USC Review: A Look at the “Knife” and “Switch” Concepts


Mike Denbrock was one of the Irish coaches who spoke at the 2013 Notre Dame Coaches Clinic last spring. During his presentation, he discussed some of Notre Dame’s staple route concepts, including the “Knife” and the “Switch.” Because the Irish had some success with both the Knife and Switch against USC last Saturday, I decided to breakdown a few plays that illustrate these concepts.

What is the Knife?

The Knife is a two-man route concept. The outside receiver runs a 14-yard dig route, while the inside receiver runs a whip route, i.e., he pushes upfield about 6-8 yards and turns to the inside before breaking toward the sideline. The routes work in tandem. The dig often clears the short outside zone so the inside receiver has space to the outside, while the whip can open a passing lane inside for the quarterback to throw to the receiver on the dig.

Troy Niklas’ touchdown is a good example of the Irish attacking the boundary with the Knife.

On 3rd & 5 from the Trojan seven, the Irish line up in a 2X2 spread formation with Niklas and T.J. Jones lined up to the boundary. If you’ve watched many Notre Dame games in recent years, you’ve probably noticed that the coaching staff frequently puts the best receivers to the boundary. They do this because most defenses are field-strength based. The goal is to get a mismatch.

The Trojans line up with five defenders on the line of scrimmage. The safety creeps up to the line and bails shortly before the snap to help in coverage.

Rees does a nice job stepping up in the pocket as the play develops. Jones’ dig route holds the safety and eventually clears the outside for Niklas. The 6-6, 270 lb Niklas ends up isolated on the 6-1, 230 lb Hayes Pullard. Pullard is a good linebacker, but there are few, if any, defenders in the country who can handle Niklas one-on-one in the red zone. Rees puts the ball to the outside which allows Niklas to shield Pullard with his body and make the catch.

What is the Switch?

The Switch is another two-man route concept that I’ve written about previously. Two receivers cross paths (or switch) before releasing vertically. The outside receiver slants inside before running down the seam, while the inside receiver runs a wheel route down the sideline. Against man coverage, the Switch often creates a pick that can free up one or both receivers. Against zone coverage, the Switch can put deep defenders in a bind by forcing them to choose between covering the seam or the sideline.

Below is an example of the Irish attacking the boundary with the Switch.

Notre Dame lines up in a 2X2 spread formation. This time Niklas and Davaris Daniels are lined up to the boundary. USC counters with a nickel package.

The playfake to Amir Carlisle does little to fool the defense, but cornerback Anthony Brown slips after trying to reroute Daniels and allows Niklas to run by him on the wheel route.

Daniels’ seam route holds the safety and gives Rees plenty of time to hit Niklas down the sideline. Niklas makes an over-the-shoulder catch and gets the Irish into USC territory. Even had Brown not slipped, Rees still could have thrown to Niklas and let him fight for the ball against a defender who is giving up 9″ and 90 lbs.


The Knife and Switch are both great route concepts. Look for the Irish to continue attacking the boundary with these concepts and use them to take advantage of Troy Niklas’ size and athleticism.

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  • @hls_podcast

    Where were you during my (Madden) playing days? Excellent breakdown.

  • Blog Davie

    Probably drunk and trying to lead the Eagles to the Tecmo Super Bowl by throwing for 7,000 yards with Randall . . er . . QB Eagles.

  • The Biscuit

    AH! Analysis. Freaking love it.