The fade. Great haircut, excellent Kanye song, decent gambling strategy and the worst football play ever conceived — yeah, even worse than whatever the Seahawks called at the end of that Super Bowl against the Patriots.
That doesn’t deter NFL teams, who can’t get away from the call, making it a weekly staple of unsuccessful goal-line packages. The Raiders called it multiple times Sunday, as did their Bay Area brethren. (Derek Carr was not completely horrible, Colin Kaepernick was.) Philadelphia hoped Carson Wentz’s touches on short passes would help their fades, but he didn’t have any nor were any of his receivers capable of running the route correctly. Yet the play persists even though the fade’s continued existence is like Brandon Weeden on an NFL roster: inexplicable.
Ideally, a fade route features a receiver split wide running at a defender and fading toward the corner of the end zone whereupon a perfectly placed pass from the quarterback falls gently into his hands like a baby dropping to a firefighter or that time in Princess Bride where Andre the Giant catches the woman from House of Cards.
The key word here is ideally, as the fade is like a play-call soufflé. The recipe doesn’t appear difficult, but the execution needs to be precise or else a delicious dish turns into an inedible mess. (Ride with me on the metaphors here.)
Picture the perfect fade. Tom Brady stands tall in the pocket, waits for Randy Moss to hit the goal line and then lofts a ball so high and so deep that Moss merely need take a half-jump to snag it out of the air over the hands of a helpless defensive back. Delightful, right?
It’s not. Why? BECAUSE ALL QUARTERBACKS AREN’T TOM BRADY AND ALL RECEIVERS AREN’T RANDY MOSS. Or, in the case of the explanatory video below, Calvin Johnson, a rare receiver with whom running a fade wasn’t the worst idea in the world.
Watching that video and then going out and thinking Kirk Cousins can do that with Josh Doctson is like trying to paint along with Bob Ross. "Oh, look how easy he makes that happy little tree and the fun, picturesque creek. I can do it too!"
No, you can’t. Because unless you have a quarterback with the accuracy of a sniper and the touch of Steph Curry, a receiver tall enough to go get any pass thrown his way or a defensive back so bad you can refer to him as a "one-time Jaguar," the fade doesn’t work. Too many things have to go right, and calling one hamstrings a quarterback who rarely looks off the route. Coaches say they like them because running plays inside the 10 can be too predictable and stifling, but isn’t having one option to throw to a single square-yard in the corner of the end zone predictable and stifling, too? Spread the field, buy some time and find someone open. The success rate is much higher.
Witness the aforementioned Cousins, who decided in a crucial early-season game against the Cowboys that he’d throw not one, not two, but three fades, including two consecutive ones from the 6-yard line with the ‘Skins looking to go up 30-20. None worked, the next pass was picked and the Redskins lost. None of that deterred the team.
"We’ll try it again three times next week if we have to," coach Jay Gruden told Dan Steinberg of The Washington Post.
The fade. It’ll never die.