Breaking Down an Opponent

Using specific data fields to find tendencies in your opponent.

My main responsibility at Baylor was to be in charge of our opponent scouting. To anyone that knows me, I am a breakdown nerd and am content sitting in a dark room all day inputting data. To me, there is nothing more exciting than objectively looking at an opponent and inputting data to mine for tendencies. There is an art to breaking down an opponent, and everyone has a different way of doing it. The objective for this article is to explain my process and to hopefully help a few coaches along the way. Not everyone enjoys the breakdown process like I do or even knows what to do with all the analytical data. I’ll try and show you a process that has worked for me and highlights tendencies within an offense. Like anything, to truly understand something you must know the “why” behind it. My goal is to explain the process in a way that makes sense to a novice.

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Use the breakdown data to create a visual representation of an offense like the one in the hit chart above.

The key to a great opponent scouting system is to approach it like a science and keep it concise. In order to get the most out of your breakdowns, you have to find a true medium between too little information and too much information. To find that perfect medium you have to understand the limitations of your staff and define what you need to know, so when you sit down to create a hit chart and cut-ups the information is easy to use. If you approach a breakdown like you are looking for a needle in a haystack (Ex. – creating a data column for every single data point possible), you can bog your staff down and get lost in data. During my three years at Baylor, I felt confident we developed that perfect medium for what our defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, needed in order to be successful on the field. After being back the high school ranks for three years, I feel even more confident that I have found a way to break down opponents concisely while not losing myself in data points.

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How To Build A Hit Chart

Take your formation breakdowns to the next level with a Hit Chart.

Once an opponent breakdown is complete the first thing a defensive staff should do is create a Hit Chart to analyze the different formations used by the offense. This is where a defensive staff can really see the fruits of their breakdown labor. Even with the advent of HUDL and other playmaking technologies, it is important to have a basic drawing of the formations a team is going to run. Especially one that a staff can manipulate, duplicate and is aesthetically pleasing.

With a Hit Chart, a defensive staff can identify quickly how they want to align to a given formation, what blitz/pressures will work against the said formation, and identify tendencies within the offensive scheme. The Hit Chart is a visual representation of an offense and can be used in multiple ways. For example, if utilizing PowerPoint, the defensive staff can create a separate slide for each formation, print them, and place them on a wall. This allows the staff to continuously look at the Hit Chart as they discuss film and meet about the game plan. This kind of quick reference guide allows the staff to efficiently answer questions regarding formations.

Hit Charts serves a broad purpose within the overall breakdown of an opponent but can give the defense an edge in playcalling if done the right way. It is important to stay efficient when creating a Hit Chart. The initial breakdown of formations is key to the quality of the chart. The more accurate the information, the better. If there are too many formation variances or mistakes, the chart loses its value.

In order to be efficient, a defensive staff should drop the use “right” and “left” formations and combine the data to give a more complete picture. A traditional 10p Doubles formation is a Doubles formation. The back being on the right or on the left in a Doubles formation really doesn’t matter. The only variance a staff could use is formation into the boundary (FIB) or when the RB aligns into the boundary in a Doubles set.

The play calling for many offenses changes when the formation is put into the boundary. This reason is why, in a Hit Chart, a defensive staff should track how many times a formation is into the boundary (Doubles, Ace, and 1×1 Diamond are the only exceptions because they are even sets). In an even set the DC can make a decision whether to keep a tally at the top of the Hit Chart (FTB/FIB) or make it a separate card. At the end of the day, the formation is still Doubles and there is no need to have separate labels as demonstrated below.

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