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Preparing defensive game plan key to winning

This is an excerpt from Defensive Football Strategies by American Football Coaches Association.

First let me say that we feel defense is the key and essence to winning football. We will make any sacrifice in our program to help our defense. I would like to share our thoughts on how we prepare our defensive team during game week.

The first thing we are concerned about is our opponent and the scouting that we have on our opponent. There are 12 basic things that we try to scout as we work to prepare a defensive game plan:

  1. Personnel. We get most of this off films. That doesn't mean that we are going to go into a detailed study of each person. But we certainly want to take a good long look at the other team's personnel and try to categorize who can hurt us the most. Which offensive lineman can hurt us the most? Which back can hurt us the most? A lot of our defensive strategy may be geared to their personnel. Certain teams have certain tendencies to do certain things either with or to certain personnel.
  2. Statistics. We like to take the statistics of the team into consideration. We think that statistics can tell you a lot that you may overlook by just scouting or viewing films. They can give you vital information on certain frequencies regarding ballcarriers, receivers, or other personnel.
  3. Formations. We like to chart all the formations the opponent may possibly run. We don't try to prepare in full detail for every formation. We want to be ready to be able to attack each formation. Naturally, we are going to limit ourselves to their base alignments. And, of course, the plays that they run.
  4. Running profile. We handle the running profile something like this: we just draw a diagram of a running formation and use our own numbering system, then translate their plays into our system. We chart the frequency of how many times they run a play. We can take the sheet and tell in a flash exactly what we feel their top plays are going to be.
  5. Blocking patterns. We try, through the use of film and whatnot, to look at their blocking patterns. How many different ways do they block a particular play? Some teams have different philosophies. Some teams, for example, do not have a great number of plays but do have a great number of blocking patterns. You want to chart the whole offensive line blocking patterns.
  6. Passing profile. We draw up the passing tree and chart all the different areas on the field, where they throw the football, and what type of play action they like to use.
  7. Individual patterns. We try to draw the individual patterns and the routes that they run, with all the various complementary routes.
  8. Hash tendencies. Do they have strong hash tendencies? Some teams have great tendencies to run their plays to the field. Some run their plays to the sidelines. We feel that in planning and preparing our game, we are going to have to know the hash tendencies.
  9. Down-and-distance situations. We will try and chart every down-and-distance situation. If you are preparing for a team that will run the ball 98 percent of the time on first and 10, that will mean an awful lot in your defensive strategy. Whereas, if you are preparing for a team that throws the ball 50 percent of the time on first down, your defensive strategy should change markedly.
  10. Tendency from the 10-20 yard lines. That is, our own 10-20 yard line as they are coming in. We like to chart that area because that is where our defense drastically changes. We feel that we have really got to go after them. We can't sit back and play passively; we can't sit back and play zone-type defenses. We have to go after them with blitzes and semiblitzes and a lot of man coverage. We want to know what they are going to do in that area so we can be very careful to set up the right defense. We now know that they have an extra down in there to do things.
  11. Goal line. What is their tendency on the goal line? We must know their run-pass ratio as well as all the possible formations they use here.
  12. Kicking game. We must have all of their punt, kickoff returns, and field goal formations and patterns charted.

This is the information we want to know right off the bat as we get ready to prepare our game for the week. We naturally get most, if not all, of this information from films of our opponents.

Daily Schedule: Defensive Game Week
Sunday night we try to review our opponent's film. We make a great effort to get as much film as we possibly can. I think this is a lot easier and simpler than finding information any other way.

The next thing that we do is to prepare the scouting report and give it to the players on Monday. The scouting report is a very interesting thing. I think there is a great misconception in football coaching about scouting reports. Some coaches feel they are going to give it to the players, the players are going to read it, they are going to study it, it's going to become like the Bible to them. Most players don't do that. They really don't absorb a fixed scouting report. We feel very strongly, as coaches, that the scouting report is our Bible. And constantly throughout the week we check back to the scouting report to see that we, as coaches, are getting prepared properly.

We want to have the scouting report finalized by noon on Monday. Our defensive report runs about 30-35 pages. You might think that is a lengthy report, but may I say again that it is primarily for the coaches. Also, we want to finalize our game plan by noon. We feel strongly that you get the game plan finalized as soon as you possibly can. By Monday noon, we want to be sure that we stop their best plays. That is the key thing that we look for. We don't feel we can necessarily stop every play, but we certainly want to stop our opponent's base offense.

There are six things we feel we must have as a defensive team when we go into every football game:

  1. Basic defenses. What are we going to try to beat them with? We have to have a basic defense or two to go out and beat this team with.
  2. Special secondary coverage. This doesn't necessarily mean that we are going to use these coverages, but we need to have them ready just in case our opponent uses special pass patterns or something to defeat basic zone defenses. These are coverages we might need for something that comes up unexpectedly-say, a formation we know the opponent could employ but hasn't yet.
  3. Pressure run defenses. The worst thing in football is to have a team run the football down your throat. It is a feeling of helplessness, and not only that, it is one of the worst things psychologically that can happen to your football team. When they are overpowering you, it is a demoralizing thing. So we want to have some pressure run defenses ready. These may be semiblitzes or may be little cross games here and there. If they are beating our basic defense, then we have some change-up to try to attack them with.
  4. Pass blitzes. We don't try to put in a lot of pass blitzes each week, but we feel that we need them whether we use them or not. We try to change our pass blitzes every week. They are completely out of our basic defense. We will line up in any front when we want to blitz. We don't care what we line up in-6, 8, 7, 5. But we like to change it each week so that you can't categorize them.
  5. Goal line defenses. Naturally, this depends on our opponent's style of goal line offense. We must determine which three or four looks will be best for us on the goal line.
  6. Secondary defense, or reserve defense. These are defenses that we don't normally use, but if all else fails, they're something we can fall back on.

Learn more about Defensive Football Strategies.

More Excerpts From Defensive Football Strategies