QUESTION: “CoachXO, I have tried to script my first fifteen plays in the past, but I always hit the same problem. Let’s say I call my first play and it is a run. I gain two yards. My second play was a play action pass because I figured I would get at least five yards on first down. So my second play won’t work because it is the wrong play in that situation! Or say I get a first down and my next play is a long pass? I run it, incomplete, now I’m behind the sticks! Am I doing something wrong? I always hear coaches say ‘We script our plays’ but how can they do that when they don’t know what situations they will be in?” Aaron, OH.
Scripting plays is one of the most powerful things any coordinator can do (offense or defense) to increase the chance of a successful football play. Many offensive football coaches will script plays to test the waters…see how the opponent is lining up to certain formation, overloading points of attack, defending the pass, etc. Those are all GREAT reasons to script your football plays. In this case, you may script your FORMATIONS but not necessarily your plays (so you can see how they line up, but call the right play at the time).
However, the primary reason you should script your offensive plays is to take the stress and pressure out of play-calling.
A good offensive script is a road map for beating your opponent in ANY situation (and I assure you, you are not guessing when you script!). Scripting allows you to make good decisions based on facts and data about your opponent gathered from film/scouting. Then it gives you that information in real time, to make sure you make a calm good decision in the heat of battle. – In the article below, I’m going to show you how to create a good offensive play call script that will give you the right call, at the right time and increase your chance of gaining yards and scoring points! There are three keys to scripting plays on offense:
1) Preparation (Know Your Opponent) 2) Plan your attack (It is easier to call plays in the film room than on the field!) 3) Trust the script (but don’t be afraid to deviate from it!)
Key #1: Preparation
Before you can ever decide what YOU are going to do, you have to know what your opponent DOES. You have to scout your opponent either in person or on film and gather data. For offensive play we are looking at the opponent’s defense.
I could write an entire book on how to breakdown an opponent’s defense, but for the sake of this article we are going to look at a few basic things to look for.
First, what does the opponent do in certain areas of the field – Field Zones
Your opponents will not call the same blitzes and coverages on the 10-yard-line that they will on the 50-yard-line. You need to know what kind of defensive calls the opponent’s coach will call in specific areas of the field.
I recognize six Field Zones when breaking down film:
• Backed up: -G to the -15-yard-line • Coming Out: -16 to -30-yard-line • Attack: -31 to -49-yard-line • Score: 50 to 25-yard-line
*Many coaches just combine the Attack and Score zones. I do not for a simple reason: I believe there is a psychological difference in play calling when an opponent crosses the 50. He is more likely to go for it on fourth down, he may have a powerful field goal kicker, he can taste points. That is why I split “the middle of the field” into two separate zones.
• Red Zone: 25 to 10-yard-line • Goal Line: 10 to G
*A negative or minus number above means their side of the field, a positive number means our side of the field. So if it is the “-20” the opponent is 80 yards from the goalline. If it is the “20” then he is 20 yards from the goalline.
Down & Distance
Once you have identified the field zones, you need to know what the opponent does on each DOWN & DISTANCE within each field zone.
Overall down & distance tendencies can give you a good feel for what the opponent’s philosophy is, but you need to know what he does on each down & distance in each field zone to choose what play you run! Remember: 1st and 10 on the 50-yard-line is NOT the same as 1st and 10 on the 20-yard-line. Your opponent WILL run different calls in each situation. -
Here are the downs and distances I chart when breaking down an opponent:
• 1st & 10 • 1st & 5 (After penalty on them) • 1st & 15 (After penalty on us) • 2nd & Short (1-3 yards) • 2nd & Medium (4-7 Yards) • 2nd & Long (8-10 Yards) • 2nd & Forever (11+) • 3rd & Short • 3rd & Medium • 3rd & Long • 3rd & Forever • 4th & Short • 4th & Medium • 4th & Long • 4th & Forever • Special: 4th AND 1 (Will they go for it, or won’t they?)
- So now, you watch film and you chart each play. What field zone? What Down and Distance? What did they do? For the “what did they do,” I like to keep it simple when charting a Defense:
• Front (4-3, 3-4, etc.) – This can be a front as well like “3519” if you number techniques. • Coverage PRESNAP • Blitz: How many blitzers? Gaps? Inside or Outside? • Line stunt or twist? • Coverage POSTSNAP
- This information will give you a great idea what your opponents are going to do in each situation.
• Field Zone – Score • D&D – 3rd & Medium (4-7) • In Four of five plays charted for this field zone, the opponent ran a 5-2 Defense, played Cover 2 Pre and Post Snap and BLITZED the inside linebacker (thus sending six people).
