The swinging gate formation is one of the most unique plays in football, and an important part of special teams.
But what is it? How does it work? And why do some teams like to use it?
In this article we're going to be answering all of those questions. We'll also be using some answers from a great presentation by Coach John Grayson, which you can watch for free in its entirety below.
Watch the video, or scroll down to learn more about this exciting special teams play.
What is the Swinging Gate Formation?
The swinging gate formation is an unconventional formation where the offense can either run a trick play, or shift into a field goal formation and attempt a kick. This is typically used on a two point conversion attempt after a touchdown is scored.
Many coaches do not consider this play the same thing as a fake field goal, since the offensive team starts out in an unusual formation, and never presents a threat
The offensive team usually lines up with kicking team personnel as part of the offensive formation, to give them the ability to shift back into an extra point formation at any point. As a result, the kicker will be on the field, lined up as an eligible receiver.
In most versions of the formation, the offensive line lines up to one side, detached from the long snapper but still on the line of scrimmage. The offense will have at least one person back to take the snap and present a threat, and then the rest of the eligible receivers can line up any number of ways.
There are many different versions of the swinging gate formation, and the term is used as a generic phrase instead of referring to a specific formation.
Swinging Gate Diagram
Here's one example of the swinging gate formation and how the kicking team would line up:
The Swinging Gate in the NFL
The swinging gate is not a play that every team runs at the high school or college level, but it is not incredibly rare to see either.
If you're an NFL fan, you're unlikely to see this ever run after a touchdown, since NFL rules say that an extra point attempt after a touchdown must be snapped from the 15 yard line. Two point conversion attempts are still snapped at the 2 yard line, but the offensive team could not shift into any kind of kicking formation and score on an extra point.
In other words, it makes no sense to line up in the swinging gate from the 15 yard line just so that the kicking team shifts back into a PAT/Field Goal formation. That doesn't mean that a team couldn't line up in an unconventional formation when going for a two point conversion, but it does mean that there would be no threat from the offense to reset back into a kicking formation, so most coaches would prefer to run a more conventional play in that scenario.
That's not to say that you won't see it from time to time in the NFL. One of the more recent and notable attempts was actually on a field goal attempt in the middle of the field from Washington Head Coach Jim Zorn in a primetime game against the Giants.
You can see the picture below, and the way the defense reacted.
The play did not work, and actually ended up in an interception.
What is the Point of the Swinging Gate in Football?
The objective of the swinging gate is to give the defense an unusual formation that they have to line up against with very little warning. The offense is hoping that they can gain an advantage over the defense by snapping the football in a hurry and either throwing a pass or running the ball quickly an a way that the defense is not expecting.
If the defense does not present the look that the offense is expecting, they can still shift back into the kicking formation at the last second and attempt an extra point. If a team can get good at practicing the play, it's a great way to steal points against an opponent.
Many coaches prefer to attempt the play after their first touchdown of the game, attempting to gain an 8-0 or an 8-7 lead over the defense.
Trick Plays from the Swinging Gate
Now let's talk about a couple of trick plays that coaches like to run out of the swinging gate formation.
The side snap is probably the most common play from the swinging gate formation, and the play that most coaches start with when they're installing the formation.
The idea behind the play is literally that the long snapper will not snap the ball between his legs like normal. Instead he will side snap the ball, usually with one hand, and get it to the running back lined up just behind the offensive line blocking in front of him for a short run.
This play has a couple of advantages.
The first is that since it's so unusual to see a side snap these days, the opposing team's players may not be ready for it, and the ball carrier can hit up the middle of the offensive line a lot quicker than expected.
The second advantage is that since the offense is lined up in such a weird formation, the defensive front may not be lined up perfectly to stop it, especially if this is the first time the offense has shown it in a game.
If the defense doesn't even know this play is coming, there's no way they can prepare for it.
Another play that can be attempted from the swinging gate is some sort of quick pass to the opposite side of the formation. Many teams have a quarterback play as the holder as part of their normal PAT/Field Goal formation, and so he is usually the person lined up behind the long snapper to take the snap and attempt a pass.
This is a great play to run if the defense lines up correctly over the offensive line side of the formation to take away the threat of the run.
How to Defend the Swinging Gate
In the video, Coach Grayson explains how they line up to the swinging gate using their 3-3 stack personnel and terminology.
As a defensive coach, you want to make sure you're not just matching numbers, you're matching personnel.
For example, if you've got all of your lighter defensive back-type guys to the side where the offense has their linemen, it doesn't matter if you've got even numbers everywhere, you're still out-matched at the point of attack, and you're not going to have success defending this look.
Your box players and your secondary players need to have an innate understanding of where they're supposed to fit, so if the offense comes out in something a little different, they have some guiding principles to help them figure out where to go.
In college and high school, the offensive team is only three yards away from getting two more points, so leaving any part of the field unprotected for even a moment is a recipe for disaster.
Lining up to Swinging Gate - Example 1
In this more common version of the swinging gate, the first priority is to make sure you're taking away the threat of anything to the "heavy" side of the formation. This means you need to get your box players to where their box players are lined up, and neutralize the threat of any blockers on offense.
For Coach Grayson, since he runs a 3-3 stack, he wants to get all three defensive linemen and all three linebackers to the heavy side.
At first glance you may think the defense is outnumbered to that side since there are six blockers, but the "F" is actually going to play the alley and be responsible for breaking on anything to that side. This guy has to be the guy who can play incredibly well in space and make tackles, because he'll probably have to. The safety position is probably the best place to look for someone like this.
One thing Coach Grayson wants to make sure of is that he has athletic players in space, playing the "alley" between the snapper and the different sides of the formation. If an offense is lining up in an unusual set like this, they're trying to create space in the alley and see if you're going to leave anything available right up the middle.
The opposite safety is playing to the other alley, with a corner on either side of him making sure the eligible receivers in that area are covered.
Lining up to Swinging Gate - Example 2
Here's another version of the swinging gate that you may see from time to time, with a more balanced look.
The formation allows the offensive team to throw a forward pass to either side, and has linemen available in front to throw a block for the screen concept. They don't need the receiver to make a great catch, just catch the ball and get vertical in a hurry before the defense has a chance to react.
The basic principles don't really change much, even if the alignments on defense do. Both safeties are playing the alley to either side of the center to take away any easy running play up the middle, and the box players (defensive linemen and linebackers) are following their rules and playing across from the blockers on either side.
The corner to each side has been given "pass first" rules, meaning he shouldn't bite on any pump fakes but should be ready to go help tackle a ball carrier late if the football comes to his side.
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