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Offensive and Defensive Formations

Offensive Formations
Defensive Formations
Special Teams
Running and Passing Plays in the Playbook

Offensive Formations
 There are many possible formations that fall within legal guidelines.  I use 12.  Twelve is plenty for my offensive scheme because each formation can be modified by sending one of several players in motion, or simply slightly shifting one or more players.  Also many formations can be run from the shotgun, or not.  For these reasons explicit, detailed, single diagrams for each formation serve little purpose.  Instead let's look at all of them at once, and then briefly discuss each.

The basic Pro Set (shown here as Pro Left) calls for the TE left with both flankers.  The opposite WR is split to the right.  The QB is under center, with one running back.  This formation is extremely popular because there are five eligible receivers, the inside flanker or the running back can go in motion, or the formation can employ the shot gun.  This formation is equally effective for the run or the pass.  The Veer and the "I" are equally popular for the same reasons, but employ two running backs.  This strengthens the running game by adding an additional running back to the overall scheme.  The Power "I", Full House, Wing-T, and the Wishbone (optional) all can utilize two tight ends and three running backs making them strong running formations while still keeping 5 receivers eligible for the pass.  The Twins set calls for two receivers to the same side with the tight end to the opposite side, in tight or split wide.  Two backs are in the backfield, both eligible to be set in motion. Tripps simply calls for one of the backs to join the wide receivers forming a trio of wide outs to the same side.  Again, the tight end (to the opposite side) can be optionally split wide.  Quads call for four receivers to the same side, two up on the line with the other two stacked behind them.  The back two receivers can be offset from the forward two.  Slots call for two receivers to each side with the outer two up on the line of scrimmage, the inner two a step back.  The Spread formation lives up to its name.  Each lineman increases his splits from one to three (4, or 5) yards.  There are two tight ends, two flankers out wide, five linemen, a back and a quarterback.  There are eight lanes between the nine forward players.  If their respective gaps are 5 yards apart, you "spread" the offense out over 40 yards.  If the defense responds by splitting out wide with the offense, the quarterback can hand off to the back who has widened running lanes.  If the defense does not spread out with the offense, there should be mismatches to the wide sides of the field for the pass.  Each of the formations can have a variety of looks to the defense.  For instance, every formation has a 'mirror' side.  Tripps right can be run as Tripps left.  All twelve formations can send a player in motion.  Eight of the twelve formations can utilize the shot gun formation where the quarterback lines up 5 to 7 yards deep in the back field as opposed to taking the snap from under center.  Also, many of the formations can take on an entirely different look simply by shifting one or more players around.  An excellent example of this is the Wing-T formation.  The Wing-T can be run as Wing-T left with the back to the right (1), left with the back to the left (2), left with the back in motion (3), left with the Wing Man (purple dot in the diagram) in motion (4), these options 'mirror' plays (5,6,7,8), with or without the shot gun (9,10), or from the Double Wing-T with or without the shot gun (11,12).  So, in fact, the Wing-T formation (one of twelve) can have twelve different, distinct looks for the defense.  Multiply these results by the total number of possible plays which can be run from most of the formations and one can begin to sense the vast number of "looks" the offense can give a defense.  Add an intentionally diverse, tricky snap count and the offense should be able to keep the defense on its heels further expanding the play calling options for the coaching staff.

Defensive Formations
6-Man Line
Goal Line

The 5-2 Defensive Formation
    The 5-2 is the standard for many coaches at the high school level and is used somewhat extensively at the collegiate level.  Consisting of a nose guard, 2 defensive tackles, and 2 defensive ends, it is intended mainly as a run defense.  However, it can be effective against the pass as well with five pass rushers and two or three linebackers.  Usually, the down linemen's first responsibilities are running lane specific, each man responsible for a certain gap or lane.  The default command for linemen is to read and react to the play, with the defensive end's primary concern being containment.  Occasionally, a defensive end may be called on to pass defend an area such as the flat.  By design, the line backer's first responsibility is to defend the run, then the pass.  But this may be modified for varying purposes.  A coach wants his leading tacklers to be down linemen or line backers.  If a defensive back or safety is leading the team in tackles, it is a clear indication that the opposing offenses are getting throughout the first line of defense.  The remaining four positions are the two corner backs and the two safeties.  An option is to allow one of the safeties to be a "free safety" meaning that this player seldom has specific duties, and is left to read and react to each play.  If in zone pass coverage, the free safety or safety to the TE side has "up" responsibility, while the strong safety has deep third duty.  Each corner has deep third duty as well.  LBs are 4 to 5 yards off the ball, CBs 3 to 6 yards deep, safeties 10 to 12 yards.  Down linemen keep the ball in the corner of the eye, and move on the snap--not the QB's vocalizations or other personnel movement.