#2 Plan Your Attack
So now you know what they are going to do on this down and distance and can make a good educated guess as to what you are going to call on your play script. (I’d get in Gun, Twins Right and run Smash to the Twins side tagging the QB to throw the flag with both backs in for protection, but I digress)
So now you are probably saying to yourself “OK, that is great, now I can predict their likely defense…but I still don’t know what situation I’m going to be in! Nope…that’s why you plan for EVERY situation! -
How do I make a script that has the right play for the right situation at the right time?
First, we don’t just write down 15 plays and call them in order. That is crazy and is no better than guessing. What we do is script our plays for EACH SITUATION. We plan maybe…3 alternatives…for each possible situation. Each play alternative builds for the next. Let’s take our example above. Take my smash call as our 1st alternative for that down and distance. Call the play. Scratch it off the call sheet to remember you called it. Now my second alternative could be a Slip Screen to the twin side.
In the first play the defense got burnt on the flag in the smash route. The Corner may feel like he has to help a little deeper the next time we are in that situation (or more likely, the Defensive Coordinator may call Quarters / Cover 4 anticipating another deep route…remembering his Corner got burnt the first time). Now we throw the quick slip screen throw under the deeper coverage and have a receiver in open grass. Sweet! We planned for that situation based on 1st) What we have seen the Defense do on film 2nd) based on a logical reaction to our first play! -
The key to scripting is to have a plan for each down and distance situation written on a play call sheet. Now you have “scripted” your football plays and are ready for any situation!
As I said before, many teams “script” their first fifteen plays. But this is often little more than a list of FORMATIONS to run…with a PLAY that is planned for on the Call Sheet! For example: You can run that smash out of anything with two receivers to a side, spread, pro, twins…it doesn’t matter. So you can have a formation listed for that situation, but then a PLAY that beats what you think the defense is about to do! -
#3 Trust the Script (But don’t be afraid to deviate from it!)
Why would you put all that work into making a play script and not use it? I see this mistake all the time. Football Coaches watch ours of film, make an amazing play script off a great game plan…and then it stays in their pocket or hangs off their belt the entire game…while they call the game off the top of their head. That is crazy! You might as well draw stuff up in the dirt!
You have to trust what you see on film. If that guy ran 4-3 Cover 2 with no blitz or stunt on 2nd and Long 80% of the time in the Attack Zone the three games before he played you…he is going to do it again AGAINST you! Defensive tendencies are especially strong. You can’t just change your defense every game, and when the going gets tough…a Defensive Coordinator is calling his base defense…plain and simple. Whatever you write down for the call trust it. HOWEVER! If you find something that the offense can’t stop…milk it. If you run off-tackle two times in a row and gain 30 yards…call it again coach! If you find a void in their undercoverage and they do not adjust…hit it again! Most of your game calls should come off the script to give your team the best chance to win. But you can’t be a slave to the script. Sometimes they adjust to what you are doing. Sometimes things work a little different than you planned. And SOMETIMES…you just “Feel” a play in your gut and now it is going to be wide open. Go for it! The script is a guideline. It is your plan to “Win the game Sunday through Thursday…just call it on Friday Night.” When things get stressful, the script makes sure you ALWAYS have the right call and you are not trying to remember the best thing to do in that situation! Sorry bro…none of us are Vince Lombardi (but I bet he even carried around some notes on an index cards)! -
What if I don’t have any data for a Field Zone / Down & Distance?
Call whatever you want! You will not always have data on a specific area / situation. However you can make educated guesses. No data on 1st and 10 from the Coming Out field zone? Check 1st and 10 from the Attack and go with that! The zones are close and similar, so maybe your opponent will do the same thing. Also, rely on you own play calling. No data on 2nd and 5 in the Score zone? Call what YOU want to call! However, do NOT leave it blank. Game night is too chaotic to wing it. You need to write SOMETHING down on each situation…and at least two plays for that matter that compliment each other. You will get in many situations more than once (especially in the Attack / Score zones) so its good to have a play ready for any situation you may find yourself in! -
What does an Offensive Play Script look like?
I’ve included an Offensive Play Script below.
You can open this up, print it out and write in all your play calls for an entire game. It is two sheets long. Half the field on one side, half on the other. Simply print out both sides, fill in your script and either laminate them back-to-back or put them in a plastic sheet protector and tape the open side shut. This will keep your game plan dry in case of rain (or nervous sweaty hands)! I also always tie a shoe string to the call sheet and attach it to my belt loop. This keeps me from dropping it during a game. You can use the holes in the plastic sheet protector used to put them in 3-ring binders, or just hole punch your call sheet when you laminate it in a corner. *Use the BOTTOM corner, this makes it easier to hold and read.
CLICK THIS LINK TO GET THE OFFENSIVE CALL SHEET: