PRACTICE PLANNING AND GAME
Walsh was a planning
mastermind. He planned his training camps down to the minute. Each year Walsh
would revise and refine the schedule with his assistants to fit the needs of his
teams. Walsh had four basic strategies of team development:
1. The teaching of individual
fundamentals and skills.
For example, the 49ers practice goal line offense, short yardage, 2
minute offense, etc. The players learned to appreciate this regime because they
could be confident that what they learned on the practice field, they could
apply in a game. Every logical situation that might occur in a game was isolated
and the strategy and tactics were accordingly devised. These situations were
given practice priorities with a specified number of minutes.
2. The choreographing of actions of
groups, such as defensive backs or offensive linemen.
3. The development of TEAM
EXECUTION, such as the offensive unit.
4. The implementation of SITUATIONAL
FOOTBALL, as related to the specific game
It's vitally important that
players take the field to learn something each session rather than have only
their courage tested. This approach should be reflective all the way down to the
YOUTH football level ( Pop Warner ). There are only so many times when a coach
should test a players courage or willingness to totally sacrifice. The player
should be taking the field to learn, and usually to practice something specific
that has been discussed beforehand.
There are at least 4 major
benefits from precisely scheduling training camp and practices during the
1. NO wasted time on the
There is NOT a reason a coach can't become more effective each year, if
he can retain enthusiasm for his work!!
2. The learning process is accelerated.
· Players could view the
practice schedule the night before, so they knew those areas that would be
emphasized. Each category was specifically reviewed. When you take the field you
want the best possible learning environment.
3. The game can be approached on a
broad base, rather than piecemeal.
· Every phase of football is
worked concurrently. All facets are emphasized.
4. Initially, the Head Coach can coach
· Teach the coaches how to
instruct the skills and fundamentals to the
Teams which attempt to adopt
the 'West Coast Offense' and duplicate its success solely by copying the play
schematics and blocking schemes are taking a fragmented approach to installing
such a system. In order to fully understand the West Coast Offense, a number of
factors concerning the parameters of the system must be considered,
1. The type of offense
A TEAM MUST KNOW WHAT
TO DO IN ANY GIVEN SITUATION.
amount of offense required.
3. The requirements for installing and
implementing this system.
4. The practical application of the
West Coast Offense on gameday.
What to address against a
· Who will be the key
personnel at the point of attack?
· When is the best time to run a
particular play or play sequence?
· Where on the field will a particular
play or play sequence have the best chance for success?
· Why will a particular play or play
sequence be productive versus this particular opponent or specific
often may a particular play or play sequence be repeated with relative assurance
of its success and how should it be adjusted if it is to be
do the environmental conditions affect the potential quality of the
IDENTIFYING AND IMPLEMENTING
A critical part of the game
planning process is to identify the skills each player needs to perform the
tasks involved in a particular play. After identifying the skills needed by the
player, a team must have a process in place for ensuring that their players
develop these skills so that each play is productive. Taking steps to develop
these skills in every player occurs in two stages: isolating the skills and
teaching the skills.
1. Isolate the
skills. The first step in the game planning process should be to analyze
the tasks involved in the assignment of each player. Next, a decision must be
made regarding whether or not the players have the ability to master the
necessary skills. If it is determined that the ability of the players does not
mesh with the skills required for a specific task, then this part of the
offensive game plan must be discarded or altered to fit the level of talent. The
more specific a players preparation for a particular game, the better their
2. Teach the skills.
Collectively, teaching players the skills they need involves an evolutional
process of promoting, enhancing, practicing and refining each facet of the
capacity being developed. In this regard, the rudimentary teaching progression
of " Hear it - See it - Do it " is applicable as it ever
Success on the field does not occur by accident. Simply put,
PREPARATION PRECEDES PERFORMANCE. The most brilliantly designed scheme
and game plan is virtually worthless unless a well orchestrated method is
presenting, installing and practicing that scheme and plan exists.
One of the most difficult
tasks as a head coach is making judgments and decisions under severely stressful
situations. The better prepared the head coach is, the more capable he will be
of acting under pressure.
