Planning Ahead: What are the keys to game planning for an offensive coordinator?by: AFM Editorial Staff
© More from this issue
What does an offensive coordinator go through as he prepares for his next opponent? What are the keys to having the most efficient game plan? AFM spoke to three offensive coordinators about the topic – Keith Grabowski, former offensive coordinator at Baldwin Wallace University, football consultant Dan Gonzalez, a former high school and college offensive coordinator, and Nick Restifo, the offensive coordinator at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.
What is the process for an OC as he plans for his next opponent?
Grabowski: The process starts with each assistant doing his work to break down opponent film. In the days of DVD and VHS, this meant each coach breaking down a whole game. With how video systems are set up today, we assign each coach a certain aspect of the game to analyze. We have a coach that handles personnel, formation and motion, another coach handles fronts and stunts, another linebacker alignments and blitzes, and finally a coach that will enter coverages. Essentially, with each coach looking at only one aspect, the breakdowns get done very quickly. Because each coach can work independently in the breakdown, it is a very efficient process. Those coaches, then, are very familiar with those aspects and this helps when we begin our discussion of the opponent.
After the film is broken down, we look for alignments against formations that we use or prefer. We like to go in with at least a portion of our game plan so we know exactly what to expect in alignment. When we plan “tempo,” we know that we can get up to the line and go fast within this set of plays.
We then look for their adjustments to formations that are different from ours. We try to learn how those adjustments might be applied to us. We also think about how the offenses we saw against the opponent might be different from ours. For example, if the other team is heavier in passing than us, we know that they might approach us differently.
After looking at what’s known and what we expect, we look for advantages in what we can do to give them alignment, coverage, and run fit problems. In addition, we look at personnel match-ups and determine where the strengths and weaknesses line-up for both us and the opponent.
Gonzalez: In the 24 hours after the previous game, the OC must make corrections with the help of the staff, and assess personnel issues (injuries or ineffective play) that have come up. Honest conversation must take place, so that the staff is aware of changes that will happen. For example, if a team plans going into the season that they will be a “power” oriented team, but the FB is ineffective, then changes must be made – perhaps to other gap scheme runs like “counter”.
The OC is an information gatherer and organizer. The OC needs to balance the strengths of his group vs. that of the opponent, and manage the weaknesses of his own personnel. He must delegate parts of study to different members of the staff, then have a time to come together to discuss. Scheme adjustments are important, but personnel adjustments are critical.
What is the OC looking for as he views an opponent’s tape for the first time?
Grabowski: The first time is really an overview. After breaking down the film, I like to pick the game on film with a team most similar to our offense. I will watch that game making notes as it plays. I try not to spend a lot of time rewinding. It helps to set the big picture in my head as well as watch how the opponent performs over the course of the game.
Gonzalez: He is looking for general structure of the defense that can help him assess what the defensive players are being taught to do. He wants to become aware of great players that can disrupt the plan of attack. He wants to find clues in aligning to formations, and match that with what the offense has installed.
Restifo: The first thing we do is watch all the film of the opponent as an offensive staff and determine what their base defensive front is and what coverages they use. As we watch the film we look for things that worked against our opponent from the teams that they played. We also watch the film to see if there are any weaknesses in the defensive team as a whole. In other words, is the defense unsound in any area, and are there any weak defenders where we have a definite mismatch.
What are the priorities for the OC as he dissects the tape?
Gonzalez: There are four:
• Protection problems are always a concern, both schematically and personnel wise.
• Finding the most favorable ways to get the looks desired in both run and pass games.
• Chances to create explosive plays.
• Situational tendencies, problems,
Restifo: Since I coach the QBs, I am particularly interested in how they defend the pass. Is the opponent primarily a 1 or 2-high team? Do they play man, 0 coverage, or combinations? Do they like to blitz? When? Which down? Which part of the field? Based on these coverages, we determine our passing package for the week. At the same time, I also look to see how they coordinate their fronts with their coverages. How does the defense adjust to 3 x 1 sets? 2 x 2 sets? Does the defense remove players from the box vs. 3 x 1 sets?
In putting together a game plan, how does the OC decide on his specific run and pass plays?
Grabowski: We have variations of the concepts that we install during camp. We don’t add any new concepts, we just adjust with formations or personnel. What we look for is how we can utilize what we do best from formations and personnel groups that cause the defense problems.
Gonzalez: For us, run and pass plays are installed and do not change much from week to week. What will change is the presentation to the defense. Personnel, formations, movements, and tempos used will play a big part. The offense is structured so that practice time is spent on individual techniques and skills. Obviously, we will feature some concepts over others in a given week (for example a team that is 90% man vs. 90% zone), but we have “Advantage Principles” and “Navigation Tags” that allow us to keep teaching consistent. So it can become less of “what plays” to use, and more of “what tag” to guide the QB thought process.
For the purpose of calling pass patterns, we use a numbered route ‘tree’ to call the frontside receiver’s assignments. This innovation eliminates confusion when moving players within a formation – which is one of the keys to dictating match-ups.
