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Ghost motion: What it is and how offenses use it, explained

We continue trying to add to your football knowledge base

New York Giants v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The New York Giants recently wrapped up mini-camp practices. As we transition into a six-week break before training camp, we at Big Blue View will continue expounding on football terminology. Today, we’ll take a look at Ghost Motion.

Spooky, yes, even though it isn’t Halloween season. Ghost motion is a pre-snap offensive movement where an offensive player (typically a wide receiver) motions from the outside into the backfield as if he were going to take an end around, jet-sweep, or reverse.

Ghost motion deceives the defense into believing the football is going to the motioning player, which keeps the end man on the line of scrimmage honest, will remove a man-covering defender from the receiver’s original side of the field, and it could force defensive shifts.

The Giants used this approach to successfully run the football against the Titans in Week 1 last season:

Although the Titans did not bring a defender from the boundary to the field side to follow Sterling Shepard (3), the overhang defender stayed on the far hash, which allowed Saquon Barkley (26) enough space to run for 68 yards in the third quarter.

Barkley scampered for 33 yards in the fourth quarter on the play above. Shepard’s motion didn’t force a shift per se, but attention was paid to the veteran receiver. Both of these plays were G-Lead (play side guard lead), double-pulling (Power/Gap), ghost-motion, strong-side (toward the tight end) boundary runs (short side of the field), where the Giants sent a fast three to the field side to cause hesitation.

Fast forward to the Giants' 31-24 Wildcard victory over the Vikings, and we’ll see a different rushing play design that used ghost motion successfully. From the PONY package (21 personnel), the Giants run ghost motion misdirection crack-toss (also known as crack-sweep) to the weak side.

Matt Breida (31) motioned, which caused the Vikings to rotate their strong safety down into the box. Isaiah Hodgins (18) blocks the end man on the line of scrimmage, and Andrew Thomas (78) kicks out to lead block. The combination of athletic/adaptive blocking, and Saquon Barkley’s vision/patience, helped this play result in an early road playoff touchdown for New York.

The Giants enjoyed rushing success by using the ghost motion to deceive - its purpose - but Big Blue also incorporated the tactic in a variety of ways while passing the football. I love how, despite suffering an eye-injury mid-season, the Giants found a diverse role for their rookie tight end.

In 12 personnel (two tight-ends), in an i-formation (with Bellinger in the backfield at full-back), Mike Kafka dialed up an end-around ghost motion from the boundary side to the field side, with a play-action element to occupy the eyes of the Colts’ defense. Once Darius Slayton (86) started his motion, the apex defender cheated toward the line of scrimmage.

Hodgins took Stephon Gilmore (5) - the lone cornerback on that side - deep. Bellinger acted as the lead blocker but exploded into space behind two defenders who attempted to fit their run responsibilities. Jones found the rookie tight end for a 24-yard gain on the innovative play design.

The ghost motion is not a novel pre-snap approach for stressing the defense, but it’s effective. I expect to see more of it from this Giants’ offense in 2023.