Because preparation is based on
probability rather than certainty, as head coach, you must account for every
situation and contingency that can reasonably be anticipated. Anticipating the
factors which may cause you to experience severe stress during a game can be
helpful in several ways, including:
· Reduces the likelihood that
you will have to do too much guessing under the stress of the
Practicing for every reasonable situation and contingency means that you
are upholding your primary responsibility to the team - REDUCING THE LEVEL OF
UNCERTAINLY BY THOROUGHLY PREPARING THE TEAM.
Enhances your ability to make adjustments during the game.
· Provides players with a
preview of what to expect in critical situations.
· Takes tremendous pressure off the
· Gives confidence to the players and the staff in knowing that you are
prepared in all possible circumstances.
· Allows you to believe and stay with
your game plan.
The term situational offense
refers to the specific situations which have to be addressed, in varying
degrees, during a game. Each of these involves very specific conditions (e.g.
down, distance, field position, etc.) At least 9 different categories of
situational offense exist:
1. Normal down and distance in
the open field.
· This situation offers the
head coach the most latitude to establish his preferred style and tempo of play.
50% of the offensive play calls during a game will occur within the parameters
of normal down and distance in the open field. On first and second down, the
normal down and distance situation in the open field should be attacked with
three main objectives in mind:
B. position the offense in a
favorable third down situation.
A. get a first down or a
series of first downs.
C. score or run an
Getting a first down on first and second down is a hallmark of a
good offense. On 1st and 10 the offense should be focused on positioning
themselves in a favorable ( convertible ) down and distance
Stats demonstrate that ONLY 25-35% of 1ST downs are generated on 3RD
down conversions. The remaining 65-75% of 1ST downs are generated on 1ST and 2ND
down. THEREFORE, a team's 3RD down conversion ratio is typically NOT a primary
factor in winning games. To ensure a favorable 3RD down situation, your play
selection should emphasize calls with a high probability of at least 4+ yards on
both 1ST and 2ND down.
A teams third objective in normal down and distance in the open
field should be to strike with an explosive play ( i.e. a play which results in
a gain of 20 yards or more ). 1ST and 2ND down are normally the best downs for
calling for an explosive play because of the multiple concerns that the defense
must prepare for on these downs.
· Teams in the NFL are not
backed up on their goal line as much as high school or college teams are.
Regardless of the level, you must have an adequate backed up package prepared.
The goal of this situation is obvious: Get a first down. The plays you should
choose when backed up should be base calls which the offense will be very
familiar with and have confidence in. Keep in mind that this situation can turn
into a real positive for your offense. It can stun a defense when they let the
offense out of this situation. Among the priorities you should consider when
3. Third down.
A. Moving the ball at least
to the 5 yard line.
B. Selecting core plays which are low risk.
C. Limit ball handling to key players
to reduce chance of fumbling.
D. Consider using a double tight end
formation to cut off defensive penetration.
E. Selecting pass plays to emphasize
F. Selecting ball control passes which are thrown to the
Consider throwing the ball deep to change the momentum and keep your defense off
Throwing passes only to the strong hand side of the QB.
I. Avoiding plays which both guards
Attacking the defense between the ends.
K. Deciding if taking a safety is an
· 3RD down is one of the less
complicated situations to prepare for because most defenses have specific
tendencies with regard to this situation.
4. Forth down.
· The percentage of successful 3RD down
conversions increases as the distance to convert decreases:
· These percentages underline the importance of maintaining a 1ST/ 2ND
down 4+ yard efficiency that enhances your chances of keeping your 3RD down
calls in at least the 50% region.
3RD and Long (7+ yds)
3RD and Medium (2-6 yds) = 45-50%
3RD and Short (1 yd or less) =
· The average NFL team rarely
attempts to convert on a 4TH down situation, but it is imperative that a team
prepares for it. A team should plan for three distant types of 4TH down
Several factors should be considered when deciding whether or not a team should
attempt 4TH down conversion. For example, the caliber of the opponent, if you
are playing home or away and the defensive style of your
4TH and inches
4TH and short
· Along with 3RD down, the
Red Zone is clearly the most critical situation the offense will be in during
the course of the game.
