Football offensive personnel packages refers to the kinds of players used on each play. In addition to the quarterback and five offensive lineman, teams use a variety of skill players (running backs, wide receivers, tight ends) to create favorable matchups and execute their play book.
At all levels of football, teams use various terms to identify their offensive personnel packages. Some teams use playing cards (Ace, Deuce, Kings) while others use identifiers (Pro, Trips, Quads). The most common, and the terms which will be employed by this site, are numerical identifiers: 00, 11, and so on. This article will outline each potential offensive personnel package, including strengths and weaknesses, and provide examples for reference.
At the outset, please understand that there is a difference between personnel groupings and formations. Personnel groupings refer to the types of players that are on the field for the offense; wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs. Formations designate where those players line up, either on the line of scrimmage, in the slot, or in the offensive backfield. Personnel groupings are the general concept discussed here, while formations and alignments are often team- and play-specific. Future articles on this site will examine formations and alignments in-depth; the goal here is to familiarize readers with concepts and vernacular such as “Lining up five wide with their 20 personnel.”
To start, understand that each offensive formation has five eligible receivers, then five non-eligible receivers (typically the five offensive linemen) and the quarterback. The numerical system uses a digit to identify the number of running backs, and the number of tight ends, in the formation. Below is the chart of potential packages. In each two-digit package number, the first digit identifies the number of running backs while the second identifies the number of tight ends. Since the total number of eligible receivers must add up to five, the difference between the package number and five is the number of wide receivers that are in the formation.
“00” is a no-back, five wide receiver formation. Below is a screenshot of the Packers in a five wide receiver formation:
A 00 package is primarily a passing formation, although teams such as the Patriots can employ bubble and quick wide receiver screens as an extension of their running game. The 00 package, with its emphasis on the passing game, forces defenses to substitute in their Nickel and/or Dime packages, removing down linemen and/or linebackers for extra defensive backs.
In this game from 2014, the San Francisco 49ers employed a number of 00 offensive personnel formations against the Arizona Cardinals. Here, they line up with quarterback Colin Kaepernick (#7) alone in the backfield and in a shotgun, with five wide receivers. The offense has two receivers to the left in an inverted slot formation, with three receivers to the right in a trips:
The Cardinals have a sub package on the field with three down linemen, one linebacker, and seven defensive backs. They set up with a single high safety and show Cover 1.
The 49ers employ a mirrored passing concept here, running a smash combination to each side of the field, with the outside receivers running quick hitch routes while the inside receivers run the deeper corner routes. Finally Stevie Johnson (#13), the inside trips receiver, runs an option route over the middle:
Johnson is matched up against cornerback Antonio Cromartie (#31). As the WR reaches the top of his stem, he sees the man coverage and that the CB has outside leverage, so he crosses over the middle:
Here is another look at Johnson’s route. Notice how he flashes his field of vision to the inside, sees the coverage develop, then cuts over the middle:
“01” is quite similar to 00, except that the fifth receiver is not a wide receiver but a tight end. As with the 00, the 01 is primarily a passing package, with no backs in the backfield to provide a running option. Depending on the versatility of the tight end, the benefit of the 01 over the 00 is that the TE can remain in line and help with pass protection if he is a capable blocker. If he is a decent receiver he can put pressure on the interior of a secondary with seam routes, opening up the outside for the other wide receivers. In the below example, the Patriots line up with Julian Edelman in the backfield, then motion him out to the slot:
The final five receiver package is the “02” grouping, most recently used by the Patriots when Rob Gronkowski was healthy and Aaron Hernandez wasn’t a prisoner. Again, with five receivers on the field the 02 is primarily a passing package, although the Patriots at times used Hernandez in an “H-Back” role, motioning him into the backfield next to Tom Brady. As an example, the clip below shows Hernandez taking the hand-off and then running behind Gronkowski:
The 10 package is something you see in every game regardless of the teams playing, with one running back and four wide receivers. It’s a flexible grouping, as teams can both throw with a number of receivers on the field, and can also run the ball with some degree of success. The 10 package is also utilized when a team trusts the running back in pass protection to pick up blitzes, given that there is no tight end on the field to assist with that role. The 10 package can be run out of two different formations, either with the quarterback under center and the running back lined up in the backfield alone, or with the quarterback in the shotgun with the running back aligned next to him. It allows a quarterback to change plays at the line of scrimmage based on the defensive front, to either check into a run if the defense has dime personnel on the field, or into a pass if the defense is looking to stop the run. Below are examples of both the Green Bay Packers and the Buffalo Bills using 10 personnel:
In the first play the Packers start with a five-receiver look, with running back Eddie Lacy split out left in a slot formation. They motion Lacy back next to Aaron Rodgers, then run a play-action fake to Lacy and come back to Randall Cobb over the middle for a decent gain. In the second play, the Bills start with Fred Jackson in the backfield and he and EJ Manuel run a quick read-option look against the Patriots.
