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FORMATIONS

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STARTING OFFENCE

An idea under consideration is to add a "starting formation" on offence in a similar way to defence. This would mean that you lose form when you change it. The effect of your starting formation would be that your offence is stronger in that formation, and less strong the further you change from it. Changing a few players who do specific jobs shouldn't reduce the effectiveness of your offence very much, or at all, but wholesale changers are not usual in normal situations. The effect should be to narrow the range of formations used by any given team.

The intention is that this is something to help customise different teams to be more different. And to do it in a visible way. But it might give us some other benefits at the same time (read on...).

TRAINING

Along with the starting formation we'd add training on formations to help make teams more consistent over the season. What you do most, you get better at, and a major change in your style of offence is something you'd normally do between seasons and not in mid-season.

Rather than add another training box to the normal turnsheet, we'd probably add some to the turnsheet in training camp. Maybe with some extra offence and defence training boxes as well. Then we'd add training points for the formations that show in the league report each week, the same as for play calls. Changing your starting formation would reduce your accumulated training.

I'd like to avoid having a training box on the normal turnsheet for formations so that a coach preparing for a game can look back over previous league reports and have a very good idea what formations the opposition will use. If an opponent comes up with something very different then you know they're playing against the system, because they haven't got accumulated training for it (unless they planned for it carefully in training camp) or they're prepared for it not working very well in the short term while they're swapping over to a new style of offence.

ALTERNATIVE - OFFENCE FORMATIONS & TRAINING

An alternative approach would be more radical, to use formations to customise the play calls on offence the same way as we're doing on defence. Instead of calling the play call for the situation and then calling the play we'd call the play and then look up what formation we use with that play. It'd be more realistic: although what we see in real life is the situation, then the formation, then the play call, in reality the coaches have viewed the situation, decided what the play will be, and then sent out the personnel to fit. Needs thought.

In that scheme we don't need training on formations as the training on the play does both. Changing the formation would presumably reduce your accumulated training on the play, as it probably should do on defence as well.

BASIC VS ADVANCED

I'm sure this a good point to remind people that in the advanced game, which is the main version of this game, the defence can read the formation and react to it. If you're playing a cut-down version of the game and you find the limitations of the basic gameplan annoying, because people can use formations in unrealistic ways without you be unable to react, that's because you chose to play that version with more guesswork and less realism. If you want more realism and less guesswork play the advanced game.

FREE AGENCY

An interesting idea in relation to the free agency rule is to increase the risk of a player qualifying for conditional free agency according to whether or not he's a starter. High-value backups are the guys who are most likely to look for other teams.

There's a counter-argument, however, that it's high value starters that other teams are mostly likely to want to steal, so we might be looking at cause-and-effect being the wrong way around. Backups are the guys that get released, because they're not needed, while starters with itchy feet get extra money to stay. Even so, backups are more easily signed by someone else becuase they're probably on lower contracts than the starters and offer better value for money. Smart starters probably stay where they are, in a scheme that they know is good for them.

Either way, concentrating the axe on the guys you might be happy to ditch is user-friendly, and if you choose your starting formation on offence then that tells us which guys to pick on.

DEFENCE OVERCALLS

An option I've looked at from time to time, to deal with the inherent differences between a game that's played strictly from a gameplan and real life (where a coach can make corrections "on the fly") is to develop a system of overcalls for the defence on the field. If there's a glaring mismatch between what the offence appears to be doing (according to the formation they've lined up in) and what the defence is planning, then the defence needs to be able to respond.

Defences already adjust to the offence, of course, but not as strongly as they can in real life, and not enough to deal with extreme variations in formations.

What would happen in real life? Presumably there's a choice between calling a timeout on the field and going back to the coaching staff, or falling back into some pre-determined scheme that either tries to cover all eventualities reasonably well, or makes a guess and goes all-out to stuff it.

In our case we're only going to be able to make it work if there's a pre-determined adjustment already decided upon, and it's varied enough that the offence can't exploit it by triggering it deliberately. Or we take it away from the coach entirely and use a complex procedure that isn't going to be predictable (eg. split a random choice between a basic sound defence, a very agrressive defence, and whichever defence kills what the offence did last time in the same situation).

Quantifying what constitutes a "glaring mismatch" is another problem. Swapping a running back for a tight end almost certainly isn't one. Two extra wide receivers? For sure. One extra receiver? Probably, maybe. If you look at the different formations and what you really need to react to, then it looks to me like it's the number of wideouts that's important unless what you want to do in response is blitz, in which case it's a question of the numbers of guys who can protect the passer.

All in all, this is probably not something that's going to happen soon. I've already been thinking about it for nearly twenty years, after all. But it's an area to which we can give some thought.

GUESSING GAMES

Don't forget that there's nothing wrong with using "extreme" formations, or the "wrong" formation for the situation. Run-and-shoot teams stayed in their spread formation in short yardage, for example. The problem is just that with pre-written gameplans it's difficult to adjust if you meet one that isn't expected, or you're forced to guess which one you'll meet because the opponent uses two or more different ones.

