Cutting Sideways

fndtyindexWhy do so few good cuts go directly sideways?

Doubtless you’ve had to explain many times to beginners that they should be cutting at an angle rather than straight towards the sideline. Perhaps you’ve thought of a really good reason why – but just in case you haven’t, here’s my take on it.

It’s not anything to do with the angle of the cut relative to the throw – it couldn’t be, because a sideways cut when the disc is on the sideline is the same relative angle as a 45° in-cut with the disc in the centre of the field (imagining a vertical stack in this example). Some angles are easy to throw to and some are less so, but it’s certainly not the case that a sideways cut always produces the most difficult angle.

So it must be to do with the angle of the cut relative to the pitch itself. Which means it must be to do with the shape of the pitch; the available space. Here’s how.

Wherever you are on the pitch (outside the endzones), the shortest distance to an out-of-bounds line is ALWAYS directly sideways. [If you’re outside the endzone, you’re at least 18m from the end of the pitch – or 23m under USAU rules – and you can never be more than 18.5m from the nearest sideline.]

So, more relevantly, the direction in which the thrower will have least time to hit you before you run out of road is ALWAYS directly sideways. Cutting in any other direction gives your thrower more time. It gives them options. They can throw early, or they can fake to make space and you’ll still be a viable receiver. Maybe they’re looking elsewhere when you start the cut, but they’ll still have time to see you and make the throw.

(N.B. – even if you’re cutting to the far sideline rather than the near one, you’ll still get even more time if you angle the cut. It may be that a flat cut to the far side actually has more space than an angled cut to the near side but, given a prior choice of cutting to the open or break side, you’ll always get more time by angling the cut.)

cxgbindexCutting at 45° gives you over 40 percent more ground to work with than cutting straight to the sideline, according to that nice Mr. Pythagoras. That’s pretty significant.

As an aside, why don’t we always cut at really steep angles, giving ourselves yet more time? Well, we often do, on deep cuts; but on in-cuts our secondary intention – to gain the most possible yards – means we can apply a similar argument to the one above. Cutting straight back down the field is the fastest way to reduce the yardage gain if the pass is delayed at all. A 45° in-cut ‘loses’ yardage 40% slower than running straight back down the field (and – also importantly – changes the point of attack).

This balance – steep cuts eat up yards, but flat cuts run out of space – is (part of*) the reason why many teams will angle their in-cuts but make their deep cuts close to vertical.  [And note that the balance will change depending on circumstances – I’m not advocating that every in-cut should be at 45°, I’m just using that angle to give numerical examples of the kind of advantage you can gain.]

There are other problems too. Cutting straight to a sideline is a bad idea because it has a very definite and predictable finish – you have to stop when you get to the line – so the defender can slack off and get their balance for the next cut once it’s too late for a viable throw. Conversely, although an angled in-cut does get less and less threatening as you keep going, there’s not such an obvious point at which you will definitely turn around.

Additionally, in most offences starting your next cut from right on the sideline is likely to be a sub-optimal situation.

Basically, sideways cutting is rarely a good idea. It can make sense if the disc is tight to the line and you’re cutting away from the line for a swing pass (so that your whole intent is to move the disc as far sideways as possible); it can make sense if you’ve cut to the front cone of the endzone and want to cut back across for an I/O pass while staying in the scoring area. Perhaps it makes more sense in MLU on the big wide pitches (anyone want to comment on whether that has been the case this year?). But I can’t think of many others**.

A ten-year-old could do the relevant maths. Don’t cut sideways.

*There’s also the point-of-attack thing, as mentioned – changing the angles the defence has to deal with. Less of an issue when you’ve thrown it 30-60 yards, because everything has changed anyway, but very relevant on the shorter cuts. Then there’s the difficulty of the throw – the thrower needs a wider ‘lane’ to aim for with a longer pass (as his accuracy is necessarily reduced) so you need to stay further away from the sideline. And there’s the also the amount of time the disc will be in the air. A deep cut is by its nature longer, and thus has even more incentive to keep well away from the sideline as the disc will be in the air for a while – a 45° cut will run out of room going long, where a 45° in-cut receiving a 10-yd pass won’t.
**Well, apart from in the endzone, indoors, on very small pitches – if the endzone is only 3m deep, the main argument is almost reversed…
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8 Responses to Cutting Sideways

  1. Shaun says:

    This was a pet hate for our team this year, we got blocked a lot cutting sideways rather than setting up an angled in cut. Most defenders will mark you underneath and you will never get in front of them by cutting sideways, meaning that the throw always goes past the defender (on the vertical plane) first, giving them a chance to block, especially as you slow down around the sideline. An angled in cut allows you to attack the defender and get in front of them.


  2. The wider field in the MLU does lead to more sideways cutting due to the additional space. However, effective throws to sideways cuts often need to be “chip throws” (high slightly bladey outside-in passes which soften out at the end) so that the disc can get to the space the cut is a attacking without a defender taking a shallower angle and intercepting the pass earlier in its flight.


  3. Richard says:

    I’ve had it told to me dozens of times that I shouldn’t cut sideways and I kind of understood why, but couldn’t properly visualise it. I know that, for most people, seeing a representation of it played out with cones on the ground is the best method, but I didn’t really see the real benefit of it until you broke it down into numbers. I think that a lot can be said for learning from different sources since, although I wouldn’t say anything against the coaching at my club, if you didn’t get it the first time, chances are you need it explained to you another way. Thanks for helping me with this!


  4. 1wu2 says:

    Cutting sideways tends to eat up multiple open throwing lanes downfield–in contrast angled cuts take up less vertical space.

    There are at least three places where sideways cuts are viable and even desirable.

    1) Endzone iso. Since no other cutters are looking to get open, it doesn’t matter that the iso is eating all lanes.

    2) The 7-cut, where a cutter initiates with an angled cut to the strong (open) side, then clears with a sideways cut. Handler throws a fh inside-out (or around) as the cutter clears. In this case, clearing breakside is often preferable to clearing open side. Also, the initial cut is angled so not all cutting lanes are compromised.

    3) Break/weak side (off-)handler either a) pushes downfield and cuts mostly horizontal for an upline, if they have a step on D or, more likely, b) FH trapped handler throws reset to center handler and catches give-go after mostly horizontal cut to strong side open space.


  5. Robse says:

    I cannot completely agree. We have tried it with beginners in the university class.

    The simple results:

    1) Cutting 90° to the line is the most easiest target to hit for the thrower (beginner).
    2) Cutting 90° is the one way to not get free when being guarded by a defender.
    3) If you are wide open, then a 90° cut is a good choice!
    4) Because we are not wide open a lot of times, we cut in other angles in practice, even if there is not a defender present.


    • Sorry, Robse, I don’t buy it. The easiest throw for the thrower must be determined by the relative angle of the throw and the cut, not the angle of the cut relative to the pitch.

      If the disc is always on the sideline, we could argue the point maybe – perhaps that 90-degree throw is the easiest for a beginner, perhaps not – but if the disc is sometimes in the middle of the pitch (or even on the far sideline, with the cutter going away from it) there’s no way you can be right.


  6. Nathan says:

    You didn’t mention the target window the thrower needs to hit in your analysis.

    A cutter coming straight at the thrower is always in the same “window”. The line I need to put the disc on never changes, no matter if you’re 20 yards away or 5 yards away. I don’t need to worry about leading you to account for a moving window.

    The faster you are going sideways, the faster that window changes. You are left either trying to lead someone perfectly with a flat throw or completely eliminating that option from the thrower’s repertoire and left floating something to the space in front of the receiver which is more poachable.


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