Cricket was once described as Chess on a Playing Field. Although they are two very different games, the same should be said of American football. This game is most often defined by the sheer physical nature of its play, but it is first and foremost a game of strategy.
Strategy enters into all elements of play, both offensive and defensive. The entire focus is to outguess the opponent, thereby finding a weakness to exploit. Each team has its own style of playing, often determined by the individual strengths of its players. Some emphasize a defensive strategy while others accentuate the offense, which has two components, the running and the passiing game.
The passing game strategy is currently more popular. Each team develops a playbook of plays for different situations that they can execute well. These plays vary in the element of risk, from those that are very conservative and will reliably garner short yardage, by either rushing or a short pass, to high risk long yardage passes. Every playbook contains a version of the desperation play, the “Hail Mary” wherein every eligible receiver runs downfield and the quarterback throws the ball as close to the endzone as possible.
The players, with the aid of coaches, devise a gameplan for each different opponent. This is carefully formatted by reviewing hours of the team’s own games to determine which plays are working well, and acres of footage of the opposing team’s games to find a flaw in there defense. Rushing and passing plays are usually alternated and disguised to look like the other type of play to throw the defense off guard. However, the defense has a playbook all its own and will try to read the calls or guess the next play. When the defense perceives a pass, it will “blitz” or rush at the quarterback. The defense is not allowed to hit the quarterback while he is in the motion of throwiing, the blitz often interferes with the time necessary for the receiver to get into place and the quarterback is unable to complete the pass. The best scenario of the blitz for the defensive team is when the quarteback is downed for a loss or yardage or “sacked”.
One tried and true strategy of football is the punt. It is used on the third down when the offensive team feels it cannot get enough yardage to secure a first down and decides to kick the ball downfield to salvage the situation and ensure their opponent’s offense will begin play deep in its own territory. It is becoming popular to line up as if to punt and then either perform a running play or an onside kick, both with the hope of getting the first down afterall. This is a risky strategy that heightens the game’s drama. When it works, it is brilliant. With failure, the opponent takes over the ball possession with very favorable field possition and may even score.
The most time honored strategy in football is ball control and time of possesion, both of which correlate highly with winning games. The best offense is a good defense, as the saying goes, and it is logical that if a team has the ball the other team cannot score. But this is being challenged by the newer styled, high-powered long pass offenses that can score a touchdown in virtually no time at all.