Unbalanced Formations: Zone and Gap Runs

Dec 16, 2015 | Offense, 22/13 Personnel Concepts, Overload Formations, Formation Structures, Personnel

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikeKKuchar


Editor’s Note:  When referencing unbalanced formations, we’re referring to any formation where there are no players on the line of scrimmage to one side of the formation. Rules say there must be at least seven players on the line of scrimmage. 




unbalanced1With the advent of the "Wildcat" offensive package several years ago, we started to find that more teams are beginning to use unbalanced formations at the point of attack to run the football.  While we realize that this is nothing new to football- the "lonesome polecat" utilized over 50 years ago can attest to that- we did find that more coaches are finding innovative ways to get more players to the point of attack pre-snap and create advantages in the run and pass game.

The fact is 35.6 percent of coaches use unbalanced formations between 6-10 snaps a game, 33.7 percent use them five snaps or less.  So when we developed our survey on unbalanced formations, we wanted to find out why coaches will use these formations and what they use them for.   So we asked them.  The results are below:  Some of their reasoning is below

Case 1: Reasons for Unbalanced Sets, Various Personnel Groupings/ Types of Unbalanced Formations

Reasons for using unbalanced formations:

  • 27.4 percent of coaches will use unbalanced sets to get an extra blocker on the perimeter.  This helps with perimeter run game schemes like toss, speed option, outside zone and jet sweep.
  • 26.5 percent of coaches will use unbalanced sets in order to create and extra gap in the run game.  We’ve found this is more suitable to gap schemes like power and counter.
  • 15.6 percent of coaches will use unbalanced sets just to "create a different picture" for the defense.  As one coach told us in our survey, "defenses just don’t know how to adjust to them."

Other write-in responses included:

  • "The defense has to prepare for something they do not see every week, or even ever again that season. We get an extra gap the defense has to defend and often times the coaches and/or players do not know how to handle defending that gap. It brings at least 8 guys into the box, which opens up our play action tremendously well. By using the motions in an unbalanced set we can dictate what the defense will do rather then them dictating what we are going to do."- Collins Wetzel
  • "Combination of reason--overload a side, attack weaker personnel, make defense think about adjusting and losing concentration on keys etc,"- Rick Jones
  • "To create a +1 in either the run game, screen game or take advantage of their coverage,"- Jesse German
  • "We create an extra gap and different picture for the defense but it also allows us to do things that a defense might not be prepared for (motioning a previously ineligible man)."- Mike Dolan
  • "I will use it as a part of a no-huddle and run the unbalanced to our hash. We will have 2 TE's in the game with a slot receiver and 2 backs (22 personnel). Our unbalanced is with our OL. We will move one tackle to the other side with one TE opposite on the line and the slot to the weak side, so essentially it’s a tackle over. I will also run it on the first sound so the defense doesn’t have time to adjust to our extra man, plus being so far away from the visitors sideline the other coaching staff may not pick it up,"- Steven Croce
  • "As a former defensive coordinator I don't think there is any good to adjust to the unbalanced. If your an odd front team your nose can't beat up my center any more, he has to play on the strong guard if you are an even front team your 3 tech is now going to be on my center or tackle. It put the defense in an uncomfortable position,"- Jerome Learman
  • "We feel that blocking play side is a math problem. I want more players play side then the defense has. It is very simple, if I have more players at the point of attack then you do I will win 90-95% of the plays run there,"- Mike Woodward

Offensive "Structures" that utilize unbalanced formations

The common thought was that only unconventional offenses like the Wing T or option style systems employed "end over" or unbalanced formations, but the truth is various offensive systems are finding ways to create unique formations that give them an advantage at the point of attack.  Perhaps it was the success that Boise State and Stanford University had (both of which we’ll detail later on) that triggered more coaches to utilize some of the same sets.  While we are hesitant to label offenses into "systems" we were curious to find out which types of offensive structures will use unbalanced sets.  Now, we realize this could be a measure of which kind of coaches are involved in our surveys, but in either case, our findings are below:

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