6. First and Goal.
· One can carry approximately 10 plays ( 5 runs and 5 passes) for 1ST
and 2ND down in the Red Zone. One can carry 2 plays for 3RD and Long and 3RD and
Medium. The 3RD and 1 play can carry over from the open field category of your
When establishing priorities of your Red Zone package, the following steps
should be considered:
A. Run the ball if
Use motion to isolate the desired match - ups.
C. Run plays that are designed to beat
the blitz and man to man coverage.
D. Pass the ball to the underneath
plays that do not risk losing yardage, the offense should not be taken out of
field goal range.
F. Group your plays in ten yard divisions ( i.e. 20 yard line, 10 yard
line ). Defenses tend to base Red Zone strategy according to the location of the
ball with regard to ten yard divisions. Keep in mind that the Red Zone is an
excellent area of the field to run different plays from formations that were
previously shown in the open field.
G. Anticipate the blitz. Run a package
to take advantage of the blitz when your team is somewhere between the 15- and
25- yard lines. Throw the ball in the end zone. Use Motion to isolate the
desired matchup on your best receiver.
H. Select running plays, because the
defense tends to stay in a base front when the offense is positioned between the
10- and 15- yard lines. Alert the QB to audible if the defense jumps into a goal
· Stats show that a team will
have two 1ST and goal opportunities in a game. A 1ST and goal package should
have 2-3 running plays and 1-2 passing plays from that formation.
· Consider throwing the ball
in this situation, particularly in awkward situations ( i.e. 1ST and goal from
the 9 yard line ). Since virtually every pass thrown to the goal line involves a
throw into the end zone, the QB must be very focused on what he expects to see
before he throws the ball.
· Be careful not to turn the ball over
in 1ST and goal situations, it can be very demoralizing to your
· This offensive package
concerns situations where the offense is within the 3 yards of its opponents
goal line. The average team may see this situations 3 times in a
running plays in only 1 direction, either to the right or left. This will
eliminate some of the guess work that may occur during the pressure situations
of a game and will help focus a teams weekly preparation.
· Because it is extremely
difficult to run the ball at times in this situation, a team should plan to have
passes as 50% of its goal line offense.
· A team should plan and prepare for
what play it will call ( run or pass ) when it only needs to gain
· Most NFL teams average only
one or two 2 point conversion attempts a year. It may be sensible to combine the
2 point play package with the 3RD down inside the opponent's 10 yard line
package. Combining these two elements into a three to four play package can
encompass 1ST and Goal calls and 2 Point conversion
· Most teams carry one or two
blitz beaters in their game plan. Blitz beaters are specific plays and
protections that can be called or audibled to in order to take advantage of a
· One of the best ways to hurt a defense that is blitzing is to use the
'HOT' option off a basic pass play. The 'HOT' option involves a situation where
the QB has the choice of dropping the ball off to a designated receiver for
which the defense cannot account when blitzing.
· Develop a viable offensive package to
counter the blitz that is more a part of your base offense. If the offense would
practice this more on a regular basis, the team's chance of success to beat the
blitz would increases substantially.
· Treat a blitzing defense as an
opportunity rather than a foreboding event. This situation is an excellent
chance for a big gain.
The contingency component of a
team's offense is designed to deal with those situations which are TIME related.
Contingency offensive situations may not even arise in a game. There are 2 basic
contingency offensive situations: Four Minute and Two Minute
1. Four Minute
· The primary goal of the
four minute offense is to take as much time off the clock as possible, while
enabling a team to protect its lead. The four minute offense involves 4
A. Moving the ball on the
Making first downs.
C. Keeping the clock running.
D. Protecting the
Considerations when building a four minute offensive package
· Using tight
Using a consistent short snap count to avoid illegal procedure.
· Using basic timing patterns
in must pass situations.
· Using play passes.
Avoid special and untested plays.
· Remind players to keep a slow
unnecessary shuffling of personnel into the game.
