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Are NFL teams better off using play action out of shotgun or from under center?

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NFL: Seattle Seahawks at New Orleans Saints Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday I took a brief look at a statistic from ProFootballFocus.com on the usage by the Seattle Seahawks of play action during the 2018 season and where Russell Wilson ranked among NFL quarterbacks. That snippet was obviously a very shallow look into play action at the NFL level, and while I have no intentions of making a deep dive into play action statistics on Twitter on a Friday afternoon during the summer, Twitter has again delivered a couple bits of data about play action that fans may find interesting.

The first comes from Dan Pizzuta (@DanPizzuta on Twitter) and the data comes from Sports Info Solutions (sportsinfosolutions.com). In this Tweet the data was split into play action passes from the 2018 NFL season for those play action attempts that came out of shotgun formation and those play action attempts that were made after the quarterback started out under center.

Taking that table down to the very simplest of ideas, it seems as though play action is - or at least was for the 2018 season - far more effective when the quarterback is not in shotgun. This could simply be a side effect of teams attempting to use play action out of the shotgun in a third and long or two minute situation, but without the data broken down further, we can’t know for certain.

The second tweet was put together following reports that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers doesn’t like to use play action from under center because he does not like turning his back to the defense.

So, it was then posited by Keegan Abdoo, who is a Next Gen Stats Researcher for the NFL Network and a Research & Recruiting consultant for UCLA that perhaps the reason Rodgers does not like play action from under center is because he does not like turning his back to the defense. Whether that is the case or not, we may never know, however, what we can do is look at what the pressure rates are for play action out of both alignments.

This data covers the last three seasons, and it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out that a quarterback is much more likely to be pressured and hit after running play action from under center as opposed to out of shotgun. Again, this data is not parsed down any further than what is provided in the Tweet, so there could be situational reasons for the difference. However, at least from a high level, quarterbacks are far more likely to come under pressure after running play action from under center.