It's a crucial time in the football game, and your team is on offense...
You might be facing third-and-short and just need to punch a few yards forward to get a first down and keep the drive going. Or you might be near the other team's goal line and just need to move the ball a few yards for a touchdown.
Football teams face these situations all the time in a game.
Often, the result of these crucial plays is what determines the game’s outcome.
The team that’s more successful in converting -- either the offense or the defense -- is the one that has a leg up in winning.
If you're in such a situation, you as the coach must have a few solid football plays in your back pocket that you know you can turn to.
These plays should have a high success rate for successful conversion, and your team should have mastered all the assignments of that particular play.
These football plays can be both passes or runs.
They can be misdirection runs or play-action passes.
In almost all cases, though, these will be plays that are designed to gain a few yards, not long passes that require receivers to run deep routes down the field.
The plays you’ll turn to in these situations depend on the base formation of your offense.
For example, you’ll often run different short-yardage plays to gain a first down or score a touchdown in an I-Formation offense than you will in a Spread Offense.
It's important that you as a coach understand this and cater your go-to short-yardage plays to not only your personnel but your base offensive formation as well.
Let's take a look at some of the best short-yardage football plays for a few of the most common and popular offensive formations.
The Hammer Formation gets its name from the idea that you’ll bring big offensive players onto the field to "hammer" the ball forward a few yards.
Adding extra big bodies on the line of scrimmage and in the backfield will help you power the ball forward, overpowering the smaller defenders.
In many instances, a coach may even decide to bring one of their starting defensive linemen onto the field.
The Hammer Formation is mostly run out of a shotgun formation. However, it can be used by any offensive formation, as it's easy to make the adjustments necessary to run it.
When you use the Hammer Formation, you’re giving away the fact that you’re going to run the ball.
But you don't really care that this is the case.
You're betting that your big bodies will easily be able to overpower the defense's big bodies, especially since you're only looking to gain a few yards.
1. Hammer Power Run
This is the main staple of the Hammer Foundation.
On this play, you’ll bring in a Fullback and an H-Back who’ll both line up to one side of the field (in this instance, on the left).
They’ll line up just off the right shoulder of the guard and tackle, and only about 1-2 yards behind back.
The right side of the field will bring the Y receiver in tight to the line.
The Z receiver will line up wide near the sideline, and the X will line up between the Y and the Z, a few yards in the backfield.
The quarterback will be in shotgun, about 5-7 yards behind the center.
Before the snap, the quarterback will bring the X receiver in motion to the left side of the field.
When the ball is snapped, all offensive linemen will be responsible for blocking the defenders opposite them to the right side of the field.
The H-Back and Fullback will run straight ahead and pick up any unblocked defenders, pushing them straight back.
The quarterback will have the option of handing the ball off to the X receiver for a sweep.
In almost all cases, though, the quarterback will keep the ball himself and try to get the first down (or score the touchdown) by running.
He'll head toward the guard behind the Fullback and look for an opening.
2. Hammer Counter Run
This is a misdirection version of the football play above.
The formation will be exactly the same. Pre-snap, the X will come in motion to the left side of the field.
The difference is that the X won't be an option for the handoff, and the play will go to the right side of the field.
The offensive linemen will block their players to the left side of the field, away from where the run is going.
Both the H-Back and the fullback will "pull" to the right side of the field on this play.
The H-Back will head over the right shoulder of the guard, while the fullback will head over the right shoulder of the tackle.
At the snap, the quarterback will take the ball and take a jab step to his left, to make the defense think he's headed that way.
Then, he'll cut back to his right and look to make the first down or score the touchdown by heading through a hole opened up on the B or C gap on the right side of the field.
The Jumbo Formation again looks like it sounds -- it brings a lot of extra big bodies on the field in hopes of converting a short-yardage situation.
This formation is mostly run out of the I-Formation.
It features the quarterback lining up under center, with a fullback about three yards directly behind him and a tailback a few yards directly behind the fullback.
In addition to a tight end lined up on both sides of the offensive line, there’ll be an H-Back that’s also in the backfield.
He'll line up to one side of the field between the offensive tackle and tight end at roughly the same depth as the fullback.
