Coach's Corner

A number of readers have expressed a desire to read more about some of the technical aspects of the game of football as it pertains to watching and understanding the strategies, fundamentals and techniques.

I will try to explain some things in terms of numbers.

Basically, how well you balance your numbers is what makes a defense sound and effective. When watching the Huskies in person, try to consider the numbers games as it lays itself on the field. Similar to soccer, football is a matter of balancing up your numbers against the number of the offensive players.

When the offense breaks the huddle, look immediately to see if it is a balanced formation. That is to say, how many men are to the right or to the left of the ball. Include the receivers, who must count in the total of required men (seven) on the line of scrimmage. Bear in mind that the tight ends and receivers may line up either on or off of the line of scrimmage. Where they line up becomes critical in how you balance your defensive secondary to protect against the pass.

Scan the LOS (line of scrimmage) and see if it's a 2-by-2 or a 3-by-1 formation. Count the eligible receivers each way. Now glance at the backfield set. Are there one, two, or three backs in the backfield? And, are they aligned evenly like in an "I" formation or split apart? Are they shaded one way or the other?

What you're trying to see is where is the strength of the offense is, in terms of numbers. Locate the position of the tight end, as he will usually indicate the running strength of the formation. Defenses tend to balance up against the running strength by sliding the defensive line toward the TE.

The key is to always be looking at the whole picture and not the ball.

Unfortunately, TV, as well as most fans that watch in person, tends to concentrate on the ball and whoever has it. Football can often times be more fun to watch by simply picking out one or two players on each play and just watching what they do. The parents actually get the greatest breakdown on the game because they often times just are looking at their own son and what he is doing on each play. They then find the ball to see what type of play it is and what yardage that it gains.

In today's football, there are also different personnel groupings, or numbers, that give great indications as to what plays to anticipate. For a defensive player, a half step in anticipation is what gets you by blocks and to the play. Essentially, a defensive player tries to analyze each situation, each formation, and each movement, to try and predict where the ball is going and how best to get there and stop it. Defenders want to know immediately whether it is a run or a pass.

One of the first indicators of run or pass is what the shoulders of the offensive linemen are doing. If their shoulders are up, then it's probably a drop back pass. If their shoulders are down, then they are probably firing out to block run. It's physics.

By watching substitutions, you can see and anticipate certain types of plays. Personnel grouping are designed to usually create some advantage in match ups, either for a run or a pass. These groupings vary with who is involved. Identifying the "who" is step one in trying to predict what the offense will do. The most commonly used grouping are "21" (two backs and one tight end), "11" (one back and one TE), "22" (two backs and two tight ends), "10" (one back with no tight ends), "32" (three backs with two tight ends), or "20" (two backs with no TE).

Once you identify the grouping, you must calculate the number of wide receivers that go with each grouping. "21" means two WR, "22" means one WR, "10" means five WR, "32" means no WR, "11" means three WR, etc.

You can recognize the numbers by watching substitutions and who is going on the field on any given play. You begin to identify the tendencies of the offense. Two TE sets usually indicate a running play, while no TE usually indicate a pass. The more blockers usually mean a run, and the sets with more receivers usually mean pass. Obviously, it doesn't always happen that way, but for the majority of times it holds true.

Formations are great keys to look for, as they are usually designed to force the defense to balance up. If the offense is in a heavy run formation, like out of 22, 23, or 32 personnel, then the defense must balance up and prepare to defeat blockers to get to the run. These personnel formations usually appear on short yardage situations like the goal line or 3rd and short. Conversely, when an offense sends out three or more receivers, it's a pretty good indication that they are going to throw.

Watching the personnel and where they line up is the very first thing to consider on each play. Then watch to see how the offensive line reacts on their very first steps. If they are going forward or pulling then it is usually a run. If they are sitting back then it is usually a pass or draw.

And of course, you must expect the unexpected, as that is how teams usually come up with big plays. One thing for sure is that offenses usually fake with the "ball". Consequently, if you want to get fooled, just watch the ball. If you want find the ball then watching what the linemen are doing will usually lead you to it.

