In football, a pick pass pattern is a type of pass play in which two receivers cross their routes and one of them makes contact with their teammate's defensive back in order to free up the teammate. The defensive back may be a cornerback, nickelback, or linebacker, depending on the offense's formation and personnel.
The term "pick" comes from the basketball term for a screen, a concept which the football play essentially copies. A pick play is also commonly referred to as a "rub route" because the receiver who is blocking essentially "rubs" off on or blocks the defender just enough to make it seem like a route instead of a block.
The legality of pick patterns came under scrutiny after the conclusion of the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship, in which Clemson used two pick patterns to score touchdowns against Alabama, including the game-winner. While these two examples proved to be legal, they raised questions about what exactly constitutes offensive pass interference.
An offensive pass interference penalty occurs when an offensive player restricts an opponent's ability to make a play on the ball more than one yard outside the line of scrimmage. While rub routes certainly fall into this category, they are exempt if the wide receiver appears to be running a route instead of blocking. Pick patterns also often go uncalled for interference because of mutual contact between the wide receiver and defensive back, or the defender initiating contact.
Pick patterns are used most frequently when the offensive team is near the goal line and time is limited. This is because offensive route-running space is limited and a rub route is a shallow play, meaning it the routes usually stay close to the line of scrimmage. Defenses are also almost always in man coverage on the goal line, which rub routes are designed to work against.
The most effective way to defend against a rub route is by using what's called banjo coverage, in which the defensive backs use man-to-man coverage until the wide receivers cut, where they then assume zone coverage. This allows them to stay free from their initial man if the receivers cross over, which they do in a rub route.