The great part about the Jumbo Formation is that you can either run the ball with a power running style or even throw short passes to tight ends or one of the running backs.
The main theory behind this offensive formation, though, is to overpower the defenders by creating double teams along the line of scrimmage.
At the same time, you'll be forcing them to be aware of a potential pass play that can often be run out of play-action passes.
3. Jumbo Power Run
On this football play, the H-Back will line up to the right side of the field, and that's where the play is designed to go.
The tight end and offensive tackle on the left side of the field will try to block their defenders to the left.
The left guard will try to push the defensive tackle back to the right.
The center and right guard will put a double team block on the nose tackle, while the right tackle and right tight end will block their men straight back.
The H-Back will look to pick up the Sam linebacker on his side of the field.
At the snap, the quarterback will take a diagonal path back to the tailback.
The fullback will run forward and aim to turn upfield to the inside shoulder of the right tackle.
The tailback will take the handoff from the quarterback and head through either the B gap or the C gap, depending on where the hole is opened up.
4. Jumbo Play-Action Pass
This play will show the same formation as the football play above.
Instead of handing the ball off, though, the quarterback will fake the hand-off to the tailback and look instead to throw a short pass to either of his tight ends or his fullback.
At the snap, the offensive linemen will block their defenders straight ahead, being careful not to get too far downfield.
The tight ends will each start by blocking forward, and then release to run their routes.
The right tight end will head to the sideline, while the left tight end will cross over the middle of the field.
The fullback will head on a flat route to the left side of the field.
This will give the quarterback three passing options -- one to the left, one over the middle, and one to the right.
After the ball fake, the tailback will head to the right side of the field and pick up any defenders that have broken through the line of scrimmage.
The H-back, meanwhile, will be responsible for picking up the defender lined up opposite the tight end, if he chooses to rush the quarterback.
Short Right Formation
The Short Right Formation is another variation of the I-Formation.
It’ll feature two tight ends on the line of scrimmage, a fullback, and a running back lined up directly behind the quarterback who will be lined up under center.
The 11th player on offense will be an H-back who will line up to the outside shoulder of the right guard, about a yard back from the quarterback's depth and a yard in front of the fullback's depth.
Most football plays out of this formation will be runs.
The idea behind this formation isn’t to necessarily make the defenses guess as to whether it’ll be a pass or run. Instead, the various options for hand-offs are what will hopefully keep the defense off balance.
The fullback, running back, and H-back all can take a handoff from the quarterback.
If your team has a mobile quarterback, he can also keep the ball for a QB sneak after a fake handoff or other misdirection football play.
The formation will be slightly imbalanced to whatever side of the field the H-back lines up, but defenses will still have to guard both sides of the field because of all the handoff/receiving options.
5. Short Right Dive
On this play, the fullback will be the ball carrier.
The idea is the quick handoff won't allow the defense the time to make adjustments.
It also won't allow the linebackers to approach the line of scrimmage fast enough to stop the fullback from gaining at least a few yards.
At the snap, the offensive linemen will shield their defenders away from the B gap on the right side of the field.
That means the left tight end, left tackle, left guard, center, and right guard will all block to the left.
The right tackle and the right tight end will block their men to the right to open up a hole in the B gap.
The H-Back will be responsible for blocking the Mike linebacker.
He’ll take a path between the right guard and right tackle to get there.
The running back will simply run to the right as a decoy.
6. Short Right Lead
The formation on this play is the same as the Short Right Dive.
Most of the blocking responsibilities are also the same.
The main difference is that the fullback will serve as the lead blocker for running back, who’ll take the handoff and go through the C gap to the right.
All players along the line of scrimmage will block their men to the left.
This time, though, the right guard will be responsible for the Mike linebacker, and the right tight end will be responsible for the Sam linebacker.
The H-back's job is to pick up the right defensive end and kick him out to the right toward the sideline.
At the snap, the fullback will head up through the C gap and help block whatever player is trying to break free.
The running back will follow the fullback's lead and go through the open hole that has been created.
The Diamond Formation has emerged in recent years as a short-yardage formation for offenses that typically run a spread offense.
