Using Motion to Create Running Lanes
There are many elements to a running game that can make it successful. The use of motion is an often-overlooked factor. However, it’s one that can take a rushing attack to the next level.
Few coaches around the NFL do a better job of creating running lanes than 49ers Head Coach, Kyle Shanahan. He perennially has one of the most, if not the most, versatile running schemes in the league, using everything at his disposal to create favorable matchups and blocking angles. Motion is one of those tactics that he leans on regularly to generate successful running plays.
Take this play from the 49ers’ 2019 Divisional Playoff win against the Vikings as an example.
Here, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne initially motioned from left to right across the formation. This created a 3×1 alignment. The Vikings responded by having the safety over Bourne follow him to get more defensive backs to the 3-receiver side. The strong-side linebacker then traded places with that safety:
However, Bourne quickly changed directions and sprinted back in motion to the left behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. This time, the safety did not follow Bourne. Instead, he stayed where he was, and the linebacker to the weak side kicked out to account for Bourne’s motion:
Minnesota likely did this to keep their defenders in position because the 49ers often use this type of motion right before the snap.
However, the damage was done. The motion left the Vikings with just 6 men in the box and it forced them to replace a linebacker inside with a smaller safety. The 49ers then ran the ball right at him:
Most linebackers wouldn’t jump out of the hole like that to avoid blockers. Tremendous design by Shanahan.
Below is another great example. This play was from the 2021 season and was also against the Vikings (Shanahan clearly had a good understanding of how Minnesota’s defense would respond to motion).
Before the snap, wide receiver Deebo Samuel motioned across the formation, getting Minnesota’s linebackers to shift to the motion side (Pay attention to how Anthony Barr (#55) shifted from the B-Gap to the A-Gap):