A Philosophical Approach for Play Calling

If you have read my latest book “Calling Plays” you will already understand that it does not matter if you’re a Spread guy, a Wing guy, or an Air Raid guy. All play callers will benefit from calling plays using Wing-T principals.  That doesn’t mean you have to get in double wing X over… you can still use the same principles in four and five wide receiver sets.  Its about the philosophy, not the structure of the formation or type of plays you prefer to use.

Wing-T play callers start by using formations that force the defense to spread themselves thin in the middle or risk being outnumbered on the flanks.  That should sound very familiar to the coaches who base out of the spread.  Each formation and play call in the wing-T is designed to put a specific defender into a conflict.  You can also do this in ANY OTHER offense out there.  It is the philosophy that you will use.  The particular offense doesn’t really matter as long as you have the personnel to do the things you want to do.

You are going to be using an If/Then call philosophy.  If the defense does that, then I do this. It is very simple and makes calling plays instinctual.  Now to do this, you will have to go against one of the latest fads in offense.  That being the “Pre Snap Reads”. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely serve a purpose and have proven effective…. But I also believe that “actions speak louder than words”.   Pre snap, the defense can lie to you.  They bluff, and stem and roll and feint and do all kinds of dishonest bull crap pre snap.  After the snap however; they become a patron saint.  They have to tell the truth about what they are doing, or they will give up a big play.  So, that being said, most of the play call decisions you will make will be based on post snap ACTIONS of the defensive players. Also remember, you don’t have to outsmart the DC… you must outsmart the defensive players.

Using If/Then to guide your play calling will allow you to call plays much faster than normal because you will know exactly what to do based on the reaction of the defender that you were attacking on the previous play.  Each formation you use will show you the general idea of how the defense is going to play you, but post snap will tell you EXACTLY what they want to do.  Using this concept also gives the other offensive coaches a stake in the offense as each one can be in charge of watching a spot on the defense to let you know as the play caller where the ball should go next or in the near future.  For example; I always have a coach that oversees the watching the safeties.  As soon as the safety is stepping down hill on the snap instead of back pedaling, he lets me know and the very next play is a play action shot in the area he is supposed to be defending, but has forgotten because he is too concerned with fitting the run.

When using If/Then philosophy each play will target a specific area and the next play will be determined by how a specific defender reacts.  This is where the “Same As” plays come into play, that is, those plays that look like other plays used to place defenders in conflicts.  Examples would be Belly and Belly Option in the wing-T.  If the edge defender is squeezing the Belly, you call Belly Option and now that defender who thinks he is doing his job to stop the belly is getting pinned inside and the ball is outside.  A spread example would be matching the fast bubble with the bubble go or the wheel/sluggo combination.  Both look like bubble pass initially and if that safety is cheating on the bubble the play before, you have a good chance at big play.  This is also why having your entire offensive staff on duty helps.  Each guy will be watching for an If/Then call!  Dress up these “Same As” plays with some window dressing and they get even more effective. We will get into how to If/Then from each offense in their respective chapters later in the book.

Wing-T philosophy also works under the understanding that formations are a weapon.  Your formations need to serve a purpose.  It is my belief that what ever offense you run, your formations should be used to expose the flank of the defense and get more numbers outside than they have.  This can be done in spread or tight sets.  Being multiple with formations can cause confusion in the defense as well. We will cover the use of formations for each offense later on. For now, let’s get onto moving the football.

In all offenses, yes even the wing-T you must get the ball into grass.  One might logically think that spreading out accomplishes this with simple offensive structures… but that leads to a false sense of security.  Space is relative to the number of your blockers to their defenders.  If you line up in five wide and try to run the ball into six defenders you will quickly find that you don’t have that much grass to work with and your quarterback will be more testy than prom date dumped on the night of the dance. So how do we use wing-T principals to find the grass?

Believe it or not, in the passing game it is simpler to do this than the run game, we want to get the ball into the spots with open grass.  There are many ways to do this, but the two easiest will always be: spread the field and find the empty space or use formations that force DBs into run fits and pass the ball to the spot they were supposed to be occupying after a good play fake. Your passing attack should directly reflect what you are trying to do in your run game.  Meaning, if you are going to spread the field, you should be passing to open the run game, if your condensing the field it should be done so your run game will open up big downfield strikes.  The best teams can do both.

To find the grass in your run game, you will always need to adhere to these three simple rules:

  1. Place defenders in conflicts – As stated before, there are several ways to do this. Let’s review:
    1. Have plays that look like other plays. This is the easiest way and EVERY play in your play book should look like another play in your play book.
    2. Using formations that place defensive backs into run fits. Force the DBs to make tackles in the run game and it will open your pass game. (bubble pass counts as a run in my book)
    3. Reading defenders with options and RPO’s. If you got the QB with the wit to do this and make the correct read consistently you will cause the defense a lot of problems.  If he can’t do it with more than 75% correct read ratio… you are probably causing yourself more grief than you need to.
    4. Using motion and misdirection. Eye candy and window dressings take eyes away from what’s really going on.  Especially if the eye candy threatens an area that is supposed to be defended by that player.
  2. Use angles – There is no arguing here. If you give your blockers an angle to their block, they have a significantly higher chance of success.  As long as they can throw a basketball pick then then have a chance.  For example; call a play where the tackle just needs to wall off a three tech inside instead of reaching a loose five tech. Or a play where the tackle can just wall off that loose five tech.
  3. Attack the bubble – Every defensive front will have open spots on the line of scrimmage. That is the bubble.  Attack there, while giving your blockers angles and you should at least get three to four yards before your ball carrier is touched.

The more of these rules you can incorporate the better the call is.  Always aim to have at least have two covered every play call.  Try for all three whenever possible!  If you only have one, the chances for success decrease.  If the call does not use any of the three rules, then most likely you will experience a failure on the play and end up behind the chains. You want to avoid losing yards in the run game AT ALL COSTS.

You also have one more rule you must live by… NEVER RUN INTO MORE NUMBERS THAN YOU HAVE BLOCKERS!  If you have three to one side and they have four, the three rules of the run make no difference.  Even if you are going to option a defender, do it to where the numbers are at least even, so you end up having plus one in the blocking scheme.

Let’s review this section and the philosophies we are going to focus on for play calling: Use If/Then principals. Use formations as a weapon. Find the open space in the passing game and use the two rules to get there.  Use the three rules for the run game. NEVER run into more numbers than you got. Focus on outsmarting the opponents players, not their DC. (that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t scout him up and know what he likes to do when… just that you need to remember, he isn’t the one strapping up.)

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