Offense is the glamour unit in football. These are the guys who do most of the scoring. For this reason, they end up winning all the awards and signing the biggest contracts.
There are several ways to approach offensive football. In American football, offense controls the tempo of the game, so the style of offense a team chooses decides the football philosophy of that team.
Running the Ball
If you can run the ball on the other team, you can shorten the game and tire out the opponent’s defense. Running the ball is considered a “conservative” approach to offense, when it comes to the college and pro game. However, it is still the offensive game plan of choice for the best youth football teams. It tends to focus on limiting turnovers and penalties and controlling the time of possession. The eventual strategy is to wear down the opponent’s defensive unit, so that running becomes more effective as the game progresses.
Passing the Ball
If you can throw the ball, you can strike from anywhere on the field, forcing an opponent to play catch up ball. Passing the ball is considered a finesse type of football, meant to keep the defense on its heels. It tends to focus on quick strikes and seizing the momentum of the game with a big play. Some owners like a passing offense, because it excites fans.
Of course, there are many kinds of offensive styles. The West Coast Offense, for instance, is a pass heavy offense, but one which emphasizes short passing. The idea is that these are like hand offs, but to parts of the field where the defense is weakest. This style of plays relies on big receivers who can break a tackle when they are isolated against a smaller cornerback. It also uses pass catching running backs who can make make a quick cut after catching the ball.
The leader on any football team is the quarterback. The quarterback touches the ball on every offensive snap. He gets the ball to the other playmakers on offense, so he is the key figure on most any football drive.
To be a good quarterback, one must throw the ball efficiently. There are different philosophies about what makes the best quarterback.
Some coaching think a strong arm is the most important factor for a quarterback. This means the passer can get the ball down the field quickly, hopefully over the top of the defense. It also means that defensive backs cannot break on the football in time, and therefore eliminates interceptions.
Other coaches believe that the best quarterbacks have an accurate arm. This type of passer might not get the ball to the receiver as quickly, and may not be able to throw sideline patterns as well. But this quarterback cuts down on receiver drops, because the ball always hits them in the hands. This also reduces interceptions, because the ball doesn’t sail away from the receiver and towards a defender.
Of course, a growing numbers of coaches are looking for the mobile quarterback. This is the passer who can threaten the defense in two ways, either throwing or running the ball. When receivers are covered or pass protection breaks down, the quarterback can run for the first down.
A combination of all these factors is preferable. Coaches don’t want an either/or proposition. But very few quarterbacks can be said to be excellent at any two, much less all three.
Most offenses rely heavily on their running back. On some teams, this is the key player on the offensive unit. This is the simplest, most effective way to control the game.
Running the ball ignores finesse for simple brute force. Your offensive line much push the opponent back, while your runner must break the tackles of linebackers and safeties.
Some runners prefer speed and quickness to the more direct approach. These players tend to run sweeps, hoping to outrace defenders to the sidelines. Runners who can bust long runs are considered highly valuable.
Receivers go hand and hand with quarterbacks. Quarterbacks need targets to throw at, and receivers are their most effective targets.
Receivers tend to be thin and long-legged, able to sprint down the field or cut on a dime. These players must become skilled in route running, which are set patterns meant to fool a defender while allowing the quarterback to know where the receiver will be.
Receivers tend to factor into a few highly pivotal plays in a game. The big play receiver is valued for his ability to change the momentum of the game on one play.
The Offensive Line
The offensive line is a unit of five blockers, six if you consider the tight end. These are the biggest players on the field, who wrestle with their opponents to block for quarterbacks and runners.
They drive down the field in running blocking, opening holes for runners who spring through them in hopes of getting downfield quickly. In pass protection, the offensive line retreats a few steps, hoping to create a “pocket” of protection around the quarterback. This allows him to step up and throw the football with more efficiency.
The Tight End and Full Back
The tight end and full back have utility roles in on a football team’s offense. Both are blockers first and foremost, but they can be used as primary offensive weapons.
The tight ends is smaller than an offensive lineman, but larger than a wide receiver. He has a role that combines these two positions.
The tight end is heavily involved in run blocking, and may be kept in for pass blocking, too. In the passing game, the tight end may slip out into the pattern to catch a pass underneath the defensive alignment.
The fullback once was a major offensive weapon. Over the decades, the fullback has become a blocker and little else. The fullback usually leads the halfback/running back through the “hole”, usually blocking a linebacker who is coming to plug the gap.
Fullbacks might be handled the ball, or thrown the ball, a couple of times a game apiece. These are often in short yardage situations, where the fullback’s lack of speed or quickness are not as much of a hindrance.