· Alerting punter to punt ball as high
as possible and informing the punt team to cover but not down the ball outside
of the red zone.
· Alerting the punt returner to either fair catch or avoid the
deciding to take a safety if appropriate when punting from a backed up
Being prepared to attack goal line defense as the clock winds
when to call the 'Victory' formation and have the QB down the
Two Minute offense.
· The two minute offense is
designed to enable a team to accomplish specific objectives within the limited
amount of time available, usually to score points to tie or win the
the steps a head coach should take with regard to the two minute offense are the
· Be aware of the two minute
warning, if possible, let the clock run down to the warning.
· Plan plays which may be
used for conditions that may develop.
· Gather the offense on the sideline
whenever possible; keep everyone else away from the area.
· Make a decision to return a
punt or to fair catch before the return team takes the field.
· Keep messengers ready to
run messages into the game.
· Be sure that your key personnel are
on the field.
Have the ball snapped on set, unless otherwise indicated in the
plays called at the line of scrimmage in order to increase the pressure on the
a rushing play that is designed for a second down situation against a nickel
Avoid calling special plays or new plays.
· Alert the field goal team to be ready
if called upon.
Defenses often develop plans
to counter a team's offensive tendencies. Accordingly, a team should include
plays in its offensive attack that offset its own tendencies or to take
advantage of a defense's probable predisposition to act a certain way in
Collectively, these special
plays are commonly referred as a team's ' reactive offense '. As the head coach,
you should ensure that your team is properly prepared to react in all
conventional reactive situations including:
1. A first down call after
getting a first down rushing.
2. A first down call after getting a
first down passing.
3. A first down call after the completion of an explosive
first down call after an explosive run.
5. A first down call after a positive
penalty ( i.e. 1ST and 5 ).
6. A second down call after a
next first down call to start a series after your team lost the ball on a fumble
8. A first down call to start a series after your opponent's loss of
possession due to a turn over.
Openers ( or
An integral part of many
team's offensive game plan is to script 'OPENERS'. Openers are a prepared list
of plays ( i.e. 10 - 15 plays ) that a team plans to use to start ( open ) the
Players tend to like the use
of openers because the procedure enables them to know ahead of time what they
will be doing on their first one or two series. Scripting openers offers several
1. Allows the head coach to
make decisions in a detached and thoughtful manner.
Coach Billick has stated, "60 minutes
is not enough time for the best team to always win - it is just long enough for
the team that plays best to win." This underlines the physical parameters of
time and preparation that may offset physical limitations.
2. Allows the head coach to determine
an appropriate balance between running plays and passing plays on first
the head coach to be more creative in his team's personnel groupings early in
the game by having the offensive sequence planned ahead of time.
4. Enables the head coach to
be able to quickly determine how the defense will react to specific formations
and personnel groupings.
5. Allows the head coach to give his
assistant coaches an opportunity to check for defensive factors which might
affect the effectiveness of a particular play or offensive
Allows the players especially the quarterback, to get into an appropriate
Allows the head coach to script specific 'Special' plays and increases the
likelihood that they will actually be employed in the game.
8. Multiplies the confidence
of a team when a scripted sequence results in a score.
9. Increases the versatility of the
offense without having to run a large or unmanageable number of plays or having
to use and excessive number of formations.
You must ask yourself the
question, How much offense should I have? You should consider three
you overlap the amount of total offense you can carry vs. the amount that can be
effectively practiced, the more effective the offense you can actually run on
Of course, it is impossible to
predict the exact amount of offense you will use in any given game. You must
carry a selective amount of overage that has to be built in for 'what if's'. You
should try to keep your overage to about 25-30% of the total snaps that you can
From your base offense in the
open field package, you can build (script) your openers. The key elements in
establishing your base offense are:
Table 1 reflects a 6 year
breakdown of the Minnesota Vikings in the OPEN FIELD. 1ST down in the open field
requires about 45% of your total calls. 2ND down requires 35%, and 3RD and 4TH
downs take up the remaining 20%.
