MHR University - Weighted Formations

 

A weighted formation is an offensive formation that has two TEs on the same side, or two WRs on the same side.  Often, these formations are called "twins", such as "twin TEs" or "twin WRs".

These formations are designed to do several things, and we'll take a look at each.  Among the things that weighted formations do:

  • They give the illusion to the defense that one side of the field is more likely to be the offensive target,
  • They attempt to confuse the defense (since defenses are almost always symetricalin an attempt to cover both sides of the field),
  • They can lead to motion shifts that can further confuse the defense,
  • And they can exploit mis-matches against particular players.

Let's take a more in-depth look at these four points, as well as defensive counters.

Assault on Symmetry

 

Let's say you are a defensive lineman or LB.  You see twin TEs on the strong side of the field, but you are assigned to the weak side.  If you were assigned to zone the weak side, you just do your thing.  But what if you are supposed to man a second TE, or the FB.  Do you now go over to the strong side "over" your assignment (which means "lined up in front" of your assignment, target, or principal)?

At the lower levels of football (including HS) the answer is yes.  We want the players at the HS and JR.H levels to keep it simple.  But at the college and pro levels, things get more difficult.

For example, by allowing the WLB to just automatically line up on the weak side, we've already signaled that the WLB isn't in zone.  Worse, if the play is a running play, the WLB is now prepared to cover the TE, who is going to hit the WLB with a run block.  Had enough?  What if the play is a run, and goes to the weak side?  There's no WLB to cover now.

The offense can come to the line in twins, or they can motion a TE to the other side to create a weighted formation.  This causes even more confusion.

All of these things can be solved easily by a defensive coordinator.  However, his players are going to have a rougher time.  The players are often catching their breath, feeling some pain, still re-living the last play in their heads, and pumped full of adrenaline (which narrows the players' thoughts).  They have to think at "game speed".  Besides, the DC has notes and a clipboard; the players have to keep everything in their heads.

At the HS level, coaches drill simple concepts into their players.  They'll also have a few plays that are more complex, just to trip up opposing teams.  However, at the college and pro levels, even the simplest plays feature layers of complexity that are well beyond what one sees in HS.

Because there are so many possibilities out of such a formation, the defense needs to cover the whole field while presenting disguises of their own.  These disguises place players in different zones (to jump passing lanes), and to fool the offense from telling the difference between man and zone coverages.

For example, at the pro level, if the offense presents "twin TEs strongside", we might vary the role of the WLB.  He might stay on the weakside (and zone), or stay on the weakside and man the RB.  How do the other players then know what to do?  Well, here comes the pro level complexity...

In our example, the MLB will determine the adjustment.  If he takes two steps back, he may be signaling that he has dropped into zone.  This means that the WLB needs to man the RB, and the FS needs to shift further to the weakside to contain any runs to the weakside.  The SS may get the assignment to cover the outermost TE (now the TE can't surprise him with a runblock because he's too far back).  The innermost TE is always the least likely player to go out for a pass (in twins), so he either goes uncovered or is rushed. 

In that example, several players have to know to check the MLB's position whenever the opponent presents twin TEs, and to know what to do.  Complex enough?  Well, at the pro level, you can't do this every time or the offense will catch on (not the players so much, but the assistants studying the game from the booth level).  A defense might run this approach against twins two or three times, then switch to another plan.  Each player on the defense has to be prepared for several scheme changes during the course of a game, and has to have them memorized before each game.  Football really is a thinking man's game.

 

Man in Motion

 

Man in motion (MIM) is used for several reasons.  A team can line up in a singleback formation with TEs on both sides, then quickly motion a TE to the other side to create a weighted formation.  In the example we used above, the defense had to react quickly when the offense showed up in twin TEs.  But the defense is under even more strain if they are lined up to counter a formation, and then a MIM changes the formation into a twin TE set.  Now they have to remember the counters for a different formation.  (Are you starting to see why we don't subject HS players to this level of memorization?)

MIMs are very common in twin TE and WR sets.  They often create weighted formations or switch from twins to a balanced formation.

From an earlier article I did that had a portion devoted to MIMs...

One example of coordinators getting a read is using "man in motion".  There are many reasons to put a man in motion, and a future University article will probably go in that direction.  Sometimes a MIM is used to place a TE where he can block a rush (based on a tactical read), or to trick a team into shifting the defense to the wrong place.  Maybe the TE is moving out to catch instead of block.  In the case of a receiver, it may be to take advantage of a weakness in a defense.  When RBs shift (either th HB or FB) it may signal an elaborate run blocking set up, or a switch between pass blocking and going out for a screen.  But a MIM is not always what it appears to be!  Sometimes it is used to get a read on the defense.

One of the favorite tricks in the bag of an advanced OC is to use MIM to get a read on the defense.  Consider some of these reads that one can gain from a motion.

     1.  If a player goes in motion, and his "cover" doesn't move with him, the cover is in zone.  Continuing the motion across the field, the motion player can also force other players on the defense to stand or move and clue the coordinator into who zones and who doesn't on certain plays.

     2.  A MIM also tells a defense if the defense is using MAN-1 or MAN-2 coverage.  This has nothing to do with double coverage, and sometimes an uninformed sportswriter makes the mistake of thinking MAN-2 means such.  In fact, there are two ways a defensive coordinator uses man coverage.  Let's explore this in more detail.

Man-1 is a simple "man on man" coverage.  If my TE motions to the other side of the line, his cover (let's say it's the SS) follows him across all of the way.  AH!  But if the defensive coordinator uses MAN-2, it means the defensive players switch off coverage as the TE moves across. 

This is rarer and more advanced, but works for some schemes and situations.  Let's say the TE is in motion from the strong side to the weakside.  As he moves across, the strong safety follows him to a point.  When the TE reaches the SAM, perhaps the SS drops back into zone, and the SAM now follows (and covers) the TE.  As they pass the MLB, the SAM moves back to his original assignment, and covers (let's say) the FB, and the MLB now move with and covers the TE.  The defensive players call verbaly to assure that everyone knows when the assignment is handed off.

The read you can get from determining MAN-1 versus MAN-2 are huge, but take some time to develop on the sideline.  Perhaps the verbal handoff in a MAN-2 scheme is weak between a couple of defensive players, and the OC can advise the QB to time the snap count to "snap" at the precise moment the two (poorly coordinated) defensive players switch the assignment.  Also, the read can help the coordinator figure out exactly what kind of plays and assignments come from certain formations in certain "down and distance" situations. 

There are many other applications, but those are just some of the reads you can get just from a man on motion.  Yes, sometimes a MIM is called for the sole purpose of getting a read, and not for an advantage on the play.

As you can see, weighted formations aren't just formations in their own right, they are designed to make the defense make choices.  As the number of choices increase, so does the chance of error.

When presented with weighted formations, coaches at the HS level should keep their counters simple.  At the collegiate and pro levels, defensive coordinators have to balance simplicity against the level of complexity that an offense can throw at them.  Only a strong combination of athleticism and game intelligence can counter plays at the higher levels.

Of course, some twins are more pleasant to deal with...

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