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Scheme schemes or scheme personnel; which strategy is best?


Dwight from Athens, WI

You mentioned a possible rule change to outlaw the three-point stance. Why would the league want to do that?

The commissioner volunteered the information in an interview on Face The Nation last season. A lot of people thought he was just trying to shock everyone into greater awareness of player-safety issues and the league's commitment to addressing them, particularly those that pertain to concussions, but indications are that eliminating three- and four-point stances was or still is a legitimate consideration. Eliminating three- and four-point stances would eliminate the head-to-head contact that occurs along the line of scrimmage, especially in goal-line and short-yardage situations, when the goal is to stay low and get under your man.

Santiago from Guadalajara, Mexico

I just read about the new "Steelers rule" and thought of it as stupid. I believe football is a physical game and it has to be played as such, but it seems this rule is taking that away from the game. What do you think?

It would seem that James Harrison agrees with you. My opinion on all of this is that somewhere along the line we'll find the middle ground, the compromise that needs to be reached between maintaining the physical integrity of the game and achieving a higher level of player safety. Right now, the pendulum is swinging hard and fast toward the player-safety side and the changes that are resulting are a lot for everyone to digest after a lifetime of believing that success in football is determined by the force of your play. There were 19 deaths in football in 1905. The "Flying Wedge" was trampling men. The game was so violent that President Teddy Roosevelt threatened to outlaw it. One of the measures that was adopted to soften the game was the creation of the forward pass in 1906. You see, it started all the way back then. The pass has always been used as a way to soften the game and now we're seeing new measures to soften the passing game, such as the defenseless receiver rule. By and large, the league is doing what was done in 1906. Changes need to occur, but it's critical to the game's popularity that the game's integrity as a demanding physical sport, a tough game played by tough guys, be maintained.

Bruce from Gettysburg, PA

In regards to the lockout, what can/will the coaching staff do to help the incoming rookies pick up the playbook fast, since the time frame has become much smaller for the learning curve?

My guess is they would cut back on how much of the playbook they install. In a normal spring, the coaching staff would be about halfway through the installation process right now. By the end of OTAs, which usually conclude the third week of June, installation would be complete, which would then allow everyone to compete on a level playing field in training camp. Obviously, that's not likely to happen this year; there will have to be changes to the routine. Expectations for the rookies will have to be lowered. Their roles will likely have to be streamlined. They not only have to be taught the playbook, they have to be taught technique.

Wayne from Lakeside, AZ

If game plans go toward setting up mismatches in your favor on both offense and defense, using your personnel to advantage and play selection to set up situations in your favor, then does it leave execution of the basics and consistency as the only determining factors of the game outcome?

The short answer is yes. Here's the long answer: There are two kinds of game-plan philosophies: 1.) There are coaches that scheme schemes. 2.) There are coaches that scheme personnel. By scheming schemes I mean doing things according to Xs and Os, with little regard for who the players are that represent those Xs and Os. The theory is that my schemes are better than your schemes and I'll pencil whip you. I'm not a fan of scheming schemes. First of all, players very quickly detect that kind of philosophy and they begin to rely on schemes, to the point of using them as an excuse for losing. When you scheme personnel, you're putting the game in the hands of your players. You're making them accountable for the result. It's the "players, not plays" mantra I espouse and the first time I spoke with Mike McCarthy we talked about that and he was in complete agreement. He talked about having had that philosophy ingrained in him by Marty Schottenheimer. So, if you're a "players, not plays" guy, which means you scheme personnel, not schemes, then it's as simple as the team that wins the one-on-one battles will win the game. I've heard it described many ways – the battle of the hitting, the human confrontation, etc. – but it all means the same thing: Do your job and everything will be fine.

Josie from Stevens Point, WI

Hello, Vic. I love reading your column and I also love the videos you do. Ignore the haters; they don't know what they're talking about. I especially appreciate the small peeks into the "inside" that you provide us (such as showing us the board room or the players' lounge).  My question is about how the team prepares for games. During the regular season, how does the team's time between games look? They play on Sunday, but how often do they practice and have meetings and such. I know in the one video you said that players spend a lot of their time at Lambeau (thus the need for the players' lounge). Just trying to get a feel for what a typical week looks like for a Green Bay Packers player during the regular season.

