- Jun 6, 2005
- Reaction score
- Toronto, Canada
Mike McCarthy column: In NFL's chess match, game plan takes time
Football analysts often like to discuss the chess match that goes on between opposing coaches, or offensive and defensive coordinators, during games.
But the chess match doesn't begin on Sunday. It starts early in the week in the film room, studying your opponent while he's studying you.
Film study creates the game plan, in which you're trying to out-think or out-maneuver the other guy.
To scout our upcoming opponent, we start on Monday night by watching at least three of their previous game tapes. As the play caller for the Packers, when I first look at an opponent, I'm focusing on two things — an understanding for the defensive play caller's scheme and personnel matchups that might be favorable for them or us.
When I resume studying film the next morning, the work becomes focused on situational tendencies — normal down-and-distances and third downs, for example — as we put together the game plan as a coaching staff.
By the time we're done going over all the film, we have a good idea what the opponent likes to do. But from there, we have to take it one more step — what will they like to do against us?
That's where your own film and self-scouting becomes so important. You may have watched what the other coach has done against three or four other teams, but he's watching your film. What personnel matchups will he try to exploit? Based on your scheme, where will he stick with his tendencies and where might he change them?
We go over our film with our coaches and players at the beginning of every week to see what went right in the previous game, what went wrong and make the necessary corrections. But we also have to know our film from a scouting standpoint.
Sometimes you have to spend more time in film study when you're going against a new coach, or one you haven't faced before. If you have a history against coaches, that also plays into your thought process.
For example, in our last game, I was calling plays against St. Louis defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who was the head coach in New Orleans when I was there. Jim and I had a history together, so that factored into the game planning.
In the cases in which you know a guy's history, just like he knows yours, you're looking at the film to see what he does differently now, maybe with some new players. Coaches have tendencies over time, which is why a lot of film study becomes focused on personnel.
First, you look at the players that can change a game.
This weekend against Miami, it's no secret defensive end Jason Taylor is a premier pass rusher, and we have to find ways to limit his impact. At the same time, they will be trying to create opportunities for him, and we need to know how they might do that.
You're also looking at matchups to create or avoid based on injuries or inexperienced players in certain positions. Every offensive play that is called has a particular stress point in the scheme, and you use the schemes that can work best to your advantage by studying film.
That's also why it's important for your players, particularly the quarterback, to have a complete understanding of your offensive system.
When you get into the game, because the quarterback has watched as much film as the coaches and understands the system, he knows where you're trying to stress the defense with each play call.
With that knowledge, the quarterback will know if he needs to make an adjustment at the line of scrimmage based on the defense he sees. It all goes hand-in-hand, but the foundation is in the film study, which directs why you're calling certain plays.
Coaches preach to their players that their jobs are all about preparation and performance. I have to take the same approach, and my preparation to perform on Sunday starts with studying film.
In some respects, I probably don't need to watch as much film as I do, but I came into the league as a quality control coach, and in that role, it's so much a part of what you do. It's like a receiver who needs to catch his 200 balls in practice each week or he doesn't feel prepared for the game. I'm the same way with film study.
If I don't feel like I know another team or another coach well enough, I'll find time to watch more film. Because come Sunday, I want to be anticipating and reacting to the other team, not searching for plays that may not be in the game plan.
You need to have options for every move or countermove, and you identify your best options by studying film. That way, in each situation, you're reacting rather than deciding.
Remember, the 40-second clock is running. The decisions that are made on Sundays are decided during the week, not knee-jerk decisions when the clock is running down.
Blatant off-the-board reactions generally indicate a lack of preparation and a lack of film study, and they usually lead to one thing — checkmate.
Very interesting read. The more I read about Mike McCarthy and his process of getting ready, the more I like him as a coach. I really think he will find his niche in time.
I also love getting more insight into the how much time, effort, and planning it takes to be ready for Sunday on the coaches part.