What Is A Flat Route In Football?

When it comes to understanding the language of football, it can be challenging to keep up with all the different terminologies used to describe the game. In this article, we will break down what a flat route is in football and provide valuable insights into its significance and execution.


Football is a complex sport with its unique set of terminologies. One such term is a flat route, which refers to a specific type of short route in football. Understanding the purpose and execution of this route is crucial for players and fans alike. So, let’s dive in and explore the intricacies of a flat route in football.

What Is a Flat Route?

A flat route in football is a short route where the receiver takes only a few steps downfield before cutting towards the sideline. The name “flat” comes from the fact that this route directs the receiver towards the flat, which is an area on the field located to the left or right of the formation, within a few yards of the line of scrimmage.

Typically, slot receivers, tight ends, and running backs are the players who run flat routes. This is because outside receivers line up closer to the sideline, making it less suitable for them to execute this specific route. To run a flat route, the player starts by taking a small number of steps downfield and then turns ninety degrees towards the sideline. This cut towards the sideline aims to provide separation for a quick short pass.

It is worth noting that the flat route shares similarities with other routes in football, such as drag routes, as they involve similar cuts towards the sideline. However, the major difference lies in the depth of the route, with the flat route being a much shallower route compared to an out route.

What You Should Know About Flat Routes

Now that we have covered the basics of a flat route, it’s essential to delve deeper and understand a few key aspects of this football route. Let’s explore some key points to keep in mind when it comes to flat routes in football.

They Are Usually Check Downs

One crucial thing to understand about flat routes is that they are rarely the primary target on a play. Flat routes are designed as short throws, which means that unless the receiver gains significant yards after the catch, this play will not result in significant yardage.

Typically, a flat route serves as a second or third read on a play. It is considered a check-down option for the quarterback, who will usually only throw to this route when other receiving options are covered. While flat routes can be the intended receiver on short-yardage plays, they are most commonly targeted when no other options are available.

Watch Out for the Big Hit

One potential drawback of running flat routes is the risk of big hits on the wide receiver. If a defender is playing a zone defense or providing a cushion against the receiver, they will start the play several yards deeper down the field. This allows them to get a running start before making contact with the receiver once the ball is thrown.

Additionally, flat route passes are often caught on the outside shoulder, requiring the receiver to turn outside and look back at the quarterback while catching the ball. This leaves the receiver blind to what is in front of them, making it challenging to react to oncoming defenders. If the pass is a touch pass rather than a bullet pass, it gives the defense ample time to react.

While most receivers catch the ball and react to the incoming defender, there are instances where the receiver fails to turn their head around before the defender makes contact. This results in a blindside hit from a defender with a running start. To minimize the risk of such hits, receivers should try to identify the defender’s position before looking back to catch the ball.

Yardage Relies on YAC

As mentioned earlier, gaining significant yardage from a flat route relies heavily on gaining yards after the catch (YAC). Flat routes are usually run only a few yards down the field, and there are often several defenders nearby. To make the most out of a flat route, the receiver must catch the ball and quickly move downfield.

The success of a flat route often depends on the ball carrier’s ability to beat a defender one-on-one in the open field. Since the defender covering the receiver is positioned between the receiver and the end zone, beating that first defender is crucial in turning a short gain into a substantial one.


Now that you have a thorough understanding of what a flat route is in football, you can appreciate its importance and execution. Flat routes provide a strategic option for short-yardage plays and can be a valuable check-down option for quarterbacks. However, they also come with the risk of big hits and rely heavily on the receiver’s ability to gain yards after the catch.

To enhance your knowledge of football route running, consider exploring other routes such as slant routes and button hook patterns. The more you understand about the intricacies of route running, the better you can appreciate the nuances of this beautiful game.

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