The Flying Wedge: The Greatest Play in Football

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Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    I always wondered why massed plays like that weren’t a thing. Seem like a perfectly good way to move the ball downfield.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      The problem with a mass play is that it naturally grinds to a halt. It wasn’t a break-into-the-secondary kind of play, and scoring tended to be low. Yes, you have a bunch of burly guys pushing forward. But the other side has a bunch of burly guys pushing back. It was good for a few yards back in the day because it could develop and gain those yards before the defense could concentrate on it. Or in the flying version the wedge used its momentum to gain those few yards.

      So the rules were changed to slow down the formation of the wedge. Hence the illegal formation rule requiring seven players on the line of scrimmage and the limitations on motion before the snap. By the time the offense formed the wedge, the defense would be ready for it.

      I suspect you could make it work on a high school team, especially if you had a bunch of big bruisers. Lots of obsolete formations work in high school. There are successful offenses based on the single wing. So why not a wedge? You won’t make any friends, but you might win a few games.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        Me not being a football guy (I enjoy watching the game, but the minutiae is not my thing), I wouldn’t use a mass play to move the ball all alone, per se. Rather, it would be the opening gambit. If the defenders massed to prevent movement, I’d let them, then when they are fully engaged, peel away enough for the ball carrier to run to the next 1st down. If they held back and refused to commit, then the attacking mass could move forward freely, etc.

        It would require considerable drilling to get it right, along with calls so the tactics could change on the fly, but if done right…Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          from recollections:
          -A couple of capable defense linemen can brute stop a wedge, then when the carrier slips out the back, the defensive backs tackle causing them to loose 5-10 yards.

          -With enough mass and velocity a defensive member can knock a member of the wedge into the carrier with enough force to knock the ball loose.

          Solutions to the wedge require usage of force significant enough to produce injury. It begs for point loads of concentration of defensive force. Think wedge piercing defensive backs.Report

          • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Joe Sal says:

            Hence the need for calls & tactical flexibility. You see a piercing wedge coming, you got a few options for how to deal with it.

            No play is without a counter, which is what makes the game fun to watch.Report

            • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

              You rarely see a defensive back coming. Less so if your stuck in a wedge. A defensive back typically has no problem jumping the linemen and landing on the carrier. They would do this in a typical line-up if they knew where the ball was going to be.

              Also the sides of the wedge rarely take hits from the front, they get hit from the side. As a complete understatement I will say it sucks to get hit from the side. (did I mention it suck,sucks,sucks to get hit from the side, I mean it really does suck. badly, sucks badly, like getting t-boned but your not wearing your car or a seatbelt sucks badly.)

              The best tactic I recall is to keep it loose and try hard not to let the defense know where the ball is or will be. To be honest, a real slippery offense won’t know where the ball will end up other than a long ways downfield. At least that’s the way I remember it.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

          That is the fourth of the diagrams I posted here.

          If I ever do a revised version, I’ll give more space to why this wouldn’t work under modern rules. I didn’t get into it, but these plays involved the players in the wedge holding onto each other, both to maintain the formation and to keep defenders out. This is illegal today. It is “interlocking interference” and gets a ten yard penalty. Never seen this called? Precisely. They also pulled the runner along, which is also a ten yard penalty today.

          Then just consider the blocking rules. A defender trying to get to the ball carrier has far more latitude about the use of hands than does an offensive blocker. The defender can grab the blocker and push him or pull him. The blocker is far more constrained. I think what you would find is that a smaller number of defenders at the point of attack could stop the play, leaving others to guard against an end around.

          What you are describing is an extremely slow-developing play that involves the ball being run laterally in the backfield. This sort of thing works in college, where you see double reverses and the like. It tends not to work in the NFL, where a double reverse is prone to resulting in a five yard loss. Why the difference? Your typical NFL player is a big burly guy who can move really fast for short bursts with amazing acceleration. Your Div. I college players are big burly guys, and a lot of them can move fast for short bursts, but don’t get from zero to sixty quite so fast. Those are the guys who don’t get drafted. It might work as a trick play, but then again it might not.Report

    • Avatar Autolukos in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Probably the closest thing you’ll see to these plays today is mauling in rugby, which has the problems that @richard-hershberger mentions: the ball advances slowly at best, and it gives the defense a big target to aim at. This is OK in rugby, because it’s a pretty safe way of possessing the ball and gaining a bit of ground in critical areas, but in football, where you have a limited number of attempts to gain 10 yards, the upside isn’t very attractive.Report

  2. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Now do a breakdown of the Flying V.Report

  3. Avatar Autolukos says:

    Thanks to the glories of the Internet Archive and the public domain, I’m able to learn from Stagg’s wisdom: “The practice of drinking water during the game is exceedingly bad, and never should be permitted.” Thanks, coach!Report

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