Tag Archives: scouting

Why You Should Understand Football Offense and Defense

Understanding Offensive and Defensive Football

Would you try to cut the wire on a ticking time bomb if you didn’t have a general understanding on how it worked?

Let me start by saying I just received my copy of Developing a Defensive Gameplan by Kenny Ratledge.  This is a very detailed book, and the very first thing I noticed about this was that over half of this book was dedicated to understanding offense.

That inspired this post.  I’ve run into a problem with some coaches recently, and I hope its not a trend.  Offensive coaches don’t want to really learn defense, and defensive coaches don’t want to learn offense.  This is very disturbing to me. I love both sides of the ball.  I’ve been born and raised as an offensive coach (I played offensive line, I’ve coached offensive line and runningbacks).  However, I’ve also coached linebackers and defensive line in my short coaching career.  I truly love both sides of the football. 

The Problem – Football Coaches Don’t Respect The Other Side

However, more and more coaches seem so interested in their side of the ball, it’s disgusting.  These aren’t simply young coaches, they are experienced coaches too!  On top of that, some have been very successful at the high school level, and some have done very poorly.  As I mentioned in my film analysis posts where I look into both Defensive Game Film Analysis and Offensive Game Film Analysis, a coach must thoroughly understand both themselves and their opponent.  Only then can you put together a sound game plan and really understand what the tape is showing you. 

Even if I was simply an offensive line coach, I would still have purchased several books.  I own a book one the basics of almost every defense imaginable, the over, the under, the 30 stack (multiple books on this since it’s a pain in the butt to block), the eagle, the 46.  I’ve read books by Arnsparger,Vanderlinden and Fritz Shurmur. I truly try to understand play calling philosophies, run fronts, secondary run support, and what defensive coaches love about their defense.  On Coach Huey’s Football Forum, which I highly recommend, I constantly read the defensive thread.  I want to understand all the nooks and crannies so I can exploit them. 

How Football Basics and Fundamentals Play In

Teaching Young Coaches

I understand that most young coaches make a crucial mistake in their early years.  They learn the X’s and O’s, and forget the fundamentals.  I humbly disagree and offer this ammendment.  Most young coaches learn the side of the football they played in and know it well from their position’s perspective.   Why? Because they are comfortable and confident.  Instead, experienced coaches should encourage these kids to simply learn the fundamentals from a position on the other side of the football.  This will accomplish a few things, it will make a young overconfident coach shut his trap as he learns the other side of the ball.  On the other hand, it will also encourage that young coach to understand this completely different perspective.  Suddenly, his eyes will open up.  This will breed success in your program as you develop coaches.  Take that with a grain a salt of coarse, as I am not a head coach, however, I strongly believe in this philosophy.

Perhaps hidden in the concept of moving a young coach to the other side of the ball is the fact that he will need to learn the fundamentals of that position.  By doing that, it will take him to back to basics approach.  Suddenly, he won’t have all the answers and can’t use all the drills he learned when he played.  He now has to rely on older, more experienced coaches or other resources in order to accomplish his daily tasks with his position group.  This will take away time where he will be drawing x’s and o’s or looking for the latest and greatest play in a book.

Helping Experienced Coaches

By understanding the other side of the ball, you can put your kids in the best position to succeed as you break down film and on game day.  As an offensive line coach, I try to obviously watch the blocking but also who makes the tackle.  If I understand the defense in it’s fundamental form, I can figure out what their game plan is or what their kids are taught, and I can defeat that scheme and put our athletes in the best position to win.  For instance, if the safety on the backside of an Under front is making a whole lot of plays as we cut back, then I know I need to get him out of the box.  I need to manipulate my formations or have the offensive co-ordinator adjust his play calling to accomplish this.  Maybe I go into a twins look to force the safety out of the box or run a drag route with the tight end where that safety used to be.

However, if I didn’t understand the defense, I couldn’t make these assumptions. I could make some assumptions about why he’s making the tackle, but I could very well be wrong.  This could easily put our kids in a very poor position to be successful.

From a defensive coach’s perspective, understanding offensive football is a must.  That is why over HALF of Kenny Ratledge and a great deal of other books and real defensive playbooks you may come across online are  focused on offense.   Giving the kids and your coaching staff common language for understanding formations, routes, philosophies, plays, and blocking schemes are critical for your success on the football field.   Spending the little bit of time to go over this is crucial for your success as a defensive coach.