Monday is a day for making corrections. Players come in early for treatment, get some lifting in. Then they'll be addressed by the head coach, who will put Sunday's game in perspective. Then the players will head off to their position meeting rooms, where their position coaches will go through tape of the previous day's game with them; that's when their mistakes are addressed. They'll go out onto the practice field for a walk-through kind of session that'll further address the corrections aspect of the day. When they leave the facility that day, Sunday's game is done; there will be no more talk of it. Some coaches like to call it the 24-hour rule. Tuesday is the players' off day and it is the coaches' "work" day, because Tuesday is game-plan day and the coaches might not go home until the wee hours of the morning; some coaches don't go home at all. The Falcons' facility includes apartments for the coaches, specifically for game-plan Tuesdays. Wednesday is the start of the next game's preparation. Players arrive early and are presented the week's game plan by the head coach in a team meeting. They go into their position meetings, they'll practice in the early afternoon, then back into position meetings for more head work. Thursday is the same routine. Friday mornings are intense, but the players leave the facility earlier on Fridays, after practice, to go home and spend time with their families because on Saturday morning they say goodbye to their families and won't see them again until the game is over. Saturday morning begins with practice, then the players either head to the airport or report to the local hotel. In either case, preparation continues. The routine will vary from team to team, but not much. That's just an example of what I've observed.

Ryan from Dahinda, IL

Having never played organized football, it's hard for me to understand why eliminating three- and four-point stances would drastically change the game. Does it have to do with explosiveness and leverage?

You got it. All of the principles of blocking and defeating blocks will have to be re-thought and re-designed. The concept of "under and up, strike the rising blow," at least as to how it pertains to line play, will go the way of hip and thigh pads. Coaches will spend sleepless nights trying to think of ways to convert and defend short-yardage and goal-line plays. Here's the one that intrigues me: Will having to play upright favor having shorter players or taller players?

John from Cincinnati, OH

If you could hop in a time machine and go back in time to see any NFL game ever played, which one would it be?

Three games leap to mind: the 1958 NFL title game, the "Ice Bowl" and the "Immaculate Reception." I remember where I was for each and I can remember knowing, even at such a young age for the '58 title game, that I was seeing something important. What I remember most about the "Ice Bowl" was turning on the TV and finding out how cold it was. I sat down in front of the TV, in the basement of my grandparents' home, and I watched every play of that game with intense interest. I wish the game was played today the same way it was played then. Everything about football was perfect then. The rules aren't the problem; the players just got too big.

Jason from West Allis, WI

A 2-5 defense isn't that far off from what the Packers have been doing at times for the last two years with their "Psycho" defense. It's essentially a 1-5 with one down lineman and five linebackers walking around and switching places before the snap. Do you see this "Psycho" defense being used more in the future, or do you think it's more of a gimmick that's seen its best days?

I had heard about it when I sat down to watch the Packers-Steelers game in 2009. The Jaguars played on a Thursday night that week, I believe, so I had a chance to watch the game and I wanted to see this "Psycho" defense that was getting some hype around the league. Well, that was the game in which Ben Roethlisberger threw for 503 yards and, based on what I saw that day, the "Psycho" defense looked kind of nuts. That doesn't mean it can't work. I think we're going to see more of that kind of stuff. The game is definitely trending toward innovation.

Sean from Oconto Falls, WI

When watching game film, what are some other things that coaches/players look for besides personnel, down and distance, splits, formations, etc.?

Players look for ways they can attack the man they'll be facing. Does he have a good first step? Does he come off the ball high? Does he anticipate the snap? Is he favoring an injury? Does he wear down late in the game? Coaches are looking for everything and anything they can exploit. Is the punter slow getting the ball off? Where is the safety getting his run-pass keys, does he like to peek into the backfield and is he vulnerable to play-action? What is the chain of command in sending plays into the game? Is the sideline emotionally involved in the game or detached and focused on their work? That kind of stuff.

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