Friday, June 04, 2010



From a recent e-mail:

I think that plays fall last in a hierarchy that goes

1. Principles
2. Formations
3. Audibles/Directives
4. Plays

As for 1, a team can't operate in flow unless people know
what to do based on what's happening on the field -- and
time spent together should be used to make sure that
the team's principles are shared (and understood) knowledge
among the players. Principles like (for example)
look downfield first, take what they give you on offense,
right-of-way to the downfield cutter, communicate
actionable information, move it off the
line, through-or-over against zone D, ....

With principles in play, formations (2) are important. How
do we structure our endzone? What is our Ho stack, exactly,
and what should we be looking to do with it? Which cutters
get preference? How do handlers set up? How do they dump,

As for 3, audibles can tell us who should cut, and where,
how to focus the O or D [such as, "move left" or "endzone"],
or how to get out of a jam [a signal for give-and-go or
break-mark]. Even just having signals for
break-mark and deep cut might be enough.

Finally come plays, which are usually only useful
off of stoppages, and only if people are in position
and have the wherewithal to set it up. Typically
it will unfold as follows: travel call; handler
thinks to call a play rather late during the stoppage,
just before the tap in; four of the six other players hear
the call; two of those four are not in position and start to
head into position only after the tap comes; the
timing of the start of the play is off, and one or
two of those who didn't hear the play have gotten
in the way or somehow messed it up by not being
aware. Because a play involves lots of people
knowing what to do and implementing this knowledge
in unison and on cue, it is the hardest thing to
do. The HUGE majority of deep cuts, for example,
come from opportunistic cutting, not plays.

Teams should acknowledge these difficulties
openly and honestly, freeing themselves from
the lie that plays make the difference.
1, 2, and 3 make the difference. Plays, if
used at all, are icing. If a team *does*
acknowledge these truths,
then it should focus its time
according to its priorities.

Thanks for listening,


Zaz, I love this post. It captures a lot of very important knowledge about the game that many new and learning players and programs struggle with and communicates it succinctly.

It also helps clarify terms and helps people communicate better about the game.
how are you imagining pull plays fitting into your hierarchy?
Couldn't agree more with this post. I do think pull plays matter, but if the team can't adjust on the fly based on a common understanding, they'll stagnate over time.

From Roger Cohen's NY Time column today (6/15):

"As Jean-Paul Sartre once observed, 'In football everything is complicated by the presence of the other team.'

In this it resembles diplomacy and war. The best-laid plans scarcely survive the first contact with the enemy."
Thanks for the comments, folks. (Sorry, I haven't been servicing this blog much lately.)

To AJ, re pull plays: You should call a string (which should include breakdown options) every time you receive the pull. Most pulls will not result in a tap in, hence no set play will be needed, but that *will* happen several times each game (unless you're doing all the pulling, meaning you're crushing). So yes, you can put a play in your bag of tricks. But even then, they don't always work as planned, and they're not really necessary. You can always use a string off a stoppage, too.
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