The 5-3 Defensive Formation
    The 5-3 is even more intent on stopping the run and is designed to make use of a strong middle line backer.  Similar to the 5-2, the 5-3 simply replaces the free safety spot with a third line backer which lines up on the outside shoulder of the TE, 5 yards deep and parallel with the other LBs.  The "best" LB move to the middles LB position.  Obviously, modifications, or shifts, may be necessary depending on the actual alignment of the offense.  For example, let's say the offense opened in a Tripps (3 receiver) set to the defense's right.  basically, all that has happened is the FB and left wide out have been replaced with two new wide outs to the right.  So the left CB shifts over with the new WR, and the left OLB shifts over as well.  The two remaining linebackers return to their normal 5-2 alignment.  Another variation calls for the 3 line backers to all shift down to compensate.  The TE can be covered by the DE to that side, or the LB to that side.  The DE to the Tripps side can cover the flat or slat area, or even be sent on a blitz.

The 4-4 Defensive Formation
    The 4-4 is designed to stop the wide running game as well as the short passing game.  The 4-4 uses four down linemen, four linebackers, two cornerbacks, and a safety.  Stunts are a common component of this defensive set, usually with the some or all of the linemen stunting left or right and the inside linebackers stunting in the opposite direction.  A wide range of possible stunts and blitzes are possible.  The 4-4, also known as the "Stack" defense, relies on quickness, particularly quickness in pursuit.  In order to run the 4-4 on a regular basis, the interior down linemen must be players of considerable substance.

The 4-3 Defensive Formation
    The 4-3 is the most commonly used defense at the upper levels, including the NFL.  At lower levels the 4-3 is not particularly popular because many coaches consider it weak against the run due to the fact there are only four down linemen.  At the higher levels, the quality and size of the average down linemen makes this a non factor.  In essence, if a team possesses the size, strength, and quickness necessary to run the 4-3 defense, it is a formidable defensive formation.  Besides the ever present four down linemen (2 DTs and 2 DEs), there are three line backers--two to the inside and one at the outside shoulder of the TE.  Two cornerbacks and two safeties are the standard.  Equally effective against most all offensive formations, the 4-3 is the default defense of choice for this author.  It is easily modified for various offensive sets. The third LB (on the TE) can cover the TE, blitz, or cover any of the short zones to that side or the hook zone over the middle.  The CBs can blitz with the Safety(s) assuming the Corner's responsibilities.  Or a Corner can drop back in deep coverage allowing a safety blitz.  Because of its high flexibility, an offense will find it difficult to isolate a particular area or defensive player.  If the 4-3 has a weakness, it is that the inside line backers are the primary tacklers for runs between the tackles and they are of course 4 to 5 yards off the ball.

The 3-4 Defensive Formation
    The 3-4 is designed to stop the short passing, ball control type offense.  Naturally less than ideal against the run due to only 3 down linemen, this defense offers an extra defensive back for pass coverage.  Consisting of a nose guard and two other down linemen, the coach has the task of deciding who the outside two linemen are--DEs or DTs.  Often one of the LBs has zone pass coverage responsibilities in effect employing 5 defensive backs.  This is why the 3-4 is often referred to as the "nickel" defense.  Having 5 DBs allows for random blitzing by one or more of these backs in order to maintain a sufficient pass rush.  The 3-4 is susceptible to the inside run and is used primarily is situations where an interior run is not expected.

The 3-5 Defensive Formation
    The 3-5 Defense, sometimes labeled the "prevent defense" is a much maligned formation.  Critics often say that the only thing it prevents is winning.  In fact, it is its misuse rather than its design that often leads to failure.  Similar in design to the 3-4, the 3-5 (or the "dime" package) is an aggressive anti pass defense utilizing multiple defensive backs.  Recommended are the three down linemen (NG and two DEs), two interior LBs, and six defensive backs.  Obviously, six defensive backs and only three down linemen is not going to be particularly effective against the run.  However, it is a formidable pass defense.  Intended for specific applications and limited uses, repeated use of the defense does, in fact, allow steady movement of the offense especially if the offense is willing to run inside and throw short.  Designed solely to stop the quick strike, deep pass patterns, and if used sparingly, the 3-5 is a valuable asset to any team.  A diagram is not given due to the fact there are so many ways to situate six defensive backs.  The main concept should nevertheless remain apparent.

The 6-2 Defensive Formation --a.k.a. 6-4 (with tight DBs)
    The 6-2 is the standard short yardage defensive formation.  It is often implemented to stop the run.  Basically, the six down linemen are positioned in the gaps between the offensive linemen with the two inside linebackers playing run first, pass second. The cornerbacks and the safety (playing up tight to the line) play pass first, run second, each with deep third responsibilities.

The Goal Line Defensive Formation (6-5)
    The Goal Line Defense is similar in appearance to the 6-2, but the responsibilities are different due to the proximity to the goal line.  There is no tomorrow at the goal line.  No need to worry about deep coverages or even medium ones.  The middle two linebackers stay back in order to meet the running back as he comes to the line, particularly if the back leaves his feet and dives for the end zone.  The outer two linebackers (or CBs) have the luxury of playing run first with containment responsibilities, leaving all six down linemen free to penetrate and drive into the offensive back field.  If the offense passes the ball, the middle two linebackers (who remained back) fall back to the end zone in zone pass coverage occupying the middle, while the outside two linebackers retreat to cover the corners of the end zone. The Safety reads the quarterback's eyes and plays the ball.

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