Conclusion – Understanding the Whole Picture

By understanding the whole picture, you will become a better coach.  Not only will it help you understand how to put your kids in the best position to be successful, but it will help you become more well rounded.  If you hope to become a head coach some day, this is crucial as you develop your own personal philosophies on football.  In addition, even if you don’t become a head coach, it will help you interact with coaches from the other side of the football.  Often times, they are your best tool to understanding that perspective of the game and many coaches fail to utilize their comrades from across the line of scrimage.

Essentially you need to make sure you understand if it’s the blue wire or the red wire your going to cut before you disarm that bomb.

Analyzing Game Film from a Defensive Perspective

Overall, I feel looking at film from a defensive perspective takes considerable time and effort. Remember, this is probably for young coaches who have not learned how to watch film or analyze it. You head coaches or DC’s out there probably know far more than this and have a style that works for you (that’s why your in charge and I’m not!). So this is for those coaches who want some help in this field, and for whatever reason can’t find it somewhere.

You need to first ask yourself when you pop in that film, where do I stop? There needs to be an end point somewhere. Or you’ll watch film forever, rather than preparing from it.

The first year I was in charge of scouting offenses at the varsity level, I made sure I knew all their plays, when and where they liked to call them, and why they called such play.

It was worthless.

We couldn’t stop anyone on defense, and I blame a lot of it on myself. When I look back on it, I would force myself to do the following things.

1) Prepare for their best plays, and their best plays alone
2) Don’t be overly specific with tendencies, only chart run pass and then to the boundrary, middle, or field.
3) Understand who their top 2 playmakers are, and how they utilize those players and when.
4) Look for tells, but only the truly obvious ones. At the high school level, if you can barely notice a tell, the kids likely won’t.
5) What do they do with motion? Usually, offenses are lazy with it and don’t utilize that facet of their game well.
6) Understand the tendencies, but don’t over analyze them. Their gameplan can be completely different for you and your strengths (or your weaknesses).

So, when I pop in the film the first time, I first ask myself, what is the offense trying to accomplish. Unlike offense, I watched the whole film one time through. Offensive gameplans usually aren’t very reactive, even the “check with coach” style offenses. They use formations to get what they want, even if they say they’re taking what the defense gives them. This is a matter of opinion, some coaches would argue the very opposite with me for quite a while. Make up your own mind in this regard.

When I watch the offense the whole time through, I try to figure out what their game plan was. What do they like to do? How do they utilize their playmakers? Do they get them in space? Do they have athletes and how do those athletes make plays? From the best coaches to the worst, almost every coach tries to give the playmaker the football. It’s just a matter of how often and how they utlize other players to make that player stand out more. The next question I ask myself is if their is a method behind their madness. I feel a lot of average offensive cooridinator’s don’t understand the purpose behind their playcalling. They can get players in space and maybe out athlete you, but usually you can keep these coordinator’s best player’s relatively contained, even with somewhat worse athletes. If I feel the offensive coordinator will ignore options in other places and force the ball to his playmaker, I will be a little more aggressive in defending said player, and I may be willing to give up some plays on the other side of the field.

For instance, let’s say they have a stud slot receiver/scat back type. He’s shifty with good ball carrier vision. If the o-coordinator forces the ball to that player, no matter what his position, I will adjust my defense to defend said player. Once the o-coordinator proves to me that he can adjust, I will adjust more evenly.

If the o-coordinator shows me this on film, then I need to be more careful and spread my defense a little thinner across the field. The better o-coordinator’s utilize their system wisely. If I take something away, they should grab somewhere else. So, when watching film, I look for this. Does the offensive cooridantor attack the weaknesses of a defense? And when that defense adjusts, does he find the next weakness? Does he like to wait on this, or does he pounce on it right away?

So these are the things I’m thinking about the first time I pop in the film.

The second time I look at the film I try to break it down. This is where I fell apart the first time through. Understand that so many factors can effect playcalling. There are simply too many variables, and I cannot definitevely say that these tendencies will hold true unless I’ve versed this offensive coordinator several times already in the past and he’s a stickler.

So how do I break down film? I right down their the yard line, down and distance,hash, formation, and play, and result. I may keep notes on who gets the ball if they really force it to their playmaker, so that way I can see if they’ll at least spread the wealth.

Now, that’s a lot of information to keep. Too bad most of it is worthless. But it’s worth doing because you need all of this information for different areas. Just don’t use it all for tendencies.

