Learning the basics of breaking down film

By Chris Booth | Posted 1/24/2017

If you don’t know what to look for, breaking down film can be difficult.

Ultimately, you want to know what to look for so that it enhances all three phases of your team.

However, some coaches may know exactly what to look for on offense, but have a difficult time seeing the other two phases with the same clarity. Further, whether the video was recorded in-house or submitted by an opponent can have an effect on the way you should watch the film.

Accordingly, it is important to learn how to understand film. Here is my method:

The Offense

When breaking down the offense, the first thing I look for are individual players because I want to know whether or not each player has completed their assignment on the play. In addition to the initial individual breakdown, the are 12 items I look for when evaluating the play of the offense:

  1. Speed and intensity off the ball.
  2. The blocking technique of each position.
  3. How high or low each individual plays. Are they maintaining leverage or giving it up to the opponent? Is everybody staying on their blocks until the whistle?
  4. Is the offense playing on our side of the line of scrimmage or the opponent's?
  5. Do the responsible players, linemen or back(s), effectively pick up blitzes?
  6. Ball handling by the center and skill position players.
  7. Do the backs hit the hole aggressively or tentatively?
  8. The route running and catching abilities of skill position players.
  9. The drop taken by the quarterback during a pass play.
  10. The timing of the passing game. Is the ball on time or is late to the receivers?
  11. The footwork by the quarterback during each play.
  12. Are there any players that take a play(s) off during the game?

The Defense

Exactly like the offensive side, the first thing I want to see is whether individual players complete their assignments during every play.

I also look for the following when evaluating defense:

  1. Speed and intensity off the ball.
  2. How high or low each individual plays. Are they maintaining leverage or giving it up to the opponent?
  3. The ability to get off blocks and swarm to the football.
  4. What side of the line of scrimmage is the defensive unit playing on? When successful, a defense will get consistent penetration into the opponent's backfield.
  5. The presnap alignment of all players, confirm they are in the correct stance.
  6. The ability to tackle in and out of space.
  7. The speed of defense’s play recognition. Are we quick to diagnose or easily fooled?
  8. Do we swarm to the ball? Are the majority of tackles solo or double team?
  9. The ability to cover the pass and rush the passer.
  10. Are the pursuit angles correct? Do we under-pursue or over-pursue the ball?

Special Teams

When evaluating the coverage teams, I always look for the following:

  1. The punt snap’s speed and accuracy.
  2. The speed of the punter to get the punt off.
  3. The ability to protect the punter.
  4. The distance and height of each punt.
  5. Punt coverage. How fast and disciplined is the coverage.
  6. Tackling ability.

When evaluating the kickoff coverage team, I again look for fast and disciplined coverage, the ability to tackle and the skill level of the kicker.

When evaluating the return team, I look for the following:

  1. Do they run the called return correctly? Is it effective?  
  2. Does each individual player hold their block until the whistle?
  3. The skill level of the returner. Does he properly read his teammates blocks?

When evaluating the field goal and PAT team, I initially watch for and evaluate the skill level of the snapper, holder and the kicker. If all the techniques from these positions are solid, then I look at the ability of the other players protecting the kick.


Chris Booth is the Head Coach at Peterstown Middle School in Peterstown, West Virginia. In 2017, Coaches Choice is scheduled to publish 101 Youth Football Drills, a book written specifically for youth football coaches.