a straight pattern. The quarterback releases the ball toward the point where the sideline and the receiver intersect. This kind of pass is often used in situations where the game clock needs to be carefully managed.
  2. Slant – This is also a quick route where the receiver runs at an angle behind the defensive line but in front of the linebackers. The idea is to put the body of the receiver between the defender and the quarterback. Because the ball is delivered so quickly, the pass can be very difficult to defend.
  3. Comeback – This is an out-breaking route where the receiver turns toward the sideline and “comes back” toward the line of scrimmage for a step or two. The quarterback must quickly throw to the receiver’s back shoulder.
  4. Hitch (also known as a Button or Curl) – This is a route where the receiver runs a few yards from the line of scrimmage and then quickly turns toward the inside of the field. The receiver then “sits” to present an open target for the quarterback. The defender must adapt to the sudden change in direction; this abrupt change may provide an opening for a pass to be completed.
  5. Go (Fly)  – This is a route where the receiver just “goes” or “flies” toward the end zone in a straight line. The seam route is a modification of this route.
  6. Out – This route is run further down the field than the flat.The receiver runs deep into the secondary and breaks toward the sideline.
  7. Crossing – The receiver lines up on one side of the field and then crosses over toward the other side. These routes are generally run in front of the secondary and are used with other receivers running deeper routes to try and create openings for the offense to complete a short pass.
  8. Post – The receiver runs straight and then breaks toward the center of the end zone.
  9. Corner (Fade) – The receiver runs straight and then breaks at an angle toward the corner of the endzone.

Do Seam Routes Leave Receivers Defenseless?

Generally, seam routes don’t leave the receiver exposed because it’s run at the edges of the defensive zones.

When Was the Forward Pass Introduced?

The first forward pass was legalized in the rulebook in 1906. Most colleges and pro teams refused to incorporate it because they felt that the risk was too great. After all, an incomplete pass at the time was considered a turnover, with the defense receiving the ball at the existing line of scrimmage.

Eventually, the forward pass was implemented as a way of making the game safer and to move the ball quickly down the field. The first forward pass was completed by George (Peggy) Parratt of Massillon, who threw a completion to Dan (Bullet) Riley over a combined Benwood-Moundsville, Ohio team.

Some Final Thoughts

While defenses and offenses have become much more complicated in recent years, the basic objectives remain the same. The goal of the offense is to move the ball downfield, gaining yardage until the team is in a position to score.

The objective of the defense is to limit the gains of the offense, by taking the ball away or forcing the offense to punt the ball. A good understanding of pass routes can help teams learn which routes to use in which situations or how to defend the routes when they are implemented by the offense.

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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