Jet motion has become a staple of some of the league’s top offenses. The likes of Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan have made the motion a near foundational aspect of their offenses. According to ESPN, the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers rank second and third in plays with motion at the snap through Week 7 in 2020.
As offenses across the league have started to implement more motion before the snap, defenses have slightly started to catch on. Motion presents multiple benefits for the offense and conflicts for the defense. Basic motion can allow an offense to identify the defense’s coverage intentions but the jet motion specifically can get a defense flowing in one direction, only to be hit by the offense going the other.
For McVay and Shanahan to continue to be ahead of the curve, they needed to adapt what could be done off jet motion and both have done that this season, especially over the past few weeks.
Establish the run
This motion was a huge success for the Rams in their 2018 run but the problem eventually became that the threat of the motion was empty. That was especially the case as the Rams struggled in 2019. Defenses stopped overreacting to the motion man and that kept coverage responsibilities intact and kept gaps covered against the run.
The Rams are back to getting the motion man involved in the running game and it’s been highly successful. Through seven weeks, they’re only two attempts shy of their 2019 attempt total and the Rams are outpacing 2018’s efficiency, per Sports Info Solutions charting.
Rams Jet Sweep Runs, 2018-2020
|Year||Att||Yards (YPC)||First Down %|
This year, the Rams have accounted for 15% of the league’s jet sweep rushing attempts. That high volume has still put them ahead of how the rest of the league has produced on those handoffs
Rams Jet Sweep Runs vs Rest of NFL, 2020
|Team||Att||Yards (YPC)||First Down %|
|Rest of NFL||68||398 (5.8)||32.3%|
The biggest beneficiary here has been Robert Woods, who leads the team with seven carries for 66 yards. Three of Woods’s seven carries have gone at least 15 yards, including a 25-yard run this past Monday night against the Chicago Bears, which featured the Rams using a backside pulling guard for the first time on a jet sweep run.
Los Angeles has also freed up space on regular runs with the jet motion. Late in the third quarter against the Bears, Woods motioned before the snap and the defense cheated towards Woods. But the run went the opposite direction as Cooper Kupp crossed the formation from the other side to set up the lead block and a gain of 11 for Darrell Henderson.
Tap, Tap, Taparoo
For as much as the 49ers use jet motion, they haven’t handed the ball off often with just three jet sweep rushing attempts. Instead, San Francisco has adapted the jet sweep touch pass. That was specifically thrown into the offense over the past two weeks to make life easier for Jimmy Garoppolo coming off his injury, which forced him to miss two games, look terrible in his return, and get benched.
San Francisco has run five jet sweep passes, per Sports Info Solutions. Four came against the Rams in Week 6 and the fifth was against the New England Patriots in Week 7. The 49ers only used six jet sweep passes in 2019 and none in 2018. Last season, San Francisco gained just 17 yards on those attempts, and this season, the Niners are already at 83 yards gained with a touchdown.
All four passes in Week 6 went to Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk got the lone pass in Week 7.
The Aiyuk play could be a glimpse into what the 49ers will run more throughout the remainder of 2020, especially with Samuel out for the next few weeks. The play was on a first-and-10 on the New England 40-yard line near the start of the second quarter. San Francisco was in 21 personnel and Aiyuk motioned from the right slot to a left tight alignment. No New England defender followed Aiyuk, which allowed the 49ers to identify blocking assignments. Aiyuk came back on the jet motion and the run to the right was perfectly set up for a 20-yard gain.
San Francisco’s personnel and alignment forced New England to stack the box and that worked to open up the second level with good blocking. Here’s how the blocking was set up just after the handoff:
The 49ers tied for the league lead in these motion screens last season and that came without much threat from an exchange when the receiver passed the quarterback. But now with the tap passes a realistic option, defenders could be in conflict between trying to cut off those runs or waiting for the screen to develop. It’s one more added layer to what was already an effective play.
Building Off Motion
Against the Patriots, Garoppolo’s average completion came just 4.3 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and against the Rams it was just 1.8, according to Next Gen Stats. But still, in those two games, Garoppolo averaged 8.1 (Rams) and 11.1 (Patriots) yards per attempt. In the game against New England, Garoppolo still threw two interceptions when he tried to push the ball down the field.
Shanahan wasn’t just throwing in those jet sweep tap passes. The 49ers have started to build extended screens off the jet motion. They also killed the Patriots with this.
These jet screens were worked into the opening script against New England and Deebo Samuel had two big plays on the first drive, The first came on a second-and-3 from the San Francisco 43-yard line. Samuel motioned past the quarterback with no defender following. The Niners also used play-action, which froze the middle of the field and allowed Samuel to set up for the screen uncovered. Even without great downfield blocking, Samuel was able to rip off a 23-yard gain.
Three plays later, the 49ers were at the New England 17-yard line for a second-and-8. San Francisco opened in empty then motioned the running back into the backfield. This time Samuel was followed on his motion but George Kittle’s route took the tight end right into Samuel’s man defender to take him out of the play. That left Samuel one-on-one with a linebacker in space and resulted in a 14-yard gain. The next play was a three-yard touchdown run.
San Francisco has run 10 of the NFL’s 106 motion screens this season (9.4%). The 49ers’ expected points added on those screens is nearly the same as the rest of the NFL combined.
Motion Screens, 2020
|Team||Att||EPA||Positive Play %|
|Rest of NFL||96||5.5||54%|
It should be noted the Kansas City Chiefs and screen king Andy Reid make up almost all of the value among the other NFL teams with 4.8 EPA on four plays.
Meanwhile, the Rams are building shot plays off the motion. Against the Washington Football Team in Week 5, the Rams sent Robert Woods on jet motion and kept that going to a wheel route down the sideline for a 56-yard touchdown.
Los Angeles tried this a few times against the 49ers in Week 6 with one incomplete target and a few other routes with Woods well covered. Kupp also had a covered wheel down the sideline on Monday night, but it opened up a checkdown for Henderson. The Rams will continually look for that shot and hit it when a defense gets pulled in by the misdirection.
In Week 2, the Rams had a long touchdown to Tyler Higbee on a Leak concept which saw three Eagles defenders bite on jet motion from Woods after the snap.
The Rams have also opened up some shallow opportunities as they did early in the game against the Bears. On their third play of the game, they sent Kupp in motion and followed with a play-action fake to follow the motion. Woods snuck from the opposite side of the formation into open space for a 13-yard gain.
Both the Rams and 49ers have built multiple play designs off the same simple jet motion concept. With both teams constantly evolving what comes off of that motion and most importantly what the motion man can do, defenses can no longer sit back and be passive. But if defenses are too aggressive, there’s an offensive counterpunch ready for a big play.
McVay and Shanahan continue to adapt their schemes and that’s one reason why these offenses continue to be among the best in the league. These two remain a step ahead of defenses and as we’ve seen with new wrinkles over the past two weeks, that step might be more like two or three by the end of the season.