I write down the specific play because I need to use this for the scout team. I simply tally up the number of times plays are ran, keeping in mind game conditions (score, yardline, ect) and try to put together their best plays. These will be prevented to the scout team offense and used in our defensive gameplan (top plays to stop by formation). I track the formation to see what their favorite plays are out of those formations. I also tally the top plays out of these formations. A lot of play callers simply use formations and plays together, not as seperate entities, which they should be. If they make this fatal mistake, we can be in a safe defense for pretty much everything based on formation.

The only thing I really use for tendencies then, is the down and distance and whether it was a run or pass and what part of the field it went to. Anything more than that (specific plays, ect…) will be statistically insiginficant (meaning the margin of error is too high). Even the way I do it will likely be statistically insignificant. However, the margin of error, nonetheless, will be much less.

I may also look at the hashes from a purely directional stand point if I feel the OC over utlizes this. Do they only like to run to the right side? Once their on the right hash, will they simply run a sweep so they can run to the right side some more? They will probably run inside too so they can keep going that way, in order to stay away from the 12th defender (that pesky sideline).

From here, I watch the film some more. I again ask myself, what is the OC trying to do? Is he force feeding the ball into his RB or QB’s hands? Is he trying to play games with my outside linebackers by tying a run play with a bubble screen? Does he want to force me to cover all of his wide receivers? Or does he want to pound the rock until we fall asleep so he can throw it deep?

I feel if I answer it the same way again, I know the offensive cooridinator. If I am still struggling, I will watch the film again.

Overall, don’t get bogged down in the statistics. Take away what they do best and the most often. Force them to be uncomfortable.

The most important rules I’d say for implementing your analysis…

1) Don’t throw away your defense for a “good” offense. Adapt your defense and put them in positions to succeed. Do NOT change your defense every week. Prepare for it in summer camp and have an answer then. This means making scouting reports based off of last years film in the off-season.

2) Be confident in yourself and your opponent’s abilities. Maybe they do force feed the ball to the runningback. But that’s probably because he’s really flipping good. So understand it’s okay to overplay him a little bit.

3) Don’t give the kids answers for everything, but do have them in your call sheet. If they surpisingly start running Gun QB Iso with their slow QB and they get 5 yards a crack, you better have some kind of A gap play that can take that away.

4) Don’t focus on the statistics. They lie … all the fricken time. Know what your opponent is trying to do, but don’t buy into the numbers so much. It will eventually bite you.

5) Understand what they want to do. It’s your best chance. If you take away their running game and they run Iso and Power all day, and you take that away, expect them to pass only so they can come back to running power and iso.

This has worked for me fairly well. I’m still learning, and I’d love to hear your tips.

Analyzing your opponent

I consider this a post for young coaches who are watching film for the first time in their young careers (I say that while I just completed my 5th season coaching at 22 years old, so I should say “younger” careers than myself).

I’ve been watching film for a while now. I’ve watched for both sides of the ball at the varsity level. One thing that would have helped considerably would be someone “teaching” me what to look for early. So, head coaches, it may be a good exercise to spend a day in the off-season reviewing the basics for your program. Coach your coaches, trust me, most of us want to learn!

This first post will come from the offensive coaches perspective. I will cover defense on a soon to come date ( I promise, the season’s over, so it will be soon!).

As an offensive line coach, I first try to identify the defense’s base fronts. Is it in the Under Family? Is it an Over family? Do they run multiple? Do they base out of 3 down linemen, 4, or 5?

The next thing I do is I speed through the tape to try to find the offense on film running one of our base formations OR a similar formation. You must identify the style of offense. Some teams, while they may run the same formations (let’s say the I formation), they may run veer and midline option extensively while you run iso and power. This will change defensive responsibilities. So you need to know your opponent’s defense, and a little about the offense they are playing to keep things relative.

Once I find a formation I like, I look at their front structure. I ask myself what it is, (under/over/30 stack, ect…) and where they play their kids in that front. I write down all their players in their relative position. I then identify the coverage. This is probably the trickiest for young OL coaches especially. Some will see a single high safety and assume Cover 3. You need to look at the corners. Where are their eyes on the snap of the football? Where are they playing? A lot of times, the film won’t show you the full defensive coverage, so it’s important to “build the puzzle” yourself. If that corner looks exclusively at the receiver after the snap, you’ve dropped the coverage possibilities to Cover 4 or some Man variant. If he’s peeking inside, Cover 4 is a possibility, but it’s safe to say it’s a zone. If he funneling the receiver inside while looking inside? Then he’s probably playing the flat. Don’t assume that’s cover 2 though. It could be Cover 3 cloud, Cover 4 still (especially if the #2 receiver went flat immediately) or some qtr qtr half coverage. Is he to the field, boundary, the middle of the field? After analyzing that corner, look at the other corner. Is he doing the same thing with the same technique? If it is, you can assume that it’s not a split coverage like qtr/qtr/half or Cover 3 cloud. If it’s different, then you likely have split coverage.

