Mills Concept

“Mills” is a pass game concept used both at the NFL and NCAA level, originally made famous by Steve Spurrier. Mills is executed with a Post route from the outside Wide Receiver and a Dig route from the slot. In today’s NFL, it is primarily used as a Cover 4 or Quarter/Quarter/Half beater and is most often seen in offenses associated with Dirk Koetter, Norv Turner, Mike McCarthy, and Peyton Manning.  Mills is also sometimes referred to as the “PIN” concept (Post/In combo). This article analyzes the Mills Concept and how it can be utilized in various ways depending on personnel. Below, the 2014 Broncos run Mills against the Rams at the end of the 1st half on 3rd and 10 against a 2-deep safety look:

Denver Mills

The basic idea of the Mills Concept is baiting the 2-high Safety into overplaying the Dig route to open up the middle of the field for the Post. To help set up Mills some coaches also run the Post route with a “Dino” stem, where the WR breaks to the corner before breaking back to the post.

“Mills” tests the eyes, discipline, and awareness of the circled 2-high Safety with the Dig route. If the Safety gets caught flat footed or driving downhill toward the Dig, the middle of the field is completely exposed. Note here when Manning releases the ball, the Safety has barely committed to the Dig, but it is still too late:


Mills can be run against a 1-high Safety look and may incorporate Play Action. Protection is the key, and play action helps the O-line. If the Defense is caught in Cover 4 quarters to the Mills side of the formation, it is a definite big play/Touchdown opportunity. The Mills Concept is also a great way to use an elite Wide Receiver as a decoy. Below, the 2014 Falcons run Mills with play action against the Bears, who have just rotated from a 2-deep Safety look to 1-high Cover 3:

Falcons Mills

Take specific note of the two circled defenders, the Mike Linebacker and the 1-high Safety. Julio Jones is lined up on the outside running the Post route. The deep safety is wholly aware of this and makes sure to play the Post to avoid a touchdown. This means the Linebacker must get depth in his drop to play the Dig route. However, the play action holds the Mike Linebacker, creating a void behind him and in front of the Safety:


If the 1-high Safety had his eyes in the backfield or tried to replace the void left by the biting Mike Linebacker, the ball would have likely gone over his head for a Touchdown to Julio Jones.

Mills can also take advantage of elite receivers as decoys from a 2-high look. Below, the  Colts run Mills against the Chiefs, who are in a 2-high Cover 4 look. Speedy Wideout T.Y. Hilton is in the slot running the Dig route:

Colts Mills

As the play progresses, the circled 2-high Safety drives downhill with his eyes on T.Y. Hilton. The Safety is Man-keying on Hilton with his eyes the entire time. Note that multiple defenders key in on Hilton’s dig route and have it completely blanketed:


However, this leaves the middle of the field wide open for the Post route:

Finally, below is a look at the Mills Concept against a 1-high Safety look where the Linebackers do not bite on the play action. Julio Jones is able to create separation, but the concept is relatively well covered and requires a near perfect throw to complete:

Overall, Mills is a great way to attack Cover 4 and test a Safety’s eye discipline and awareness. Mills can also be successful against 1-high looks and be run with play action to draw up a Linebacker or Safety to create a zone void. Mills is a concept that can take advantage of a great wideout as a decoy to open up the field for other players.

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6 thoughts on “Mills Concept

  1. As a relatively bad FS (that’s me!), Mills and Daggers are killers if the LB can’t gain depth. Love the concept though as an OC

  2. Check the Mills Pattern on this recent Sunday night game.

    Kirk Cousins to Pierre Garcons on a 70 yard catch and run TD.

    Clinton-Dix got baited into Jordan Reed’s Diggs Route and left Packers’ #36 alone with outside coverage with no inside help.

    • Was going to write it up or add it to the Mills article– thanks! Appreciate you pointing that out, and always welcome it to make the site better/updated.

    • The most common combo I see from the backside is a drag from the slot and an outside release fade from #1 WR. Also see a fade from #1 and a quick out from the slot.

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