Overcoaching In the NFL

One of the more unique pitfalls many NFL teams fall into is the inability to formulate a gameplan around the personnel they have. Too often on Sundays we’re seeing teams with inexperienced quarterbacks lined up in a Pistol (short shotgun), regular shotgun accompanied with 4 and 5 receiver sets.  Then you see these elaborate play sheets coaches have to chronicle what they would do in down and distance situations if….. Stop!! There is no need to go into a football game with 200 plays and formations.

Tom Matte's famous wristband resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Tom Matte’s famous wristband resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Too many NFL offensive co-ordinators and head coaches want to be seen as geniuses on ESPN is where this is coming from. If you follow the evolution of the play sheet, you had a series of formations and plays that were manageable. Have you ever taken a look at the famous “wrist-band” of Tom Matte?? A former Baltimore Colt running back who was forced to play quarterback when quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo were injured in 1965.

As you can see there were 5-7 plays for each down and distance circumstance. Head Coach Don Shula came up with the concept so that Matte could call the plays necessary to move the offense. The Colts lost a 13-10 playoff game for the Western Conference that sent Green Bay to the NFL championship game and Matte’s wristband went into NFL lore.

What is interesting is the wristband disappeared for more than a decade in the NFL . As we fast forward through the evolution of football, more and more NFL coaches had sheets that they would use to send the play in. It really started to gather steam when the late Bill Walsh decided to script his first 15 plays back in 1979. That script accompanied down and distance play situations and the the list became a full fledged chart on the sideline. Walsh was truly a genius reviving the principles learned from Paul Brown to be effective in the modern game.

Here is an example of what one of these play charts these coaches carry around looks like.

Here is an example of what one of these play charts these coaches carry around looks like.

From that point on every coach had to have a chart to show he knew his craft as well as Walsh did. At least imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Yet where has that left us?? How many times have you watched a team burn multiple time outs because they couldn’t get their personnel in fast enough?? How often have you watched a team struggle for 28 minutes on offense and finally click in a 2 minute drive before the end of a half? Before the end of a game?? Why??

The late great college basketball coach John Wooden once said there was too much overcoaching in the modern game of basketball. The Chancellor definitely feels the same thing is happening in the NFL. It’s ironic when a team can’t make heads or tails with what their game plan is and then start moving the ball in the final few minutes.  Why was Viking quarterback Matt Cassel in shotgun formation more than 20 times when he has one of history’s finest backs right there in Adrian Peterson?? Overcoaching!! And it’s running rampant throughout the NFL.

Even Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady has a "Tom Matte" wristband the size of a bible.

Even Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady has a “Tom Matte” wristband the size of a bible.

Everyone wants to line up as though they have Tom Brady or Peyton Manning at the helm when in truth, only 10 to 12 teams have quarterbacks who can be trusted. Whether we’re talking Alpha or Beta quarterbacks, these guys can be trusted to win games on the road or at home. Most of these teams would benefit from simplifying their offense.

Players need to be playing, not thinking. Go back to last Sunday’s match-up between the New Orleans Saints vs the New England Patriots. All game long, young Patriot receivers were running the wrong routes, dropping passes. When the game was on the line and the routes were simplified…bang receivers were holding on to the football. Brady threw the game winning 17 yard strike to Kenbrell Thompkins (who?) with just :05 left.

Even the late Tom Landry had to “dumb down” his offense for a young Roger Staubach to thrive.

If you have a veteran quarterback, let him call the plays. In the most critical juncture (under 2 minutes) he calls them anyway. He should during the middle of the game as well. If you are grooming a young signal caller, it’s best to get him acclimated from more traditional sets. Sure you open the offense with a few open formations here and there. Yet watch how the Colts are grooming Andrew Luck. They’re using a fleet of running backs to pound the defense and allow Luck to perform play action throws against simplified reads. If you have watched, Luck has improved every single week and is set to have his biggest game of his young career this week. He and the Indianapolis Colts host the Denver Broncos as Peyton returns to Indy. A winnable game if they stick to a simplified approach.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.


5 thoughts on “Overcoaching In the NFL

  1. Excellent article!

    And I have a stat about Andrew Luck that you may not know Jef…In his first 22 games in the NFL, Luck’s record is 15-7. Peyton Manning’s record after his first 22 games in the league was 7-15.

    I think the Colts, who are 9-2 at Lucas Oil with Luck at the helm, are going to give the Broncos a run for their money this weekend and even might win the game outright!


  2. Amen! I’m sick of seeing QBs looking back to “daddy” on the sideline for what to do next, or looking down at their wrists for “the script.” It’s bad enough defenses have been increasingly handcuffed in favor of pass-happy shootouts. I miss the days when QBs ran the show and guys like Csonk bashed the line. Games are practically being run as tightly as combine drills. Far too many coaches trying to justify their jobs. Remember when they tried broadcasting a game with no commentary? I’d LOVE to see a game run with ZERO coaches on the sideline or in the booth. Let the guys play.


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