What Is a Check Down In Football

A check down in football refers to a safe pass to a teammate running a short route instead of throwing to intermediate or deep receivers. Check downs are typically one of the later reads by a quarterback meaning he will usually throw a check down as a last resort.

Check downs are most commonly thrown to running backs but can be caught by any eligible receiver. These throws usually go for a gain of a few yards but are often considered a negative play due to the small amount of yardage gained.

Where Are These Passes Thrown

Check down pass are almost always thrown in the flat. The flat refers to the area the covers the line of scrimmage and ten yards behind it.

The route run on these plays is called a flat route. On these routes, the running back starts in the backfield and runs to the left or right sideline. His route ends right around the line of scrimmage. When the ball is thrown to a player running the flat route he typically catches it right around the line of scrimmage and is able to get a few yards after the catch before being tackled.

What does Captain Check Down Mean?

Captain check down is a nickname sometimes given to quarterbacks who have a tendency to check the ball down. When using check downs often in your offense you are likely not going to be very successful.

Some quarterbacks who lack elite arm talent tend to play it safe with these short passes. These passes when done often can also improve your stats somewhat artificially as you increase your completion percentage and are very unlikely to throw an interception.

This makes the overall image of a quarterback who throws these passes quite poor. Hence calling a quarterback captain check down means they are no good as all they do is throw safe short passes.

Why Do Quarterbacks Throw These Passes?

As you know by now check downs are not the most succesful of passes to throw. So why are they so common in football?

There are several different reasons why quarterbacks opt to throw these passes.

Opposing Defense

The opposing defense’s strategy is a common reason for quarterbacks to throw these passes. A bend but don’t break defense is one that allows short plays but makes sure to stop long passes and runs.

This sort of defense is going to face a lot of these short throws. This is because that is what they are allowing the offense to have. When playing a defense like this your playcalling will naturally dictate some of these check downs.

Quarterback talent

The other reason quarterbacks tend to make these short passes is because they are easy for the quarterback. Some quarterbacks don’t have the arm strength or accuracy to succeed in the NFL. These players mask this lack of talent by utilizing these short passes.

Though, sometimes offensive players are able to make something out of nothing when given the ball in space. This allows the odd checkdown to be effective. And often can allow the quarterback to look a little more competent than he is.

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