Table 1 also reflects that the
1ST down in the open field package will consist of about 20-25 calls a game. 2ND
and Long (7+ yds) in the open field constitutes about 11-12 calls a game. And
2ND and Medium (2-6 yds) in the open field has only about 5-6 calls per game.
2ND and 1 in the open field usually only comes up once a game. Third down in the
open field occurs about 10 times a game.
You will notice that we have
identified very specific parameters in Table 1 and we have isolated how much
offense is required in each situational offensive category. Now we can think in
terms of focusing our needs by run/pass ratio.
Table 2 diagrams a run/pass
ratio by situation. For example, we know we face about 20 1ST downs in the OPEN
FIELD in a whole game. We can cut that number in half to start with 10 opening,
1ST down open field, first half calls.
Table 2 shows a team who likes a 50/50
run/pass ratio on 1ST down. With this in mind, you should break your 1ST down
OPENERS into 5 runs and 5 passes.
Table 2 also demonstrates a
team who likes a 30/70 run/pass ratio on 2ND and Long. With this in mind, you
should script 5 plays of the first half with 3 passes and 2 runs.
Table 2 also shows a team that
would like to keep a 2/1 run/pass ratio on 2ND and Medium, so we script 3 plays
for the first half: 2 runs and 1 pass.
This team has decided that we
want our opening passes to be 2 dropbacks, 1 quick, and 2 play actions. As we
carry this thinking out over all the OPEN FIELD situations, we end up with our
total opening play ratio:
As an example of our opening 12 runs,
two of them will be short yardage situations and may in fact be the same play.
Likewise, the run we have scheduled for 3RD and Long may be the same run we
intended for 3RD and Medium. That being the case, you are left with 10 opening
· Play action: 5
Those 10 runs do not have to
be 10 different plays. They are more likely to be 3 or 4 different runs out of 2
or 3 formations.
It would stand to reason that
we would want to build the 5 play action passes off those runs and
Of the 3 quicks we choose to
throw, we may want to link them to 2 of the formations from which we are
throwing our 8 dropback passes, or 1 or 2 of the run formations, and so
How much carryover you wish to
have from your 1ST down and 2ND down plays to your 3RD down calls is certainly
up to you. You may want to draw from your base passes and just simply change the
formations, or you may want to have a complete new set of plays.
Once you have established the
priority of your opening plays, you can expand on that package to the point of
even doubling those initial 30 plays to have a base OPEN FIELD package of 60
plays, with your average 50 open field calls coming from that package. This
certainly fits within the limits of about 20% overage in your
This same approach can be applied
to your RED ZONE package where the 25% of your remaining plays will be called.
Examine Table 3. This area has the same predictable parameters as does its open
field counterparts. So you can see how you can determine your Red Zone package
and so on...
Table 4 summarizes the amount
of offense we have determined we need by situation.
The column labeled
SCRIPT represents the upper limit of plays needed for a particular
situation, keeping our 25 - 30% overage factor in mind. The column labeled
REPEAT represents plays that will come from other parts of the game plan.
As such, these plays don't necessarily have to be separately scripted plays. You
MUST, however, MAKE SURE THAT THESE SITUATIONS ARE COVERED and everyone is aware
of what is going to be run.
We are by NO means suggesting
you have to have 90 different play combinations. Much of what you will call will
be repeated or changed subtly by formation and/or personnel. These 91 Total
Plays fall within the 20 - 30% overage outlined earlier.
As large as this number may
seem, many teams will unknowingly carry a much higher percentage of overage,
thus making the practice ratio of game plan to actual plays called even
The size and complexity of any
game plan and the way you install it is NOT the issue. What IS at
issue is if you as a coach have taken the time to be as detailed and specific in
your game plan preparation as is needed to give your players the best chance to
Warren Moon stated in Brian
Billick's , Developing an Offensive Game Plan, "The more detailed and
specific a game plan can be laid out for a player, the more he can perform with
confidence and efficiency." This long discussion of game planning and
preparation and teaching is truly the heart and soul of Bill Walsh's
'WEST COAST OFFENSE'.
For more information
concerning the West Coast Offense, please refer to the Reference