Adding a Wrinkle: Strategies for Movement (Shifts and Motions)
I often hear coaches talking about shifts and motions as “window dressing.” One of the most common uses of movement is to try to disguise some of your favorite formations by shifting or putting a player in motion into the formation that you prefer to use in order to keep the defense from getting early recognition keys. This is certainly a sound strategy and a great use of movement. A shift of strength forces the defense to recognize, communicate and adjust. We view this as three more opportunities in which the defense can make a mistake.
I’d like to take the use of motion a step further and show some examples of how it can be used to stress a defense. I hope to present you with something that can enhance your game plan and create some advantages right now while you are in your season.
In determining what shifts and motions to use, you should carefully look over your break downs and film analysis to determine where an advantage can be created. In this post I would like to cover three areas where we have been able to use a shift and/or motion to create an advantage. We have been able to use movement to take advantage of personnel, both ours and theirs. Secondly, we have used movement to create an extreme shift in strength and create gaps beyond what a normal defensive adjustment allows. Finally, we have been able to use movement to create situations where we knew the defensive check based on film study, and used that information to our advantage.
In analyzing the next opponent, it’s always good to watch it several times. After we have our initial breakdowns, I always like to set the data aside and evaluate the opponent’s personnel. We are usually able to identify some key strengths and weaknesses and understand more about the break down data when we tie it to personnel. For example, one opponent we faced favored playing a defense that rolled a safety into support and a safety deep on almost every down. They would align and set up their secondary in a way where one of those safeties was always coming down and supporting and the other was responsible for the deep middle. We found that with certain movements we could create situations in which the deep player would have to run support and the support player would have to play deep. Because this was a superior opponent, we needed to find any advantage we could gain. Forcing the opponent to play in areas in which they are vulnerable is definitely an advantage.
In the first example we use a shift, followed by a motion to change strength and force the safety normally used to playing deep to come up and support on the run.
In the next example, we use an unbalanced formation with motion to create a situation in which the best support player is forced to play deep. We further create an advantage in using run action to get that guy who is used to coming up on the run to flatten out on his deep responsibility and hit a deep route behind him.
The second category of movements we liked to use were ones in which we had an extreme shift in strength and gaps to be covered.
In this example we align in a formation that gives us 9 gaps. A defense is forced to adjust their normal run fits to defend that many gaps. They are stressed even further when four of those gaps are moved quickly to the opposite side of the formation. We begin with forcing the defense to adjust their alignment or kick down to one side while quickly having to adjust strength and their kick down to the other side. We are able to outflank the defense and run a stretch play on the edge. While the tight end becomes ineligible after the shift, the stress on the defense is even greater because of the split receiver.
In one of the most extreme shifts I’ve used, in which 5 players move one after another, strength shifts multiple times throughout movement while the defense becomes frustrated with what’s happening. We’ve used this to confuse match-ups against man coverage, and also to get a defense which we knew to be heavy on the blitz checked based on the formation into a base look without blitz. I learned this shift from Stan Parrish in 2006 while he was the offensive coordinator at Ball State University. We adopted the name he used for it – “Bazooka.” Examples are shown in the video.
The final category of movement is movement we create to take advantage of the defense’s structure. We knew that this particular opponent likes to slant their line to strength and keep the backside defensive end at home checking for reverses and fakes. Unbalanced formations would get their safety over and leave little run support on the short side. Armed with this knowledge, we first started our attack on the short side. From a balanced set we shift strength to the right. The flanker comes to a wing position off of the tackle. With the defensive end coming upfield and the tackle pinching, we now have created a big gap for our zone lead play and, on the second play from scrimmage, we go the distance for the touchdown.
After that, we were able to get the opponent to slant less so we motion the wing from the short side across to provide another blocker to outflank the defense and we then run our stretch play to the strong side.
Trying to stay a step ahead of the defense, we predicted that one possible adjustment would leave our QB with an open gap in which to audible to a quarterback sneak.
Our use of movement is built in a series of answers to what we felt would be the adjustments to take away what we were doing. By building the game plan around this shift, we were able to give our offense an advantage by finding ways to use a numbers advantage on the short side, strong side and middle of the defense.
Implementing movement in season
The simplest way to implement a shift is to come up with a name for it. Many of our movements included more than one player moving in succession. Our first one we used included words that communicated movement. The words Hop, Jump, Leap and Vault were used to describe a shift into a formation. For example, we would call, “Jump to Right Trey Over.” Our players would get repetitions in which they would execute the prescribed movement.
Sometimes moving to the formation early and then just aligning to it later creates the advantage needed. In fact, in some cases, just aligning after a defense has seen the movement gives them less time to recognize and adjust. Defenses will make their adjustment and use the movement as the key, so just aligning cuts down on the amount of time they have to recognize, especially when it’s something they have not seen in practice.
If you are using a multiple movement, having a play or two off of just the first movement can be an advantage. While the defense sees the first part of the movement and begins to recognize and adjust, you then snap the ball after the first part and now their keys are off.
The final recommendation is to anticipate an adjustment from the defense. If you are using a shift that stresses a defense, what can you expect as their adjustment? As I mentioned before, film study is important in determining both what movements are to your advantage, and what the defense will do to respond. Having some of those answers worked out beforehand allows you to have the chalk last.
Misdirection: Using Pre-Snap Movement and Multiple Personnel Groupings to Gain an Offensive Advantage
by: Steve Canter
Quarterbacks Coach Norfolk State University
© December 2010
Gaining the Pre-and Post-Snap Advantage
How to gain leverage on defenses before and after snapping the ball
by: Mike Kuchar
© December 2007
Disguising Your Pre-Snap Defense
by: David Purdum
© September 2007