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By Mike Garner

Offensive Coordinator

Broken Bow High School (NE)

It is something that exists at every level of football: An opponent has one defensive end who plays the run better than the other, one corner who is better against the pass, etc.  When you are a power-running team, defenses may simply load up against you to stop the strong side power play.  You can go to your counter game, but then the defense has succeeded in dictating to you what you are going to do offensively.  So, how do you gain an advantage when you are undersized along the line?

One possible solution to these problems was made clear to me after listening to a clinic by Coach Dan MacLaughlin of Wayne State College (NE).  Much of what I’m about to explain about using motion and shifts to gain an advantage and dictate to the defense stems from both that clinic and subsequent conversations I had with Coach MacLaughlin, and I would be remiss if I did not give him credit for causing me to think about how I have used motions and shifts with my teams.

First, I want to discuss how we have used motion in our offense to create an advantage.  We have employed the following types of motion: Sprint (across the formation) and Crack (motion back to the ball) by the wide receivers; and Fly (left) and Storm (right) motion by the running backs, either the fullback or the tailback.

To illustrate how wide receiver motion can be used to create an advantage, I want to illustrate four possible scenarios using Sprint and Crack motion.

In Diagram 1, we use Sprint motion to give us another blocker on the perimeter and outnumber the defense to that side of the field.  We could do the same thing by pulling a lineman, but the advantage of using receiver motion is that our extra blocker will be at the point of attack when the ball is snapped.  Of course, the disadvantage is that the defense simply has to chase or shift with the motion with their safety or linebackers to get the numbers back in their favor.

Diagram 2 is one response to a defense that adjusts its strength in response to motion.  We use Sprint motion again, but this time we want the defense to flow with it so we can run a counter play back in the direction from which the motion came.  The two keys to using motion to set up a counter play like this is that the receiver going in motion has to "sell" his fake just as much as the tailback as to sell his.  Obviously, the action of the tailback is the second key to making a counter off motion work.

The scenario in Diagram 3 is no doubt one of the most utilized forms of motion: having a receiver go in motion and crack back on an outside linebacker/safety who comes up hard to play the toss.  Against teams that play a wide 9 technique with their defensive end, we have even, at times, crack blocked that player.  Obviously, your receivers have to be well coached to avoid a block in the back call and one of the most common things we have seen opponents do is to have their outside linebacker turn his back to the receiver as soon as he sees the motion coming.  Still, if you have receivers who are physically aggressive, using crack motion can enable you to get out on the edge of the defense quickly.

Again, we want to have a counter off of Crack motion, and Diagram 4 shows a play that has been very successful for us over the years.  Once the defense has seen the toss play run off of Crack motion a few times, the defense begins to flow very hard toward the motion as soon as we show it.  Faking a hand-off rather than a toss does not seem to hurt the effectiveness of a play we call Stretch Boot Pass.  We could also run the same counter play shown in Diagram 2, but the advantages of Stretch Boot Pass are that we usually see at least one receiver running uncovered across the field and the quarterback also has the option to pull the ball down and run.

All four diagrams show how a team that may lack the size up front to pound the football inside can use motion to get the ball out to the perimeter as well as take advantage of an over-aggressive defense.  Obviously, the four examples that are shown here are the most basic ways to utilize receiver motion to create an advantage.  You can also use motion in your passing game to create favorable matchups, either with a defender who is not as skilled in coverage or with a defender—a linebacker, for example—who may not be used to covering a receiver in space.  No matter how receiver motion is used, it can enable you to dictate to a defense how it will play against you.

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The other type of motion we employ is running back motion.  We use relatively simple terminology for running back motion: each running back is designated by a letter and Fly and Storm simply tell the running back whether he is going left or right.  As with any other offensive adjustment, you want motion to appear complicated to your opponents, not to your own players.  Using our system of letters and words, we can utilize running back motion out of any formation—one, two, or three backs.

In diagrams 5 and 6, we use running back motion to shift the strength of our formation, from a balanced set to an overload, or from an overload to balanced.  Since many of the teams that we play are going to orient their defense according to where our fullback lines up, this can create some problems for them.  When we motion the fullback, it can range from a simple shift across the formation to getting the fullback outside in position to lead block on a toss play or lead option.