11 packages are also currently very popular around the NFL. The 11 package allows for great flexibility in what plays can be called and what pass protections can be utilized. On a passing play a team can decide whether to keep both the tight end and the running back in pass protection or send both out into the route, depending on what look the defense shows. Additionally, with the tight end present the team can run the ball either toward the strength of the formation or away from it, depending on the front shown by the defense. Below is a still frame of the Eagles lined up with their 11 personnel:
In addition, the 11 personnel can be utilized with the quarterback under center:
Again, the Eagles have Celek in a wing position with Foles now under center. The Eagles run a play-action fake to McCoy with Celek simulating a Wham block across the ball. Foles then comes out of the fake and hits Jason Avant for a 20 yard gain.
As with other packages, a benefit of the 11 personnel is the flexibility afforded the quarterback to adjust to the personnel employed by the opposition. If the defense decides to stay in a base package or a nickel package, the quarterback can utilize the passing game to attack the numbers in the secondary. If the defense looks to stop the pass and brings in extra defensive backs, the quarterback can run the ball at the outnumbered defensive front. Something to watch for this season is the way in which Chip Kelly utilizes different personnel groupings given the weapons at his disposal. McCoy and Darren Sproles have both been very effective for the team out of this grouping.
12 personnel, sometimes called “Ace,” is a grouping employed frequently by teams such as the Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks. With two tight ends on the field the team can run the ball behind seven in-line blockers, and set up play action for later in the drive/game. Here is Baltimore with their 12 personnel on the field:
With the two tight ends in the formation the Ravens can run Ray Rice with seven blockers up front. Or, a team can go play action effectively from this personnel grouping, as Seattle does below:
Seattle utilizes tight-end motion across the ball, and fakes a weak-side stretch play to Marshawn Lynch. Russell Wilson comes back with a half-roll to the two receiver side of the formation and hits a big gain downfield.
The 13 package is a big, run-first personnel set. With one running back and three tight ends, the offense can utilize a strong power-running game. Stretch plays can be run to either a single tight end or a dual tight end side of the formation, or the offense can run power off tackle with a tight end serving as a lead blocker, either through motion or through Wham action. The Seahawks also utilize 13 personnel in both the run and pass games:
Here the Seahawks line up with three tight ends to the right side of their formation, one on the line and two others in a dual wing set. They then run a counter-action play to the left side of the formation, with both wing tight ends crashing inside.
Alternatively, given the run-first nature of 13 personnel, this is an effective package for short-yardage and/or goal-line play-action. Here the Seahawks come out in the same formation as the previous play. However, they fake the run using similar counter-action and come back to the lone wide receiver on play-action:
20 personnel is yet another offensive grouping with flexibility. Often used in shotgun formations, having two running backs allows for the run game to be effective with off-tackle plays and, more recently, with read-option action. In addition, teams can throw the ball effectively out of this formation, especially if the two running backs are versatile in the passing game with blitz protection and receiving out of the backfield:
Here, the Vikings try to convert a 3rd and 5. They go with dual running backs in the backfield and three receivers. Unfortunately relied on Christian Ponder, who did everything he could to throw a Pick Six.
21 personnel is often a base formation used at all levels of football, and is sometimes called a “pro” formation. The grouping consists of two running backs, a single tight end, and two wide receivers. This personnel set is often the first grouping installed during the pre-season. Other personnel groupings branch off of the 21, depending on the flexibility of the players utilized. It can be considered a “jack-of-all-trades” personnel set, in that teams can run a variety of running plays (power, stretch, counters), play-action passes, and downfield passes. The Ravens and 49ers are teams that have recently employed this personnel set:
In the above clip, Baltimore opens their season in an I-Formation and runs a play-action pass, faking an off-tackle play to Ray Rice.
22 personnel is another grouping that tends to serve the running game. With two running backs and two tight ends, this is suited for a power running attack. Teams can run power plays to a two-tight-end side of the formation with a lead blocker, or can run to the weak side while still utilizing a lead blocker. Recently the San Francisco 49ers have used 22 personnel groupings more than any other in the league. In the clip below from 2013, they line up with two running backs and two tight ends, placing tight end Vernon Davis in the slot. They fake a power run to the strong side of the formation before quarterback Colin Kaepernick comes back to the two-receiver-slot side of the formation, trying to hit Davis on a deep corner route:
This personnel set is the traditional goal-line, “jumbo” set with three tight ends and two running backs, often in an “I” formation. This is almost always a power running package, although it can be utilized for short-yardage play-action. Below is an example of when the 49ers used this package and formation on the goal-line to throw a play-action pass to Vernon Davis for a touchdown:
As this article demonstrates, even within the personnel groupings offenses can utilize the players on the field in a variety of way to exploit the defense. From using play-action, to putting players in varying positions and alignments to target individual mismatches, today’s offensive coordinators are dreaming up more and more ways to put points on the scoreboard.
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Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
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