Why do you need to know the specific coverage though, besides for passing plays? The pass coverage often dictates the run support. If you have a flat playing corner to one side, you can assume the safety will be late in run support, meaning off tackle and outside runs can do well for 5 yards if you can account for the front 7. If the safety is showing up, then you have active safety support (cover 4, Cover 1 with a robber safety, Cover 3 Sky), you want to examine the other side. Cover 4 will show you active safety support to both sides. Cover 3 Sky will show you active safety support to only one side. Qtr/Qtr/Half will show you active safety support to one side as well. Man coverages really depend on the style of man and the defensive coordinator’s coaches.

Understanding the defensive coverages out of your fronts will help you understand how to game plan your running game.

After I do this for our base formations (and trust me, you will get faster at this, it goes slow at first), I look at down and distance coverages. Does our formation set their front and coverage, or is it down and distance? I will write down all of this information on one sheet. I do it separate though because then I find it easier to notice discrepancies. Sometimes, you will realize late in the film process that the coverage is different then you really though. A common one occurs when you find out the defense is in cover 4 and not cover 2 because the corner jumps the flat only when #2 goes flat. This is common. But going through the film looking at down and distance only on the second time through will help you notice early mistakes your first time. Also, I find that I am more efficient this way. Jumping back and forth bogs me down. It takes forever to go through film once this way. I’d much rather do it quickly twice then take forever once.

Analyzing personnel is critically important as well. If I can’t find like-formations but I do understand their base defense to setup for practice, I at least really focus on their players. Can this person take on a down block? Does the nose immediately fall to the ground and make a pile when he simply senses a double team? Does he spin off a down block out of his gap? How quick is he off the ball? Does he use his facemask or his hands? Does he stop his feet? Does he have a tell on stunts? Who’s his backup and why is he the starter? Is he really his height and weight listed on the roster? Can he take on a lead blocker out of the backfield? Are the linebackers slow players but sure players or fast but overly aggressive? How did the DC role play his personnel? This is especially important on a year to year basis. Does he like pluggers at nose? Is his backside backer always a great tackler but poor at taking on blockers?

I make sure I look at personnel no matter what. It is always my 3rd time through on the film. That way I can think back on what other plays that kids stood out on. I will sometimes make notes on this in my other notes though if the kid makes a big play. That way, I can erase assumptions. If the kid blows up a fullback on one play, and it really stands out, but he sucks at other times, I can always erase it later.

After I’ve collected this data, I then watch it one time through at least for “kicks”. I try to get a feel for the game. Without looking at my notes, I try to predict what the DC will call based on down and distance and the offensive formation. Does he bring pressure in the red zone, or does he backoff? Does he play deep in sudden change to prevent the big play (when his defense is brought on the field after a turnover) or does he bring the house because he’s upset?

Now this is from an OL coach perspective, but skill position coaches could follow these same tactics and apply them to the passing game. Understanding how the defense plays the run is critical for the play action game. Young WR coaches often get defensive coverages mixed up because a HC assumes they will know just because their the coach and they should magically know. RB’s coaches and QB’ coaches can obviously learn from this as well for obvious reasons.

Perhaps the most important thing to do in film is not worry about getting things wrong. If you watch film 2 or 3 times, you won’t be. You’ll understand who they are. But keep your focus. Don’t stop and come back to it unless its unavoidable. Watching it through gives you the feel for the game. It will make the process faster. Once I get rolling, it goes quick. Remember, you should hopefully have 3-4 staff members looking at film as well. As a HC or OC, if you want deeper analysis on one portion of the game, give it to coaches individually. Don’t stick it on one coach alone or yourself. Maybe give the OL coach the specific job of understanding their run support and fronts, but give the WR coach the down and distance. Give the QB coach secondary personnel and give the RB coach front 7 personnel.

I like to watch it from all perspectives because that gives me the best feel for the game. However, for some, they may not need that. Do what works best for you, and move on.

Coaches, if you have any additional tips, feel free to leave them here. Have a good one!