This page is a work in progress. We will continue to add details about the real strategy in football. If you are watching a game and hear a term you are not familiar with, let us know! We will help explain it so you don’t have to have eyes rolling at you for asking it to the wrong person at the wrong time.
NOTE: All of these kinds of things are really detailed. It’s not worth trying to understand them until you have a general grasp of the basics. Also, we have found that the guys are much more willing to help you understand the strategy behind the decision on something like why a team decided to perform an on-side kick than they are about answering the question of why the color red on their helmet is so sparkly.
Offensive Football Strategy
The goal of the offense in football is to score. But the method a team uses to meet that goal can be drastically different.
Some teams are slow and methodical about how they move the ball down the field with two goals: (1) score and (2) use as much time as possible so the other team doesn’t have a chance to score. They run the ball much more frequently than they pass it because those plays really take a lot of time off the clock.
Other team’s goal is to score as quickly as possible. They run mostly pass plays and often times don’t even slow down long enough to get into a huddle and call the next play. If you get a chance to watch Oregon, you can see just how quickly an offense can work. Their strategy (beyond scoring) is to go from play to play so quickly the defense cannot substitute players. This ends up with two major things happening (1) the defense does not have the right guys in the game for the play are ‘mismatched’ and (2) the defense gets really tired and are thus not as effective.
Of course, there are lots and lots of strategies used by an offense that include a lot more options than how fast they score. We will cover some of them here and will continue to add to this section over time. In the offensive formations section, we covered many ways the offense may ‘line up’ for a play. Some of these formations are part of a bigger offensive strategy (e.g. Spread and Option).
More of football strategy for the offense coming soon.
Other Strategic Situations for the offense:
Beyond how the football strategy is utilized by the offense, there are many other strategic situations in which the offense will find themselves. We describe some of these strategic situations below.
Strategy for Points in Football:
This is one of those things that is really just basic math but also has interesting twists to it. Coaches and players have to always be thinking about what is best in a particular situation or for a particular team.
So, the basic strategy for points in football is score them as often as possible with as many points as allowed. If you have a chance for a touchdown, you take it. If you have a good chance at a field goal, you take it. On defense, anytime you have a chance to score, that is just a huge bonus!
But, if that is the case, then why doesn’t a team always go for 2 points instead of 1 after a touchdown? Well, that is pretty simple. The point after attempt (1pt) is almost a given. It is extremely rare that is missed. However, it is very unlikely a team will always get 2 pts if they go for it.
There are times though when a team might go for 2. Let’s say they score a touch down with little time on the clock and are only up by 1 point. If they only go for 1 with the extra point, then they will be up by 2 points. If they go for 2 points, then they will be up by 3. Do you see it? If they are up by 3 then the other team can only tie them if they score a field goal, not beat them. If they miss the 2 point conversion then they are really no worse off.
Another weird situation might be that there are only seconds left on the clock and the team with the ball is down by 3 points or less, but it is only 2nd down. The football team would never choose to score a field goal (3pts) when they still have an opportunity for a touch down (6pts) would they? Well, if they only have time for 1 more play, they are more likely to try and score a field goal on 2nd down than take the risk of not scoring a touch down.
Clock Management Strategy for the Offense in Football:
There are three basic situations for how the offense thinks about the time on the clock:
(1) If it’s early in the first or second half, the team generally does not think too much about the clock. They just run their offensive strategy the way they want (unless their strategy is all about the clock).
(2) If it is late in first or second half and the offensive team is behind – In these situations, the offense will likely run more pass plays than running plays because (a) if the pass is incomplete (not caught), then the clock stops and (b) it is easier for a receiver to catch the ball and get out of bounds to stop the clock than it is for a running back.
The offense will try to hustle up to the line and run another play if the game clock is still running after the previous play. Sometimes, they will even ‘waste’ a play in order to stop the clock by having the quarterback ‘spike’ the ball. Spiking the ball is when the quarterback takes the snap and immediately throws the ball into the ground. This is considered an incomplete pass and the clock stops. That down is wasted but it is better than running out of time.
(3) If it is late in the first or second half and the offensive team is ahead – This is just the opposite of #2 above. In this situation, the offense wants to keep the ball and use as much time as it can to keep the other team from getting the ball back. The offense does not want the clock to stop, so they will call mostly running plays and keep the ball towards the middle of the field so no one goes out of bounds. If they have to run a pass play to get a first down, they will, but they will still try and keep the ball towards the center of the field and have a ‘safe’ play in hopes that the defense does not intercept it.
What is an On-side Kick in football
Some people might call this a trick play but it really is more of a specific strategy utilized in desperate times. If a team is behind with little time left on the clock and they are kicking off to the other team, they may utilize an on-side kick. Why? Well, if they are still losing, they need to score to win. A team is much more likely to score if they are on offense. So, to get back on offense, they kick the ball so that it bounces around a lot. If someone on the receiving team tries to catch it and misses the ball can be picked up by the kicking team and it is there ball provided that (a) the ball went 10 yards and (b) the other team touches it.
It is not a high percentage play but it is probably a higher percentage than stopping the other team’s offense quickly enough to get the ball back and still score.
Trick Play is a page dedicated to explaining some of the most fun plays in the offensive playbook in football. These are rarely used but when they happen and they are successful, they sure are a lot of fun! Check them out.