Assess Your Offense

By Matt Drinkall | Posted 7/30/2019


The game of football has never had so many great things happening offensively. On top of that, there are different levels, coaching changes, player transfers and additional staffing. The biggest challenge facing offensive coaches in football today is not what to run, but rather, what not to run. This article will offer ideas and suggestions as to how to structure an offense to fit your unique situation, regardless of where you are coaching. 

I have identified three conceptual ideas that every offense needs to emphasize to maximize their success.

Alignment – make sure all players, coaches, staff, etc. understand who you are, what you are trying to accomplish and the way you plan to go about doing so.

Comprehension: You coaches and players should be able to understand all scheme and technique that is asked of them. Never sacrifice comprehension for the sake of adding a new play.

Success via Attrition: Be great at the things that aren’t sexy. Ensure that your team executes assignments correctly, never has negative yardage plays, eliminates penalties and protects the football. Let your opponent be the one to make those mistakes. If your team does nothing wrong and your opponent does, you have a major advantage. A lot of times in order to be great, all you really need to do is not be as bad as the opposition. 

RELATED CONTENT: Offensive Simplicity

Commonalities of Great Offenses

All great offenses draw on a few common traits. I have identified three to focus on. From a leadership or management perspective, the old adage applies, “When things are going well, look out the window. When things are going poorly, look in the mirror.” This method of reflection is a really good way to keep doing the things that are working well and an even better assessment tool for addressing the way you are personally going about things. 

The second critical factor is flexibility. “Only the strong survive” is one of the biggest lies ever told. Every living thing to ever exist in the universe is either alive or dead for one reason – adaptability. Organisms that are flexible and adaptable are the ones that survive and thrive. An offense follows this same law. Flexibility to opponents, staff, personnel, weather, situations, etc. 

The third critical aspect of great offenses is ensure your train makes all the important stops. All offenses need to accomplish the following things:
∙ Avoid turnovers at all costs 
∙ Run the ball effectively
∙ Avoid negative plays
∙ Make the opposition defend the entire field
∙ Be physical
∙ Have fun
It is important to have a plan laid out to ensure that your offense is consistently accomplishing these goals. There are a wide variety of ways to get there, but every offense must make these a priority to consistently win at a high level. Again, sometimes the most important facets of having success is to, simply put, just not be bad. 


Have an Offseason Plan

One of the greatest skills someone can possess when running an offense is to have a great offseason assessment plan. I receive a lot of raised eyebrows when I tell people that once the season starts, I rarely, if ever, add anything to the offense. I use an extremely thorough evaluation and assessment program that occurs throughout the offseason that guides how to build the offense. I have eight full months to make decisions on what to carry to fit personnel and situations. 

In my opinion, if you are running into situations during the season where you see something fairly common defensively and then have to add something as a result, your offseason assessment isn’t where it needs to be. For example, you start game planning in week 4 and you go over Cover 2 for the first time that season. You shouldn’t have to add something in for a base coverage, front or pressure. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, but most of the time, you will find that is based on something that happens with your own personnel, such as an extended injury at a critical position. You can start with a few simple questions to make sure: 
∙ What do you need to do to win?
∙ What do we need to do vs. what do we want to do?
∙ What fits your personnel?
∙ Who are your best 11 players?
∙ What do they do well?
∙ Does the staff have the knowledge, experience and time to teach it?
∙ Are you able to run and pass from each personnel group and formation?
∙ Do you have runs and passes for each situation?

Look through Defensive Coordinator Glasses

One of the most useful assessment tools I have found is to talk with as many defensive coordinators as possible. I spent a great deal of time over the last four years making sure to clinic with defensive coordinators. They give you a unique insight as to things you should consider when assessing your own offense. I make sure to cover a wide range of topics, from game planning during the week to practice times for certain offenses to stopping a specific play series, attacking protections, and how they handle offset gun teams. They will give you information that offensive coordinators likely will not possess. 

Aside from spending time talking with defensive coordinators to get their perspective, another useful assessment tool is to have your offensive staff pretend to be playing against your team. Have your staff answer the following questions:
∙ What is your offense is good at?
∙ What is your offensive known for doing really well?
∙ What makes you easy to defend?
∙ When are you most predictable? 
∙ What are you currently doing that is difficult to defend?
∙ Are you giving anything away by personnel or formation?



There are a few big picture concepts to make sure you are always aware of. There are also commonalities between all great offenses. An offseason assessment plan is paramount to sustained offensive success. Being able to justify what you run and why you run it is important when getting buy-in from your team, players and coaches. There are too many good plays out there to not have a narrowed and focused plan of attack. The final piece I outlined was to make sure you evaluate your own offense critically from the other side of the ball. These simple evaluation and assessment tools will help with the alignment of your program as well.


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