Under Center Concepts: I-Formation, Ace Set, Pro-set – Football 101

I-Formations

In this installment on Offensive Formations, we tackle formations where the play starts with the QB under center.  Those branch out into various base formations like the I-Formation, Ace Sets, and Pro Set formations the West Coast Offense (WCO) was built on.

Before we get into each of the three, there are some concepts and benefits that each of the three share.

Unlike a RB/FB being handed the pigskin in a shotgun formation, he’s not getting the ball at a standstill.  He’s already moving when he gets it, which gives him more of a head of steam when he hits the LOS. Harder to stop a moving train.

The quarterback and back move towards each other, and as soon the hand off is complete, each head in separate directions. This way the QB isn’t in the way for the back. In addition, if the QB is scanning the field because he’s pulled the ball down and about to throw a play-action pass, he doesn’t want the back there.

It’s a dance that requires practice to get the timing right and handoffs must look the same as his fake handoffs, each and every time.

In a recent trend, some quarterbacks spend the majority, if not all of their college career in the shotgun/pistol formations, so NFL QB coaches are having to teach, and to an extent, waste time on teaching concepts. Ones that should have been drilled into their head from when he first started playing the game. Therefore, there is an adjustment to taking snaps for some.

Ace/One Back/Single Back/Lone Back:

The Ace/One Back set is discussed in greater detail here, but it is simply a single back set that offers an abundance of options for offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to dial up. He can filter through various groupings (See Chart below) of  3WR/4WR sets and then go back to a 2TE set.

The team’s base set of running plays will be able to be run out of most, if not all of the looks. Personnel can change from 4WR to 2WR/2TE but the same dive play can be run up the gut from any of the looks.
Ace set formations

  1. 11Set 1RB, 1 TE, 3WR with the TE split out.
  2. 12Set 1RB, 2TE, 2WR with the WRs in a Twins Left look.
  3. 12Set 1RB, 2TE 2WR with the LTE split out in a Twins look with the X.
  4. 10Set 1RB, 0TE, 4WR with a Trips Right look.
  5. 10Set 1RB, 0Te, 4WR with a Trips Left look.

2-digit offensive formation chartWhen Blake Borltes is under center this season, variations of the Ace set will likely be the primary concepts that are used.

A huge stable of the quarterback dropping back is the play action pass. Even teams that use an Air Coryell system with the QB is shotgun will use the PAP. Teams think he’s dropping back to hand off for a run, but instead, he keeps it and tosses it deep because the defense sucked up for the run. Or he keeps the ball himself if he’s got wheels. They don’t know what they’re getting because every play starts off looking the same. That’s its greatest asset.

West Coast Offense/WCO: 

For a West Coast Offense, most of the snaps historically came from under center however, the offense has continued to evolve from Bill Walsh’s base concepts. Coaches have added and meshed other concepts and today quite a bit of it is run from the shotgun as well.

A WCO, quickly, is a scheme that capitalizes on short quick passes, as an alternative to an underperforming running game. They dink and dunk down the field with runs and short passes and then hit a go type route when the coverage loosens to stop the short. This eats up clock so the opposing offense has less time. If a team can score in these slow marches down the field, it’s a good scheme. If they can’t, they just ate up a bunch of clock with nothing to show for it.
bill Walsh west coast offense formation

  1. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Pro Set
  2. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Far/Weak (TE/RB Opposite Side)
  3. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR Near/Strong (TE/RB Same Side)
  4. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR FB in a Wing Left position
  5. 22Set 2RB 2TE 1WR Double Tight

A coach can use boot-action in a spread to employ a FB and keep a defense guessing.

I Formation:
The I formation is a formation that every NFL playbook has a chapter on.  It is a bit more friendly to the pass/run ratio. The I-formation comes with the QB under center and a Fullback and Tailback, sometimes called the I back, behind the QB. It can come in variations that have 3WR, or 3 TE, or 2 of either 1 and one of the other. It’s not exactly as dynamic as the single back set above, but it is still versatile and offers more running options with the pair of backs in the backfield.
I-Formations

  1. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR with more of a spread out look.
  2. 23Set 2 RB 3 TE with a Tight/Heavy look.
  3. 21Set 2RB 1TE 2WR  with more of a tight look.
  4. 22Set 2RB 2TE 1 WR with one TE positioned on the wing.
  5. 23Set  2RB 3TE 1 WR with a Heavy unbalanced line to the right and the 3TE in a wing on the left.

It’s a big component of a team’s short yardage and goal line package simply because of the fullback. They are the battering ram that open holes and occupy defenders for half/tail backs to pick up extra yardage. Often, a FB with be in front of a RB to clear a path. It’s a lot easier if the QB isn’t in his path, which is why in the shotgun, the FB lines up differently. He’s useless if the QB is standing in his way.

 

Ace Set: a staple in every offense.

ace set

The Ace Set is a common name for an offensive formation that uses one running back. It is run with the QB under center. The running back generally lines up behind the QB but can be staggered off to one side.

Each of the generic sets shown  are variations of the Ace Set, which are also known as single back sets, lone back sets and obviously the 1-back set.  These sets have been utilized in a lot of proficient offenses from Joe Gibbs running it with the Hogs in Washington, to more pass happy versions utilized by the top quarterbacks over the last two decades . Each team has variations of it as staples in their offenses.
Ace set formations

  1. 3WR/1TE set with a four-wide look
  2. 2WR/2TE with the 2WR in a Twins left look
  3. 2WR/2TE with the LTE and X in a Twins look
  4. 4WR Trips right look
  5. 4WR Trips left look

ace set

6.   3WR Twins on the right

7.   3WR with the Y in a wing/slot opposite the TE to even up the formation

8.   2TE/2WR

9.   4WR with 3WR in a bunch/trips set to the left

10.  4TE Heavy set

The Ace Set is a very dynamic formation system since it allows the receivers to line up multiple places, giving the defense various looks. However, they can run the same routes, same play same call, just based on the various formation and where they are positioned.
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11.  3WR/1TE with 2WR in a tight wing formation on the right hand side

12.  3WR/1TE with the back offset to the left and 4 receivers on the left hand side of the offense

13.  3WR/ 1TE with the TE/Z stacked in a “Queens” look and the back is offset to the right

14.  4WR and TE in the back field

15.  2TE/WR with the back offset to the right. The TE/WR are stacked in a “Queens” look.