Diagram 7 shows how motion with the tailback can be used to create an overload on the perimeter of the defense.  In either scenario, the fullback could be lined up directly behind the quarterback rather than offset which would enable you to run an inside play while forcing the defense to shift its focus to the perimeter.  If your tailback is also one of your better receivers, this can be one way of getting him out in space to take advantage of his ability.

Finally, we can use motion out of a wishbone set to create an advantage for us in the running game.  When the right halfback motions outside, the outside linebacker on that side of the defense will widen with him, leaving one less defender to play against the Veer run to that side.  If the defense chooses to ignore the motion in favor of staying strong against the run, then we have two potential receivers matched up against a single defensive back.  Since most defenses are going to load up the box against the wishbone, halfback motion to either side of the formation can be an effective way of getting the numbers back in favor of the offense.

While motion typically forces on defender to make an adjustment, shifts can affect the structure of an entire defense and force it to re-align itself pre-snap.  One of the things that we have seen quite a bit is a defense that will overload the tight end side of our offense to stop off-tackle power.  We could either choose not to run power to the tight end side, or we could find a way to counteract the defense’s overload.

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Diagram 9 shows a shift that we call "Switch." After lining up in a strong right formation, the tight end shifts to the left side, flipping the formation’s strength.  Obviously, there is some coaching that needs to take place: the receivers have to move on or off the line and the quarterback has to make sure everyone is set for a count before the ball is snapped.  However, this simple shift has several advantages:

  1. First, it forces the defense to, at the very least, change its strength call; in some cases, where the defense has a designated strong and weak side, players may actually be scrambling to switch sides themselves after the tight end moves.
  2. This in turn leads to the other advantage: defenses will come up to the line but wait to get set, anticipating the shift of the tight end.  When this situation arises, all the offense has to do is to come up to the line and run a play without the tight end shifting.  Introducing just that extra bit of hesitation into the mind of the defense—is the tight end going to shift or not?—takes away some of the aggressiveness with which every defense must play.
  3. Finally, the threat of a shift by the tight end may be enough to force a defense to play more conservatively than it would otherwise: it becomes much more difficult to run any type of pressure when the strength of the offense may change.  Again, it becomes a case of the offense dictating to the defense rather than the other way around.
This final pair of diagrams shows a more complicated (from the defense’s point of view) type of shift.  "Stack" is simply a power I formation with the extra running back being a tight end.  The wide receivers line up as tight ends (or extra tight ends could be used in place of smaller receivers).  "Scramble" means that when the quarterback begins his cadence, the fullback and tight end will set up with one of the wide receivers in a bunch while the other wide receiver will widen to a split end alignment.  Now the defense is forced to adjust from playing against double tight power to playing against a bunch on one side and split end on the other.  If the defense maintains its balanced alignment, then the offense has an advantage to the bunch side.  One the other hand, if the defense over adjusts to the bunch side of the formation, then the offense has created an advantage for itself to the split end side.

As with Switch, there are a number of advantages that the offense can gain by employing Scramble:

  1. First, there may be some confusion among the defenders as to what coverage and run responsibilities are against the bunch rather than double tights.
  2. Second, the offense always has the option to line up in Stack and run a play out of that formation, so the defense cannot simply sit back and wait for the offense to shift to its final formation.
  3. Finally, it creates an element of hesitation in the mind of the defense because defenders are being forced to think about where they are supposed to line up and how their responsibilities may change.  Any time defenders are being forced to think about their responsibilities rather than simply coming off the ball and attacking the offense, that is an advantage for the offense.  As an offensive coach, anything that I can do to make the defense play slower will become an advantage for my players.

These are but a few of the ways that motion and shifts can be used to create an advantage for your offense.  As with any offensive strategy, its success is going to be determined by how well your players understand what it is intended to accomplish.  Once your players understand what you are trying to accomplish by using motion and shifts--and are playing rather than having to stop and think about what they are doing—motion and shifts can be a highly effective way of gaining an advantage over the defense.

Now It Is Your Turn...

Does your team use these types of concepts to stress defenses?  If so we would love to hear about those concepts as well as any questions you might have for Coach Garner.  Become part of the conversation by writing your comments below.




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