Thursday, August 18, 2011

Game Preparation: Breaking Down Our Opponent

As I prepare for my 16th straight season opener as a coach and my 11th as a Defensive Coordinator, I have once again started to think about how I break down opponents. I can honestly say that I have never done it the exact same way in any two seasons. There has always been some new idea from a book, or some nugget from a clinic, or some hard lesson taught to me by a good opposing coach that has caused me to change things from year to year. Over the last few years,the changes have become fewer as I have become more experienced and more comfortable with my own philosophy as a coach. I have developed a framework that works for me and the coaches that I work with. Like most things in any coaching philosophy, this framework is a collection of ideas poached, borrowed, and inspired by other coaches.

Offensive Complexity
We like to determine the complexity of an opponent’s offense. We base this on how much of their attack includes any of the following concepts:
        EMPTY Formations
        FULL HOUSE Formations
        OVERLOADED Formations

We will then break down the opponent film in the following order:
        Split RUN Plays & PASS Plays
        Group plays by FORMATIONS
        Determine TRUE RUN GAME
        Determine TRUE PASSING GAME

Running Game
We want to find out the opponent’s TRUE RUNS. To do this, we break down all offensive plays into Run or Pass. We will then evaluate the run plays and throw out the following:
        Goal – Line Runs
        QB Scrambles
        Trick Runs (Wildcat, Reverse, etc)
        Runs w/ 1 yd to go
        Runs w/ 3 TD lead (game by game)
        Runs in the 4th quarter (game by game)

What we are left with is the core of the opponent’s run game.We will then match these with formations and core surfaces to see what we need to stop.

Passing Game
When we analyze the passing game, we will first classify the pass plays by the QB action:

QUICK = 3 step from under / 1 step from gun
DROPBACK = 5 step from under / 3 step from gun
SPRINT = rolling movement of the QB to a side
PLAY ACTION = coordinated QB ball fake & RB action

After we have divided the plays this way, we will attempt to match up protections with the QB action. We try to group Pass Protections into one of three categories: FULL SLIDE, BOB, or HINGE.

Pass Routes & Combinations
We want to draw each pass play that we see on film. Then we want to look at the favorite routes broken down by position in the formation (#1 WR, #2 TE, etc).
        We want to be able to tell the CB what the top three routes he will see from #1 are.
        We need to tell the Safety & Spurs what the top 3 routes from #2 are.
        We need to tell the LBs what the favorite RB routes are & what routes attack the low hole.
We will then also look at the combinations between the receivers on a side. We want to identify the favorite 2 man combination & the favorite 3 man combination.

We want to evaluate how offenses are attacking towards certain surfaces in their formations. To do this we will identify the formational surfaces used by an offense & what plays they run to that surface. We classify surfaces by the following eight labels:
        OPEN = 1 split WR
        PRO = an attached TE & 1 split WR
        TWINS = 2 split WRs
        TRIPS = 3 split WRs
        TREY = an attached TE & 2 split WRs
        NUB = an attached TE
        WING  = an attached TE & a WB
        WING OPEN = a WB & 1 split WR

All other surfaces, such as QUADS or OVERLOAD, are regarded as Exotics

Field Zone / Down & Distance Breakdowns
      We compile all of the formation & play information so that we can feel secure in knowing our opponent’s “identity” on offense. We then turn our attention to compiling Down & Distance info in search of a clear picture of the opponent’s tactics. We break down the following categories into percentages & favorite plays:


        1ST & 10 AFTER A RUN

        1ST & 10 AFTER A PASS

        2ND & LONG AFTER A RUN


        2ND & MEDIUM

        2ND & SHORT

        3RD & MEDIUM

        3RD & SHORT

        3RD & LONG

We will then examine each Down & Distance category both as a whole & divided into Field Zones.

Putting It All Together
Now, the next question is, Do I type all this up & give it to the players? The answer is HECK NO! One of the biggest problems that I faced as a younger coach was PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS. That means that I would compile so much information that I was unable to put it into a form that it was useful for the players. As I have matured as a coach, the amount of stuff that I give to my players becomes smaller, simpler, and more clearly-defined each year. Now the coaching staff will use all of the information at hand to compile a game plan, and we will use the information to gain a familiarity with our opponent that will enable us to hopefully call a better game. But everything doesn't necessarily need to be shared with the players.
           Case in point: We have broken down 150 snaps of an opponent. Earlier in the year, they ran a tailback pass one time and it was successful for a TD. All of our coaches need to be aware that if the game is tight, we might need to be on the lookout for this. However, we do not need to run it against our defense 10 times that week in practice or give it a whole page in the scouting report. I am more worried about stopping the trap that they have run 38 times.

I will also spend a great deal of time looking at formations & backfield sets. I am looking for some common denominator that can tell me Run or Pass. ( For me to consider something a tendency that I will share with the players, it has to be 70% or more.) I can remember attending a clinic a few years ago and listening to a young college coach talk playing this defense against the run and another defense against the pass. Someone asked him," How do you know if it going to be a run or a pass?" The speaker got a funny look on his face and kind of stuttered and said,"Well, we just know." I almost fell out of my chair. If anyone out there can help me with that special method of just knowing whether it will be a Run or a Pass, please let me know.

In summary, what we usually give to our players consist of the following:
  • a one page summary of the opponent's season and their offensive identity
  • their top 3 run plays
  • their top 3 passes
  • any formation tendency (for example: any formation with 2 TEs is 80% bootleg pass)
  • The LBs must know the top RB and the top run play most likely to threaten their position
  • The DBs must know the top individual pass routes that they will see
  • The DL must know the best OL and the best blocking scheme
  • a final page outlining 3 key Defensive goals for this game
This framework has worked for us but as I said, it changes every year. I am very interested to hear what other coaches do so feel free to share. Thanks!

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