The process of developing and implementing a game-plan. Using the Bills vs. Dolphins week 3 game film.
One of the best articles I have read in a long time was written by Peter King titled Inside the Gameplan. It was published on the The Monday Morning Quarterback website. King followed Arizona Cardinals’ Quarterback Carson Palmer during a game week leading up to their match-up with the Cleveland Browns. He chronicled the creation, learning and implementation of the game-plan formulated by Head Coach Bruce Arians.
King did a great job detailing the preparation that casual fans do not get to see or read about. With that mindset, I wanted to construct an article that explained how Greg Roman and the Bills constructed and implemented a game-plan and the execution of it.
I took a poll on which offensive game-plan from the 2015 season was the most effective. The majority of fans believed that the first Bills vs. Dolphins meeting was the most effective offensive game put forth by Roman. The Bills won that game 41-14, and did so with very little contributions from Sammy Watkins and Lesean Mccoy. But how did Greg Roman decide what plays to call and when?
If you didn’t know, coordinators break down play-calls into down and distance situations. Situations like 1st and 10, 3rd and 4-6 yards or 3rd and long. Situations that arise during a game. They do that to utilize practice time efficiently but most importantly because plays are designed to pick up a certain amount of yards. That is why you hear commentators say “there aren’t plays in the playbook to pick up 24 yards on 3rd down.” So to start off a coordinator must know what play-calls apply to the down and distance when creating a game-plan.
Every coach may have a different way in breaking down the game situations. Those lengthy play-call sheets may have the play-calls categorized by down and distance, it may also be broken down by type of plays vs. certain coverages. For example, Roman may have a set of 5-7 pass plays that he wants to call when he knows the defense will be in man coverage. But regardless of how a team categorizes play-calls, the team must have an idea on the plays they are going to run, what situation they should run them and what they can expect to see from the defense.
For the sake of time, the down and distance situations that I want to use for this article will be the following: Opening sequence (1st drive of the game), Drive Starters (1st play of every drive), 1st and 10 (Base Offense), 2nd an 7+ yards (Base Offense), 2nd and 4-6 (Medium), 2nd/3rd down and 1-3 yards (Short Yardage), 3rd and 4-6 (Medium), 3rd and 7+ yards (Long), Backed up and Red zone plays. All of these situations may not arise in every game. For example the coordinator may have 1-3 plays for 2nd and 1 but the team may not encounter that situation so that play won’t be utilized.
Over the next few weeks, I will break down the 63 offensive plays from the week four match-up according to the aforementioned down and distances. The plays will be broken down by their game situations and when they may have practiced those plays during the week. For example, the team may practice their Base Offense on Wednesday. I will give you an idea on what coaches’ and players’ schedules look like on Wednesdays but then I will break down what Base offense plays Roman utilized in those situations. So after the series of articles you will have an idea on what a normal Wednesday may look like if you were an NFL coach or player on the Bills. You will also get to see why some of the Base Offense plays weren’t successful.
How do they formulate plays to use in those down and situations?
The advanced scouts usually have the next opponent analyzed by the time the work week begins for the coaches. Typically advanced scouts have analyzed will be based on the opponent’s last four games. The statistics, data and film cut-ups will help give the coaches a general idea of certain tendencies or formations the team will see. The Bills’ coaches probably started to watch film on the Fins on Sunday or early Monday, but sometimes it occurs as early as the plane ride back home from their last game.
Once the work week begins for the Bills, they will follow a strict schedule. Here is a sample practice schedule taken from Brian Billick’s book “Developing a Gameplan”. If you do not have this book I suggest you add it to your collection. It will open your eyes to the game and give you a profound respect for the coaches and players in the NFL.
By the end of Tuesday the coaching staff has a plan of attack in place.
The script board is complete. It has all of the plays in one place.
The scripts (practice) and cards shown in the schedule above, are the down and distance situation plays put in schedule form letting coaches and players know what time and during what period the plays will be executed in practice come Wednesday. The exact play, down, distance and even what hash the ball is spotted will be listed on those practice scripts. This attention to detail is necessary given the time constraints for practice. If you didn’t know, practice scripts and script cards are usually produced by Quality Control Coaches.
Below is an example of how Roman may have outlined the game situations versus the Dolphins. The situations i.e. 2nd and medium etc, are only a tip of the iceberg. There are many situations that I didn’t include in the breakdown. Such as two point conversions, or the situations like the 4 minute offense. The total number of plays in the playbook for the Fins game are arbitrary but they are similar to the total number of plays that a team may carry into the game. Also, keep in mind a team may repeat plays throughout a game. The # of plays, is the breakdown of the actual number of plays the Bills executed in that game versus Miami.
The Bills may have carried 25 plays for 1st Down calls, but they only ran 18 (Drive Starters+1st Down plays). As you can imagine, some of these plays may bleed over into other categories. Some of the play-calls for the Drive Starters may also be run on 1st down calls. So needless to say there is overlap at times.
Roman knew what kind of balance he wanted in the Dolphins game. So out of 100 plays, he may script 60 runs, therefore having a 60%-40% run-pass ratio. Of course, once the game is under way, the game-plan may change. That ratio will fluctuate, but the offense may still only have so many play-calls to accommodate the change.
For example early in 2014 when Roman was with the 49ers, he had a plan to attack the Cardinals with an aerial attack instead of their typical bruising running game. He planned on getting up early, then closing the game out with Gore. It worked early but then the Cardinals gained the lead and the game-plan changed. Afterwards reporters were surprised at the way the game unfolded. Gore finished the game with 6 carries and they asked Roman how come Gore had not been the focus of their offense.
I think Frank knew going into the game, we kind of outlined our game plan that we were going to start the game out a certain way and see how it went,”
Now that the game is scripted, Greg Roman and the Bills must install the offense for the Dolphins game.
Within each practice, the Bills will rep the specific down and distance situations. Early in the week the focus is the Base Offense. But as the week progresses the team starts to focus more on crucial downs and distances such as 3rd downs and Red Zone. Check this chart out, it is from Billick’s book:
Each day the players practice those specific situations. You can see those down and distance situations highlighted in orange. For example, on Wednesday during W.T (walk through) the team will rep 10 of the Base Offense plays, 3-3rd and Long plays and 3-3rd and Medium plays. As the week progresses, you can see the shift to crucial down and distance situations.
The creation and installation of a game-plan usually begins with the Base Offense, specifically Drive Starters. Drive starters are the first play of every drive. These plays are carefully selected to get the offense on schedule.
To read the second portion of this series; Drive Starters click here.