Understanding the strategy of football

By Jen Welter | Posted 11/4/2014

Congratulations, you are into your fifth week of football basics.

In Week 1, you started off with some basic questions to ask. In Week 2, we looked at the muscle versus the hustle on the team. In Week 3 we tackled performance statistics and in Week 4 we kicked off special teams.

Now, in Week 5, we are going to start getting into the strategy of football.

Though it is easy to see the running, passing and tackling, what makes football such a great sport is the game within the game. In other words, football is a game of strategy, and when you start to understand the strategy, you just may fall in love with the sport. I like to think of football as full contact chess!

Offense is the easiest place to start because it is the glory side of the ball. Players on offense score most of the points, and at the highest levels of football, those plays dominate highlight reels and sports shows.

If you have ever seen football highlights, then you have seen quarterbacks throwing the ball, receivers catching the ball and running backs running with the ball. Now, when those offensive highlights happen, I want you to understand the strategy behind them. Why was that receiver open? What set the running back up to score that touchdown?

The answer: strategy.

In football, all plays are connected. A receiver is open on one pass play because of the plays that came before it. As I said earlier, football is like full contact chess, and just like in chess, no one move is made in isolation. The run sets up the pass and the pass sets up the run.

I know you have heard someone say, “The run sets up the pass,” or “They need to use the run game to set up the pass.”

I also know, if you have never really been “taught” football, you probably just rolled your eyes. Don’t worry, I have done the same thing. Sometimes I roll my eyes simply because I know guys are regurgitating football phrases without really even having a good grasp of what they mean.

I can make this really simple. When you start to think of football in terms of chess, you will realize that each play is a part of the overall strategy of the game. I am not just calling plays, I am using my plays to assess the other team’s defense. For example, if I run the ball a few times, and the defense starts to cheat up, then I can beat them deep with a pass.

Now, let’s go a step further. Remember in Week 2 when I talked about the muscle and hustle on the football team? Well, on the defense, the muscle, also known as the defensive line, is concerned with the battle at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield. The muscle may stop the play before it really gets going by sacking the quarterback, but for the most part, the defensive linemen are focused on stopping the run.

On the other side of the equation, you have the hustle, also known as the defensive backs. The primary focus of the hustle is to stop the passing game.

Now, in the middle of the defense, in between the muscle and the hustle, you have the linebackers. Linebackers are a combination of muscle and hustle, and they are responsible for both the run and the pass. In other words, linebackers are supposed to back up the defensive line on the run, and drop back to help the defensive backs with the pass.

Picture linebackers being pulled in a game of tug-of-war between helping on the run and the pass, and now you will start to understand how the offense can use their game of chess to mess with the linebackers, and do things like use the run to open up the pass.

If the offense is running the ball, running the ball and running the ball, the linebackers are going to start playing the run more aggressively. The defensive coordinator may even dedicate a linebacker or two to stopping the run entirely by calling a blitz. Now, as the defense becomes more aggressive toward stopping the run, they become more susceptible to things like play action, which is when the play looks like a run at first, but the quarterback fakes the handoff and passes the ball.

Conversely, if the offense is having a lot of success with the pass, linebackers may be quicker to drop into pass coverage. When the offense sees that the linebackers are dropping quickly, then a draw play may be particularly successful. The draw is the opposite of a play action pass – it looks a pass play at first, but the quarterback then hands the ball to a running back.

When you start learning the strategy side of football, the game can be addictive.

Many coaches will actually script the first 10 or 20 plays of a game in order to decipher how the opposing defense will respond to certain things.

Trust me, the more you learn about football, the more you will want to learn! It will change the way you watch the game and you will be better able to enjoy the game your child loves!