Today, the rest of the basic (and not-so-basic) offensive formations (click here for yesterday’s post in case you missed it):
This is just what it sounds like—other than the quarterback, there are no players in the “backfield,” the area behind the line of scrimmage. The quarterback can either be under center or further back, as in the shotgun formation. As you might imagine, this formation is used primarily in passing situations.
When the offense has a short distance to gain, either for a first down or a touchdown, it will often line up with no players in the backfield, or only one player with the quarterback to help block. Often the offense will use extra tight ends because of their strength. Sometimes, the player behind the line of scrimmage with the QB will be an offensive or defensive lineman and is there to block. The play will typically be a hand-off to the running back, or a quarterback “sneak” where the QB keeps the ball and pushes forward through a hole created by the offensive line.
Though this formation results in a running play 99% of the time, it is possible to pass to one of the tight ends, as in two of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowls, where they used linebacker Mike Vrabel as a tight end, and he caught passes for touchdowns.
If you look at the picture below, you’ll see why this is called the “double wing.” The quarterback is under center with one fullback behind him; there is a tight end on each end of the line with additional receivers bookending the line, but stepped slightly behind the line of scrimmage. The result looks like a bird’s wings; this is used often for running plays.
SINGLE SET BACK
The Single Set Back formation leaves just one running back lined up five yards behind the quarterback; the quarterback is under center. The other “skill” players (e.g., wide receivers or tight ends) are lined up along the line of scrimmage. Primarily used for pass plays, this formation can be useful for runs because one defender will have to move out of the center of the field to cover a receiver, so the running back could have more space to run.
The Wildcat formation has been used primarily at the college level, but has gained popularity in the NFL since the Miami Dolphins had a lot of success with it in 2008. You might consider this a type of trick play, but only insofar as it is rare and unexpected. However, once the offense lines up in this formation, the defense can expect certain things to happen. On these plays, the running back takes the place of the quarterback and lines up in the shotgun. The quarterback actually lines up at the line of scrimmage as a receiver, with three or four other receivers; there are usually no players in the back field other than the one running back. The running back takes the snap and either runs with it himself or throws it to a receiver.
Obviously, a team needs a running back with the ability to throw the ball well to use this play. The quarterback might not even run downfield when the play starts, but some QBs, like Michael Vick in Philadelphia, have enough talent to be treated seriously by the defense as a potential receiver.