Putting Together and Practicing a Game Plan

The season has reached the point where you’ve been able to see plenty of film on opponents and you know what they will do against certain formations and in certain situations. Of course, the opponent knows the same things about you.

With rivalry games ahead or playoffs starting, now is a time to get the most out of your offense by planning and making decisions that allow you to stay one step ahead of the opponent.

We have used a simple process for making decisions early in the week that allow us to get the practice repetitions that will ensure the proper execution on game day. Even though you may have run an expansive offense over the course of the season as you have found variations and tags to attack certain opponents, thinking you have that wide menu of plays can lead to confusion for both the play caller and the players. The fact is that there are only a limited amount of practice repetitions available, and you will only call about 60 plays in the game.

We have been able to force discipline on our process by limiting ourselves through a limited amount of plays that will appear on our call sheet on game day. We do this with what we call our ‘game plan board.’

The game plan board gives us a set number of plays which we can carry and feel confident in practicing over the course of the week. We are a concept based teaching team. This means we teach all of the concepts and formations in camp in August, and in the course of the season, our players will learn how to apply the concepts to different formations, personnel groups, and situational offense. During the season, we have two full padded practices and one practice in helmet and shoulder pads that puts the focus on timing rather than contact.

The first section on our board which we plan are our base inside runs. In this section we plan what we consider to be our core runs from formations we feel confident about getting a certain look. If we are unsure how the defense will adjust, we still may plan it and work it against a couple of defensive possibilities. We practice these runs for the most part in a 10 minute period in Practice #1 and again in Practice #2. The top 3 runs in this board will also appear in our team script in Practice #2 and again in Practice #3.

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We also plan up to 4 run checks in which the run is a zone call to a certain technique or a choice between a gap scheme or zone scheme based on the front. Typically, this might be running the tight zone to a one technique. A defense that plays both over and under fronts would put us into this thought process. We may also choose to run the ball to a certain side. We may want to stay with a run to the tight end and give our quarterback a gap scheme like Power to the 3 technique, or Zone to the 1 technique. We will put these checks into our script in team periods as some will also be run-pass checks depending on the number of safeties in the box.

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We use a section called perimeter runs/draws and third down runs to plan for our outside runs like sweeps or stretch plays. We will also include any draw plays we have in this section. These then become part of our team script and situational practices during the week.

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In our run play section we reserve four plays for “coming out.” We consider this area to be from our own 5 yard line and to the 20 yard line. We like formations that widen the edge and spread the defensive gaps out. The thought is we would like to widen the edge so that a blitzer cannot skin off the edge to make a tackle for loss. This is an obvious run situation, so we like our best runs here. This type of mentality also works in a four minute situation in which we are trying to run out the clock.

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The final section for runs are our goal line runs. We will also use these for short yardage (1 or 2 yards to go) and anywhere from our own goal line to our own 5 yard line. We plan four runs here. We use a heavy contact (though we will lighten up as the season goes on) period in Practice #2 and a timing period for review in Practice #3.

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We then think about our passes. We plan 6 to 8 plays that are either quick game or play action. We tie these in closely with our running game. We want the runs to come off of the same formations and actions that we listed in our base inside and perimeter runs. The quick game plays allow us to throw the ball into voids created by the defense aligning to stop the run. We practice these in team periods rather than 7 on 7. We want a true look and reaction out of the defense so we get the right timing and spacing necessary for the plays to be effective on game day.

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We will plan 6-8 drop back plays. These are not necessarily all different concepts. We usually choose 4-5 concepts and give our best one versus the opponent’s coverage a couple of different looks. We will look to carry these concepts over to our situational portion of the game plan when possible.

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Form here we get into our situational passing game. We start with 3rd downs. We will carry 2-3 passes for third and extra long. We consider this to be 10+ yards to go. Though we may choose to use a screen or draw or even base run to gain more field position if we don’t make it and then punt, we want to be able to practice the situation where we have no choice but to pick up the first down, and plays planned to do that obviously work best. We will work all third downs in practice #2 and #3 in both 7-on-7 and team periods.

Our plan then extends to 3rd and long (7-9) and 3rd and medium (3-6). We try to carry over our passes with intermediate routes for 3rd and long, and shorter roughly on 3rd and medium, though we can carry over if necessary. These plays will either be a carryover from the drop back section, or similar plays with some kind of disguise like a shift or motion.

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The Red Zone is another area of the field which we plan specifically for. In addition to our running game and play-action game, we like to plan plays that get us the distance left to the end zone. We feel this takes specific preparation because the field begins to become compressed and vertical space begins to dwindle.

We start our process in the pre-red zone from the 35-25. This is thought of as four down territory. While we may not call a shot from here on every drive, we believe this is a good opportunity for a protected or play-action shot. In this section we include our specials as well. While we may not limit specials to only this area of the field on game day, we like to include and practice them in this section. These plays are practiced in team periods in practice #2 and practice #3.

We include 2-3 passes in each of these sections. When possible, these are either something we carry every week, or a carryover from our drop back plays or play-action plays with necessary adjustments for the restricted vertical space. If they are plays we carry every week, we will adjust the look formation or add a tag as we develop a tendency for using the plays over the course of the season.

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Finally, we plan two passes from the 7 and in or goal line segment. We will practice 2-3 two point plays from the beginning of the season. Our thought process is to use these if needed in a goal line situation as well. If we use one, we will either replace it or dress it up. In our minds, it may go “on the shelf” until we use a couple of other plays.

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That allows us to plan for a total of 20 runs in all situations (again, this is not necessarily 20 different plays, just 20 game plan spaces we are filling), and 35 spaces for passing plays. This seems like a large amount, but we do look to carryover as much as possible, so that play may remain exactly the same call in several game planning spaces, or be adjusted slightly with motions or formations changes.

This translates to game day in allowing us to have the exact answers we need to attack the opponent. Through film study, we are fairly certain of what we will be seeing. It allows us to confirm those thoughts and make whatever game adjustments are necessary.

As a play caller, it gives a starting point and a plan. Using this system I can stay a play or two ahead in my thought process. Between series, I can plan the next drive knowing what I want to do on 1st and 2nd down and in the third down situation I will face. The best part is the players have been exposed to these situations and have an understudying of what our plan is as well.

This seems like a very involved process to be able to game plan this much and find a way to be sure the players get the appropriate practice reps. We have been able to stream line the process and save at least 8 hours a week in creating a program that does the work for us in creating a script after we make our decisions on what plays to run. I am pleased that I will be able to offer this to coaches through American Football Monthly soon. More details will be available about this software program soon.