Xs and Os: The “Smoke” Route

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Aaron Rodgers uses the "Smoke" route to steal some easy yards.
Aaron Rodgers frequently uses the “smoke” route to steal some easy yards from defenses.

The plays that quarterbacks call in the huddle are not always the plays that get executed at the snap of the ball. The “smoke” route is a sight adjustment that allows the offensive to steal some free yards from the defense.

The “smoke” route has become a staple in modern NFL, and even college, offenses these days. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers sometimes runs the “smoke” play at least once during every game he plays.

What is the “smoke” route?

Basically, it’s a quick hitch throw to a receiver that is not called in the huddle. It’s usually performed after a running play has been called.

The quarterback will see that the wide receiver is being matched up with off-man coverage, which has the cornerback at least 5-7 yards off the receiver.

Rather than going through with the running play, especially if the box is stacked, why not try for a few free yards to the outside? The cornerback is practically begging for this throw by aligning in off-man coverage.

It’s not a verbal audible, but rather a silent one. Once the quarterback and receiver both see the off-man coverage, they will make some sort of eye contact and a gesture to indicate the “smoke” is on. The gesture is only known between the receiver and quarterback.

Aaron Rodgers throwing a "smoke" pass with the laces out.
Aaron Rodgers throwing a “smoke” pass.

At the snap of the ball, the quarterback takes a one step drop and immediately fires the ball to the receiver on a short hitch route.

This happens very quickly, and the quarterback may not have time to get the laces right, which is why you may see them throwing the ball without the use of the laces.

Only the quarterback and the receiver know the “smoke” is coming. Everyone else runs the play as called, which is why you often see the offensive line run blocking during such a play.

The “smoke” isn’t a viable option for every snap of the ball, and certain conditions should be met before the quarterback calls it.




Conditions for calling the “smoke” route:

1) Defense is in off-man. There has to be a 5-7 yard gap for the quarterback to quickly throw the ball with little risk of interception.

2) It should be the short side of the field. The hash marks divide the field. When the ball is placed on a hash, the field has a short side (boundary) and a wide side (field). The “smoke” is preferably thrown to the boundary because that’s the shorter throw. It gives less time for the cornerback to jump the route and take a pick-6 to the house.

It can be thrown from the middle of the field, but it should not be thrown across the field.

The "smoke" throw should be made to the boundary.
The “smoke” throw should be made to the boundary.

In the video below (it’s not Aaron Rodgers and the Packers), you can see a “smoke” route perfectly executed. Notice the offensive linemen run blocking and the throw originating from the middle of the field.

3) It should be on first or second down. The pass is designed for a few easy yards. If it’s third down, and the receiver is tackled short of the line of gain, the drive ends. Also, the quarterback must always retain the ability to throw the ball away if he suddenly decides he doesn’t like the look. Throwing it away on second down leaves the offense another chance to get a first down.

4) The quarterback must throw the ball only to the “smoke” receiver, and it must be quick. If it’s not quick, or if he decides to later throw it to someone else, bad things can happen. Ask Tony Romo when he got intercepted by Sam Shields last season doing just that thing.


Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WISports.com.

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.


14 thoughts on “Xs and Os: The “Smoke” Route

  1. I though the smoke route was what the packers saw the other teams do to their defensive secondary. Smoke them down the field for many yards?

  2. Funny you mentioned this play in that I was just thinking to myself a few days ago about how frequently I had seen it run in games I watched last year. (Need something better to do.) By both teams.

    If you’re somewhat of a gambling DB, maybe you try to guess when the plays on and bait the QB. I bet with the frequency of it, defensive coordinators will give the guys they feel comfortable with the option to sneak in there. Nothings better for a defense than a pick-six.

  3. Smoke is what this season will go up in if God forbid AR goes down again. As a rationale talent evaluator, Ted and the rest of the world clearly saw this team is devoid of elite talent except for a scant few. That was perfectly obvious during that 8 game debacle. Sooooo, Ted, with $35 million will spend a few bucks on some sensible need addressing FA’s, right? Wrong! Who is the ONLY team not signing a single UFA? Duh! If u think the North is a lock, think again. Check what both the Bears and Lions have added. And if the Queens ever get a qb, look out. Ted blows……not that there’s anything wrong with that

    1. Spoken just like a viqueens fan! You wish Minn had a GM of Thompson’s ability. Instead your stuck w/ a GM who finds the Christian Ponders of the world!

      Everyone knows Bob Dylan is from Minn. Your fooling NO ONE!

    2. The leo’s bare’s and viqueens have been winning the offseason for as long as Thompson has been GM, even before that, yet they are always behind the Packers at the end of the real football season!

  4. Ah….very good detective work Mr. Stroh…..Hibbing to be exact. But there are plenty of fudge Packers around here. That however is not the reason Ted sucks as a GM. It’s not easy to have the best qb in the league and figure a way to surround him with shit! BJ Raji?? Hilarious! We get Bortles and your white rat will be looking up our butts…nuff said?

    1. “Surround him with shit”???

      Really??? Lacy, Nelson, Cobb, Jones, Finley, oh and a certain other wide receiver who was apparently “shitty” enough for the PurplePenisBeaters to sign to a long-term, big money deal???

      Oh yeah, and have fun looking up our butts for the next ten years, no matter who “Skippy” gets you to play quarterback…nuff said???

  5. Geez, what’s with this Bob Dylan dude? You have some serious issues and using the name of someone preaching peace and equality when it actually meant something? Seems like you’re making a point of identifying Ted Thompson as being gay. Who cares?? Where does that belong on a football site? The Times They Changed a long time ago my friend. Now can we go back to possibly go back to discussing utilizing one of the 3rd rounders to move up for a safety, extending Nelson, back up qb and other football related topics. Lose the hate Bob, you’ll live longer!

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