It’ll still use spread offense principles -- such as running out of the shotgun and having multiple options for who gets the ball.
But instead of having multiple wide receivers spread out across the field, there’ll be multiple running backs in the backfield.
The formation gets its name for the shape that’s formed between the quarterback and three running backs.
The quarterback will be in shotgun formation.
The two alternate running backs will be lined up about a yard behind the quarterback and toward the outside shoulder of the offensive guard.
The main running back will line up a few yards directly behind the quarterback, like a pistol formation.
The Diamond Formation is meant to confuse the defense, as there are three players who could be receiving a hand-off on each play.
Passing football plays out of this formation are also reliant on deception, as there could be plenty of misdirection and play-action passes.
One of the strengths of this formation is it has balance on each side of the ball.
In other words, it forces the defense to spread players out instead of allowing them to stack a bunch of defenders to one side.
7. Diamond Power Run
This play will be an outside run by the main running back (2).
At the snap, the two offensive tackles will block forward.
The right tight end will block down on the defensive tackle to push him to the left.
The left tight end is responsible for the Will linebacker.
The left guard will pull to the right side of the field, turning upfield to the left of where the tight end lined up.
His blocking responsibility is the Sam linebacker.
The right guard is responsible for blocking the Mike linebacker.
The left back (3) will take a direct angle forward, toward where the left guard lined up.
He’ll either help block the Mike or take on another linebacker or safety.
The right back (4) will take a curved route to the right side of the line and will be responsible for kicking out the defensive end.
The main back (2) will get the handoff from the quarterback.
The optimal running lane for him is through the C gap on the right side.
This will hopefully be through the hole that’s opened up between the defensive tackle and defensive end on that side of the field.
8. Diamond Sweep Pass
This football play will start in the exact same formation.
It’ll be a play-action pass that’ll fake a run to the left by the running back.
After faking the handoff, the quarterback will roll to his right and look for a receiver that’s also headed that way.
He’ll have three receiving options on this play.
The left tight end will run a quick slant toward the middle of the field.
The right tight end will run a fade/post pattern to right sideline.
The right back (2) will run a flat route to the sideline.
These are all high-percentage routes that are designed to get an easy, short completion.
Double Wing Formation
The Double Wing is one of the oldest formations in football.
Today, it’s mainly used by youth football teams and some college football teams -- mainly the military academies.
It’s an old-school football formation because it integrates a lot of triple option sets and focuses on running the ball a lot more than throwing the ball.
It uses a lot of double-team blocks at the line of scrimmage to gain an advantage for the offense. It also can be a very confusing formation for defenses to figure out, since it's such a different look than a lot of other offenses.
The Double Wing will feature two tight ends at the line of scrimmage.
The quarterback will line up under center with a fullback about five yards directly behind him.
The other two players in this formation are called Wing Backs. They line up in the backfield at a depth of about three yards, and just to the outside shoulder of the tight ends.
In this formation, both wing backs plus the fullback can be used as running options.
The quarterback will often fake handoffs to the fullback and sprint out to one side, using the wing back on that side as a pitch option.
The Double Wing also uses a lot of pre-snap motion with the wing backs to force defenses to make quick adjustments on the fly.
The Double Wing is a great short-yardage formation.
Most of the football plays will be runs, though it's also a great short-yardage passing formation.
9. Double Wing Power
This will be a running play to the right side of the field.
It’ll use double team blocks on the right side of the field, pulling linemen from the left side of the field and a lead blocker to clear out space on the right side.
The idea is to overload the right side with blockers to open up a running lane for the left wing back.
The center and right guard will double team the nose tackle, while the right tackle and right tight end will double team the defensive tackle.
The left tackle and left guard will pull to the right side of the field, turning upfield roughly where the right guard lines up.
The left tight end is responsible for blocking the defensive tackle and shielding him from the right side of the field.
The right wing back will take a slight diagonal direction upfield, shielding the Mike linebacker from moving to the left side of the field.
The fullback's duties are to block the defensive end on the right side of the field, again shielding him from getting to the left.
Before the snap, the left wing back will go in motion.
He'll take a diagonal direction toward the fullback.
