Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Numbers Game

I apologize for not posting in quite some time. I have been stretched thin, between the hectic schedule of football season and finding time for myself. I am working on a few projects which I will post in the near future (hopefully). This post will be focused on alignment philosophy, more specifically the numbers game.


With the presence of 22 players on the field at the same time, football is a numbers game. Offenses use the numbers game to take advantage of the defense while the defense attempts the offense from doing so. The rules of football allow the offense to align in multiple formations, far more than a defense can reasonably prepare for. To combat this, defensive coaches over the years have developed alignment rules and principals.

Alignment can be difficult for players, which is why good coaches teach rules to their players. Also, alignment can be difficult for the coach at times. Coaches have developed their own set of principals to help themselves with alignment to various formations. What are these principals? There are varied options amongst different coaches, but more or less they attempt to adhere to the same principals. When a defensive alignment is considered consistent with a coaches' principals it is said to be "sound".


Football 1 on 1 instructs defensive coaches to balance numbers with the offense. New coaches are drilled on this concept by veterans. The thought process stems from the idea that the offense will attack you, if they have a numbers advantage at the point of attack. This is a good concept, but it does not need to be taken to far.

I know a coach that I worked with when I first began coaching that followed a strict "balancing" principal. I am sure most have you have heard about balancing the numbers before, for a refresher or for those whom are not sure about what I am talking about:

Balancing the defense with the offense is a simple process of counting. You start with the offense beginning at the center; count everyone aligned to the left of the center as 1. The center, the QB, and anyone even with the ball as 1/2 a person. Second, add that total up and repeat the process for the other side. Next, draw up your defense count the players on each side of the center the same way you did with the offense, remembering to count anyone aligned even with the center as 1/2. So defensively any head up nose, backer or safety aligned over the center counts as 1/2. Finally, check your numbers to each side and see if they match. If the defenses' numbers are not consistent with the offenses' numbers then the defense is said to be misaligned.

I am not advocating this is the system to determine your alignments by any means. As I have grown as a coach I have "taken off" the training wheels. This system can help a new coach line up in a manner to avoid getting absolutely killed. However, it by no means guarantees the most effective and ideal alignment.



This alignment is balanced and in line with the counting system. I believe this is sound alignment versus this formation.


Again in this example the numbers are balanced.


This is an example of alignment that fails the numbers test. The offense has 7 to the trips side where the defense only has 6. However, I am comfortable aligning this way against trips. It is not something I will do EVERY time, but I will mix it in often enough.


I think it is a useful tool, however there are many more things to consider with alignment. Disguise, pass coverage, stunts, block angles, personnel, and motion are just some of the other things that should be considered. At a certain level it is important for a coach to take the training wheels off and consider more than just balancing the numbers with the offense. I am not trying to advocate that you should not try to balance up, but that there is more to alignment than balancing numbers with the offense.

If a coach chose to only consider balancing the numbers when determining alignments, there are numerous problems they can run into. For example,

No matter how absurd this alignment is, it is balanced according to the numbers game. If I ask the question: What is wrong with this alignment? I am sure the answers that are coming to mind have nothing to do with balance around the center.


  1. welcome back !

    good post about balance - would you view gap-support as an academic metric on the same level as number balance? For every offensive player introduced, it creates an added gap for the defense to support, which becomes paramount to what the role of a defense is?

    And from a defensive perspective, a coach would begin to realize that he really isn't afforded such a liberal outlook to defense; that he has to account for numbers (of the formation) and the gaps created by the formation.....and from there your plate has been pretty much set from a defensive perspective.

  2. I think gap support is on a higher level then balancing the numbers. It accounts more for the role each player has in the D. Also, I believe that gap support accounts for the numbers game and provides a more consistent and flexible outlook for alignment.

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