NFL Analysis


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NFL Motion Revolution: How Teams Are Utilizing Motion to Shape Offensive Success

Dec 11, 2022; Inglewood, California, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) celebrates his touchdown scored against the Los Angeles Chargers with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

During the past three NFL seasons, pre-snap motion usage has dramatically increased, not only in the running game but also in the passing game. 

Since 2021, motion in the passing game has increased by more than 1,000 more dropbacks while also increasing about 1,000 more rush attempts. In that timeframe, the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, and Kansas City Chiefs have used motion the most, especially in the passing game.

Many questions remain regarding motion usage in both facets of the game and its efficiency. The goal is to break motion down from an overarching view to the most minute details and work to evaluate its effectiveness.

2023 Regular Season Pre-Snap Motion Stats

This chart shows the total number of plays teams used motion on and the total yards per attempt they gained on those plays. It also breaks down the data by yards per carry and pass attempt. All data is from the regular season. 

Regular Season vs. Postseason

Next, let’s look at the 2023 season split into two parts — the regular season and the postseason — to evaluate motion usage toward its output: an increase in yards per play gained by the offense.

In the 2023 regular season, the NFL averaged 5.75 yards per play when using motion vs. 5.62 yards per play when not using motion. 

These numbers are about 150 more yards during the course of the season for a team using motion vs. never using motion. In the 2023 playoffs, teams averaged 5.85 yards per play when they used motion. When not using motion, they averaged 5.77 yards per play. 

The effectiveness of using motion does not show itself on a season-long, league-wide picture, but let’s see if it does if we dig a little deeper.

Let’s split the 2023 season into regular-season rushing and regular-season passing, and then both categories for the postseason:

All right, we see more effectiveness the further we dig into the usage. Now, onto the postseason:

There is not as much of a change in the postseason as in the regular season for passing, but there is an increase on the rushing end.

As previously mentioned, the increase in usage of motion is a newer concept, one which was used only just more than 10,000 times in 2016 while being used more than 17,000 times in 2023. 

There is bound to be some variance in team-to-team and player-to-player success rates and efficiency. In a cleaner definition, some have mastered it, while others have not. 

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid with quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) against the San Francisco 49ers during Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium. (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Which Teams Are Winning With Motion?

Let’s dive into which teams are doing a good job.

During the 2023 regular season, the average play involving motion went for 5.75 yards per play, allowing us to evaluate which teams were above average in their usage of motion.

The 11 teams that finished above average in yards per play involving motion during the regular season were the 49ers, Dolphins, Texans, Ravens, Bills, Lions, Chiefs, Seahawks, Rams, Cowboys, and Cardinals. 

Out of these 11 teams, nine of them made the playoffs. All conference finals teams from last season were among the teams above average in yards per play involving motion.

Motion will continue to be a prominent topic of discussion, and the jury is still out on its success rate during a larger quantity of time. We did not solve anything here nor prove its true effectiveness. 

But the data is clear. There is an obvious disparity between teams that use motion well and those that don’t when it comes to offensive output and team success.

All data in this story is from Sports Info Solutions.