Offense in today's NFL is far, far removed from the good old days of "three yards and a cloud of dust." From Don Coryell and Bill Walsh all the way up to new Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and Kansas City Chiefs offensive consultant Chris Ault, the NFL has spent 80 years refining—and re-defining—offense.
All of the innovations in the past five years or so, from the Wildcat to the zone read, have really pushed the boundaries of most football fans' knowledge. Often, fans don't even have time to learn a new formation or alignment before their team is on to something else.
Further, the NFL is more of a copycat league than ever, so every offseason seems to be spent with every team in the NFL trying to ape the latest offensive wrinkle—and every defense trying to stop it.
How well have you been keeping up with the Joneses (or, perhaps, the Harbaughs)? Take this quiz, and test your offensive knowledge!
What Is This Formation Called?
Question 1: What Is This Formation Called?
Let's start off slow. Here's the Philadelphia Eagles lining up against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 2 of the 2012 season; can you identify the formation?
What Is This Crazy Thing?
Question 2: What Is This Crazy Thing?
This is a picture of something that looks kind of like that unpronounceable symbol the musician Prince once changed his name to. What is it called?
Can You Identify the Split End?
Question 3: Can You Identify the Split End?
Calling offensive skill-position players "ends" is dusty old football terminology (that's why we specify "defensive" ends today), but the definitions still apply to today's formations.
Can you identify the split end in this picture?
What Kind of Run Is This?
Question 4: What Kind of Run Is This?
Here's Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans about to take one of the most basic runs in football all the way to the house. Here are three different looks at the Titans' offensive line, the hole that develops, and Johnson's path to paydirt.
Can you identify the name of the run?
What Does No. 9 Represent?
Question 5: What Does No. 9 Represent?
Here's that crazy thing from Question 2 again. Each of the numbers represents something. What does the No. 9 represent?
What Route Do the Flanker and Slot Receivers Run Here?
Question 6: What Route Do the Flanker and Slot Receivers Run Here?
In the following play, the flanker and slot receivers run identical routes. What is this route called?
What Kind of Offensive Line Protection Is This?
Question 7: What Kind of Offensive Line Protection Is This?
Here's a great shot of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense showing massive blitz against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. When the heat comes after the snap, what protection do the Colts use to keep Luck clean?
What Is This Formation?
Question 8: What Is This Formation?
Here are the San Francisco 49ers lining up in something very unusual for the NFL. What is this formation called?
What Personnel Package Is This?
Question 9: What Personnel Package Is this?
Most football fans are well aware of the two-digit system for describing defensive personnel packages. A "3-4" is three down linemen with four linebackers, and a "4-3" is the opposite. There's a two-digit system for offensive packages, too.
What personnel package are the Falcons in?
What Is the "Wildcat"?
Question 10: What Is the "Wildcat"?
The NFL's Wildcat phase has passed, but it endures in our hearts and football minds. How much of it really endures in your mind, though? Can you properly define a Wildcat formation?
Well, how'd you do? This wasn't as esoteric as last week's rules quiz, but there were a couple that should trip many football fans up.
Answer 1: 4. This is the classic I formation, but with the fullback slid over (offset) toward the strong side (with the tight end). Anyone who's ever played a football video game should have gotten this one right.
Answer 2: 3. The route tree, invented by legendary offensive innovator Don Coryell, uses a numbering system for all basic routes. This allows for easy numeric descriptions.
Answer 3: 1. The split end lines up on the line of scrimmage, on the weak side (with no tight end). The split end is farthest from the ball on that side of the field. Your choices were no coincidence, either: "X," "Y" and "Z" are the modern labels for these receiver positions.
Answer 4: 4. The off-tackle run quite simply; the outside tackle blocks down to seal the defensive end off, and the fullback blocks the outside linebacker behind. If you got it wrong, you may have been thrown off by the tight end lining up outside of the tackle.
Answer 5: 2. You might have guessed it by the name of this blog (see the logo in the header of this article?), but a "nine" route is also called a "go" route. That's a straight vertical route, first breaking to the outside of the cornerback. When run from the inside, as by a slot receiver or tight end, it's called a "seam."
Answer 6: 1. This was really a two-parter: identifying the receivers and their routes.
The flanker, the receiver who lines up a bit behind the line of scrimmage on the tight end's side, is farthest to the top; the slot receiver is second from the top. As they both break to the inside, the flanker and slot receiver are running curls.
For more great route tree explanation, watch this amazing video of Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald walking through the entire tree:
Answer 7: 2. You can see it from the regular TV angle, but it's very clear on the end-zone replay. Watch the left guard and center as the Steelers' defensive line stunts; you'll see each Colts lineman is responsible for the zone in front of him, not a specific defender.
Answer 8: 3. The "Diamond" was popularized by Dana Holgorsen at Oklahoma State, but copied by many others. Chris Brown of Smart Football explained the Diamond, and some other multi-back pistol sets, at his site.
Answer 9: 3. Since the number of quarterbacks and offensive linemen is fixed, and after you account for running backs and tight ends the remainder is wide receivers, you can describe offensive packages by counting the backs and tight ends.
In this case, there are two backs and one tight end, hence a "21" offense.
Answer 10: 5. Once and for all, the Wildcat is not just putting in a receiver or running back under center. It's a specific formation with an unbalanced line and a jet motion sweep, like so: