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Troubleshooting your football team

Posted by John Reed on

During the season, I get many emails and calls about "trouble we're having with your 10-1" or "problems we're having with your single wing" or words to that effect.

First, neither is mine. I got them both from college coaches.

Everything is not the scheme's fault

Secondly, don't blame everything on me or the scheme I recommended. You have to diagnose any problems precisely before you can fix them. If you put in the 10-1 then get beat off-tackle five times in a game, that may or may not be the fault of the 10-1. Indeed, since neither I nor any high school or college 10-1 coach got beat systematically off tackle, it would appear that the fault is not with the 10-1.

All play failures in football are caused by one of the following:

  • wrong scheme
  • wrong person at key position
  • poor technique at key position
  • inadequate discipline at key position

Try the slide technique

In my books, I said that if you are getting beat off tackle, you should try not boxing your contain man. Instead, have him slide along the line of scrimmage maintaining an outside position on any ball carrier. This will not get you the five- to seven-yard tackles for loss that the boxing technique gives you, but it strengthens your defense at the off-tackle hole.

The problem may also be that the 10-1 with a boxing end is just fine, but the linebacker needs to maintain separation from the tight-end's block better. That may require more instruction or practice for your existing linebacker, more punishment if you conclude that he simply does not want to do it correctly, or replacement of the linebacker with a better athlete, an athlete who uses better technique, or a more disciplined athlete.

Standing up is the most common problem

Sometimes, the off-tackle play works against the 10-1 because the defensive tackle is standing up and getting blocked inside, thereby widening the off-tackle hole. Down linemen MUST be lower than the offensive blockers in all defenses, but that is especially true with the gap-8 or 10-1. It is highly annoying to those of us who advocate the 10-1 to hear it's not working, then arrive on the scene and find that the players are not executing it as described in my book or wherever else the coach in question got it.

All schemes have weaknesses, but not every failure is due to a scheme weakness

All offenses and defenses have their strengths and weaknesses, including the gap-8 and 10-1 defenses and the single-wing offense. But those weaknesses are specific. You can't just point to any success by the other team and claim it reveals a weakness of your scheme. There must be a logical basis for claiming that a particular schematic weakness is intolerable against a particular opponent.

The gap-8 and 10-1 are strong against all running plays and weak against outside passes like the out or fade. There is probably no defense stronger against any running play than these simply because they have a defender on the line of scrimmage at every point of attack. The 5-3, for example, is weaker against almost all running plays than the gap-8 or 10-1 because there are only five guys on the line leaving at least three open gaps. Furthermore, with fewer than eight men on the line, double-team blocks can be used against defenses like the 5-3.

If your opponent is beating you with out passes and fade passes, then I suggest you add a second defense to complement the gap-8 or 10-1. But those are very hard passes to complete. I have never heard of a youth team who could live on those. At a practice I attended recently, they were putting in my 10-1 and had their scout team run an out pass. The receiver was open (the cornerback could have and should have covered him more closely), but the pass was incomplete. That's typical. It's a hard pass to complete. The out is also dangerous in that if you throw it too much, a defender is liable to pick it off and return it for a touchdown. You almost want them to throw that route for that reason.

Every failure is not the scheme's fault. It's only the scheme's fault when you cannot succeed no matter who you put in the key positions or how well he executes the job description.

Offensive failures

As I said in my article on offense, 95% of offensive failures in youth football stem from leaving a key defender unblocked. To confirm this, you generally need to examine a high-angle video. You can use game video if it reveals line play. Or you can video your practice of the same play against a live defense. One way to get the high angle is to put the camera on top of the press box and run the play sideways from the sideline in front of the press box toward the other sideline. If your stadium is on level ground, you can often video off the top of the stands directly down on the play behind the grandstand. The culprit on a failed offensive play will almost always be a lineman or other player who blocked the wrong guy or who blocked nobody. You need to make sure that player knows his assignment and that he is willing to perform it. Sometimes, the kid knows his assignment but is afraid of the opponent and doesn't want to antagonize him by blocking him. If the kid will not perform his job for whatever reason, you need another kid at that position.

Test if the player is wrong

To test whether the wrong player is the problem, take one of your best players and try him at the position. If the failure continues with him there, it probably is not a personnel problem.

Test if the technique is wrong

To test whether poor technique is the problem, put the player with the best technique (assuming the technique used by the best player is also adequate technique) there. In some cases, where there is no contact, like covering a receiver, you can put a coach in the position to test whether correct technique gets the job done (coach against coach). A tall kid once told me he could not tackle low because he was too tall. I promptly executed the tackle technique correctly (and gently) on the same player he said he could not tackle low. Then I pointed out that I was a head taller than the complaining player. If the failure persists after making sure the job is done with correct technique, technique is apparently not the problem.

Test if the discipline is inadequate

To test for discipline, put your most disciplined player there, assuming his technique and size are sufficient. If he does the right technique in the right way and has enough size, speed, or whatever talent the play needs, and the play (offense, defense, or special teams) still fails, then you probably need to try another scheme because you simply do not have the personnel to execute your current scheme. But the first-blame-the-scheme crap that I hear so much is a bunch of bull.

Sometimes it is the scheme, but that would only be when you have an extraordinary combination of personnel. Remember, neither the 10-1 nor the gap-8 nor the single wing are brand new theories. Teams running them have won numerous state championships at the high school level and the single wing has won many national championships at the college and pro levels. The notion that the 10-1 or the gap-8 or the single wing "don't work" is absurd. They were all working before we were born and are working now every Saturday at hundreds of games all around the U.S.

"All failures are the scheme's fault when the scheme I oppose is in use."

More often, one of my book readers is the only guy on the coaching staff who wants to use the schemes I advocated. The other coaches say my stuff won't work. Then, whenever anything goes wrong while my scheme is in use, they blame the scheme. For example, a guy goes off tackle for six yards: "Damn 10-1!" Later in the game, the opponent again goes off-tackle for six yards, only now the defense is in a 5-3. "Damn that Scott! (the linebacker at the point of attack)"

I know a guy in San Jose (Mark Tyrell) who has won four Pop Warner national championships. He has never read my books. Says he'll start reading books when he starts losing. He has a record of 142-7. After his last Super Bowl win, I asked his son about the game. He said they almost lost. (They slaughter everybody.) "What happened?" I asked. "The other team had ten guys up on the line of scrimmage on defense." Imagine that.

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