Offensive line strategies in football

Random thoughts:

  1. Has any offense ever experimented with using more than 5 offensive linemen - adding an extra guard or tackle for some plays, for added blocking/protection? I have never seen it done.

  2. Why do offensive linemen fall back immediately in pass protection? Seems that that instantly tips the defense off that it’s a passing play, and also allows the pass rushers to get closer to the QB. If they kept pushing hard up front, they could fool the defense for a second into thinking it’s a run, while also keeping the DLs further from the QB.

  3. Why do defensive linemen rotate frequently in and out to stay fresh, but not offensive linemen?

Then you haven’t been watching closely.

The Pats tend to use Gronk as a blocking TE, and they carry a true fullback but many teams are putting an extra lineman in for different packages.

You probably have. Every time the ref announces something like “number 71 is reporting as an eligible receiver” it means they are adding an extra offensive lineman.

Every time the tight end stays back to block (which is often) instead of releasing on a pattern, he’s acting as an extra offensive lineman. Every time a fullback is used and stays back, he’s an extra blocker, too.

  1. Yes, usually on short running plays. A couple times a game, depending on the team and coach, you’ll see 6 or 7 linemen on the field for a short run or goal line play. It’s not common, because it takes speed off the field. You never want to end up too big and thus overly slow. Slow people can’t catch fast people.
    2A) If an offensive lineman goes forward and ends up more than a yard past the line of scrimmage when the pass is thrown, he runs the chance of being called for an illegal receiver downfield penalty.
    2B) Stepping back gives the offensive line more time to react. Defensive lineman, outside of possibly the nose tackle, are generally MUCH faster and more athletic than their counterparts on offense. Stepping back reduces the possibility of a defensive end slipping straight between two blockers and running unopposed to the quarterback. For any quarterback worth their salt, it doesn’t matter how close the defenders are to him, as long as he has the room to throw the ball. The line stepping back gives him an extra second to do so. The possibility of momentary confusion doesn’t outweigh that second of protection.
    3A) Rushing the passer is more difficult and tiring than blocking pass rushers. This generally holds true through the entire defense, but you’ll notice it the most with the big guys up front. The offense is taking action, the defense is reacting to that. That takes a lot out of you.
    3B) Offensive line success is predicated on stability and continuity. The offensive line is a unit unto itself, and works on the premise of knowing exactly how the guy next to you is going to handle any and every situation. You don’t just rotate bodies in and out of that, because these guys are practicing every day on how they deal with everything, together. The defensive line doesn’t have constraint, so they basically work as “You beat your guy, I’ll beat mine, and we’ll meet at the quarterback”. Even defending against the run, it’s more “Beat my guy or at least hold him up so my other guy can get into the hole” than “Jim-Bob is going to follow the pulling guard, with Mike coming down from the safety and Ray is going to sweep in from the weak side so Jay can get through untouched”.

3C) As positional play in football has become increasingly specialized, there are some defensive linemen who specialize in pass rushing (and may not be as good on run defense), and vice-versa. Defensive coaches will try to load up the line with big, strong, heavy guys to clog the run lanes on likely running downs (i.e., third and one), and with faster, more agile rushers on likely passing downs (i.e., third and long).


2C) The concept of the “draw play” is to fool the defense into thinking that it’s a passing play, by disguising the initial development of the play as a pass (including having the offensive lineman drop back into pass blocking stances), and then handing off the ball to a running back.

As Chisquirrel notes, the idea doesn’t work well in reverse, due to the rules about offensive linemen not being allowed to be downfield when a pass is thrown.

  1. There was the flying wedge, most famously used by Harvard in 1892 then banned two seasons later because it was so dangerous.

Why don’t the rules allow for offensive linemen (or anyone) to be as far downfield as they like, as long as they are not allowed to catch a forward pass?

We actually discussed this a bit in a thread here a couple of weeks ago.

The Seahawks actually turned an offensive lineman into a tight end last year so they could have an extra lineman for running plays.

They did use him once as a receiver with hilarious results.

Yes, he tripped over the turf because he’s a TEINO (Tight End In Name Only). :smiley:

So when its time for a field goal or a punt do you put 10 offensive linesmen in front (or raid the defensive linemen for additional blocking guys)?

Just as a reminder, during a field goal one player (the “long snapper”) tosses the ball backward to a second player (the “holder”) who then holds the ball vertically for a third player (the “kicker”) to try to kick the ball through the goalposts. So that’s 2 players that have to be some distance behind the line of scrimmage, there are only 9 players left.

Typically in the NFL you have the long snapper in the middle with four players on either side, as in this picture:

That photo is from this article which talks about how to protect a field goal (or point after touchdown) kick attempt:

You can only have seven players on the line of scrimmage for any offensive play (including a field goal attempt or a punt), but on a field goal, other than the kicker, the holder, and the long snapper, everyone else’s job is purely blocking. This means that you have two “blockers” who aren’t on the line of scrimmage; they’re usually at each end of the formation, and their job is to block the “edge rushers” on the kick-block team who will be trying to race in from the sides to block the kick.

I’m not an expert on exactly who winds up on various special teams, but I would wager that the blockers are more likely to be players who would otherwise play on offense (i.e., offensive linemen, tight ends, fullbacks) than defenders, as they’re more accustomed to blocking techniques.

Here’s an article which shows what a kick protection formation looks like.

Great minds think alike, Atamasama. :slight_smile: