What Is Best or What Is Best For You

Things To Think About

 As we progress into the off season, now is the time coaching staff's will begin to evaluate their current schemes and decide what changes they need to make for the upcoming season.  Clinic time is one of my favorite times of the year.  It gives you and your staff a chance to listen to a lot of great ideas on schematics, fundamentals, and practice organization.  The greatest part of it all is that you, as a Head Coach or Coordinator, get to decide what you think is best for your program.  You will never get hurt listening to people talk about what they do with their program.  If you gain one simple thought that will help your program then you are better for it.  Even if you listen to things you do not agree with or cannot accomplish at your school, the accumulation of knowledge will never be a bad thing.  You owe it to yourself, your community, and your players to broaden your horizons every off season and talk to as many successful coaches as possible.  The most important thing to remember in my opinion is what is best for your program.

There is absolutely no arguing that the NFL is the premier professional sports league in the United States and it's global presence may be second only to the worldwide game of soccer.  There is only one slight problem with that as a lower level coach, their game and style of play is not as conducive to ours.  As entertaining as the NFL is, it is really not the greatest platform for learning for a lower level coach.  The reason for that is we need to do what is best for us, not necessarily what is best in general.  The neatest thing about lower level football is the wide variety of schematics and systems that you see.  At our level of football everyone is trying to maximize the potential and skill set of their players.  All the while knowing that you really have no control over who those players are.  Its hard to build a west coast offense when you may not have QBS or Receivers or Lineman to do so.  In college and the NFL when coaches come in they get a chance to recruit, draft, and sign players to fit their systems.  At our level we have to fit our system to our players.  That is why you still see Wing T, Flexbone, Air Raid, Pro I, Power I, Spread, 3-3 Stack, 425, and a wide variety of schematics at our level.

I am going to use a few examples of what I think are scenarios that I see that make me think about what is best? Or what is best for us?  The first example will be our punt formation.  The last 2 years we have used the shield or wedge punt look as opposed to the spread NFL look with gunners.  In those 2 years we have only had 1 punt partially blocked that still went 10 yards past the line of scrimmage.  But we have also had 3 punts returned for TDS. The protection side of it is real solid, and it is definitely easier to coach and takes less time to be good at it. But is it safe to say that our coverage is lacking in this look?  Would athletic gunners on the outside give us a better chance to cover?  Would we be risking protection in a scheme that might not fit our personnel to gain coverage?

Spot Drop or Pattern Read?

The next example is spot dropping vs pattern reading.  We have always been a pattern read split field coverage team.  I think it is safe to say that most football pundits agree that pattern reading is the only true way to try and defend all the spacing routes that offenses run today.  Most defensive coaches agree that offenses, offensive coordinators, and QBS are too good to just "cover grass" and spot drop.  But pattern reading takes a lot of time to master and play effectively.  I have always felt like in my 15 years of coaching high school football that kids have a hard time differentiating between coverage concepts.  At the same time I  am also from the school of accepting all blame and thought it was because I was not teaching it to the best of my ability.  But year after year I wonder if we would get better results just dropping to the spots on the field where the majority of passes are thrown and then breaking on the release of the QB, which becomes easier with more eyes focused on the QB and not the routes in your area.  With that being said I always revert back to pattern reading because 90-95% of major college and NFL teams are doing it. But does that make it best for me?

The last example i will look at is the difference in No Huddle approaches.  The first approach is the check with me style that Peyton Manning is so famous for executing.  Now this style of play has been around way longer than Peyton, but it is safe to say that he has mastered it.  With this approach you are on the ball without huddling but you are using a lot of play clock in an attempt to run the best possible play vs. the look the defense presents to you.  Seemingly a good QB and Offensive Coordinator should be able to stay out of a lot of "BAD" play calls.  On the other hand you have the lightning fast no huddle or up tempo approach.  With this theory you are trying to eliminate substitutions and multiple looks from the defense.  Most offenses have gone to "packaged" plays within this theory to try and avoid bad plays. These are plays that give the QB 2-3 or 4 reads based on what the defense gives him since he will not use audibles or change plays.  When Chip Kelly was with Oregon they would have a number of negative plays in a game, but the pace and explosiveness of the offense took its toll on the defense and they could recover from the negative plays.  I have found myself leaning towards the up tempo approach because I felt like it gave players that were not as talented in any given week a better chance at success.

At the end of the day the choices you make for your football program are ultimately yours.  You have complete control over the things you want to do from schemes, to fundamentals, to practice plans, to off season workouts.  Remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.  If you do not like the direction of your program or the results then make some changes.  Sit and talk with other successful programs at your level.  Never be afraid to talk to the people that are beating you.  Get as much information on a topic as possible and research it to the best of your ability before determining if it is right for you.  What might be best might not be best for you.


Coverage Adjustments to Quads/Empty Looks



I got a request on my you tube site to talk about defending quads sets, and sets where the offense can flood a side with 4 receivers.  It was actually a request from an offensive coordinator who runs a lot of these things and wanted to know how I would defend them with quarters concepts and adaptations.  

I will try and break them down into three different sets:
1)3x1 Sets with Running Back Releasing Strong
2)True Quads 4x1 Alignment
3)Empty 3x2 Motion to Quads

For me I always want to have a way to play every formation with my base rules before the offense forces me to check to an automatic look.  I think anytime the offense can get you in an automatic by formation they have the advantage.  The first question you need to ask yourself is, Why is the offense running this set?  Do they want to throw quick screens? Do they want to force the defense to widen and spread out so they can use QB run game?  Are they trying to get 1 on 1 match ups to the single receiver?  First you determine what they want to do, then you determine how to defend it.

I will look at my main trips check which I call "MIX" and show you how we can adjust to Quads or Empty formations within that coverage so we do not have to create a new defense to defend these sets.  Remember new defenses make your kids hesitate and play slow so the offense wins just by alignment if they can get you to play slow.  Our Mix coverage is an X out concept which means we play man on one of the trips receivers in essence making it a 2x1 set.  We will play our corner man to man on the #1 receiver.  Our down safety and free safety will play palms coverage or 2 Read rules on #2 and #3 with both of them reading the release of the #3 receiver.  Our Mike LB will play Palms coverage similar to the way the Will LB has to play Palms coverage VS. #2 removed weak.  The Mike will widen and hip the DE on his side.  His rule is #3 does not cross my face and #4 does not out leverage me.  He is what is also known as the "Swing Deep of 4" player.  On the backside we will be playing some sort of Cover 2 or Bracket coverage on the single receiver since we do not use the backside safety on #3 vertical in our Mix coverage.  **WHEN THEY GO TO QUADS WITH #4 IN A POSITION TO GO VERTICAL IMMEDIATELY WE USE THE BACKSIDE SAFETY** Our Will LB will push his drop strong when he gets #4 releasing strong and he will look up the new #4.

I will go through this coverage and the adjustments we make in a chalk talk video.  If you have anything you would like me to Blog Or Chalk Talk about just let me know and if I do it or know about it I will cover it. Please check out my you tube channel by searching Thomas MacPherson for a look at all of my chalk talk videos.

Analyzing Your Statistics


 I am going to change gears a little bit from talking about football schematics, and I am going to talk a little bit about evaluating and analyzing your statistics.  At the end of every season as a football coach you will have a win/loss record, and a collection of stats from each game that can help you evaluate the state of your program and the effectiveness of your offensive and defensive schemes.  At the highest level of our sport statistics and data are scrutinized to the highest degree possible.  Let's think about the NFL draft for a moment here.  The NFL runs a scouting combine every year to further evaluate what is thought to be the top talent in the upcoming draft.  Some of these kids have been playing football for 8-12 years and have anywhere from 10-40 college games on film to be evaluated, yet the NFL and its teams still bring the top talent in for further physical and mental evaluation.  Around combine time there will always be players whose stock rises or falls based on the results of their combine performance.  The NFL is a multimillion dollar business and the study/ breakdown and evaluation of statistics plays a huge roll in that.  It is not enough to just study game film anymore when investing a lot of money and your future in players.  They want to know a players body fat, arm length, vertical jump, 40 yard speed, 10 yard speed, change of direction and agility, strength and power, explosiveness, and mental prowess before investing a lot of money into that player. The point i am trying to make here is how important analyzing data has become in athletics and the game of football in general.  Today I am going to take a look at analyzing some offensive statistics from your season and trying to see if there is a correlation to your success and failures on the football field.
 I want to look at 3 stat lines I use as an offensive coach to evaluate our success on offense, and then determine the direct correlation those numbers have to winning or losing. The 3 categories I will look at today are rushing yards per game, average yards on 1st down and the effect on 3rd down conversions, and yards per completion.  As I look at these stats I will always separate them by the games we won and the games we lost.  What I am trying to figure out is the statistics that have the greatest impact on our team winning or losing, and when we struggle is it a schematic issue or a fundamentals and execution issue.  For any offense i think it is important to understand that your schemes must fit your players.  If your asking your players to execute a scheme that does not fit their skill set then you may need to look no further and make a schematic change.  If you feel comfortable about your scheme in relation to your talent, then you have to analyze the statistics to see where the technical and fundamental breakdowns are occurring that are causing you to lose games and perform poorly on offense.

