There’s an old story about the famous West Coast Offense that was created by Bill Walsh. In the early years of the offense one of the Tight Ends lined up on the wrong side of the formation. Seeing that the Tight End was on the wrong side, the Quarterback told him to quickly get over on the correct side so they could run the play before the play clock expired. The result, the late shift and quick snap (originally designed to beat the play clock) meant that the defense was not able to get aligned and the Tight End was wide open for a Touchdown. This was the moment when coaches began to realize the power of shifting.
Shifting to Create Problems for the Defense
One of the most important things for a defense to do is to get aligned correctly to the offensive formation. Without being aligned correctly coverage, blitzes and stunts don’t matter. This is why defensive coaches will spend their first practice of the week going through the base formations of the offense and the correct ways to align to them. If the offense can get the defenders to scramble to get aligned, the offense immediately has an advantage. If the defense is unable to get aligned correctly or if the defenders are more worried about the alignment instead of their keys, the advantage to the offense gets even bigger.
We base our offense around very simple shifts that cause problems for the defense, while limiting the amount of teaching time for our offense. When we shift we want to manipulate the strength of the offense. Sometimes this means going from a balanced formation to moving our strength into the boundary, other times it means taking the strength from one side of the formation to the other. Either way we are looking to manipulate the defense and get a favorable look.
One of the best formations to shift out of is the formation many people consider Ace. In this formation there is a Tight End and receiver on each side of the formation with a running back directly behind the Quarterback. This presents a balanced formation that the defense must align to which allows the offense to quickly change the strength and gain an advantage over the offense.
Another great formation to shift out of is the Tight End Wing formation. In this formation there is a Tight End aligned on the line and a Wing aligned outside and slightly behind him, on the other side of the formation there are two receivers split out wide. This formation itself is a great formation that forces the defense to account for a two receiver look to the wide side of the formation but also a Tight End and a Wing (normally a second Tight End) to the other side of the formation. This can be a difficult formation to align to because it forces the defense to either set the alignment to the passing strength of the running strength. Our favorite shift out of this formation is to send the Tight End and the Wing over to the side of the formation with the receivers. This leads to the Tight End being ineligible but also creates a huge numbers advantage that can allow the offense to run a variety of run plays.
See Also: Power Pass out of the Diamond Formation
The major rule for shifting is that you want to spend less time on it than the defense will need to spend on it to prepare. If you can make the defensive coaches and players worry about correctly aligning to, and dealing with, your formation and shifts it gives you more time to focus on the execution of your base plays.