AbsolutAnalysis - "Playsheets"

Ever wonder what the sheet Coach Holmgren always covers his mouth with when he calls in plays is all about? You know, the wide, laminated chart with highlights all over it?

Ever wonder what the sheet Coach Holmgren always covers his mouth with when he calls in plays is all about? You know, the wide, laminated chart with highlights all over it? If you were like I was before my enlightenment years ago, then you probably thought it was a simple little Excel-type sheet with the running and passing plays grouped by series and formation. Turns out it’s a little more intricate than the index card playsheet I made in middle school for “two-hand touch”. The sheet (whether you want to call it your game sheet, play card, play sheet, anything) is a concise, condensed game plan that is the result of a week's worth of hard work with your staff. It can be considered to be the game plan. It lists every situation you will face during the course of the game, and how you will attack it.

The importance of having it all organized in front of you, is due to the fact you are experiencing such high stress during a game, you want to have made your decisions during the week, in a calm, collected setting of a lush office with the offensive staff. That way, on game day, those decisions are laid out right in front of you, easily accessible, so you don’t have to worry about panicking, forgetting a play, or making a bad call when you’re upset (which, believe me, happens….).

I cannot recreate a play sheet to scale due to the dimensional restrictions of the column, as pro sheets are often oblong, not standard 8.5” x 11”. The sheet here needs to fit on your screen, so it is in standard format, but nonetheless, every bit of information is on the example below, oblong or otherwise. If you would be interested in a copy that is more to common scale, feel free to email me.

Below is a model of what a sheet might look like. There is not a universal structure, so I included the most common components and sections, while also adding more individual sections I’ve seen here and there. Most sheets you will see are a mix and match of the following.


Date: 10/10/04        Opponent: St. Louis Rams


A list of the first (usually) 10 or 15 different plays (the script) to get the defense to think about what you're going to do, and to see how they react to different sets and motions.  

1st and 2nd Down

Plays for 1st and 10 and 2nd down in the open field.  The downs can be combined as they are here, or a coach may elect to label this only as a 1st and 10 section only, while employing the "yards needed" sections below, or a combination of both.  

Goal Line

Plays to be used when on the Goal Line


Coming Out

Plays used when starting deep in own territory.

2nd and Short

Plays with explosive potential, but won't always have a high success rate.

Goal Line 5+

Plays for between the 5 and 10 yard lines


3 to 5 Yards

Plays when 3-5 yards are needed

5 to 10 Yards

Plays when 5-10 yards are needed

Goal Line 10+

Plays for beyond the 10 yard line


Short Yardage

Plays used in short yardage situations.

10 to 15 Yards

Plays when 10-15 yards are needed

15+ Yards

Plays when over 15  yards are needed

Two Point Plays

Can be interchangeable with Goal Line plays

Red Zone



Plays to be used in Red Zone situations

3rd and Medium

Plays to be used in 3rd and medium situations

3rd and Long

Plays to be used in 3rd and Long situations

Personnel Groups

Personnel groups being used in the game


Best Players

Plays, designed to utilize your best players, that you want to make sure to run during the game

Pass Protections

List of available pass protections.

Go for Two

A guide to help coach decide when to go for two



Date: 10/10/04        Opponent: St. Louis Rams

No Huddle/Two Minute

Often a 4 wide set, with a list of numbered plays that coincide with the numbers on the QB's wristband. This eliminates relaying a call to the QB, and allows for a hurry up offense.

Base Run Plays

Base run plays can be listed as one group, or divided up by series, formation, ball carrier etc. using the structure below.

Base Pass

Base drop back pass plays, usually all listed in one section.



By series


By player


By formation


By type of run (lead, sweep, counter, etc)

Four Minute offense

Plays to be used to eat up the clock to protect a lead at the end of the game (half).

Nickel Run

A list of run plays to be used against a nickel defense

Play Action

A list of available play action passes.

Quick Pass

Base quick pass plays, often designed to get the QB in a rhythm.



A list of draw plays


A list of screen plays

Last Three Plays

Final three plays to run at the end of the half.  

Kill the Clock

Plays to run when the clock needs to be stopped immediately following the play.

Deception Plays

Gimmick/trick plays such as reverse, pitch pass and flea-flicker. 

End Zone

Long distance plays designed to get into the end zone, possibly after a turn over or big play.


Time Outs Used

A chart to record how many time outs are available

There you have it.  If you ask me, that's a pretty thorough example of what a professional style game day sheet looks like.  Not every sheet is exactly alike; they are tailored to each coaches needs and preferences.  As I mentioned earlier, what I've shown you today probably includes more components than what you would see on one sheet, as most would take select sections and components to compile their own sheet.  For example, some coaches may combine the "Goal Line 5+" and "Goal Line 10+" into their "Red Zone" sections.  It all comes down to individual game day philosophies.

I hope what was presented today answered some questions you had, or even presented completely new material to you.  Either way, I hope you enjoyed it and maybe even learned something.  If you have any comments or questions about this column or for future columns, please email me.  If you have any problems or criticisms, email this guy.  Thanks for reading, here are this weeks plays, with a link archive to my past columns below.

Split Right 974 Texas is a version of a play that Mike Holmgren perfected.  The use of the Texas route out of the backfield is a scheme that Holmgren mastered in his Green Bay days, and caught on very quickly, as it was successful at attacking underneath linebackers in a defense's soft spot.  I have a feeling we might see part of, if not an entire, column dedicated to this package in the future. 

If you want to see this play run as well as it can be, watch the Carolina Panthers play.  They love to run out of off-set I, and use their fullback very well.  I enjoy watching them run the ball because they like to put lots of guys at the point of attack and run north and south.  In this example, not only is the FB used to plow the way, but they bring the backside guard over to kick out the end and open the hole.  To try and sell misdirection, the HB takes a jab step to the weak side before retreating to his right to take the hand off and follow his vast number of blockers.

Football 101 – April 21st

Personnel Groups and Route Trees – April 28th

Matt Lathrop, .NET's "Xs and Os Guru", writes "AbsolutAnalysis" every Wednesday. Feel free to send him feedback at mattl@seahawks.net.

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