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CFL X-Factors: Pre-snap Motion Rules, Multiple Backfield Players in Motion

Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at aspects of the CFL that distinguish this league from all other professional football leagues. When a football fan watches a CFL game for the first time, pre-snap motion by multiple backfield players is one of the features of the game that draws the most attention. What is the CFL motion rule?

Well, if you do some research you may find the following description, “the motion player must start from behind the line of scrimmage; players on the line cannot be in motion. In Canadian football, all offensive backfield players, except the quarterback, maybe in motion at the snap; players in motion may move in any direction as long as they are behind the line of scrimmage at the snap.”

So to put this in context, an offence in Canadian football has 12 players on the field. 7 of those players must be on the line of scrimmage, 5 offensive linemen, and 2 receivers/tight ends. That leaves 5 backfield players, one of those is the quarterback, so that leaves the running back and 3 receivers that can be in motion before the snap. This motion can be lateral or it can be towards the line of scrimmage.

The reason why the motion rule makes the CFL brand of football unique is due to the significant advantage the players in motion have over defensive players when used properly. Imagine being a defender and you are assigned to cover a receiver in man-to-man coverage, but presnap that receiver is free to move around freely and the motion receivers can be used to create “rubs” off of one another to knock defenders off of their man to man coverage.

If a defence came in with a mindset of playing heavy man coverage, they would find it very difficult to keep up and maintain defensive structural integrity. The most common defensive response in the CFL is for a defense to play zone coverage. Zone coverage means that they are maintaining a reasonable cushion of space between their alignment and the offensive players. This allows the defenders to pass off receivers that are attempting to use “rubs” to get open on passing plays.

When you have an offence that is willing and able to properly use pre-snap motion to their advantage you get efficient, high-impact offensive units that are difficult to stop. If an offence is not committed to using pre-snap motion effectively it gives the defence the ability to use combinations of coverages, and bring unique pressures to disrupt the offence.

Essentially, the offence and defence get into an ongoing battle of using the motion to get open and finding ways to negate the effects of motion. The pre-snap motion rule sets the CFL brand of football from all other professional football leagues and has the potential to make the CFL one of the most exciting and fan-friendly versions of professional football.

Follow me on Twitter: @AaronSauter7

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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.
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. David Tress

    July 6, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    They should keep the motion rules, 12 men and the rouge, but go to 4 downs to reduce the amount of punting. It would still be a Canadian brand of football.

    • Bruce West

      February 8, 2024 at 3:30 pm

      4 downs are not necessary if the the teams understood the CFL rules and applied them. Unfortunately, most coaches are trained in the US and just adapt what they know and are used to. Hec Crighton who was a referee in the CFL and did 16 Grey Cup games was instrumental in updating the rules in the 50’s also developed a system of plays that synced with the 1 yard line of scrimmage to allow the offense to overcome the need of a fourth down. I used it in 1957 to win every game and the championship of senior high school football in Toronto.

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