Good afternoon, Coaches. Let’s check out some of the best stories on the internet today.
1. The science of NFL play-calling: How offensive geniuses out-smart opponents (USA Today)
This story talks about the characteristics that separate the Josh McDaniels and Sean McVays of the world from the coaches who struggle to execute their respective game plans.
The key to good play-calling is creating mismatches. That’s why coaches spend dozens of hours watching film every week: They want to know what they have to do to get the defense to play a certain coverage in a certain situation and how to get a certain defender matched up on one of their playmakers.
The first example comes from the Rams’ win over the Vikings in the regular season. Los Angeles scored five touchdowns in the game, but the most important play of the night may have been this innocuous third-down conversion on the Rams’ opening drive.
McVay is looking to see how the Vikings are going to play a 3-by-1 formation — that’s three receivers to one side and one receiver to the other. Before the snap, the Vikings show a defense that suggests they are in “quarters” coverage, with four defensive backs manning the deep zones and the three defenders (in this case, two linebackers and the nickel corner) patrolling underneath.
Now McVay knows what the Vikings will do if he throws out that same personnel grouping and formation later in the game. He doesn’t wait long to use that information to produce the perfect play call.
How do you balance between going for the jugular early in games and feeling out the opponent to determine their defensive game plan?
2. Introducing the ‘California Tiebreaker’: The Insane Overtime Format the NFL Doesn’t Realize It Needs (Slate)
The California Interscholastic Federation introduced the California tiebreaker in 1968, and the state’s high school football districts used the system through the 1970s and ’80s. The California tiebreaker is, to put it in the simplest possible terms, like tug-of-war without the rope.
Here’s how it works: The ball is placed at the 50-yard line, and the teams run four plays each (a coin toss decides who gets to go first), alternating possession at the spot of the ball after every play. If no one manages to score (field goals aren’t allowed), then the team that’s in its opponents’ territory at the conclusion of the eight plays is awarded one point and declared the winner.
The California tiebreaker makes each play-call of the utmost importance. The California method also encourages rather than stifles individual brilliance. One big play — even if it doesn’t result in a touchdown — can clinch a game.
One issue I assumed would present some practical problems is the requirement to swap defensive and offensive units after every play. It’s a bit Keystone Cops to have players sprint on and off the field repeatedly—wouldn’t that slow the game down?
What overtime rules would you prefer to have in your state?
3. The Fight Over the Future of Football Has Become a Battle for California’s Soul (The Ringer)
California has long been known as a hotbed of football talent. Yet as research into the game’s dangers has spread, politicians, advocates, and parents have clashed over how to protect youth, high school, and college athletes.
It’s too early to see an impact of those diminishing numbers on college recruiting or at the professional level, because the bottleneck from high school to college to the NFL is so narrow, says Roger Pielke Jr., head of the Sports Governance Center at the University of Colorado. There are still more than a million kids playing high school football nationwide. But Pielke’s research has revealed that America’s moment of “peak football” appears to be firmly in the past. The average high school football team has lost a total of three players since 2016 alone, and if that kind of attrition continues, it could serve as a tipping point for schools (both high schools and colleges) that either have small enrollments or place less of an institutional emphasis on football.
We all know participation numbers are down at the high school level. So, what does the future have in store?
So what will happen next? It’s possible that flag football will eventually displace tackle football among youth, and the numbers will go back up as we come to terms with the risks involved for those in high school and beyond; in fact, the case for youth flag football is increasingly being made by coaches and NFL veterans like John Madden and Drew Brees, who has said he won’t allow his own children to play tackle football until middle school. But without knowing how science might advance, or whether equipment might evolve, it’s also possible to imagine football becoming an increasingly regional sport that’s centered even more in the Southeast and is slowly de-emphasized on the West Coast. Within the past three years, Georgia has nearly overtaken California as the third-largest college football recruiting state in the country.
What can be done to offset the decreasing participation numbers across high school football?
What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk!