ITP Glossary: 5×5 Kickoff Alignment

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

5×5 Kickoff Alignment

A 5X5 kickoff alignment is five men deployed to each side of the kicker. Although NFL rules allow up to six men on either side of the kicker, most teams typically employ a 5X5 alignment in order to disguise the target location of the kick. In the event a team does utilize six players on one side of the kicker, that is known as a 6×4 alignment, with the call in the pre-kick huddle being 6X4 Left or 6X4 Right depending on the side of the overload.

NFL teams are given little leeway by league rules in their pre-snap alignment. Players other than the kicker must be within five yards of the line of scrimmage, and there can be no more than six players on either side of the kicker. League rules, combined with the strategy of not giving away the direction of the kick, is why most teams employ what is known as the 5X5 formation:


Miami Dolphins kicker Caleb Sturgis aligns himself just outside the left hash as he begins his approach. Members of the coverage unit are numbered from the outside-in, with the outermost player being L1 or R1, and the numbers increasing as the players become closer to the center of the field. Properly counting these defenders is important not only to the coverage team, but also to the return team, who may scheme to block certain members while letting others run free. When properly schemed against, the 5X5 alignment may not be able to prevent a good return.

An example of this occurred in the 2014 matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field:


The Packers align themselves in 5X5 formation, while the Bears position seven men near the line of scrimmage, and four men behind their own 20-yard line in a diamond formation. After the kick, the Bears strategy becomes clear:


The Bears initially choose to ignore the players marked as L5 and R5, who are unblocked down the middle of the field. The primary reason for this is that their return is intended to go up the right sideline. Rather than wasting resources on players who are not at the focal point of the play, they instead choose to send their blockers to the right side of the play:


In this instance, the ability of the Bears return to team to recognize the 5X5 formation properly allowed them to execute their blocking scheme properly, allowing the returner to return the kickoff for a touchdown.

Chuck Zodda contributed to this entry.

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