Ok, this one won’t take long as the Ace formation is another of the base formations used in the NFL.

The Ace formation is another of the ‘single-back’ formations used by the offense. This means it employs a single running back who sets up behind the quarterback. It is usually a halfback rather than a fullback as he is the quicker and more athletic of the two running backs.

I guess it could be said that this formation is a variant of the Shotgun that we’ve already covered in this series. That’s because it has all the positional swaps of the Shotgun but has one main difference. That difference is the fact that the quarterback starts the play from ‘under center’ as opposed to being 5-7 yards behind him.

The base "Ace" formation with 1TE, 1HB and 3WR's. Notice that the QB is 'under center' - right up behind him.

The idea behind removing the second running back (as per the Pro Set or I-formation) and adding a third wide receiver is to move a defender off the line of scrimmage, therefore, reducing the amount of pressure put on the QB during a passing play or making it easier to run the ball up the middle. The defense will have to look more at stopping the pass than the run when faced with a single-back formation whilst still respecting the run game.

I know I keep banging on about the tight end position (can you tell it’s my favourite position?) but taking out one of the three wide receivers from this formation and adding in a second TE allows for an extra blocker in the run game as well as keeping that third receiving-type player as well. It’s of massive importance to have a good TE in my opinion. If they can block, run good passing routes and catch the ball, you’re sorted! Just watch O.J. Howard improve that Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense.

Off-Set Variation

A subtle difference to this formation can be to have the running back set up closer to the offensive line (3-5 yards instead of the normal 5-7) and instead of him setting up in line with the QB he is off to one side or the other. This would be done to allow the running back to get on his block quicker if he were to be staying in to block on a passing play or allow him to get out into the flats quicker if he were to be making himself available as a receiver.

In the running game, it allows for a quicker handoff but it’s going to be pretty obvious which side the running back is going due to him setting up on that side.

The offset Ace formation where the running back sets up to one side of the quarterback and closer to the line of scrimmage.


So, the Ace, or Single-back, formation is an offensive line-up where the QB starts under center and there is one running back in the backfield. Because there is just the one running back it is possible to have a third wide receiver if you’re going for longer yards or an extra tight end if you want to add more run-blocking and/or receiving in the passing game – this depends on the type of TE you add in and how good he is.

The extra TE can line up on either side of the offensive line to gain more balance to the formation if he lines up on the opposite side to the TE already in the lineup, or more run-blocking power if he lines up on the same side as the TE already in the lineup.

The Ace is yet another formation that adds versatility and balance by the simple removal of the second running back. This versatility and balance are why you’ll not see many NFL teams use the second running back these days unless they are going full-on power running.