The Biggest Lie Defensive Coaches Are Telling You About Shifts And Motions

It’s time to get off the fence about adding more shifts and motions to your offense.

While Defensive Coaches may say movement won’t affect them, it’s not exactly true. Not the kind of pre-snap movement I’m going to tell you about.

Offense is about deception and confusion.

When a defense doesn’t know what play is coming, they can’t cheat and if they guess wrong, they get beat. When teams know or can predict highly what’s going to happen, everything is harder for the offense.

Ex. Running the ball for 1/2 a yard on the goal line is a lot tougher then 1st and 10 on the -20.

Defenses are all designed to do the same thing:

  1. Identify the offensive strength based on the TE or # of receivers to a side.
  2. Line up according to the formation surface that is presented so that all gaps are defended.
  3. Execute their assignment according to the defense that is called.

Ex #2: A linebacker has the playside “A” gap if the play is a run or the middle zone if it is a pass.

Now as an offensive coordinator, you could make this easy for the defense by taking your sweet old time lining up and getting set.

Or you could make it difficult by making the defense think about recognition.

Most offenses we tend to see, especially at the high school level, make it pretty easy.  They don’t have a whole lot of formation variety and don’t do much shifting or motioning.

So you could add a bunch of formations and start doing some shifting and motioning, but that doesn’t mean you are making it all that much harder for the defense.

Unless the defense is terrible, most teams can pretty quickly adjust to shifting. Shifting requires a “set” time before you can snap the ball anyway.

Motions are limited to moving one person at a time (and only 4 backs are even eligible to move – but not simultaneously)

Using these movements alone may not be enough to challenge a good defense into confusion.

But what if you do more?

Doing more then this has been reserved for mostly “trick” plays and rarely is used frequently throughout an offense.

Here’s what defensive coordinators will have to spend the most time on:

  1. Formation recognition – especially unbalanced formations.
  2. Ineligible receivers – notorious for distracting defenders because it requires a lot of communication.
  3. Adjusting assignments in pass game with unbalanced receiver sets like 3×1.
  4. Adjusting gap run assignments when teams add or remove run gaps.
  5. Doing all this efficiently so that they are not out of place or confused when the ball is snapped.

Enter The Matt Canada Offense:

Bursting on the scene with his win over #1 ranked Clemson in 2016 as the Offensive Coordinator at Pitt, it became obvious that his offensive shifts and motions could be very useful to matchup against defenses that were better but would have to handle a lot of confustion.

So what did he come up with?

To truly understand, you have to view his offense from a defensive perspective.

Canada combines the shifts and motions into highly complex and orchestrated movements.

He starts with shifting anywhere from 1 to 10 players before the snap. Offensive Lineman can move as long as their hand is not down.

Shifts are often very unusual and may even involve players moving to “illegal” positions.

ex. Offensive Tackle moves off the ball to a Running Back position.

Canada also combines shifts up to three times. So a team’s movement and offensive front are continuously changing.

The possibilities are only limited by the amount of time before the ball must be snapped.

Once they are in their final formation, a player then usually goes in motion. Often the motion has two directions and crosses the QB or formation twice.

This can draw the defenses awareness to the motion while at the same time players are still calling and identifying their changing responsibilities or each plays possibilities.

This is truly a new level of confusion presented to a defense.

Just one defensive screwup could pay huge rewards for the offense.

At the very least, seeing this much movement can cause defenses to play more timid. (It’s like a hurry up no huddle offense without the hurry up no huddle)

Good for him. But that’s too complicated for us.

You might be saying that because Canada has the time, personnel, athletes and everything else he needs to make it work, we don’t have the fastest learners.

We’ve all experienced this perspective where we say to each other, “I’d like to just get them to line up properly.”

While that’s definitely true, in my experience, by the last few games of the season, I’m surprised at how much they have learned.

What is complicated is when you run 50 different plays and then try to add a lot of pre-snap movement, instead of running 3 core plays that you can dress up to look different line 50 different plays.

So let’s get started.

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