The Dagger concept is a pass game route combination that is commonly used both at the College and NFL level. Dagger is most often associated with Mike Martz and Norv Turner, and is similar to the “Hi-Lo” concept. In its most basic form, Dagger is a 3 man combination involving a vertical route from the slot receiver, a drag from the weak side for a horizontal stretch, and a 15 yard deep dig or square-in from the primary receiver:
Depending on the coverage, the slot receiver must take the top off the defense and clear out as much of the middle of the field as possible. Often times the vertical bends in a bit to occupy defenders. Against Cover 1, the vertical should be able to occupy the man defender as well as the centerfield Free Safety (should occupy the FS against Cover 3 as well). Against traditional Cover 2 or Cover 4, the vertical should clear out the play side 2-high Safety. Finally, Against Tampa 2 the Vertical should occupy both the Mike Linebacker as well as hold the play side Safety.
From there, Dagger becomes a Hi-Lo read between the drag and the dig. The drag should stretch the field horizontally as much as possible and attract linebackers to open up the dig behind him. Here, the drag successfully stretches the defense horizontally and opens up a window for the dig:
Dagger can also be run from a Trips look, with the most inside eligible receiver (often a Tight End or H-back) serving as the horizontal stretch to open up the dig. Note that here, just like the Vikings Dagger picture above, the backside receiver can run many different routes, including a curl, fade, slant, comeback, corner, or deep out. The key is still to keep the Deep 1/2 or Deep middle safety from diving to the middle of the field:
Here, the slot does his job by holding the deep Safety and Cornerback on his vertical route. However, the play is really opened up by a great play from the H-back along with the Quarterback’s eyes. The H-back picks up a blitz, and then gets to his flat route, attracting the Strong Safety. The Quarterback (Alex Smith) looks toward the horizontal stretch, moving the inside linebacker just enough to clear a great window for the dig:
While these are the most common ways to run the Dagger concept, like all pass game concepts, Dagger can be executed in a variety of ways from a variety of formations. With Norv Turner as the OC for the Vikings in 2014 and the Browns in 2013, below is a compilation of several ways to run the Dagger concept with the ball going to multiple options:
Finally, another version of the Dagger concept, “Sucker” involves a 3 x 1 set with a hitch/curl route in between the Dagger.
Overall, Dagger is a common pass concept with Hi-Lo elements along with a vertical and horizontal stretch. The dig (or square-in) is the primary target. Look for the Dagger concept to be used on 2nd & long as well as 3rd and 8+ because it is a great way to get an intermediate throw to the middle of the field. While protection must hold for the dig route to come open, there are built in check downs with the drag along with many route options for the backside Wide Receiver and Running Backs.