The Best Offensive Strategy In Football
What’s the Best Offensive Strategy In Football?
Everyone has their idea about what the best offensive strategy in football is. The New England Patriots tend to throw short passes instead of run the ball, dinking and dunking down the field and keeping the defense on their heels.
The Minnesota Vikings prefer to pound the ball at their opponents, running Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, while mixing in play-action passes based off the defense’s fear of the running game. Some teams want to take what the defense gives them. Others want to dictate to the defense how the game is going to be played.
So what is the best offensive strategy in football?
As one offensive guru once said, “the one that works”. If a play works, it was a good play call. If a play fails, get ready to hear about it from the fans.
That’s pretty vague, though. So let’s get to the real nuts and bolts of offensive football.
The best offensive strategy in football is to put your players in a position to succeed.
1. Play To Your Players’ Strengths
Figure out what your players do best. The Dallas Cowboys generally have one of the biggest offensive lines in football. They like road-graters to get their hands on defensive linemen and linebackers and throw them around. That happens by running the football, then running it again, then running it again. That only happens when you’re successful enough rushing to stay out of passing situations, though.
The Denver Broncos for years had the smallest linemen in the NFL. They wanted to run screens, draws and trap plays, using the mobility of their lineman to hit the defense with misdirections and getting to the edge of the field. They might trap a linebacker with a pulling guard, or run a screen pass where a linebacker has to take on that same guard. You might think smaller linemen would be a liability in the running game, but some of those Broncos offenses led the NFL in rushing.
The thing with the NFL, though, is that teams have a philosophy and draft accordingly. College teams recruit players that fit into their philosophy. But a youth football coach has it harder, because he has to make do with what he has.
Any coach has to assess his team’s talent, though. So no matter what level you coach on, figure out what it is your players do well. You do that in practice and scrimmages, trying out different kinds of plays. Runs traps, draws, screens. Run deep passes and short passes. Run the power running game, a lot. Then figure out which ones your players are good at.
Don’t assume this only means your skill position players. Figure out what your linemen are good at, too. When you do that, you’ll know the bulk of your best offensive strategy.
2. Attack The Defense’s Weaknesses
Now, figure out what a defense is least talented at. Exploit that weakness. If a defense is big and slow, then run sweeps and pass plays. If they’re speedy and quick, neutralize that quickness by running the ball straight ahead. Turn it into a brawl, as they say.
If a defense is big and fast and aggressive, then you have to use that aggressiveness against them. Run screens passes against blitzes. Run misdirections if the weakside defensive players are too anxious to chase your runners on sweeps to the other side. If the defense is getting to the quarterback too quick, then leave more people in to block or have your quarterback get rid of the ball quicker.
Two teams that are roughly evenly matched should have relative strengths and weaknesses in comparison to one another. If so, figure out what the other defense isn’t so good at. Coaches do that through watching films of that team’s former games. Figure out which types of plays and which specific plays have worked in the past and implement those plays.
3. Adapt To What the Defense Is Doing
If your strategy isn’t working, don’t be bull-headed and keep trying that strategy. Figure out something else to do. The field is large and there are only 11 players to cover it. There has to be a spot open on the field. Hit them where they aren’t.
One decision a defense will make is whether to move their safeties up to the line. If the defense is having trouble stopping the run, they will bring one or both safeties to the line to have more tacklers and more gaps filled. This leaves them vulnerable to the pass. Run a player down the middle of the field if the safeties are helping out too much on the run.
Another decision a defense makes is how many men to rush on passing downs. Most defenses rush 4 men and keep 7 in coverage. Some will bring a 5th player to rush the passer, which some consider a blitz. Others will bring 6 or more players after the quarterback, which is most definitely a blitz. When this happens, you have to get rid of the ball quick, or leave more men in to block the blitz. Or you have to run the ball, hoping the running back can break through the first line of tacklers and make a big play with a long run.
Or you can throw the ball up for grabs into what is probably single coverage, because of the blitz.
4. Ball Control Offense: Get the Defense Tired
When you play defense, you don’t know where you’re running. You have to be on your toes every second, reacting to every movement by the offense. Several players might have to chase down the one single ball carrier. You’ll have to fight off one blocker, run around him and make a tackle. For all these reasons, playing defense requires more constant energy than offense. You tend to get tired quicker.
The best offense takes control of the ball and keeps the opposing defense on the field, fatiguing them. You frustrate the opposing offense, because they have to wait on the sideline for their chance. You also protect your defense, because they get long rests on the sideline and are ready to defend with greater energy when their time comes.
Teams call this a “ball control offense”. The traditional ball control offense is a running attack with an emphasis on no turnovers or penalties. Turnover give the opposing team the ball, usually in good field position. Penalties stop drives and force you to punt the ball back to the other team. Another aspect of the ball control game is to have good special teams, because a good special teams control the field position battle and sometimes gives the team big plays and short fields.
The longer you keep the ball, the more fatigued the defense becomes. Plays that didn’t work in the 1st Quarter will work in the 4th Quarter. That’s why teams stay with the run game, because it gives their big beefy linemen the best chance to get their hands on defenders and wear them down. Even plays that don’t appear to work can have their effect, like a body shot in boxing.
Ball control teams are not always that exciting for fans, who prefer high-flying, big play passing offenses, but the traditional championship offense has been the rushing offense.
5. Short Passing Game
That seems to have changed significantly in the NFL. The change started with the West Coast Offense, which replaced many running plays with shorter, less dangerous passes. The quarterback needed to have accuracy more than a strong arm. The receivers tended to be either bigger players who could shake off a tackle and get a run-after-catch or shifty and able to rip off long runs after the catch.
Big plays came from the natural talent of the receiver – not from throws going 30 and 40 yards downfield. Along those same lines, the running backs needed to be good receivers, so they could get into the same passing game, adding their rushing talents to the passing attack.
The West Coast Offense won Super Bowls in the form of the San Francisco 49ers of Joe Montana and Steve Young, the Green Bay Packers of Brett Favre and the Denver Broncos of John Elway.
New changes to offensive rules in the last few years seem to have continued the evolution towards the short passing game. The New England Patriots with Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Wes Welker have embraced that philosophy.
If you have a quarterback with the talents of Joe Montana or Tom Brady, the short passing attack becomes a ball control offensive strategy. But that’s only if you have the right personnel.
6. Have the Best Athletes
In the end, that’s what having the best offensive strategy in football comes down to. You need to have the best athletes, whether that means the biggest guys, the fastest guys or the most skilled guys. Some combination of the three helps. No matter what offensive scheme you use, it will only be so successful, if the talent gap is huge between the two teams.
But if you have the stars, you can play to their strengths, attack the defense’s weaknesses, adapt strategies to help them success when the defense has thwarted them and keep control of the game by controlling the ball.
In the end, the best offensive strategy is to get the best athletes you can find, put them in the best situations you can think of to help them succeed and control the ball more than your opponent does.
Believe me, that’s a lot harder than it sounds.
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