Football Strategy

Football Strategy

What is a Football Strategy?

A football strategy is a team’s individual method for each play and game scenario. The word “strategy” is versatile for different game situations, meaning an offensive or defensive formation or a play. The strategy for each play is chosen based on the team’s strengths, individual players’ skills, and the situation in the current game.

Offensive Football Strategies

Offensive strategies are built during football practices and performed during games. Many offensive strategies focus on players running different routes in hopes of a pass from the quarterback. Tight ends and wide receivers often are involved with strategies that include catching long passes. Certain positions, like offensive linemen, focus on blocking out defenders who are trying to sack the quarterback.

Other offensive strategies involve running plays. These are often used in situations where short-yardage gains are more important than passes, such as when a first down is near. Runs can also be used strategically to use more time from the clock without risking a turnoverThe offensive strategy that a coach uses in a particular situation changes based on factors such as the score, time left in the game, distance to gain, and the opposing defense’s formation.

It is part of a coach’s job to know which offensive strategy to use in each situation. Here are some of the most popular offensive formations used to gain yardage in football:

Defensive Football Strategies

The defense runs the widest variety of plays during a game. As a result, they have many strategies and formations available that they can call depending on how the other team starts each play. One of the most common defensive strategies is the blitz, which is when five or more defenders rush the quarterback in an attempt to sack him. The “prevent defense” strategy is another popular strategy that employs the defense with an extra defensive back, forcing the offense to make short passes instead of long ones.

Since an offensive team can change positions on the fly, it’s important that the defense is familiar with their best formation to counter the other team. At the professional level, teams can have dozens of plays memorized.

Common defensive strategies include:

Special Teams Strategies

Special teams squads are on the field for a single play at a time and perform the unique purpose of kicking and returning the ball. As a result, special teams strategies are straightforward. The kicking team tries to pin the ball as deep in their opponent’s territory as possible, or to score a field goal if on a scoring attempt, while the returning team attempts to run the ball back as far as possible toward the opposing end zone, ideally scoring a touchdown.

However, special teams have plays for unusual situations, such as a fire call giving the option to throw a pass in the case of a bad snap. Special teams are sometimes called upon to gain a first down on a kicking play, such as in an onside kick play in which the kicking team attempts to recover the ball after advancing it 10 yards. Another good example is a fake punt, where the punter acts as a quarterback and hands off the ball or throws a pass.

Common special teams strategies include:

  • Directional Punting
  • Pin Deep Punts
  • Open-Field Punts
  • Hold-Up Techniques
  • Field Goal and Extra Point Protection
  • Onside Kicks
  • Fire Calls

Coaching Strategy

One of the coach’s main roles is to construct and organize different plays that will benefit the offense and defense. Coaches, including offensive and defensive coordinators, are responsible for devising multiple strategies during the week and then knowing when to employ each strategy during the game that weekend. Some teams create their own deviations of classic formations and plays that become coined as that team’s own formations. They will call out different plays and work with the quarterback to choose plays that will benefit the team at that moment. A famous example is the West Coast Offense (WCO), devised by Bill Walsch for the 49ers. The WCO dominated the NFL during the 1990s and variations are still used today by Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, Matt Nagy, and Pat Shurmer.

Although traditional coaches tend to figure out a winning playbook and stick with their strategy, an important skill among top NFL coaches today is the ability to vary their strategy throughout a game or season. Deception and variety are increasingly important in a league in which teams conduct extensive research on their opponents and quickly copy winning formulas.

Coaching strategies in the NFL follow trends, with successful coaches constantly having their strategies copied. The recent trend in the NFL has been wide-zone offense, notably practiced by Sean McVay of the Rams and Kyle Shanahan of the 49ers. A key part of coaching strategy is adjusting to the strengths of your quarterback. For example, Matt LaFleur utilizes more shotgun formations to accommodate Aaron Rodgers’s preferences and Zac Taylor runs a pass-heavy playbook that leverages Joe Burrows’s strengths. 

Coaching and playing strategies in the NFL are often closely-guarded secrets, and teams have accused opponents of cheating by looking at or stealing their unique strategies and play formations. One famous instance of this was “Spygate,” an event which occurred in 2007, when the NFL caught the New England Patriots videotaping coaching signals made by the New York Jets. As a result of the league’s findings, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was fined $500,000, while the Patriots were given a team fine of $250,000 and forced to relinquish a first-round draft pick in 2008. 


What football strategies are needed to win the game?

A combination of offensive strategies, including running and passing plays, and defensive strategies, including zone and man-to-man coverage schemes are needed to win the game. Offensive strategies must include different plays for when short and long gains are needed, as well as plays to run down the clock and hurry-up offenses. Defensive strategies must be responsive to the opposing offense and unpredictable.

What are the most common offensive strategies in football?

Some of the most common offensive strategies in football include the shotgun, the singleback, the pistol, the I-formation, and the Wildcat. These formations provide a wide variety of strategies for players and coaches to use in order to run effective plays. For example, the shotgun is the most popular strategy due to the wide range of possibilities it offers in terms of handoffs, runs, and passing plays. There are a wide variety of offensive strategies in football, but these are some of the most common. 

What are the most common defensive strategies in football?

Some of the most common defensive strategies in football are the 4-3 defense, the 3-4 defense, the 4-4 defense, the 5-2 defense, and the blitz. Each of these strategies prioritizes different players and focuses on different types of attack. The numberings of these defensive strategies refer to the number of linemen and linebackers used in the scheme: for example, a 4-3 defense utilizes four defensive linemen and three defensive linebackers. The blitz is another common defensive strategy that involves every defender rushing to overwhelm the offense and sack the quarterback.