The term safety valve in football refers to a passing option the quarterback will look to if his first read(s) is covered. Safety valves present the quarterback with an easy throw which will usually gain the team a small number of yards.
On any given play there are going to be several receivers running routes for the quarterback. The quarterback will look at these receivers throughout the play in a specific order.
The quarterback will first read the intended target to determine if he is open for a pass. If he is not the quarterback will then look to his second read and so on.
Safety valves in football are one of the last receivers the quarterback will look toward to complete a pass.
These safe passing options are usually close to the quarterback so that they make for an easy throw.
Though they do not often gain a large number of yards these safe options allow the quarterback to get the ball out of his hands and avoid a sack or risky throw.
Typical Safety Valve Routes
Though safety valves in football can come in many different forms there are a few key routes that are typically used for this purpose.
The flat route is one of the most common routes used as a safety valve. On this route the receiver will simply run towards the flat staying right around the line of scrimmage.
Since they are so close to the line of scrimmage these players will often be left uncovered with a defender waiting a few yards down the field.
The quarterback is able to easily throw to this position without too much risk of an interception. This route will usually be run by a running back coming out of the backfield.
In most cases, the defender closest to the route runner will step up and tackle him shortly after he catches the pass.
Though if the running back is able to avoid this first tackle they will often be able to pick up several extra yards on the play.
The curl route is another common option when looking to create a safety valve for your quarterback. In most cases, this route is going to be run by a running back running his route between the tackles
On these plays, the ball will be snapped and the quarterback will retreat into the pocket. The receivers will run deep down the field and will be the first read for the quarterback.
If the deep receivers are not open the quarterback will look to the running back who will be running a curl route about five yards deep in the middle of the field.
The quarterback can then quickly check down to the running back to pick up a small number of yards.
Which Positions Are Safety Valves
In football, there are two main positions that are used as safety valves in an offense. Those positions are running back and tight end.
The reason that these positions are used for this purpose is that they can often delay their route with blocking. Both tight ends and running backs can start a play by pass blocking only to leak out on a route later.
This makes it much easier for these two positions to run short routes near the quarterback. Being close to the formation also allows these positions to go uncovered near the line of scrimmage more often.
This isn’t the case for wide receivers who will almost always have a cornerback watching their every move.