American Football Strategy: an Overview

Understanding the basics of American football strategy gives you some skin in the game. Plus it’s good for the old ego. If the coach has the team do something other than what you would have done, and it doesn’t work, you get to feel smug and superior. Not a bad feeling.

Better yet, if he does what you’re thinking he should do, and it works, you get to feel smug and superior. Not bad, huh?

So let’s get to it. And not to worry: getting the hang of American football strategy is a lot easier than you might think. It’s really all about understanding the grid on which American football is played, as well as the grid in which it is played.

As you can see from the illustration below, a football field looks like a grilling gridiron with grass added. But don’t let the grass fool you: the layout is just that simple. Which is a good thing, because understanding this physical grid is the first key to plotting basic American football strategy.

Now, think of there being an imaginary line dividing the grid in half. Basically, one half of the grid “belongs to” your team and the other half to the opposition.

As we noted in our section on American football basics, in order to keep the ball, a team must move it forward at least ten yards in four tries, or downs.

So the next thing to notice about our 100-yard long football grid is that it is marked off with boldly numbered lines (called yard lines, duh!)starting at the goal line and then numbered 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50, which brings us to the middle of the field, at which point the numbers start going down again, running backward from the 50 at mid-field to the 40 yard line, then the 30 yard line, and so on back to the opposite goal line.

Got that?

Okay, then. The second key to American football strategy is understanding the grid in which the game is played. That is, a time grid.

American football takes place within a time grid of four fifteen-minute quarters, with a longer break after the second quarter, which, as your math teacher taught you, is also known as a half.

By the way, for now, we’ll be talking only about offensive football strategies, that is, strategies for the team that has possession of the ball and is moving it down the gridiron in an attempt to score.

Not that the defense doesn’t have strategies of its own. Basically, though, they’re more like Ginger Rogers. If you’ve ever watched Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance together in one of those old black-and-white movies, you may have heard it said that Ginger did everything Fred did, only backwards and in high heels. That about sizes up the defense. They have to figure out what the offensive strategy is, then dance their dance right along with them so the offense can’t do any solos to the goal line.

No, the defense does not wear high heels. At least, not while they’re on the football field.

But back to the grids. What do they have to do with understanding American football strategy? Everything! Here’s the deal: where you are on the grid, and when you’re where you are will largely dictate what you will do.

So. The Big Plan in American football strategy is to keep the opposition out of your half of the grid/field, and to get your team inside their half, wherein lies the goal line that you have to get the football across in order to score.

Without knowing anything about football, it’s still pretty obvious that you can get an object – be it a football or a beanbag – from one point to another a whole lot faster if you throw it to someone a distance away from you than if you just run with it yourself.

On the other hand, you can waste a lot of time running around with a football/beanbag . . . the sort of move a kid might make to tease a younger sibling.

And whether you want to save time or waste time depends on where you are on the time grid.

No matter how complicated professional football strategies may become, this placement on the two grids – the football field and the time clock – remains the underlying basis for choosing appropriate plays.

Don’t worry. We’ll move beyond basic American football strategies to cover some classic football plays, and even some defensive strategies.
Oh, and you should know that penalties also play a part in strategy decisions.

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