Winning with Formations and Match-Up’s

Unpredictability and the use of formations that create match-up problems for a defense are an offensive coordinator’s best weapons. Keeping the defense off-balance is the formula for success much more so than relying on X’s and O’s. It’s easy to diagram a play on a chalk board and have all the defenders accounted for to create a positive play. However, football is full of unpredictable and uncontrollable events so not everyone will execute the play as it’s drawn up. Remember, it only takes one mistake by one player to create an undesirable result and you have eleven players to account for!

An offensive coach who understands “the art” of play calling knows how to put his players in the best position to succeed on every play.  

This is accomplished by utilizing multiple formations to confuse a defense as well as creating match-up’s such that a coach will line up his best skill players versus a defense’s inferior defenders. Bill Walsh was a master at this as he believed in running the same play out of a multitude of formations. The more formations a defense has to prepare against, the harder it is for that defense to become efficient at defending that many different looks in a week’s time.

Here are some recommendations to create unpredictability and match-up problems:

  • Throw on first down often!  This is a run down and the defense will typically have run personnel in the game.
  • If you are determined to run a double tight end formation much of the time you better be prepared to throw out of that formation equally as much as you run out of it!
  • Line up your best receiver outside in a twins formation initially and then motion him inside, particularly on first down, as he will then be matched up with a linebacker or strong safety. If you do this on first down the defense won’t usually have a nickel or dime package in the game.
  • If the defense decides to put a nickel or dime package in for first down based on your success throwing the football on this down, have an audible to a run to counter that.
  • Spread the defense out to create five in the box and then run the ball on passing downs.
  • On third and one or fourth and one have the guts to go with a play action pass occasionally.  Play to win, don’t play not to lose!
  • Never enter any game without having some type of draw or screen package.
  • Utilize bootleg, waggle, or sprint action to influence the defense and tag some type of a throw-back route such as a back-side post by your receiver or back-side delay flare route by your Tight End or RB.  The QB has to set-up on a half roll and get his feet and shoulders around to make this throw.
  • Use formations that create un-balanced offensive fronts such as a double tackle set.
  • Teach your QB how to vary his cadence and snap count to keep the defensive front guessing.
  • If you are facing a Cover Zero (straight man) or Cover One (man free) secondary with the corners pressing, throw fade routes off a three step drop as often as necessary to get the opposition out of that defense whether you complete the pass or not.  This is showing the opposing defensive coordinator that you are not afraid to attack their weakness in coverage.  Your receivers have better odds of coming down with a fade ball than do the corners.
  • Relative to the previous suggestion, teach your QB and receivers how to execute a back-shoulder fade throw.

These are only a few suggestions as I could certainly list many more that would make this post entirely too long! The bottom line is don’t be predictable and don’t base too much of your play-calling on what works on the chalk-board!

Coach Van Tassel

The author of the article you just read has released his newest book, “The Art of Playing Wide Receiver”


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