Restifo: When we put together the run package, we like to have inside zone and read, outside zone, power, and leads. We feel that these plays can be run against any front. As far as the passing game, we have quick game, 5-step drop, some 7-step drop, play-action, roll out, and screens. When we develop a pass route, we try to build in beaters for cover 2, 3, and 4. If we know that a team will combo coverage, that is, a combination of man and zone, or quarter, quarter, half, we often will tag a receiver to run shallows or rubs. We also have a fast tempo package that we can run from either 3 x 1 or 2 x 2. We have plays designed to go against any given defensive package.
What is the process for the OC for plays to be used for specific downs and distances?
Grabowski: When we look at situational offense, we start with what we know about the opponent’s base defense and philosophy, and we see how they adjust situationally. Do they get into a different front or coverage? Do they utilize a different set of personnel. We try to take concepts that we have in the base part of our game plan and carry them over to this section. This allows for better teaching and learning because we are really spending our time on a small set of plays. We will utilize the best personnel and formations to attack their adjustments. We practice this in specific periods with the chains and down marker out, so our players have a sound understanding of what we are doing in every situation. Setting up our call sheet and practice scripts a specific way allows us to get the work we need for what we decide on in game planning.
Gonzalez: Obviously, in normal D/D situations, we would like to get the explosive play when we can, but will never fault the QB for getting us a positive play. In fact, sometimes the check down is the best means to gain an explosive play, and we can dictate this in the play call. With the availability of “Navigation Tags” in our system, we can dictate the QB’s thinking on a down by down basis. We feel that we have the best setup in not only teaching the QB to find the softest part of the coverage, but in guiding him on a down-by-down basis as well.
Restifo: The first thing we do is break down the opponent’s film based on down and distance as well as zones on the field. We break down the field zones -20 to +20, +20 to +5, and +5 to goal line. We try to get a feel for what our opponent likes to do in these areas as well as down and distance. The whole offense is available to us from -20 to +20 on first and second downs, as long as we are on schedule. I have a special category for third down situations, third and long (7-10), third and medium (4-6) and third and short (1-3). We also have a package for red zone and goal line.
We also like to have a package of series starters. These are plays that we like to use in any situation but particularly on first down of a new series. When we think of first down, depending on field position, we like to get the quarterback used to some game flow. If we are going to throw the ball, I like to give the QB something that he feels confident in throwing. It might be a hitch, play action pass, naked, or go for the jugular right off the bat. I tend to stay away from a dive up the middle. I never want the defense to gang up on the ball carrier at the line of scrimmage on the first play. Defenses are geared up for the run on first down. I hate to give them the advantage right off the bat. If we are going to run the ball I want to go with something that our line loves to run. That is, something that we practiced all week, and the line can’t wait to run.
Does philosophy and strategy change when in the red zone?
Grabowski: When we hit the red zone, the one thing we can be sure of is that vertical space decreases as we get close to the end zone. We have to be sure that our pass concepts stay sound in how they space the defense both horizontally and vertically. We want to get the proper stretches on defenders so that windows for the quarterback are as clean as possible.
Again, we try to carry over as many concepts and formations as possible and adjust with personnel and formations. Because we are not as worried about attacking vertical space as much, we start to use bigger bodies in this area. We also know the defense starts to tighten up, so being able to add gaps for the defense to fit in the run game can help us in the run game and allow us to attack space created by the compressed formation in the play-action passing game. Utilization of shifts and motions in this area is a consideration in forcing the defense to show their intentions. From a passing perspective, there are concepts we prefer and we tend to carry the same concepts and even formations throughout the season. This allows us to build execution and maximize performance. We spend time reviewing our tendencies in this area and we look to create a simple constraint play or adjustment to break a tendency.
Gonzalez: Of course, you have to be ready for pressure, and the condensed field eliminates some stretches that you had in the open field. I think this is where the overall design of the offense really helps. In 2014, we were a multiple team that combined spread concepts with H-backs and were able to be a gap scheme running game team. We ended up with a very balanced offense, throwing for 23 TDs and running for 38. We were able to pick out the great matchups in the passing game, and isolate them because of the need to support the run. Again, being able to dial in the QB’s thought process with special tempo calls for this area, along with Navigation Tags, allowed for a great deal of success.
Restifo: Our offensive philosophy doesn’t change much in the red zone. We feel that on our level, defenses don’t change too much in the red zone until you get to the +10 yard line. Then teams seem to bring more pressure. We prepare for this and use it to our advantage by using fast tempo, or max protect to get one-on-one matchups in the secondary. We tend to run off tackle or outside more than between the tackles. We feel we have more of an advantage on the edge.
“With how video systems are set up today, we assign each coach a certain aspect of the game to analyze.
We have a coach that handles personnel, formation and motion, another coach handles fronts and stunts, another
linebacker alignments and blitzes, and finally a coach that will enter coverages.” – Keith Grabowski
“The first thing we do is break down the opponent’s film based on down and distance as well as zones on the field.
We break down the field zones -20 to +20, +20 to +5, and +5 to goal line. We try to get a feel for what our opponent likes
to do in these areas as well as down and distance.” – Nick Restifo