While you're looking at the line, check out their stances. If the offensive linemen are forward in their stances then it's probably a run. If they are sitting back with their butts low then it's probably a pass. If a guard is aligned a little deep then he is probably going to pull out of his stance and go one way or the other. If he does, then follow him and he will lead you right to the ball.

Once the offense gets to the line of scrimmage and shows a certain set or formation then they may shift, move, or adjust their alignment to create an advantage over the defense. If the defense fails to adjust and balance up, the offense is primed to spring a play by having more players one way than the defense does. Figure it out. If they have three receivers one way and you only have two defenders, what are they going to do? If they have more blockers than you have defenders, what do you think they'll do?

One of the tricky ways the offense gets an advantage is to insert an extra blocker at the point of attack. This is usually a fullback, which explains why they are usually the biggest backs. Sometimes it might be an extra TE lined up in the backfield, or a wing just outside another TE. Then by motioning or shifting them they create a number advantage at the spot where they are trying to run. Even if they are faking you, the defense still needs to remain sound by balancing up.

Over the last three to four years, the Huskies have tried to match personnel of the offense by substituting matching personnel on defense. This means that if the offense substitutes an extra two receivers, then the Husky defense substitutes in two additional defensive backs.

Under new co-defensive coordinator, Phil Snow, you will see them using the same defenders, no matter whom the offense puts in. This avoids scrambling around trying to match personnel and puts the emphasis on balancing up with the players you already have on the field. Situational substitutions will still take place on situations such as 3rd and long, when time is running out, or when the offense is either backed up or on the verge of scoring.

Another set of numbers that have great significance are those that refer to protection schemes. When passing the football, the most important and first priority is protecting your quarterback. Most of the time offenses use "60" protection, meaning that there are six blockers for the quarterback and four receivers.

Another common protection is "70", or seven blockers with three receivers. This can further be identified as "71" or "72", which means that there are five offensive linemen with a TE plus one back in to block (71), or no TE with two backs blocking (72). "50" protection means all eligible receivers are in the pattern and the only blockers to protect the quarterback are the offensive linemen. You will see this in spread sets with one or no backs. Obviously the offense must throw the ball quickly because if the defense brings six pass rushers. Offenses will also "turn" their protection of the quarterback by having all the linemen turn the same way and block an area rather than a man. Watching how an offense protects the QB will tell you how to attack or go after the QB, or how to cover or drop to take away the receivers.

"Attacking defenses", like Jim Lambright favored as a defensive coach, will determine the protection scheme and then throw more rushers than the offense has blockers. If it doesn't result in a sack, then they will at least get a hit on the quarterback.

On game day, up in the press box, all of these offensive numbers and tendencies are charted. Using these, the defense can over balance the offense by adjusting more players right before the ball is snapped. This explains why many offenses play a "hurry up" style, to keep the defenses from overloading at the last second. Basically, the defense can bring 4 rushers from the strong side, 4 form the weak side, or 4 up the middle. If the offense doesn't anticipate correctly then they will get their quarterback hurt.

Let's face it - the quarterbacks are the most valuable player on any team. During the Huskies national championship season, of the 11 games played, only three quarterbacks of the opponents finished the game. Counting the Rose Bowl that year, nine starting quarterbacks did not complete the games they started. Why? Because the Dawgs were attacking the protection schemes.

One last group of offensive numbers that are significant to a defense are down and distance tendencies, and field position tendencies. What is the offense doing on 1st and 10, 2nd and short, 3rd and long or 4th and goal? With these tendencies charted, as well as where an offense likes to do certain things on the field, the offensive game plan for that particular game will become apparent.

Defensive calls are all based on these numbers. The numbers dictate the game, and how you balance them up will tell you how successful you are. columnist and KJR 950 Sports Radio personality, Dick Baird.
Dick Baird was an Assistant Coach (Linebackers) and Recruiting Coordinator at the UW from 1985-1998. He has joined the staff as a featured columnist for both the web site and Sports Washington magazine. In addition to his regular editorial columns, Coach Baird will try to provide some of his unique perspective by answering a few of your selected questions online. If you would like to send in your questions, please CLICK HERE.

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