Saturday, December 12, 2020

Understanding the Opening Script

Many offensive coaches use an opening script to begin a game. What goes into that script? I had some ideas based on my experiences vs. opposing offenses, from film study of a variety of schemes, and from picking the brains of offensive coaches I've had the good fortune of working with in the past. I also reached out to a few offensive coaches to ask them for insight. Finally I crowdsourced info by asking coaches through twitter. The responses and willingness to share was amazing and a testament to the awesome "Football Twitter" community. The sheer number of responses was a bit overwhelming. To all those who contributed, Thank You!

After looking at the philosophy of offensive coaches as well as what they are scripting I broke the responses down into 5 categories: Identity, Diagnostic, Designer, Catalyst, and Cumulative Effect.

IdentityPlays that get scripted that are all about who the offense is at its core.

Top Plays - Call what the OC feels are the best run schemes and best pass concepts in the offense's arsenal. These calls are all about being who the offense feels they are as an offense and don't overly depend on the opponent's scheme.

Sure Things – Runs the OC feels can block any D look. This isn't necessarily the scheme the offense feels is their top production play or most explosive scheme. This extends to passes with protection that accounts the most possible looks. This might include max protection, play action, movement passes like boot/naked/sprint. Plays in this category are all about consistency and reliability. 

Get ball into the hands of the best player. What play calls guarantee the top player on offense is involved early?

Get multiple guys touches. A recurring theme was OC's wanting to get as many guys involved and engaged in the opening script as possible. This wasn't always just about getting the ball to the best player but getting everyone in on the action.

Get the QB in a rhythm. What plays allow for the QB to make easy throws? What plays have the easiest reads? This includes not only passes but also option schemes. How can the offense script to create consistent success for the QB early?

DiagnosticPlays that are scripted to diagnose some piece of info about the defense.

Alignment to formations – Does the defense align in the front and show coverage that match what was is to be expected from scouting report breakdown data?

Motion/trade/shift adjustments – How are they adjusting? Is there confusion or misalignments? Can offense move one player and get multiple defenders to move? Are adjustments being made by running defenders with motion, spinning/rolling coverage, bumping LB's, sliding DL? This can inform follow up play calls. 

Personnel – Is the defense using the personnel expected from scouting report info. Are players aligning where they were expected? Are matchups as expected?

How does the defense respond to something outside of normal? A new formation, formation into the sideline (FSL), unbalanced, empty, compressed formation, etc are all possible in a script to diagnose what the defense will do. This info can inform subsequent play calls or can be one offs.

Correction – Is there a formation, motion, or play the defense struggled with in previous games? Have they made corrections? Have they fixed what went wrong previously? Football is a copycat sport. This script element is all about forcing defenses to prove they have corrected their previous errors. 

Who made the play? – Typically this is about running a base/foundational play and looking at what occurred. Who made the tackle or made the play difficult? This informs follow up plays that compliment the foundational play. This could be series based play calling like many wing-t and option schemes utilize. This could also be just an if/then type of game plan. If the backside DE is chasing hard, then call the complimenting naked concept. 

Designer- Play specifically designed for the defense.             

OC are looking to script potential big plays or plays that create stress. This may be a shot pass play. This could be a trick play like a double pass, reverse, flea flicker, etc. This could be a scheme design from game plan meeting looking a the defense's previous plan. There is no perfect play call for the defense. Offenses know what stresses each defensive concept. It could be a personnel, motion, formation, or play concept but the OC is looking to craft those elements into stress plays in the script. Some designer concepts however are fragile. They may not be great outside of the specific/desired defensive look. Many designer looks in the script also carry a can/alert/kill concept. Two plays are called in the huddle. If the defense is in the desired look the designer play is on as planned. If the look is sub-optimal, the QB cans the play to a base call that holds up against more defensive looks. Some OC's prefer to do this with a check the sideline mechanic vs. asking the QB to can the play at the LOS.

Catalyst - Plays designed to provoke a response from the defense.

Catalyst concepts take many forms. Some may be simple like getting in a 3x1 and taking a shot to the X in isolation. The catalyst is all about looking to force the D to respond by playing some type of weak 2 over 1 coverage concept. The O certainly would like to complete the pass but the bigger goal was to create opportunities to the 3 receiver side or in the run game. Catalysts can be schemed in the run game also. The O may feel the best path to success running the ball is to get the DE aligned in a specific location on the TE. Scripted early calls like pin & pull may not be the O's most desired scheme. It is being scripted to encourage the defense to widen the DE's alignment, which sets up the opportunity to run other schemes on future plays. Not all catalyst plays provoke the same type of responses. Some OC's are scripting looks that are meant to confirm to the defense what the offense looks like. These are scripted calls that mirror the expected looks from the scouting report. The personnel, formation, play, etc was what the D expected based on film study. The goal here is to provoke the defense to be locked into their plan. If the D feels confident the O matches the scouting report, they are going to do what they planned to do on defense. Once the offense is locked into what the D's plan looks like it sets up the plan of attack. Most OC's don't like defensive variance so the catalyst may be to get the defense locked in a specific plan. Catalyst plays may take the form of setup plays. A distinct motion or formation leads the defense to talk it over on the sideline. When that look comes up again defenders make the ID and believe they know what is coming off that look. This may be where the setup leads to the payoff. The offense wanted the D to feel like they know what is coming and really cared much more about the payoff play vs. the setup play. Catalyst plays may be about manipulating defensive personnel usage. An offense that uses 11 but begins flexing to create 10 personnel formations vs. more traditional TE in the core 11 looks to get the D into sub-personnel. Once the D is subbing to Nickel or Dime, the O can attack those sub-personnels by putting the TE back into the core and running their base 11p package. The O may go 22 personnel to get the D in base personnel but create an empty formation and isolate a TE vs. a LB. Catalyst plays can take many forms but they want to force the defense into an action favorable to the offense. 

Cumulative effect - Plays that aren't about a single play but affecting the defense through repetition. 

Perimeter run/screen – The goal is to force the DL to run sideline to sideline. Tiring out DL early in the game can affect pass rush, run fits, block shed, pursuit and overall effort.

Establish tempo of the offense. Many OC's mentioned wanting to set or change the tempo in the script. This concept is also tied to creating fatigue on the defense early in the game. This may also get the D into more basic schemes. 

Attack the best player – If the defense has a great player the offense may look to make that player's life difficult. A defense with a dominate 3tech DT for example. The offense may script early concepts that double him, trap him, wham him, read him, and screen him. That player is now getting hit from all angles. The goal is to create frustration and prevent that player from getting going. A slow start for that player may keep him from getting going at all. 

Attack the worst player - Isolation of a weak link on defense with the goal that enough attacks on the weakest player will lead to big plays. It might not happen immediately but attacking as many times as possible is the best path to exposing the weak link as the weak link.

Being as multiple as possible. By showing various personnels, formations, trades, shifts, motions, and schemes plus varying tempo and snap count the defense has a lot to address and process. The goal is to slow down pressure looks including base pass rush and force the defense into basic concepts. Cumulative effect occurs from the the variety making the D be ready for anything/everything.

After doing this research, I have a different viewpoint of evaluating an offense's early play calling. It is always interesting to look at how offensive coaches think and plan. Hopefully there is something in this info that can help you and your defense or offense better understand the opening script. If there is something you think was missed be sure to reach out, I'd love to continue to build my understanding of the scripting process. 


  1. First rate Article! Excellence continues!

  2. Incredible work coach, such valuable information. I enjoy reading every one of your pieces