Man in motion

What is the Definition of Man in Motion in American Football?

Man in motion is a widely used offensive strategy in American football that aims to create confusion or gain a strategic advantage before the snap. The term refers to a player, typically in the backfield, who moves laterally to the line of scrimmage just before the ball is snapped. The proper execution of this technique can help teams create advantageous matchups, keep defenses guessing, and potentially open up the field for big plays.

Though the concept of a man in motion has been around for decades, its modern usage became popularized thanks to innovative football minds like Joe Gibbs. Coaches and players have used this tactic in various ways across a multitude of offensive schemes, ultimately allowing teams to exploit defensive weaknesses and enhancing the creativity of their playbooks. Understanding the role of the man in motion, as well as the governing rules and regulations, is crucial to comprehending the intricacies of American football.

Key Takeaways

  • Man in motion refers to an offensive player moving laterally to the line of scrimmage before the snap.
  • Proper execution of the man in motion can lead to advantageous matchups and keep defenses guessing.
  • Rules and regulations ensure fair play and limit the potential for penalties, such as illegal motion.

Man in Motion: Definition

A man in motion is a term used in American football to describe an offensive player who moves laterally along the line of scrimmage just before the snap. This strategic movement aims to evade or confuse the defense right before the play begins. By the time the snap is made, the player in motion must come to a stop and face the defense to avoid a penalty for illegal motion.

In gridiron football, motion refers to the movement of an offensive player at the time of the snap. One player lined up in the backfield may be in motion, provided that they are moving parallel to or away from the line of scrimmage. No player is permitted to be moving toward the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped, and all other players must be stationary.

The modern man in motion concept was brought to fame by Joe Gibbs in the 1980s as he used it to double-team Lawrence Taylor, showcasing its effectiveness in creating strategic advantages.

It’s essential for coaches and players to understand the difference between a motion and a shift when executing legal motions. A shift occurs when all players in motion come to a stop before the snap, allowing for multiple players to move before a play. In contrast, a legal motion involves only one player moving and coming to a stop before the snap.

In summary, a man in motion adds an element of surprise and strategy to an offensive play in American football, challenging the defense’s ability to anticipate the play.

Rules and Regulations

Pre-Snap Movement

In American Football, a man in motion refers to a player, typically a wide receiver or running back, who moves laterally to the line of scrimmage before the snap. This pre-snap movement is intended to create mismatches and confuse the defense. It can also allow the offense to identify the defensive scheme and make necessary adjustments. However, certain restrictions apply to the player in motion to ensure fairness and prevent confusion on the field.


Players in motion must adhere to the following rules:

  • Only one player may be in motion at the time of the snap.
  • The player in motion must not be an offensive lineman.
  • The player in motion must align themselves at least one yard behind the line of scrimmage.
  • If a player in motion moves towards the line of scrimmage (forward) before the snap, they must come to a complete stop and reset before the ball is snapped.

By following these restrictions, a man in motion can provide a strategic advantage for the offense without violating the rules of the game and causing penalties. It is important for teams to understand and abide by these rules to ensure fair play and create exciting offensive schemes.

Offensive Strategies


One primary aspect of a man in motion in American football is to create misdirection on the offensive side of the ball. By moving a player, typically a wide receiver or running back, along the line of scrimmage just before the snap, the offense can attempt to deceive the defense and create confusion. The man in motion must come to a stop and face the defense before the ball is snapped to avoid a penalty for illegal motion.

The use of motion helps to keep the defense guessing, making it more challenging for them to diagnose the upcoming play. Misdirection caused by motion can lead to open gaps in the defense, allowing the offense to exploit these mismatches and gain significant yardage.

Creating Matchup Advantages

Another benefit of utilizing a man in motion in American football offensive strategies is to create matchup advantages for the offense. By shifting a player to a different position within the formation before the snap, an offense can force the defense to adjust their coverage and alignment in response.

This pre-snap movement can result in more favorable matchups for the offense, such as a faster wide receiver matched up against a slower linebacker, or a running back with receiving skills positioned against a less agile defender. These matchup advantages can provide opportunities for the offense to exploit weaknesses in the defense and increase the potential for successful offensive plays.

To summarize, a man in motion in American football serves as a useful tool for offensive strategies, focusing on misdirection and creating matchup advantages. This tactic keeps the defense on their toes and allows the offense to exploit weaknesses for successful plays.

Defensive Response

Adjusting Coverage

Defensive teams must adapt their coverage strategies in response to a man in motion. Recognizing the offensive player’s movement, defenders can shift their formation or adjust individual assignments to maintain balance. For example, a defender may follow the motioning player across the formation, signaling man-to-man coverage. Alternatively, the defense may choose to maintain their zone coverage, passing off responsibility for the motioning player to another defender within their respective zones.

In some cases, defensive coordinators may choose to mix coverage schemes to create confusion for the offense. This can involve defenders switching roles mid-play or zones morphing into man-to-man coverage. Successfully adapting to the man in motion ultimately requires clear communication among defensive players and a solid understanding of the team’s defensive schemes.

Disrupting Timing

Another key defensive response to the man in motion is to disrupt the timing of offensive plays. Defenders can achieve this by altering their alignments, pressures, or techniques. For instance, a defense can:

  • Press and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage, interrupting their routes and delaying their movement into the play.
  • Use stunts, twists, or delayed blitzes by defensive linemen or linebackers to disrupt the quarterback’s rhythm and force hurried decisions.
  • Implement disguised coverages or show pre-snap movement to confuse the offense and force adjustments that may disrupt the designed play.

Each of these tactics aims to hinder the offensive player’s ability to leverage the man in motion effectively, reducing the impact of this deceptive technique. Ultimately, a well-prepared defense can minimize the advantages gained by the man in motion, forcing the offense to rely on other tactics or strategies.

Famous Examples

One of the most well-known examples of a man in motion comes from the 1980s when Joe Gibbs, the legendary head coach of the Washington Redskins, effectively utilized the tactic. Gibbs introduced the modern man in motion strategy to double-team dominant linebacker Lawrence Taylor, which proved to be a significant game-changer.

Another famous example of the man in motion strategy involves the San Francisco 49ers during the 1980s and 1990s under the leadership of head coaches Bill Walsh and George Seifert. They frequently employed the man in motion concept, using receivers like Jerry Rice and John Taylor to create mismatches and confusion among opposing defenses. This tactic played a significant role in the 49ers becoming a dominant force during that era, winning multiple Super Bowls.

In recent years, many NFL teams have continued to use the man in motion strategy effectively. For instance, the Kansas City Chiefs under head coach Andy Reid have become well-known for their creative offensive schemes, utilizing the motion of players like Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce to create mismatches and keep defenses guessing. This innovative approach has helped the Chiefs maintain a high-powered offense that has consistently performed at the top of the league.