Football is a game of X’s and O’s, inches, and minute details that go unnoticed to the casual viewer. For the first four games of the season, Florida State’s playbook was rather vanilla. Jimbo Fisher didn’t utilize Everett Golson’s legs and the plays, for the most part, seemed to be dumbed down and basic. Of course, this is not surprising as Golson has only been on campus for a few months and it was important for him to learn the basics of the offense before Fisher could bust out the complicated things. Fans had long been speculating that Fisher was holding back portions of the playbook simply because they didn’t want it on tape for their harder opponents to see.
That proved to be correct, as Fisher certainly opened the playbook up against Miami. On the very first drive, Fisher called the first option run of the year. Golson ran it to perfection, holding the ball until the very last second, and Dalvin Cook was in the end zone 72 yards later. Fisher utilized Golson’s legs more in this game, calling several designed quarterback runs including one on a crucial third down in the fourth quarter.
One aspect of the offense that we were introduced to on Saturday was the inclusion of the orbit motion. Simply put, orbit motion is the motion that the receiver takes when he ‘orbits’ around the quarterback and the running back in the backfield. As such, that receiver turns into a back and the offense changes from a one-back to a two-back look. To break down the orbit motion, let’s look at a coach who has perfected this aspect of the offense.
If you’ve watched the Oregon Ducks or the Philadelphia Eagles recently, you’ve seen this play. It is part of the packaged play, a staple of Chip Kelly’s offenses that has gashed many defenses over the years. It is called a packaged play because there are actually several plays ‘packaged’ into one call and it is the quarterback’s job to read the defense and determine which is the correct play to proceed with after the snap.
The gif above shows a play that the Eagles ran against the Chicago Bears in 2013. Prior to the snap, DeSean Jackson comes in motion around the quarterback and running back (this is the orbit motion). As such, the cornerback assigned to Jackson in man coverage has to follow him all the way around the field. This tells Nick Foles, the quarterback, that the bubble screen on the play is not the best idea, because they don’t have favorable numbers on that side of the field now. If the cornerback were to stay in his zone, Foles might throw the bubble screen to Jackson because they have more or equal blockers in comparison to the amount of defenders on that side of the field.
With the bubble screen out of the picture, Foles has two options: hand the ball off to McCoy or keep in. As such, Foles reads the backside defender on the snap, determines that he is too far away to stop the run and hands the ball off to McCoy who runs for a first down. If the backside, or dive, defender has a better angle and is closer to McCoy, Foles will keep it and run for a gain himself.
While Chip Kelly and Jimbo Fisher both use the orbit motion, Fisher rarely ever calls packaged plays. However, his offense still uses the orbit motion in the same way Kelly’s does: to get a better look at the defensive scheme and to set up the sweep pass if it’s there. The difference is that Fisher’s use of the orbit motion is in conjunction with a passing play. As a result, the receiver in motion may be the first read on the play, but there are other receivers running routes that are options if the sweep pass is covered. In the Miami game, Fisher called six plays that used the orbit motion. Here are the results:
This first play sets the tone for the use of the orbit motion in the first quarter. This is a good play call and good read by Golson to flip it out to Bobo Wilson, but unfortunately the throw is low and Wilson dives to catch it, resulting in a loss of two yards on the play. The play action at the beginning of the play holds the linebackers long enough for a lane to open up for Wilson as well.
This time, Golson correctly identifies the Miami defender sitting in the flat zone. If he had thrown the ball to Wilson, the play would have most likely resulted in a loss of yards assuming the defender makes the tackle. As such, he goes through his reads and looks downfield before pressure arrives. He ducks under a sack and scrambles for a gain of two yards, turning something out of nothing. This was the second time Fisher had called the orbit motion and Miami did a very nice job defending it, sitting in a zone to counteract it.
The very next play, Fisher calls another sweep pass. Golson sells the play action, which freezes the linebacker long enough for Derrick Kelly to get to him to make the block. Golson is reading the free rusher on this play and he pulls the ball once he sees the defender dive in. Golson sling it out to Wilson, this time in stride. Kermit Whitfield can’t make the block, but Wilson is elusive enough to pick up the first down.
Later on in the drive, Fisher calls for another orbit motion, but this play is actually a designed tunnel screen to Travis Rudolph. Having already established the orbit motion previously in the drive, the Miami defenders are rushing to the outside and preparing to defend the sweep screen. The offensive line sells the screen and moves downfield to block for Rudolph. With Miami preparing for the sweep screen, there are three defenders that are easily taken out of the play due to poor positioning, allowing Rudolph to scamper for a first down.
Florida State ran two more orbit motions later in the game, once as the first half was winding down and once in the third quarter that was incomplete. The former play ended up being a sixteen-yard connection to Whitfield, but the sweep screen was a diversion and not Golson’s first read.
Coaches often call screen passes early on in the game to get their quarterback comfortable and in a rhythm with his receivers. Miami is always a huge game and, despite the home field advantage, it was important to get Golson going in a rhythm early. These orbit motion passes are called early on in the ball game, but Fisher weans them out as the game goes on. He calls more drop back and rollout passes and Golson doesn’t need the receiver in motion to read the defense or identify his checkdown anymore.
While Jimbo Fisher’s version of the orbit motion isn’t as complex as Chip Kelly’s, the basic elements of it remain the same. The receiver comes in motion, which allows the quarterback to read the coverage and gives him a quick pass if the numbers are there. Fisher also turns this motion into a tunnel screen later on in the ball game. With football being a game of X’s and O’s, it will be interesting to see if Fisher schemes up any more motions like this to keep defenses on their toes.