Use of Pre-Snap Motion is Up & so is Offensive Production

The Green Bay Packers' use of pre-snap motion is up considerably this season, and it just so happens that their offensive production is as well.

Under the Mike McCarthy offense, motion just wasn't a part of the pre-snap process. The Green Bay Packers lined up, what you see is what you get, and it was up to the receivers, tight ends, and running backs to beat the man in front of them, while Aaron Rodgers did Aaron Rodgers-like things. And for a number of years, that worked. 

However, towards the end of the McCarthy era, the offense grew stagnant. There is certainly no one reason as to why, but as is always the case with football, there are a million contributors. Some of which included Rodgers not looking like the Rodgers that we had seen for the first part of the decade and pass-catchers not getting open as easily. Regardless, the results weren't good. 

Fast forward to the 2020 season, and this Green Bay Packers' offense in Year 2 of the Matt LaFleur system has been one of the most dominant in the NFL through four games. The Packers rank second in yards per game, first in points per game, and first by DVOA. Once again, there are a myriad of reasons behind their success, but one major factor has been LaFleur's exceptional play calling. And unlike in previous years, it all begins with the pre-snap motion.

As I mentioned above, motion was not a part of the McCarthy offense; year after year the Packers ranked near the bottom of the league in this category. Even in Year 1 of the LaFleur system, we didn't see it used all that much as players were still becoming acclimated to the new playbook, and adding motions to the mix creates even more responsibilities to think about along with timing. 

But this year, it is a staple within this offense as Green Bay uses motion on just under 20 percent of their offensive snaps, which is the sixth-highest rate in the league. Admittedly, this was a big adjustment for Rodgers as it was not something that he nor McCarthy cared for (via Packers News):

“For a long time, I didn’t want any motions and Mike didn’t like a lot of motion, either. We just kind of lined up and went, and then as defenses kind of changed tactics, you saw more condensed formations taking off, you saw this offense in other places doing stuff with condensed formations and bunches and fly sweeps and fly motions."

We've heard LaFleur mention numerous times the "illusion of complexity" that he wants this offense to have. Essentially what that means is running similar-looking plays from a variety of formations, and adding in motion only further complicates things for opposing defenses. For one, any adjustments the defense makes tips their hand a bit to Rodgers, and it also forces them to think on their feet much quicker, which can lead to some confusion. 

From an Xs and Os perspective, in an article by Seth Walder, ESPN analysts Dan Orlovsky and Matt Bowden each explained how motion disrupts the defense in the running and passing games:

"[Defensive backs] are responsible for gaps or contain in the run game as well, and that motion can get them [out of the] correct gap," said Orlovsky. Meanwhile, Bowen added, "With pre-snap motion or movement vs. man-coverage defenses, defensive backs have to process with speed to communicate vs. bunch or stack sets, realign to avoid pick/rub concepts and avoid busting calls in the secondary."

While on the surface the concept of motion, which is really just movement before the snap, may seem rudimentary, it does so much for the offense. And according to Rodgers, the Packers don't send a player in motion for the sake of sending a player in motion; every movement has a purpose:

“For us, it is a part of our offense, every play has the possibility, I think, of having motion in it. There isn’t any motion that’s just a motion. Everything has a purpose. It’s all about the pre-snap, the eye discipline and fits and the defensive recognition."

Just as the players have had to adjust to the new playbook, fans have had to adjust to what they're seeing on the field. Long gone are the days of running five-wide expecting the receivers to win their matchups. Now, the running backs and tight ends are more heavily involved as LaFleur uses a wide variety of personnel to create that illusion of complexity, which ultimately schemes players open.

This, in turn, makes life easier for everyone on offense, including QB1, and it all starts with the pre-snap motion, which as Rodgers told reporters, "the motions aren't going anywhere." And they absolutely shouldn't. 

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Born and raised in Green Bay, WI and I still call it home. After my family, watching the Packers, sharing my opinions on the team through my writing and interacting with other fans is my greatest passion. You can find me on Twitter at @Paul_Bretl. 
 

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Comments (11)

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Hematite's picture

October 09, 2020 at 12:31 pm

I'm certainly glad that Rodgers has bought into the motion and "illusion of complexity " in his second year in the system.
He's looking like his MVP self again.

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Archie's picture

October 09, 2020 at 01:14 pm

I describe MLF's offensive scheme as multi-faceted with lots of moving parts, many of which are interchangeable.

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TarynsEyes's picture

October 09, 2020 at 02:24 pm

It's far cry from the cemented in-place statue formations of MM.

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Jaylee's picture

October 09, 2020 at 02:29 pm

It's strange because early on McCarthy did use motion in his offenses. He was also way more multiple with his packages.

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Coldworld's picture

October 09, 2020 at 04:34 pm

Then I think MM thought he had the magic answer. I agree, early MM was much more flexible in many ways but I think paired that down to what he thought was the essence. We all delude ourselves at times.

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nostradanus's picture

October 09, 2020 at 02:39 pm

I’d like to make a motion for even more motion

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JohnnyLogan's picture

October 09, 2020 at 03:16 pm

I'll second the motion.

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CheesyTex's picture

October 09, 2020 at 03:47 pm

Way back in my early '50s high school days, the "man-in-motion" was used to cause defenses to adjust on the fly. In my view, it was just a wrinkle then and it is now.

I would argue that the game just continuously evolves --if the '50's were typified by "3 yards and a cloud of dust", then today's game more closely resembles a blend of chess, finesse, and athleticism. Today there is far more emphasis on scheme and tendencies, and the top offensive minds seem to always be that one step ahead.

It appears to me that LaFleur and #12 are a "marriage made in heaven". Both are cerebral guys that can recognize how to exploit defenses -- they'd eat my lunch at chess -- and can communicate at a high level. And, #12 has the (rare) accompanying tools to take that to the field and deliver.

In 2018 it looked like the Pack were in for a lengthy rebuild and a dry spell. But this 2020 team is exciting to watch, and it has SPEED. Was it was Dick Vermiel who famously said "speed kills"?

Be safe.

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jannes bjornson's picture

October 09, 2020 at 08:28 pm

Bud Wilkinson with the wing tee and motion./double motion then add Sid Gilman to the Pro Game aerial assault and shake and stir with Paul Brown pro set two back looks. Walsh made it more efficient with the timing routes. Le Fleur follows the Masters.

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PhantomII's picture

October 09, 2020 at 10:26 pm

ML has the perfect offense for Rodgers to run. Rodgers is trusting all his weapons to some degree and is spreading it around. Instead of staring down receivers after a drop he has been positively reinforcing them with finger points when they make a great play. Showing Tonyan 3 fingers the last game and keeping everyone including himself up. The biggest thing this offense has done is to a degree dink and dunk a little for first downs with a high degree of success. So many balls thrown out of bounds because nobody was open in the past. That is my single worst gripe over the years. It was the only thing Brady had on him. Now Rodgers is finally in the right system with the right play calls to exploit defenses for first downs and move the chains. Thank you Lord. If we can get the run Defense fixed we will be well on our way if everyone stays healthy.

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Spock's picture

October 10, 2020 at 11:20 am

Paul, Good article (Still the backwards "G" picture, sigh). The one thing I could never understand under MM was his apparent distain for stacking his receivers and using legal "rubs" and not using motion. Meanwhile, the Capers D was getting killed by the same concepts. I always felt it was because the D never practiced against that type of offense. I'm so, so, glad that Arod has bought into MLF's system. This team is just so much FUN to watch on offense!! GPG!

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