I always look at rushing yards per game and how that correlates to winning and losing games.  The ability to run the ball keeps the chains moving, the clock moving, your defense off the field and provides a great mental edge in football games.  Your ability to run the ball forces the defense to account for the run game which in turn gives you numbers and match ups in the passing game.  This season we were 4-1 when running the ball for more than 200 yards a game and 0-4 when running for less than 200 yards.So statistically we had an 80% chance of winning when we rushed for 200 yards but a 0% chance of winning when we did not rush for 200 yards.  For me that is a real straight forward statistic that has a huge impact on our success.  So in determining that we want to make sure we are solid each week in our run game schemes and fundamentals.  We want to spend a lot of time game planning our run game because it has a huge impact on our chances for success.  In the 5 games we lost we averaged 163 yards rushing per game, but in the 4 wins we averaged 270 yards rushing per game.  That is over 100 yard differential and should not be overlooked.

The next statistic i look at is our success on first down and its relationship to our 3rd down conversions.  You often here offensive and defensive coaches talking about 3rd down success.  The easiest way to ensure a high percentage of 3rd down conversions is to be really good on first down.  Here is a breakdown of our first down averages and 3rd down conversions in our wins and losses.
LOSSES                                                        WINS
2.1/33%                                                         3.4/40%
3.8/64%                                                         8.4/60%
2.5/25%                                                         6.7/45%
4.3/40%                                                         6.0/50%

So when i look at that I can see that i am 1-3 when averaging less than 4 yards on 1st down, and i am 3-2 when averaging more than 4 yards on 1st down.  We were 3-0 when averaging 6 or more yards on 1st down.  Also you can look at the percentages and how they drastically increase on 3rd down conversions with your first down success.  Anytime we averaged over 5 yards on first down we had a better than 50% chance of converting on 3rd down.   We did not win any of the games that we were under 40% on 3rd down conversions.

The last stat i took a look at was our yards per completion.  Depending on your type of offense, or the skill set of your players you may throw the ball less than 10 times a game in high school.  I would venture to say that on average, pop warner, junior high, and high school teams throw the ball less than 15 times a game.  With that being said it is very difficult to have a ton of passing yards if you are not throwing the ball a lot.  So for me I tend to focus on what we were able to do with the passes we completed.  In the 5 games we lost we averaged 9 yards per completion.  That tells me we couldn't get the ball down field, did not have a lot of yards after catch, and did not block the perimeter very well in our screen game.  Conversely in the 4 games we won we averaged 15 yards per completion.  So in the games we won we were more effective throwing the ball down the field, did a better job after the catch, and blocked the perimeter better.
Those are only 3 of the statistics that i looked at, and there are several more you should consider when evaluating your season.  Turnover ratio will always be very important, along with average starting field position.  As a Head Coach or a Coordinator, I think you owe it to yourself and your program to do a thorough evaluation of your season statistically so you can properly address the areas of need for team improvement.  I think you should also take a look at your own tendencies based on things like formations, down and distance, and field position.  It makes it a heck of a lot easier to win games when you know yourself, and focus on you more than you focus on your opponent.  I hope some of these things help you evaluate your program and lead to future success.