No defensive coach will admit it, but it takes longer to prepare on offense.  Now that I am out of football I can say so.  With defense, it is a matter of setting a plan and reacting to what happens on the field.  It is far more complicated on offense.  You have so many details: blocking schemes, pass protections, blitz pickups, pass patterns, reads, adjustments, and so on. ~ Joe Gibbs, Hall of Fame Coach of the Washington Redskins from Game Plans for Success

I have intently watched the first two weeks of the Canadian Football League season particularly with an eye to offensive structure and schematic approach.  The CFL is a fast paced game with only 20 seconds between snaps and only three downs to gain the required ten yards to achieve a first down to maintain possession of the football.  The 65 yards of width, the 20 yard end zones, and six men in motion (four may attack the line of scrimmage while two can move laterally) provide an endless array of advantages for the offense with a plethora of pattern combinations that provide coordinators the challenge of harnessing their ideas into teachable and executable game plans.

How do head coaches and coordinators go about putting these intricate plans together?  It is one of the most difficult tasks in weekly preparation as the plan is based upon probability and you must account for every situation that can be reasonably anticipated. The differences in approach with each coach and system maintains foreseeing potential problems and eliminating them before they escalate but lay with do you adhere to “series oriented football” or “situational offense”?

“Situational offense” is based on the belief that each play stands on it’s own merit.  The idea is that the design is superior to the defensive scheme and that the play call involves specific conditions (field position, down and distance, perhaps time on the clock). 

“Series oriented football” premise is a base or foundation play that has variations off of it. The primary run has counter runs, screens, and play-action pass that are off-springs. Plays are used to set up the variations with some being held back until the second half after setting the table in the first.

Both approaches have proven successful but I lean more to “series oriented football” with specific conditions certainly incorporated.  Here is a brief synopsis of putting together the plan:

  • How does the opponents defensive ends play contain?  Do they box coming up field keeping their high arm free under control leveling off and then reacting to the play? Or are they “crashers”, closing down the line of scrimmage with reckless abandon?  Do they run twists or “X” games?  These types of questions once answered will determine the structure of your run game as is it more advantageous to run off tackle, kick out, trap, log, far reach, or option?
  • Once your run game is determined you will now have the basis of the play-action pass game.  Pattern variations will be determined by how the defenses run support is structured from the secondary and coverage tendencies in normal “run down and distance” situations.
  • What is their defensive identity pertaining to stunts, dogs, and blitz?  To define each; stunts involve the front down linemen and their activity such as twists and “X” games with the interior linemen as well as incorporating the ends.  Dogs are when linebackers are used as additional pressure players to collapse the pocket and blitz is when secondary players are also engaged to disrupt across the line of scrimmage.  As the tendencies are examined, protection schemes will be determined for the half roll, full roll/sprint out, and the three step and five step drop pass game with accompanying “hot schemes”.  Hot schemes are clarified by the pressure player that can not be accounted for within the blocking scheme and is the responsibility of the quarterback to identify and deliver the ball into the void created by the pressure player, to a designated receiver “sight adjusting” his route into said void.
  • What are the coverage tendencies involving specific conditions?  Pattern combinations are then selected to best attack the inherent weakness of the presented cover schemes from all launch points as defined within the protections.

Now you can base your series orientation as the specifics of game conditions come into play.

  • Normal down and distance in the open field.  We define this as first down or second and medium (4-7 yards) between the 35 yard lines in the Canadian game.  It has been said that as a rule, 50% of the game is called within these parameters.  Look to string together first downs moving the chains with an eye to averaging six yards per attempt on first down.  This is also an area to take a chance on a more “exotic” designed play to create an explosive play of over 20 yards in the air or 12 yards on the ground to get the opponent on their heels.
  • “Go Zone”.  The area from the 35 yard line to the 20 yard line going in.  Continue with an aggressive mind-set used in the open field with awareness of your field goal kickers leg strength and preferred hash mark to attempt from.
  • “Break Out Zone”.  The area from the negative 20 yard line to the 35.  Again a similar mind-set to normal with a consciousness to wind conditions and hash mark to create an advantage for your punter.
  • Backed-up.  Critical area of the field as you have possession of the ball inside your own 20 yard line which becomes even greater inside your 10.  Select core plays that are lower in risk emphasising ball control.  Call pass plays throwing to your quarterbacks dominant hand (if your QB is left-handed, throw to his left) and throw to the outside as interceptions of deeper balls happen over the middle and you protect your receivers from big hits throwing outside and reducing the chance of a fumble. You must also keep in mind if taking a safety is proper.
  • Second Down.  A statistical tendency of your opponent will be evaluated on short yardage (1-3), medium (4-7), and long (8 or more) selecting what you execute best against the likelihood of the presented defensive scheme.
  • Third Down.  With a yard to go, percentages in the CFL dictate that you go for it.  Most will prefer the quarterback sneak as ball handling is to a minimum and the attack is straight forward.  I do not adhere in the CFL to bringing in tight ends, particularly those that are by trade defensive players.  It escapes my comprehension to have 65 yards of width and condense 24 players into a five yard area.  Use the dimensions to your advantage.  Plan for three to four different scenarios in short yardage.
  • Red Zone! You are within the opponents 20 yard line.  Isolate what your staff has deemed as the most desirable match-ups.  Look to beat pressure and man to man coverage without risking losing yardage and being taken out of field goal range.  Determine your four deep zone across package.
  • 2 Point Conversion.  With the depth of the CFL end zones, select plays that your unit executes with the most confidence from your second and medium package and have at least three available.

One of the last aspects but not final, you’ll need to consider is dealing with time related situations.  How can you take as much time off the clock in the final five minutes moving the chains and protecting the football.  What is your “hurry-up” or “no huddle” offense in comparison to your “three minute” offense?  When will you call multiple plays in the huddle? What is your “sudden change” call when your defense has created a turn-over and now you are rushing on the field?  All these aspects must be addressed in order to convince your players that you are prepared and they must be shown throughout the work-week that practice plans will execute the game plan.

Now start watching tape!

  1. […] Mike Kelly-Designing an Offensive Game Plan […]

  2. Jeff Gordon says:

    Thanks Mike, good stuff. I have some excel files built for this but have to get back to really using them.

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