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Over the years we've seen a regular pattern of feedback on the balance of different play calls. Every now and again someone, almost always in the basic game, works out a combination of play calls that work really well together. Other coaches pick it up, and then the new scheme spreads quickly. We start getting letters saying the play balance is faulty, because this new play or combination of plays is unstoppable.

After a bit, we start getting letters from coaches complaining because it doesn't work. Usually this is because they've run it against an opponent whose roster is equipped to stop it, or who knows what defences to use. Or we look at the league data and see that teams have been accumulating keys against that play (when a new fashion first hits the streets it's usually something that's getting keyed very little).

Sometimes we get letters saying it was either good, or bad, that we changed the game to correct the balance (even though we did exactly nothing). After a little bit longer, a new fashion comes along. As coaches you do actually have the weapons to change the play balance for yourselves, and the play balance shifts around all the time. What works this season might not work next season. What didn't work last year might be usable again next year.


We occasionally get letters or emails from coaches who believe we adjust the play balance over time or in different leagues. We don't. You do. It's the rosters of the teams, and the tendencies of the coaches that are responsible for the differences in play balance between different leagues. It's not in the software. What is in the software is that your balance within a game makes a difference, because a defence adjusts to what the offence is doing.

There are differences in the balance between the basic and advanced games, because of the different way the gameplan are structured. If one team has a better structure to their gameplan than the other then you get a lot more mismatches of situations so that one team does something that makes sense and the other is doing something inappropriate that's not likely to be effective. In addition, the defence can read the formation selected by the offence before making their play call, and that makes a BIG difference.

The college format, on the other hand, really does have a different play balance. The gametime adjustments are different and different formations have different effects.

The roster balance varies a lot, between leagues and over time. We have in the past made adjustments to this, by changing the distribution of players in the draft and on the free agent list. But you can change the free agent for yourselves, of course. Looking at the leagues I'm running, the free agent lists seems to show a surplus of defensive players, which might be a sign that there's an over-supply of these.


Someone somewhere seems a bit confused about screen plays, since we've had several incorrect reports saying that a screen pass can't be completed beyond the line of scrimmage. I think this is incorrect. The rule that people are being confused by is only that interior linemen are not eligible as receivers and can't release downfield until after the pass is thrown (or at least, that appears to be the gist of it).

The split end, tight end, flanker and all the backs are all allowed downfield. A screen doesn't have to involve interior linemen. TV commentators will rarely call the play a screen pass if it doesn't involve the offensive line, but it'll still be one. The receiver also doesn't have to stay behind the screen. If it's to look pretty then he will, and again the TV commentators won't call it if he doesn't, but he can still get make the yardage if the defence lets him take it.

What you do get on screen passes is if the timing of the play is messed up (usually by a defensive player disrupting it) then you see penalties called on interior linemen who get caught downfield - which is what happens if the QB holds the ball after they're expecting it to have been released. On the same subject, I think the reason you'll often see people claiming that screen passes are rare (when they're very common) is the same - people often call it a screen pass only if there's a herd of OLs fanning out ahead of the runner.

UPDATED UPDATE (ETC): I'm told that the rule is actually "more than three yards" downfield (in Britball) and doesn't apply to blocks that are maintained from an initial contact further upfield. Someone else tells me that the rule is different in the NFL. Neither is actually relevant to Gameplan, which isn't concerned with that level of detail. The essential points are that screen passes aren't just about interior linemen, and that we've wasted enough time on the subject already, that could have been spent on something more useful and relevant.


I'm making a small change, so that the effectiveness of a screen pass is reduced a little if it's called from a formation with extra wide receivers. That's firstly because wide receivers are not good blockers (in comparison to running backs and tight ends), and secondly because the reduced number of blockers must make it very difficult to do a convincing job of pretending to be a normal passing play (with normal pass protection) at the same time as forming a screen. There must be very little margin for error with so few guys available to block.


I'm making another small change, so that keying on one part of an option play will have a small spillover onto the other parts in the same way as they spill over to play calls that are similar. This applies to OP+QR, OR+QR, OS+DC and OT+OR+QR. The assumption is that when a defence works on one of these plays it gives due consideration to the possibility that it's part of an option and will work on reading the play and making suitable responses. And not just reacting blindly to the first thing they see. The idea of an option play is to catch out the opposing play call, not mess up their preparation for the game, after all.


Does anyone know what happened to the play that we used to see often, ten years or so ago, usually on the goal line, where the half back would take an aerial route over the pile instead of through it? I remember Walter Payton being a particularly successful exponent of it, but it seems to be hardly used today. What changed? Rules? Personnel? Formations? Defences?

I do remember, back in the days before football disappeared from TV screens in the UK, that defences had started reading it and throwing a safety or a linebacker at it, to collide in mid-air, which was nothing if not spectacular.

This isn't an idle question, since the play is actually included in the software, but isn't currently in the rules (no, you can't call it - but it would take only a few minutes work to make it available). But do we want it?


At present the effect of directional blitzes and run blitzes with strong and weak side plays are fairly limited. We don't assess teams for being left or right sided, and call protection schemes (except in the loosest sense according to the offence formation) or hot reads, and this is an area we could add some emphasis. I think coaches would like to be making different blitz calls with the chances of success or failure depending more on who makes the right call.


We're already going to have plays on offence customised by nominating the runner or receiver, and defence plays customised by with formation changes, but a possible extension for passing plays on offence might be to nominate a secondary route as well (I'd limit it to dumpoff patterns, but we could extend the selection of dumpoff patterns to fit). We could make some, most. or maybe even all dumpoff passes part of the coaching selections.


We haven't got one. The present DL-WC calls are just a best-we-could-do with the limited range available back in the day. Probably best to define a new set of calls for the last-play situation and I don't see why they wouldn't be callable in some fashion. If anyone is interested enough we could see some stats on what happens in real life games (how many are still alive on the last play, how many are completed etc). But I don't see it as a priority.

I'd be more interested in thinking about when the last-play override should be applied and when the play should still come from your gameplan. At what range do you still call a regular play? And whether we need one play call defined for the situation or more than one. And how the success rate varies with the distance to go.

A possible scheme would be play normally in short yardage and have a "passing range" parameter for the maximum range (outside short yaradge) where you attempt a directed pass to a chosen target, and a choice of play for that zone. Plus a choice of play when you're defending the last play.

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