Glossary Entry: Ghost Motion

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.

Ghost Motion

Ghost motion is pre-snap motion from the outside of the formation towards the middle, usually by a wide receiver, to simulate an “end around” or “jet sweep.” With those plays rising in popularity, defenders can overplay the motion man in an effort to shut down the jet sweep. Savvy offensive coordinators react by using the end around as a decoy. This “ghost motion” can catch defenses out of position and lead to big plays.

Later in the fourth quarter of a 2016 game, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan gets creative with his play call. It’s 1st and 25 because of a chop block on the previous play, so the offense is trying to gain most of the penalty yardage back. Dallas is in 11 personnel with the same formation it ran on a jet sweep earlier in the game. Linehan calls for a screen pass designed for star running back Ezekiel Elliott using the ghost motion by Lucky Whitehead to trick the defense.

Quarterback Dak Prescott motions Whitehead across the backfield and the ball is snapped when he is near right tackle Doug Free. This ghost motion gets the defensive flow moving to the left, setting up the screen to the right. It works, as Chicago’s linebackers all shift as Whitehead looks to receive the handoff. The offensive line initially blocks, but lets the defensive line into the backfield to give Elliott more room to run after he receives the screen pass. Prescott has to be patient before throwing to Elliott as he needs the defensive line to be deep enough in the backfield to gain a good amount of yards and have offensive linemen blocking second- and third-level defenders. Free makes a block that saves Prescott some time before he eventually throws the screen pass to Elliott.

Elliott makes the catch and now has a ton of room with three offensive linemen blocking out in front of him. The back picks up 18 yards, making 2nd down much more manageable. 

Joseph Ferraiola and Dave Archibald wrote this entry. Follow Joseph on Twitter @NFLDraftJoey and Dave @davearchie.

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