Thursday, 6 June 2013

Offensive Game Planning: Mentality Against Stronger Opponents

by Luke Plastow

When planning for opponents there is no better substitute than game film.  Every coach I know breaks tape in a different way.  Some like to open up a spreadsheet and pretend to be a data analyst.  Others sit there with a cold beer and start memorizing numbers and plays. I tend to lean towards the data heavy side of the line.
Coach Plastow's reaction to when someone tells him he has to pass the ball.
There comes a time though in every coaches career where you face an opponent and take a deep breath before watching their tape.  On paper they appear stronger and the tape only confirms it.  The competitor inside you tells says, you ALWAYS have a chance.  But the coach inside you says you need to pull something big out the bag.  Or do you? Focus on scouting them as hard as you would any other team.  Every team can be beaten.

A common misconception is that you must install things especially for the game.  This is not always true. You will have a good bearing on your strengths. Game film will give you an idea of their strengths and weaknesses. Even though it may seem they have no weaknesses, there is always a perfect play for every snap. What's their scheme? Start with the formation. How many down linemen, how many rush the backfield every snap? Can you identify the coverage on each pass play? Once this information is clear, compare it to your strengths. For instance their consistent soft coverage, could open up the quick pass your QB is great at. The trap your OL prides itself on could work nicely with heir tackles bulldozing through, but then you all know this already.

“The role of scout film in football is vital, and it is something that has come on leaps and bounds in British football in the digital age. However, there are very few coaches with the talent to analyse film and identify weaknesses in opposition ”
Elliot Josypenko, Sheffield Sabres

There will however come a time when you will just be beaten. Tape has been watched, scout defence installed and conquered. Yet come game day you are being run off the park. Nothing is working, what do you do for next time you face a team as strong? Installing brand new scheme for a certain game is not going to work, and is a sign of desperation.  It's one thing installing a play that will exploit a defence, but installing a whole new scheme is too much of a risk. You would expect that this is common knowledge.  However I went to the game recently between the Peterborough Saxons and London Warriors where I saw this very situation.

I was expecting Peterborough to run a type of Spread offence. Instead I was faced with the Double Wing, a formation I am very familiar with.  The longer the game went on, the more I suspected that Peterborough had installed it just for the Warriors. The fundamentals were all off, the OL didn't have the intensity and footwork needed to run it. 

The main issue I saw was that the Saxons didn't play tot he strengths of the double wing. The OL need to be nasty and vicious.  They were getting driven backwards out of double teams. The backfield needs to be quick off the snap and the QB rolling and blocking.  None of this happened.  The main problem for Peterborough is that it was never ever going to work.  Even if they had caught the Warriors off guard and unprepared and started gaining yards, they would have been schemed out of the match. 

“If there is a defence that can stop you completely by scheme, then your offence is flawed.”
Anon Prem Coach

The Saxons had obviously not done their research. There are two members of the Warriors who were part of double wing teams at Uni level, and Warriors coach Russ Hewitt during his tenure at Portsmouth was one of the most successful coaches around for defending the double wing . BNU never scored more than 14 points against his defence, and during their championship year they shutout a high scoring Sheffield Hallam lead by David Saul.  The most telling sign that the double wing was not working is the fact the Warriors never came out of their base formation. They didn't even need Russ Hewitt's adjustments to defend the Wing.

The only thing I can think of to justify the use of the double wing was a desperation to keep turnovers down and the clock ticking.  The double wing destroys clocks with its constant grind on the ground and the reluctancy to air the ball takes out an efficient Warrior defensive back group. You don't learn anything from doing this. You are treating the game as a chore and football is not a chore, it is the greatest team sport in the world. 

I have been on the end of a 90-0 thrashing, it was not a pleasant experience.  But you take from it the little victories.  There is a difference between giving up and accepting a loss.  When you accept a loss at 40-0, 50-0, 60-0. its frees you to work on things in a game environment. Give guys a go in a certain position or try out situation play calls you might not want to risk in a tight game. You can always learn things during a match whether you are winning or losing by a large margin. Giving up, burning the clock and counting down the seconds is not a game winning mentality. If all else fails just focus on winning the small battles.  1v1 at the LOS, getting that first down, breaking the shutout.   

A winning game planning mentality will transfer to a winning attitude on the field, even if it means taking some big losses.  So long as you use every loss as a learning experience you will soon be forcing other teams to take similar action when you pile the points up on them.  

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