This is the point of the year where coaches have the time to do some self-scouting and figure out ways they can improve their systems.
On offense there are a number of techniques teams can utilize to give their players better odds of producing.
A team might look to keep the opponent off balance by constantly changing personnel groups. Take the San Francisco 49ers who run one of the most effective offensive schemes in the league. Sharp Football Stats keeps track of personnel groupings. They note that the 49ers were constantly changing the players on the field in 2019. 33% of their plays were run with 2 running backs, 1 tight end, and 2 wide receivers. 30% were run with 1 running back, 1 tight end, and 3 wide receivers. 21% were run with 1 running back, 2 tight ends, and 2 wide receivers.
A team might change its approach from week to week depending on the opponent. Against a defense with weak corners you might play more 3 receiver formations. Against a poor run stopping team it might be time to get heavier players on the field with double tight end or running back looks.
Another technique for the offense is utilizing presnap motion. The benefits of motion are numerous.
It can be a coverage identifier for a quarterback.
When you send a player in motion, and a defender follows him across the formation it is a sign of man coverage.
That’s the reason a defender is following him. The guy in motion is his man. Conversely, nobody following a motion player is a sign of zone coverage.
You might notice sometimes motion gets more than one defender to move.
Most defenders have more than one assignment on a play. They have one job if it is a run play and another if it is a pass play. A defense must make sure every gap is assigned to a defender if the offense runs the ball. (A gap is the space between and outside offensive linemen.)
Motion might create a defensive shift where one safety drops down to the box, another safety drops deep, and a linebacker shifts laterally.
This ensures all gaps remain filled.
These defensive movements allow there to be safety help shaded to the side with more wide receivers. Once the receiver goes in motion, that side of the field changes. The shift allows the defensive formation to remain structurally sound against the pass while also ensuring all run gaps remain filled.
Of course whenever you force the opponent to adjust, there can always be miscommunication. It is never a bad thing to put stress on a defense. Sometimes it creates defensive failure. Take this play. Watch how Denver shifts after presnap motion by the Jets. In particular note how the gap between Eric Tomlinson (83) and Kelvin Beachum (68) goes from occupied to unoccupied after the motion which sets up a huge run.
When stress creates failure, it is a beautiful thing for an offense.
Motion can also get your receiver a free release from the line of scrimmage since it is virtually impossible to get a good jam on a moving target.
It can also help you get a matchup you want. Take this play where motion forces the cornerbacks to switch their assignments as the ball is snapped.
Motion has so many practical uses that I could go on, but I will stop here.
(Note: Not all of these actually played out the way exactly they were presented in the article. They were just good visual examples to display the concepts.)
I don’t think it is necessarily true that teams need to heavily change personnel groupings or utilize motion to have a well schemed offense.
The personnel grouping issue touches on one of the conflicts in offensive game planning. How much do you want to go after what the defense does poorly, and how much do you want to focus on the things you do well? There is something to be said for simplicity. Put your best eleven guys on the field as frequently as possible. Let them work together nonstop and master your team’s basic concepts.
Changing personnel groupings and motion also slow down the pace of an offense. Substituting players on and off the field takes time. The defense also must be given an opportunity to substitute. Motion also takes up time. Neither of these things allow you to get up to the ball quickly and just snap it.
Playing at a fast pace has its own advantages. Against an offense that plays with tempo, defenders must quickly identify their assignments and and potential wrinkles that could create mismatches if unnoticed such as a wide receiver lined up in the backfield. There is less time to diagnose and correct it when a defender lines up in the wrong place.
Against tempo defenses also a frequently forced to get more vanilla. There just isn’t enough time before the snap to communicate a complex call to all eleven defenders and get everybody aligned correctly.
None of this speaks to how a fast paced offense can simply make defenders tired and more prone to mistakes.
Offensive pace is directly in conflict with motion and multiple personnel groupings. If you want to substitute guys in and out of the lineup and use motion, opportunities to go with faster tempo are reduced.
These approaches all have their strengths and weaknesses. I won’t say which path offenses should take. I will say offenses that don’t take any of these paths are leaving something on the table.
That brings me to the Jets. There wasn’t much variety to their personnel groupings last year. They lined up with 1 running back, 1 tight end, and 3 wide receivers 65% of the time. Only six teams used their most favored personnel grouping more frequently. They also had one of the lowest rates of motion on offense in the league.
You might think that simplicity would help them go faster, but the offense also lagged in pace finishing 21st according to Football Outsiders. Even adjusting for game situations, (Teams with big leads go slower on offense to try and run the clock out while the opposite is true for teams behind.) the Jets were only 16th. In the first half of games (which generally includes scripted plays teams are able to get comfortable practicing during the week) the Jets were only the 26th fastest offense. If the Jets aren’t going to take time-consuming measures like constantly changing players or utilizing motion, they really shouldn’t be in the middle of the pack to below average in tempo.
This is an opportunity for improvement. A Jets offense that either plays faster or utilizes different personnel groupings and motion would be a better Jets offense. My hope is the coaching staff will take notes in the days and weeks ahead as it reviews the scheme and prepares for 2020.