Vikings notebook: Scripting plays in the NFL
[size=13pt]In The Script[/size]
October 5, 2006
Author: Mike Wobschall, vikings.com
You've heard announcers reference it, seen players execute it and wondered what it's all about. Scripting plays - a common practice in the NFL... So what goes into this intriguing concept?
"The only thing that I'll say about a script is you do that in the quiet of your office," Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress said. "That's kind of why you do it. Now, shoot, I could sit and script 15, and then 15 more and then 15 more and then 15 more. Then you have to see how the game is getting played and how it changes. They're all good thoughts when you're sitting in there on a Friday night or Saturday and you're putting this motion in this play, but you have to see in fact what it is you can do as the game goes on and how does the game change."
The idea certainly isn't a new one. Coach Childress knows Bill Walsh employed it and he even acknowledges it may have gone on before that.
"Somebody may well have done it, for all I know Sid Gillman did it," coach Childress joked.
Regardless of where it came from or when it started, it remains a successful tactic in today's game.
"In the good games and the games where you're rolling, you go right through the 15, and then you go right back to â€˜let's run number two again'," coach Childress commented. "Let's run five, let's run seven, back to three, let's see three again. That's usually when you establish that; they're all good."
In the end, scripting plays falls under the broader category of play-calling. All-Star players, perfect execution and a timely touchdown are great things, but they are all rendered useless or impossible without the proper play-call.
Just how important is play-calling? Detroit Lions Head Coach Rod Marinelli puts it right up there with another element that is essential to successful football.
"I think it's just as important as execution," Marinelli says. "You can have a great play called, and if you don't execute, you don't have a great play called."
Coach Childress agrees.
"I think it ultimately ends up being important, putting your guys in the position to be able to make those plays," the coaching veteran of 29 years said. "They're (players) doing what you tell them they're doing. The quarterback has some flexibility at the line of scrimmage, but obviously you're attacking the defense the way you think it needs to be attacked."
The flexibility to which coach Childress refers is defined by audibles and check plays. If, at the line of scrimmage, the quarterback feels the called play will be fruitless, he may change the play or adjust it with an audible or check.
"We have a lot of different check-with-me kind of systems, check-with-me plays," Vikings quarterback Brad Johnson said. "It all depends on fronts, depends on linebacker play, depends on coverage on how we check. We probably have anywhere from ten to 20 plays we check...depending on the situation, and that's excluding two-minute drills.
"Play-calling is extremely important. From how we install it, to how we practice, to just a gut feeling during the course of a game. From how he wants the play ran, it's very important and just the flow of the game."
Ultimately, play-calling is largely contingent upon the flow of the game - but not always. Sometimes, it's just in the script.
Working to get back
Regardless of how long the injury report may be from week-to-week, coach Childress isn't concerned about it affecting his team too much. On Wednesday, six players were listed, including both safety Darren Sharper and corner back Antoine Winfield.
The culture of accountability created at Winter Park reaches beyond the playing field and practice field, all the way to the training room. In his press conference yesterday, coach Childress mentioned that each injured player works hard to recover because they don't want to let their teammates down.
"I understand it's a long season and you can't put anybody out there if they can't defend themselves, so that's always the first thing," coach Childress said. "By the same token, those guys work to get back. It's what they do, and they want to play and they work hard to rehab to get out onto the football field. So there's great peer pressure in the locker room to get yourself there so you're not letting down that unit."
Night and day
Day: against the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks in Week1, the Lions gave up just nine points and zero touchdowns. Night: in Weeks 2-4, the Lions gave up an average of 35.3 points per contest, leading them to a 0-4 record heading to the Metrodome to take on the Vikings. How could a defensive unit that was so impressive in Week 1 play so poorly in Weeks 2-4?
"Basically, that first game we seemed to play with more fire, and also we eliminated the big plays," Lions defensive back Dre Bly said. "That's one of the reasons we didn't give up many points against the Seahawks, because we eliminated big plays. If you eliminate the big plays, you have a chance to win every week and that's the one thing we haven't done since Seattle."
Typically, the big plays that Bly speaks of occur in the passing game. This is certainly the case with Detroit. Currently, the Lions have the league's tenth best rushing defense, allowing just 86.5 yards per game. No rusher has gained more than 81 yards against Detroit, including reigning MVP Shaun Alexander, who was held to only 51 yards gained.
As good as the Lions are against the run, they are not so against the pass. Teams are racking up 282 yards per game through the air against the Lions, third worst in the league.
Bly, an eight-year NFL veteran, acknowledges that teams may have spotted a weakness in the Lions defense. But he also knows his unit is capable of fixing the leak.
"I really feel like teams really feel like they can throw the football on us, so as a defensive backfield we have to have better eyes and better recognition and stop the big plays," Bly said. "If we stop the big plays and force teams to play another down, we're pretty good. We did that against Seattle, didn't give up the big play and forced (Matt) Hasselbeck to throw checkdowns and forced Shaun (Alexander) to try to run the football. That's when we are at our best, when we do that, so our defense is allowed to fly around and put a hat on the ball."
Lions Head Coach Rod Marinelli is on a mission to solve the defensive riddle as well. Both he and Bly are confident things will turn around.
"It's just off here, off there," Marinelli said, "just a little thing off and we just need to work on getting those things corrected."
From 2002-05, the Lions committed at least the first round of each draft to improving the offense. Quarterback Joey Harrington was selected in â€˜02, receivers Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams were taken in â€˜03-'05 and running back Kevin Jones was also selected in '04. Until this season, the offense did not come to fruition.
The acquisition of quarterback Jon Kitna this offseason may be what the Lions needed. Kitna began his NFL career in Seattle, where he led the team to an AFC West title in 1999. Then, he joined the Bengals in 2001 and earned AP Comeback Player of the Year honors for his performance in 2003. Currently, Kinta ranks first in the league in completions (98), second in attempts (150) and third in passing yards (1,081) and he's led the Lions to 58 points over the last two weeks.
Also, let us not forgot who is coordinating the offense in Detroit. Former Rams offensive coordinator and head coach Mike Martz is devising schemes in the Motor City, a likely reason for the offense's resurrection this season.
"When Mike came here, that's what I was expecting," said Bly, who was with Martz in St. Louis for four seasons. "We have big-play capability guys on our team and I know Mike. He likes to have an explosive offense."
Detroit's offensive turnaround, from previous years to this year and from earlier this season to now, has been noticed around the league. Coach Childress credits an offensive balance as the catalyst in the improved play
"I think you saw a blend," coach Childress said. "They had a good mix, and a good mix of plays and guys were making plays. They've got obviously a substantial group of wide receivers. I saw both. I saw them improve run game-wise. I think that helped the pass probably."
Over the past two games, the Lions have gained 198 yards on the ground, opening up the passing attack for Kitna and his receivers. The substantial group of wide receivers to which coach Childress was referring is led by Roy Williams. The former Texas Longhorn standout has posted 16 receptions for 277 yards and one touchdown over the past two contests. But Williams' success over the past two games doesn't make Vikings linebacker Dontarrious Thomas anymore concerned.
"Roy's a great athlete and a great player," Thomas said. "Some days it all works out for a player and some days it doesn't. We're just going to prepare for him like we would for any other great player and try to find things to take him off his game."
Breast cancer awareness
Before this weekend's game against the Detroit Lions, volunteers from Zeta Tau Alpha Fraternity will be handing out thousands of Pink Ribbons to Vikings Fans to recognize National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Awareness and early detection are the "best defense" to tackling and beating Breast Cancer. Look for the ZTA pink ribbons at all the gates around the stadium. Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway will partner with ZTA to help increase awareness all season.