In our third installment on Offensive Formations, we tackle formations where the play starts with the QB under center. Those branch out into various base formations like the I-Formation, Ace Sets, and Pro Set formations the West Coast Offense (WCO) was built on and then continue to branch out like a tree growing limbs as the team builds the playbook.
Before we get into each of the three, there are some concepts and benefits that each of the three share.
Unlike a RB/FB being handed the pigskin in a shotgun formation, he’s not getting the ball at a standstill. He’s already moving when he gets it, which gives him more of a head of steam when he hits the LOS. Harder to stop a moving train.
The quarterback and back move towards each other, and as soon the hand off is complete, each head in separate directions. This way the QB isn’t in the way for the back. In addition, if the QB is scanning the field because he’s pulled the ball down and about to throw a play-action pass, he doesn’t want the back there.
It’s a dance that requires practice to get the timing right and a certain unnamed QB (cough Peyton Manning cough) was anal about making his handoffs look the same as his fake handoffs, each and every time.
In a recent trend, some quarterbacks spend the majority, if not all of their college career in the shotgun/pistol formations, so NFL QB coaches are having to teach, and to an extent, waste time on teaching concepts. Ones that should have been drilled into their head from when he first started playing the game. Therefore, there is an adjustment to taking snaps for some.
One of the biggest keys to successful quarterbacking is the QBs comfort level in the scheme (compare and contrast Peyton Manning with Tom Moore/Mike McCoy/Adam Gase and Gary Kubiak if you need proof of that). Under center concepts are still relatively new for both Paxton Lynch & Trevor Siemian; however, there might be more under center snaps/plays as the year goes on as the QB gets more comfortable with the entire McCoy package.
Assuming Lynch is the starter, this will be a dangerous tool in their box. Teams know he can run, know he can throw on the run and can hit every area of the field. The addition of Jamal Charles who not only was often a top five rusher, but also an incredible good backfield receiver adds an extra wrinkle.
Combine a dual threat QB and two (Charles & CJ Anderson) RB’s who can catch, and putting Lynch UC 1/3 of the time, blows open a playbook. It also will create a match-up nightmare for defenses. If you’re not excited at the possibilities, check your pulse.
The Ace/One Back set is discussed in greater detail here, but it is simply a single back set that offers an abundance of options for offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to dial up. He can filter through various groupings (See Chart) of 3WR/4WR sets and then go back to a 2TE set. The team’s base set of running plays will be able to be run out of most, if not all of the looks. Personnel can change from 4WR to 2WR/2TE but the same dive play can be run up the gut from any of the looks.
- 11Set 1RB, 1 TE, 3WR with the TE split out.
- 12Set 1RB, 2TE, 2WR with the WRs in a Twins Left look.
- 12Set 1RB, 2TE 2WR with the LTE split out in a Twins look with the X.
- 10Set 1RB, 0TE, 4WR with a Trips Right look.
- 10Set 1RB, 0Te, 4WR with a Trips Left look.
When the Quarterback is under center this season, variations of the Ace set will likely be the primary concepts that are used. Mike McCoy has a history of being flexible, so look for tweaking to add read-option stuff he used with Tebow or meshing concepts from Manning in 2012, it’s easy to see some single back sets with the QB under center, with both 2TE sets and 3WR or 4WR.
Why would a Don Coryell air raid type system that is now in Denver, want to use a formation that would signal a run? Because a huge stable of the quarterback dropping back is the play action pass. Teams think he’s dropping back to hand off for a run, but instead, he keeps it and tosses it deep because the defense sucked up for the run. Or he keeps the ball himself if he’s got wheels. They don’t know what they’re getting because every play starts off looking the same. That’s its greatest asset.
Joe Gibbs, the famed Redskins coach, cut his teeth in the league under Coryell, during the Dan Fouts/Kellen Winslow era. He used that as a stepping stone to the Redskins job, he didn’t have a Dan Fouts, but he had John Riggins (early on) and the Hogs, and he used the single back set and somehow won 3 Super Bowls with 3 Different Quarterbacks over the next decade.
There were times that his QB was in a shotgun, but the majority of what they ran, was from the lone-back sets. There were times he ran it more, there were times he threw it more, but part of the success was the uncertainty and unpredictability it offered at times, though there is a funny story about them running the same play 7-8 times on Dallas one time with Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby telling Randy White here it comes again all the way down the field until Riggins scored. Back when offensive lineman had stones.
West Coast Offense/WCO:
For a West Coast Offense, most of the snaps historically came from under center however, the offense has continued to evolve from Bill Walsh’s base concepts. Coaches have added and meshed other concepts and today quite a bit of it is run from the shotgun as well.
A WCO, quickly, is a scheme that capitalizes on short quick passes, as an alternative to an underperforming running game. . You dink and dunk down the field with runs and short passes and then hit a go type route when the coverage loosens to stop the short. This eats up clock so the opposing offense has less time. If you can score in these slow marches down the field, it’s a good scheme. If you can’t, you just ate up a bunch of clock with nothing to show for it.
- 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Pro Set
- 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Far/Weak (TE/RB Opposite Side)
- 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Near/Strong (TE/RB Same Side)
- 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR FB in a Wing Left position
- 22Set 2RB 2TE 1WR Double Tight
Since offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has stated they will use some concepts and terms used from the last two seasons, you can bet he plans on using UC and the I and quite possibly some boot-action with Bill Musgrave’s WCO background, or else he wouldn’t have kept FB Andy Janovich. The best way to use UC in a spread, is to keep the defense guessing.
The I formation is a formation that every NFL playbook has a chapter on. It is a bit more friendly to the pass/run ratio. It comes with the QB under center and a Fullback and Tailback, sometimes called the I back, behind the QB. It can come in variations that have 3WR, or 3 TE, or 2 of either 1 and one of the other. It’s not exactly as dynamic as the single back set above, but it is still versatile and offers more running options with the pair of backs in the backfield.
- 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR with more of a spread out look.
- 23Set 2 RB 3 TE with a Tight/Heavy look.
- 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR with more of a tight look.
- 22Set 2RB 2TE 1 WR with one TE positioned on the wing.
- 23Set 2RB 3TE 1 WR with a Heavy unbalanced line to the right and the 3TE in a wing on the left.
It’s a big component of a team’s short yardage and goal line package simply because of the fullback. Emmitt Smith was a talented back, but he owes many of his yards to Daryl Johnston his fullback. Johnston was the battering ram that would open holes and occupy defenders for Smith to pick up extra yardage. Often, a FB with be in front of a RB to clear a path. It’s a lot easier if the QB isn’t in his path, which is why in the shotgun, the FB lines up differently. He’s useless if the QB is standing in his way.
Mike McCoy ran quite a bit of I formation in San Diego and we will likely see more of it this time around. And Janovich, spoke about needing to be versatile to stay on the field, and if he can be, then that is a big plus for the offense. If he can be a weapon carrying the ball out of the backfield, then it opens up even more options for the offense, where he could see time in a 2TE set that would allow him to shift back to the I as a fullback.
The following formations are Under Center formations that you will rarely if ever see in the NFL. There is a chance you see the T point 3 in the goal line, but these are mostly used in lower levels of the game.
- T Formation
- Wing T
- Split Back Veer
Each can have variations with players moved around as you have seen with other sets, but these are the general base formations used with them.