If You Choose, You Lose

Flexbone Association, a web site that I follow, just published a small blurb in advance of some camps they’re running. The article is here…  http://flexboneassociation.info/2011/05/23/a-few-flexbone-emphasis-points/ …and the blurb says, in part:

  • As a coach, you decide WHO gets the ball — as a coach you show the ball carriers how to carry the ball.

Flexbone Association is a terrific site for information, and undoubtedly filled with outstanding stuff for flex option coaches. I’d love to go to a camp of theirs some day, and pick some really experienced brains.

But for me – if you choose, you lose.

I have no problem with the latter part of the statement. We do need to teach ball carriers how to carry the ball. But along about the time our players were in the fourth grade, I found that the more often COACH chose who would carry the ball, the more often things didn’t work out the way that I’d hoped.

For our Option (ISV), Midline, Midline Lead, Veer (OSV), Speed, Counter Quick, and Iso Option, it is our quarterback who decides, on the fly, which player will carry the ball.

For many other running plays, I decide who gets the ball. And sometimes I even make good choices. But I’m not a great guesser. What seems to work best is if I happen to pick the right option play, and then let our QB choose the ball carrier.

Another site that I follow is FootballOutsiders.com, which I highly recommend to any thinking football fan. They have a variety of measurements that incorporate “successful plays” for an offense. In college football, their criteria is 50% of necessary yardage on 1st down, 70% on 2nd down, and 100% on 3rd down. Read more here.

I modified that for our youth teams, because we rarely punt. We are predisposed to ‘go for it’ on 4th down, in all but clock-killing situations. So because our youth teams have four downs to make a first, rather than just three, my criteria is less demanding.

I measure a successful offensive play as 40% of the necessary yardage on first down, then 33% of the necessary yardage on second down, 50% of remaining yardage on third down, and 100% on fourth down. The yardage to gain for success is always rounded up to the next whole yard. So if we have 2nd down and seven yards to go, three yards or more is a successful play. Anything less is a failure.

You might wonder, rationally, why not 25% on first down? The other percentages would still all fit, it’s true. But I believe that being more aggressive, and demanding a better achievement on first down creates a better offense. If we become too conservative, and for example, just try to run dive or lead plays for 2.5 yards per crack, the margin of error is too fine. Eventually we have a failure, and become more likely to fail than if we’d been pushing for four yards or better on first down. For a similar reason, FootballOutsiders sets 50% as the success criteria for college first down plays. FO is more aggressive than I am on 2nd down – but again, their criteria is applied in a world where a fourth down punt or field goal is routine. In eight games we punted only four times in 2010, and didn’t attempt a field goal.

What I found was that when I CHOOSE the ball carrier, our play success rate was 42%. When I called an option play, where two or more ball carrier options were possible outcomes, our success rate was 49.23%. Our overall success rate was 46.42%.

For whatever its worth, we ran option plays 60.2% of the time, and non-option plays 39.8% of the time. This ratio of Option over Non-Option plays has been increasing every year, and I expect it to be highest this season, for sixth grade.

Lest you think this is small potatoes, the 46.42% is comparable to a top 25 college team for 2010.  Ohio State was 22nd in the country with a success ratio of 46.4%.  Auburn, that won the national championship, was 52.3%. Oregon, national runners-up with their crazy hurry-up spread, ran successful plays 47.6% of the time.

Looking at primarily option teams, Navy, for example, was 47.3% successful. Georgia Tech was 43.3%; Air Force was 47.1%; and Army was 44.8%. It would certainly be interesting to know whether those teams experienced a similar disparity between option and non-option play success.

So for our offense, the more that we practice, rely, and trust the option play, the more success we have. And the less often I choose the ball carrier, the better.

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