It might be that we don't really need a change in this area. If the effect of extreme formations when they're different to the starting formation is reduced then we might see the guesswork gameplans disappearing. They might need to be only marginally less effective to make them not worth using.

Although it would be nice if the guesswork was reduced by an improvement we're already proposing for other reasons there are several other changes that could be made directly. It might be enough to just reduce the effect of formations on offence, or maybe it would be better to take formations out of the basic game. They probably shouldn't have been added in the first place, since the "downside" of changing your formation (that it gives away your intentions) isn't included. But it would be a shame to lose them.

Another option would be to compare the formation in each situation with the one used the previous game and reduce the offence training value if it changes a lot. It's why real teams wouldn't make dramatic changes: constant chopping and changing and training in different formations is going to make the team less effective. And it could be made visible by throwing extra "confusion penalties" the same as with other duff formations.

CALLING DEFENCE FORMATIONS

We've had defence formations in the game before, on an experimental basis, but they were a lot of extra work, and they really demanded some follow-up to add some more things that weren't available at the time (see the next few sections). There are three obvious ways to use defence formations, that are distinct from the current rule of the same name, which is actually about base formations. One is to add a formation box with every play call box. So instead of calling MD RD PD you might call MD 434, RD 434, PD 335. Time consuming and expensive!

The next is the most obvious, to call a formation in each situation like on offence so that on long yardage, say, you call 335 and if you want to call a run defence then it's going to be weaker because you've brought the wrong players. The third option is smarter and simpler, and is usable even in the basic game, with each defence "customised" by the defence formation. In this case all your PD calls would use 335 (say) and all your ZD and WC calls might use 326.

The third case looks the best to me. The formation you show really restricts the range of defences that might be called, because it can only be one that uses that formation. The use of stupid ones is restricted because if you call WC from 623 (for example) then you don't get to call WC any other way. The range of defence calls you might use is going to be wider, because you'll want to use different but similar defences to allow you to vary your formations. By contrast, having the formation chosen for the situation doesn't really tell anyone anything, except what situation it is (and that's something you already know).

DEFENCE FORMATIONS

The current plan is to have three characteristics with values 0-3, to vary from your Base formation :-

  Men in the Box - Single, Double and Trouble, showing 1-3 existing DBs on or at the line of scrimmage.
  Line - Heavy, Jumbo and Mouse, inserting 1-3 extra defensive linemen.
  Secondary - Nickel, Dime and Penny, inserting extra 1-3 defensive backs.

The effect of these is to modify the chances of different outcomes in the obvious ways with extra men in the line to attack or defend the line of scrimmage, extra defensive backs to defend the pass, men in the box to gamble putting a safety into run defence or blitz (or to show a look to the offence and mess up their options or audibles). Some will make more or less sense according to the defensive call and what the offence is doing. The formations only modify the probabilities - so you're not going to see lots of direct feedback, just the trends in completion rates, sacks, hurries, stuffs, breakout runs and yards after the catch over an extended period of time.

I think initally each formation would be only one of these (ie. having men in the box, or extra DLs, or extra DBs) but later we might extend to calling them in combinations (the hazard being how to interpret the combinations that don't add up). Initially we have a special action to set defence formations, but I expect we'll replace this once we know what we want. The action code is DE, with the play call in the name box - the formation in the shirt number box is 0 for your base formation, 1-3 to shift extra men into the box, 5-7 to change the number of defensive backs and 11-13 for 1-3 exta defensive linemen. It's a bit ugly but it will do for a start.

RUNNERS AND RECEIVERS

Initially we have a special action for coaches to select runners and receivers for plays on offence. Plays you haven't made a selection for will still be selected the same way as before, and any that you have made should be safe from being overwritten by the old routine. Later we'll be tying this in with some sort of fatigue rule, so try to be sensible about your choices.

The action code is RR, with the shirt number of the player in the shirt number box and the play call in the name box. At some point we'll need to decide whether to allow or prevent faulty selections or overwrite them with sensible ones.

AUDIBLES

Once we add defence formations to the game, and make them meaningful indicators of what the defence is going to do (or is able to do) then we can have audibles as well, and that opens up several types of offensive scheme that it's not actually possible to run in the existing versions of the game. We can have offences that change the play call before the snap, according to what the defence is showing.

MOTION

As soon as we're introducing audibles we can add motion on offence. The main benefit of motion seems to be to deduce the type of coverage or to shift potential blockers or receivers around the formation. But there's no point trying to work out what the coverage is unless you can do something different according to what you see. So motion is only relevant if you've got audibles.

NO HUDDLE

Defensive formations also allow us to add no-huddle offences, because the main point is to prevent the defence from making situational substitutions, forcing defences to adapt to "wrong" formations and personnel, provided the offence can write a gameplan to exploit the advantage (if there is one). Which isn't going to happen in the basic game, I think.

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