Under the Headset

When kickoff time comes there is one goal. That goal is to win. Yes, we take many other things from sports, but that is for another time. When you take the field the goal is to win. The question becomes then, how does a team accomplish the goal of winning?

Most people see a football team as being made up of three distinct units, the offense, the defense, and the special teams. Coaches will come up with goals for the offense, defense, and special teams to achieve during a game. These goals are areas that coaches have deemed important for the team to win the game. For example the offense needs to convert 40% of the time on third down. At the end of a game and the stats are counted the coaches will mark off what objectives the three units have accomplished. Many teams use helmet stickers for a reward for attaining these goals. If the team does not win there are no helmet stickers for the week. Another example of a goal is for the defense to win first down. That many times translates into holding the opponent to less than a three-yard average on first down plays. Let us assume the defense accomplishes this goal. Many coaches would say great job defense and the defensive players would earn a helmet sticker. My thought process is a bit different than most coaches. I too say great job defense, but also great job offense and special teams. Everyone gets a helmet sticker.

I would like to draw an analogy here. Most people see the three units as three separate people. Meaning if the team loses 7- 3 then the offense is completely responsible for the loss. The other two units, defense and special teams must have done their parts very well. I do not see the units as being three separate people. I see them as three parts of one body. Even if you have the strongest heart in the world, that heart still depends on other parts of the body to be successful. Even though the brain is not functioning very well it must be doing something well enough for the heart to be going strong. If the brain is a complete failure the heart would not pump. If the football team only gave up seven points, than the offense did some things well. Conversely, if the team only scores 3 points the special teams and defense could have helped out more to get points on the board.

I am going to stick with the body example as a metaphor for football. Some people are blind (maybe a poor defense, Indianapolis Colts), but the other senses of the body step their game up to allow the person to function.

Here is why I think that this is so important. Many teams will lose focus of what the overall goal of the game is, to win. The goals for the units are guidelines to help you to win. They are things that if you accomplish them should aid you in winning. Many times I believe they hinder teams in winning. A team will lose, the defense will say we did our job we met seven out of our ten goals. Two points here, one you did not achieve the goal that matters, to win. Secondly, you did not achieve your goals without the help of offense and special teams. Let's go back to the goal of the defense winning first down and assume that they achieved the goal. Here is why I think the entire team achieved the goal.

The offense and special teams did something for the defense to achieve that goal. If you do not believe this then have the opponent's offense take the ball around midfield every drive due to poor special teams play, and an offense that cannot move the ball. The defense is on the field all day. It begins to wear down so it has to take more chances to get off the field. With great field position the opponent has its entire playbook it can use. How long will that defense be able to keep winning first down under these situations?

The three units must help each other. They must work together. Too many times coaches see them as parts that are too distinct. This is what happens many times in football since coaches coach offense or defense instead of both. The coaches see a wall between the units where in my view there is no wall. I feel that Coach Jim Tressel and his staff understand how the units work together.

Another example is the shut out. The shutout is not a defensive goal it is a team goal. What happens if the offense gives up an interception for a touchdown? No shutout occurs.

These units are working in concert with each other and they will either help one another to succeed or hinder one another. The job as a coach is to get them to work in concert. The teams that max out their winning ability do this Many head coach's fail at this and assistants many times are only worried about their side of the ball.

My view is that all goals should be team goals. Should some be geared to offense, defense and special teams? Yes, but it takes something from all three units for one unit to reach it goals. To wrap up this line of thinking let us look at a Buckeye game last year where the defense struggled.

Here is a prime Buckeye example, the Michigan game last year. The defense did not play well and the offense played great, but the offense and the special teams could have helped the defense out. The Buckeyes were up 14 points getting the ball to start the second half. The kick return team could have flipped field position by returning out to the forty. This would have allowed a good punt to pin Michigan in their own territory and forcing them to drive the length of the field. The offense could have scored and taken a three score lead and forcing Michigan to abandon the run that worked so well. Or the defense could have bailed itself out by getting a stop and giving special teams and the offense a chance to help out.

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