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CFL X-Factors: The 1-yard neutral zone and how it impacts offensive football in the CFL

When watching a CFL football game many fans will notice that there is a significant separation between the offence and defence which is especially noticeable between the offensive line and defensive line. In all other professional football leagues, the neutral zone is defined as the length of the football. If a player is lined up or is in this neutral zone when the ball is snapped, then that team is penalized 5-yards. But in the CFL this neutral zone is a 1-yard between the end of the football and the defensive players. This neutral zone affects all defensive players which directly affects the level of contact between the offensive and defensive players when the ball is snapped.

Generally, this 1-yard neutral zone gives the offensive unit a few advantages. The most significant is when an offensive team is in a 3rd down and a yard or less situation the offensive team usually brings in a quarterback sneak specialist to pick up the yardage. Teams are tempted to go for it on 3rd down in these situations, rather than punt because with the wide neutral zone it seems fairly easy to pick up the 1st down and continue their offensive drive. There is not a 100% success rate for the offence in these situations, the offence is still taking a risk, but it is generally accepted that this risk is worth taking a chance. Another way the wide neutral zone affects offensive units is that when offensive players are in motion to the line of scrimmage it gives the officials some margin of error for calling offensive players offsides. Most of the time, it is understood that if an offensive player that is in motion is in the neutral zone on the snap of the ball then he will not be penalized.

The 1-yard neutralization does not always favor the offence. When the defensive line is lined up a yard off of the ball, it gives them space to make line movements and stunts. In other professional football leagues the defensive line usually lines up as close to the neutral zone as possible, and when they want to slant or use a twist stunt they back up off the ball to give themselves more room to complete the movement. In the CFL, the defensive line is always backed up off the ball, so it becomes much less predictable when a defence is preparing to use a movement to attack an offence. This creates issues with run blocking and pass protection techniques. Like other unique rules in the CFL, the best teams find ways to use these variations to their advantage while other teams struggle to make adjustments.

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Aaron Sauter Reporter
Aaron Sauter is a 23-veteran high school football coach that is also an fan of all levels of football. He is especially interested in alternative football leagues like the CFL, UFL, and IFL. Aaron enjoys analyzing innovative schemes on offense and defense during his free time.
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