Recently I read an article posted by What’s Best Next and came across this gem on being and effective executive that I think is appropriate for writing about coaching football:
Effective executives focus on outward contribution. They gear their efforts to results rather than to work. They start with the question, “What results are expected of me?” rather than with the work to be done, let alone with its techniques and tools.
What does this have to do with being a football coach? Everything.
When I got out of college I was ready to work my tail off as a football coach. I loved the game, had a great work ethic and knew what I was supposed to do. So two years into coaching at the high school level when my head coach promoted me to offensive coordinator I knew exactly what to do when it came time to break down opponent game film: gather statistics.
I knew how often the opponents defense blitz, when they blitz, who blitz, how often they played cover 3 vs cover 1 and on and on and on. It was exhausting, time consuming work. Several weeks into my first season as the offensive coordinator it hit me: I had called hundreds of plays and I hadn’t used the statistical information I was spending hours gathering to call a single play. Not once!
Side note: we run a relatively unique spread option offense that forces teams to defend us differently than they do the more traditional offenses that are prominent in our district. Thus, opposing defenses typically break all their tendencies when defending us.
Now, look back at my quote from What’s Best Next. When I started as an offensive coordinator I was asking “What work needs to be done?” rather than asking “What results are expected?”. I was pouring hours of time into work that wasn’t contributing to my results at all. When you’re an offensive coordinator points are the bottom line. If you get lots of points up on the board it doesn’t matter who is blitzing or when they do it, right?
Good offensive coordinators are supposed to know all that blitz percentage stuff, right? Maybe not and it certainly wasn’t the case in my situation. Also, look back at my “side note”. The point I am making about the reasons my offense forces opposing defenses to break tendencies is true to some extent about every offense. Every offensive system has its nuances that cause opposing defensive coordinators to break tendencies. And if that’s true, than perhaps blitz and coverage percentages aren’t telling us as much as we think they are! If defenses are reacting to your offense, which indeed they are, then you shouldn’t be preparing an offensive game plan for a defense that was designed to stop someone else.
I’m not a guru and I have a lot to learn, but for what’s it worth here is what I do when I sit down for the first time to break down opponent film and mold the information into an offensive game plan.
Offensive Game Plan: Determine their base front
This is typically a pretty easy process. Most teams are married to one front. They may run some variations like under or over, but most teams operate out of the same front a large percentage of the time. When I say front I am including interior linebackers. Thus, against my spread option offense I typically face fronts like 4-2 over, 4-2 under, 3-3 stack, 3-2, etc.
When I start breaking down opponent film I watch the first play and say to myself “looks like they are a 4-2 even front team” or whatever front they are in that first play. I keep saying that to myself until I see something different. When I see something different like an under or over or a 3-2 I ask myself “Why did they do that?” Typically, the change in front is related to down and distance or offensive formation. I write that down and I go back to telling myself “looks like they are a 4-2 even front team.”
Sometimes the film reveals my first assumptions were wrong sometimes it doesn’t. They key is that I don’t evaluate anything else about the team until I determine their base front. Knowing a team’s base front is like knowing a person’s motives. People act according to how they are motivated. Defenses act according to their base front. Once you understand the base front you can begin to unpack why a defense makes certain adjustments in specific down and distance situations and verses certain formations.
Offensive Game Plan: What is the defensive coordinator’s mindset?
The second thing I do when breaking down film is discern the mindset of the defensive coordinator. Do his defensive calls reveal he likes to take chances and force the offense’s hand or is he more of a bend but don’t break kind of guy. This is where statistical analysis used to really tell me lies. Often I would face a coordinator who, according to the stats, was a blitzing, stunting and press coverage fool. Thus, I’d come into the game all ready to call screens and draws and work the snap count only to call plays against a docile, bend but don’t break defense. Why? I was so busy gathering statistics that I failed to recognize that every time this defensive coordinator faced trips he sat back in quarters coverage and ran to the ball.
That doesn’t happen anymore. Now when I attempt to understand the mindset of the defensive coordinator I rely heavily on the adjustments his team makes when his opponent is in formations similar to ours. I watch the ways the interior linebackers and safeties wave their arms as the bump people out or slide linemen over or drop the strong safety back and I ask myself “What have they been coached to do?” It’s usually pretty obvious after watching a handful of plays.
Offensive Game Plan: Put it together
This is simple. Take the information you have gathered, draw your offensive formations up on the board and then draw the defense up there just like your opponent’s defensive coordinator would. Sometimes you’ll come to the end of the first quarter and you’ll feel like a psychic. They may throw a few unexpected adjustments at you, but most of the time you’re going to feel pretty good about how you spent your time in practice that week.
Offensive Game Plan: Take what they give you
At my level of coaching we rarely see more than two defensive alignments per formation. You may coach at a higher level than I do and you may be facing four or five alignments. That’s fine. Draw it all up, take a step back (I do this on my whiteboard and literally step back when I am done) and start writing down the plays you will run verses each set. Typically when I am done I have four or five plays per formation per alignment. So I have a list of four or five plays I want to run if they defend our “open” set with a 4-2 three deep look and I have a list four or five plays I want to run if they defend our “open” set with a 4-2 quarters coverage.
Once I have identified the top plays in each set verses each defensive alignment, I start finding the plays that appear on the board the most. Those are the plays I am going to focus my attention on in practice. Notice, I let the defense dictate my football practice plan and my offensive game plan. We don’t have a bread and butter play or plays. We take what the defense will give us and we take it as many times as they will let us.
Offensive Game Plan: Developing a practice plan?
Tuesdays are typically the day we focus on offense so on Tuesdays we run the plays that were the most common verses the defensive alignments that were the most common on my white board. Wednesdays are primarily defense days for us, but I do get some offensive time as well. So on Wednesdays we rep all the plays that complement the plays we rep’d on Tuesday. These plays are the “answers” in our offensive game plan to the possible adjustments the defense might make once we’ve taken what they will give us several times.
Side note: I believe every offense is not simply a collection of plays but a systematic paradigm for attacking defenses. I have written about that in this post on logic and science in offensive play calling. This is a critical element to my scouting and game planning. Without it, I’d be unable to counter defensive adjustments.
We play almost exclusively on Fridays so Thursday is our last prep day. Typically, we work on the five plays I have concerns about and five plays the players choose to work on. By the end of the day Thursday I generally feel that we know what to do in our offensive game plan. As you know, whether we are going to do it or not is another story.
Offensive Game Plan: Conclusion
I’m not some new age spread option guy that likes to pop off about how lame old man football is. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about recognizing that doing things the way they have always been done is not always the best way to get results. I encourage you to never add a play to your schemes that you aren’t positive will directly help you achieve results. Always be on the lookout for things you are doing that have little or no rationale. You be you. Be committed to sound fundamentals and concepts, but never be committed to anything that isn’t helping you get points up on the board. Build a sound offensive game plan based off of what your defense will do to you based on film, not what they did for other teams.