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Football Offensive Formations

What is an offensive formation in football? Here is a complete list of offensive formations and alignments offenses use in games.


Football Offensive Formations

In football, it is important for a team to have a predetermined strategy going into a game for both sides of the ball. This includes knowing which players will play which positions, where those positions will line up, and how they will react to the opposing team's lineup.

A basic principle of football is that the team on offense largely has control over the game. Because the offense has the ball, they can choose how to run plays, which makes the defense react and adjust their game plan accordingly.

Offensive formations must have seven players on the line of scrimmage and four in the backfield (this includes lining up one yard behind the line of scrimmage as a wide receiver).

Throughout the history of football, there have been certain popular strategies that dominate eras of the game. These commonalities became widely accepted as defenses took time to make adjustments and figure out respective schemes.

Single Wing Formation

For example, in the early days of the game, when strength and power were valued over speed and skill, the single wing formation took the game by storm because of its newer misdirection and blocking options.

T Formation

One popular alternative to the single wing was the T formation. The T formation could be used in many different variations, from the balanced and unbalanced T's to the split T.

A famous adaptation of the T formation is the Pro formation, which uses two running backs split behind the quarterback and wide receivers at each end of the formation.

I Formation

The I formation may be the most popular formation in the history of the game. Its basic structure allowed for endless variations and plays out of a similar setup. Some of these variations include the Power I, Maryland I, and I with an offset fullback. Although it has fallen out of favor at high levels of the game in recent years, the I formation remains a basic fundamental of many youth and high school teams across the country.


The singleback is an adaptation of the I formation that spreads the field more with an extra receiver. This developed to allow the quarterback more passing options, which in turn opens up the run game by stretching the defense.


The wildcat formation developed to confuse the defense in a more modern setting. It allows the running back to receive the snap and catch the defense off guard by sprinting one direction immediately or throwing the ball.


The shotgun formation is the most popular offensive formation in the modern game. It allows the quarterback to get right into a passing play, as well as run the increasingly-popular zone read running offense. This is the most common type of spread offense.

REMINDER: Spread formations use 3-5 wide receivers who stretch the defense, offer more passing routes, and open up the ground game.


The pistol formation is like the shotgun formation, but it disguises the running back's strong side by lining him up directly behind the quarterback. The pistol is often used in spread and spread option offenses, offering both running and passing options.

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