Wide Line Splits: Math Meets Physics

Written by: Coach Patrick Taylor
Air Raid Offense

I have always been intrigued with Coach Woody Hayes. Although he is most remembered by an incident in a game, everyone said he was a tremendous teacher. I read once that he did a study on the geometry of the force created by the down block, in order to prove his logic. He took the math and applied it to football to make his teams much greater than his opponents. He solved for the “why”, or in mathematical terms, the hidden variable “Y.”

Taking a page from option teams of the past, wide line splits are nothing new to football. It creates running lanes by alignment that puts stress on a defense to now play leverage and space. In this post we will look at two constants , the 1 ft split and the 3 ft split, as well as the advantages of each.


As you can see we are basing this picture on three-foot splits between each lineman, and their feet being spread at three feet in their stance. This fives us a distance of 27 ft from tackle to tackle, for a total width of 27ft (9 yards). 


In this picture we show an example of one foot line splits. It makes a total width 16 ft (5.1) yards. 

Now lets talk about the advantages of the passing game. As we can see we are widening the dimension of the edge rusher, and creating passing lanes for the quarterback by alignment.

Now this equation takes into account the following:

Quarterback is at a depth of 5 Yards

The line splits as given, and the defensive end being able to run a 4.8 forty yard dash.  In taking a straight line with no blocking he can arrive at the quarterback. If we allowed the variable of the wide-set tackle and resistance from blocking this idea could take on a great set of variables. So as we can see we have a definite distance on a one step drop of 5.9 yards, and on a three-step drop of 7.3 yards, that the defensive end would have to travel in order to reach his goal of the quarterback.

Now lets look at the same mathematical equation using our three-foot splits. We arrive at the distance for a one step drop of 6.74 yards, and a 3 step drop of 7.84 yards. Now we can see from the line splits that we have obviously created more distance by expanding the splits with the offensive line. But anyone who has taken a course on physics knows that can also create time. Time is something we are always trying to create in the game, and especially in passing the football. So just how much time to we create with these splits? Well in a one step drop utilizing the wide splits we create .12 seconds, and in the three-step drop we create .24 seconds. Now this may not seem worth while, but anyone who has ever been to any kind of race will tell you .12 seconds is an eternity in racing. So this can create the make or break of a pass play. Creating more time allows the quarterback more vision, and better decision-making ability. It also more importantly expands the passing pocket by creating over 4 yards more pocket before the ball is even being snapped. Thus allowing your lineman and quarterback more room to move and “buy” even more time. We are extending the nature of the play by alignment and not athletic ability.

Now for the other half of the game. The run game is a very important part of the offense. How ever you divide up the ratio of run/pass, an offense always has two parts, run and pass. So how can these splits lead to the fact of being able to create a run game. I like to now look at force. Our lineman averaged 195 pounds, with our heaviest being our center, at a cool 230. Force is the energy taken to move an object, and it accounts for time, mass, and speed. I was first intrigued by wide splits watching the Air Raid offense, and their use of ultimately wide splits, but it was not until I watched a video of zone blocking guru Alex Gibbs, that I understood fully the idea behind wide split and the inside zone. He took an undersized line at the Denver Broncos, and used a variety of late round tail backs to run through the record books, and the Super Bowl. Not to mention lets not forget the teacher/coach Woody Hayes, and his analysis on splits and the force of the down block. So lets now venture into the Run Game.


Now lets set some constants. All of this math was completed by using a few constants.

The Offensive guard is 240 pounds

The 3 Technique DE is 240 pounds

Now we must look at the difference the line splits give us by alignment. Inside three-foot splits the three technique is nine feet from the ball. This is taking into account: the center feet are 3 feet apart, 3 foot split, 3 feet guard stance, and 18 inches to the center of the three technique.

So our equation would look like this:

18 inches (center of ball) + 3 ft split+ 3 ft (guard stance)+ 18 inch (half the 3 tech. stance) = 9 feet (3 Yards).

No using the same constants as posted above lets look at our equation for one foot line splits. 

We have the following distance of the three technique being 6 feet (2 yards from the ball).

So our equation would look like this:

18 inches (center of ball) + 1 ft split + 3 ft (guard stance) + 18 inches (half of 3 tech. stance) = 6 feet (2 yards)

What does all this mean? Well lets look how much force it takes for both guards to at least stalemate the opposing 3 technique at the distance needed to create a running lane of 3 feet.

For the lineman, I determined that it would take 2 seconds from the snap of the ball to complete engagement of exerting energy, and placing hands in battle. So now we have to engage in the factor of distance.

3 ft Line Split Equation:

In a  3 ft line split to maintain the split the offensive guard needs to move .5 feet to sustain the stalemate.

Equation for time travel: .5 ft X 2 seconds = .25 feet per second

Equation for Force: 240 pound lineman X .25= 60 foot pounds per second, now multiple that by 3 and it equals 180 foot pounds per second of force.

So an offensive guard must expend 180 foot pounds per second of force to stalemate a 3 tech. with a 3 foot line split.

1 ft Line Split Equation:

In a 1 ft line split to create the lane created by the 3 ft line split, the guard needs to move the 3 technique 2.5 feet, to create this space.

Equation for time travel: 2.5 ft X 2 seconds = 1.25 ft per second

Equation for force: 240 pound lineman X 1.25 ft per second = 300 pounds per second, now multiply that by 2.5 ft, and you are needing 750 foot pounds per second of force.

This experiment was conducted by using two opposing lineman of the same size, 240 pounds. The initial difference between the two experiments is a difference of 60 ftlbs or 300 ftlbs. and to sustain the difference it totals 180 ftlbs or 750 ftlbs. So now think in terms of an offensive lineman that is undersized, and the multiplication of force grows exponentially.  Plug in the difference of a 200 pound lineman opposing a lineman of 280 pounds.

Factor in the pace of the offense. Most offenses today are no huddle, trying to get as many snaps as possible. The force we just challenged comes at the cost of energy, or better yet fuel. The faster you go with the tighter line splits creates the use of more energy. As the game lingers, the energy dwindles. So the effectiveness of your line diminishes, and now plays are netting less or no yards.

I think many of the ideas behind line splits are based on schemes. Many people believe that you cannot be a pulling offense or not be as dominant run team if you use the wider line splits. Oddly enough as an Air Raid team we have posted 3 straight seasons of 2,000 yards rushing, from pulling plays, all from a spread set. I hope this post has created some food for thought for your off-season, and look forward to discussing ball further.

Written by: Coach Patrick Taylor
Offensive Coordinator North Surry High School
Air Raid Offense
Twitter: @patrick_taylor4
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