When the ball is snapped, the quarterback will hand it off to the left wing back who’ll turn upfield toward the right tackle.
He'll have the option of going through the B or C gap on that side of the field, depending on where the hole forms.
10. Double Wing Power Pass
This is a play-action pass that's designed to make the defense think that it’ll be a power running play.
The offense will align in the exact same formation as before.
Since it's a short-yardage play, the defense is likely to think that it’ll be a pass.
Just like in the above play, the left wing back will go in motion pre-snap, heading on a diagonal direction toward the fullback.
At the snap, the quarterback will fake a handoff to the left to the fullback, then he'll spin around and roll to his right.
The left wing back who went in motion pre-snap will head out in front of the quarterback to serve as an extra blocker.
The offensive linemen will block almost straight ahead.
This will hopefully make the linebackers and cornerbacks think the play is going to be a run.
The idea is to get them to bite on the run play based on the offensive linemen blocking and the fake handoff.
That’ll hopefully open up a passing lane for one of three players who’ll run routes.
Both tight ends will run quick slants to the right side of the field.
The right wing back, meanwhile, will run a flat route to the right sideline.
The quarterback will have these three passing options.
If no one is open, he’ll also have the option to bring the ball down and try to run to gain a few yards.
The T Formation gets its name from how the players in the backfield are lined up -- they form what looks like an upside-down letter T.
This formation is a power-style offense that runs the ball a lot.
Offense that have skilled runners both in terms of running backs and quarterbacks are the best fit for this formation.
It’ll have two tight ends lined up at the line of scrimmage.
The quarterback will be under center, and there’ll be three running backs in the backfield. They’ll all line up about five yards deep.
The 2 will be directly behind the quarterback, while the 3 and the 4 will line up a few yards to the left and right of the 2, almost directly behind the offensive tackle.
Even though almost every play out of this formation will be a run, it still keeps defenses off balance because of all the different options.
On any play, the quarterback has three hand-off options.
He can also keep the ball and run himself, or the coach can call an option pitch play as well.
11. T Formation Belly Run
This play is called a Belly Run because it aims to run the ball up the "gut" of the defense.
It’ll be a run to the right side of the field with a slight pull to cause some confusion.
The left tight end, left tackle, left guard, and center will all block their defenders to the left side of the field.
The right guard will pull behind the right tackle and kick out the defensive end.
The right tackle will handle the Mike linebacker, while the right tight end will pick up the defensive tackle, pushing him to the left.
The 3 will serve as a decoy on this play.
He'll run toward the right side of the field and make the defense think he may be getting the handoff.
The 4 will serve as the lead blocker.
He'll head up the C gap and pick up the Sam linebacker -- or whatever other defender is in that hole first.
The quarterback will hand the ball off to the 2 who’ll head upfield through the C gap.
12. T Formation Counter Run
This will be another running football play, but it’ll be a misdirection that hopefully confuses the defense.
The idea is to make the defense think the handoff is going to the 2 or the 3, while the actual handoff will go to the 4 headed to the left.
This play will also feature two offensive linemen pulling from the right to the left.
The left tight end and left tackle will block down on the defensive tackle, pushing him to the right.
The left guard and center will do the same with the nose tackle.
The right tight end will block down on the defensive tackle.
The right guard and right tackle will pull to the left side of the field.
The guard's blocking responsibility is the defensive end.
The tackle's blocking responsibility is the Will linebacker.
At the snap, the 2 will head upfield toward the B gap.
The 3 will curve toward the right sideline.
The quarterback will fake the handoff to one of these players.
In most instances, it will be the 2.
The 4, meanwhile, will take his first step to the right, then plant and shift back to the left.
He'll head toward the quarterback and take the handoff from him.
His job is to run with the ball to the outside of the formation, running through a hole that’s hopefully opened up by the pulling guard and tackle.
There are plenty of instances in football where the offense just needs to gain a few yards to get a first down or score a touchdown.
These crucial plays will often determine the outcome of the game.
That's why coaches need to have some high-percentage football plays in their playbook that they can call for these times.
The good news is that there are plenty of great plays that the offense can use to get this done. They can be run out of different formations, too, which can keep the defense on its toes.