American Football – Part VII; Building the System: Team Instructions

All of my formations are designed to be run with any of the 3 different TI setups. The differences between them do not fundamentally change what we are trying to do as the tactic and style of play is determined primarily by the PI and formation. The specific TI set-ups are just the last little bit to get everybody on the same page and add some more versatility to our tactics without requiring substitutions or formation changes.

“Balance” — Standard/Structured

The “Balance” TI is our basic set-up and is the basis for the other 2 TI systems. It is just the system, nothing special. It is the low risk, take what they give you, do your job and good things will happen instructions. The structured shape and standard mentality help keep the defenders back, the attackers forward, and discourages players from getting too fancy with the ball.

Much of the offensive design for the entire system is keyed around through-balls because I consider them as a good low-risk yet high-reward option. As such, the first TI is pass into space.  Additionally, I want to make sure that I am using the entire width of the pitch so I will have them play fairly wide but only on mentalities that don’t add width naturally. Also, because I have lots of midfield support around the defensive players, I encourage the team to play out of defense to take the low-risk passes in front of them rather than have my worst passers try low percentage options. However, I do not want to direct the offense any more than needed, preferring that the players take offensive opportunities as they present themselves so all the rest of the of the TI are related to defense.

Now sticking with my bend but don’t break defensive philosophy, I want to ensure that my team is challenging everything the opponent is trying to do. This starts with prevent short GK distribution. Now already in the system, I have players higher up the pitch pressing more through their PI. That’s a good start, but I also want to ensure that the team as a whole engage before the opposing team gets into my half, so I want a higher than average defensive line. But I also want to make sure I don’t give up too much space behind for a long ball. So like with width, I am going to play slightly higher to get that med-high block, but only on mentalities that don’t push the block up naturally. Finally, now that I have my players engaging the ball carrier like I want, I need to focus on the players off the ball and make sure they aren’t getting space to receive the pass or make a run if they get the ball (mark tighter).

Mark tighter helps my system in a number of obvious and non-obvious ways and is more important than it may seem. First, when the ball-carrier is pressured it will reduce the number of options he has to pass. This, in turn, will make the situation more stressful and cause less composed players – like those in the back that my attackers are pressing and tackling hard – to just kick the ball away, make a mistake, pass to a covered player, or attempt to play out of the danger. Second, even if the pass gets completed safely to a player, I should have somebody nearby to immediately pressure him to force them to pass or play out of danger. And last, it helps reduce situations where a player finds himself defending an area, but there are no players in the area. Instead of wasting his defensive efforts, the player will be encouraged to find a player nearby and mark him. This will help create the double-teams and brackets that I use to mark out opposing strikers in transition. Once an opposing player gets into the area a player feels he should be defending, he will release the double team and go mark the new player. Combined with the pressure, this puts the opposing team into an interesting situation, play too slow and you are going to have your passers constantly harassed and pressured. Play too fast, and you may be passing right into a bracketed double-team.

“Control” — Control/Fluid

This is my take on a possession based system, though I see it more as a west-coast offense. Under it, I take “Balance” above and add pressure defensively (close down more) and reducing pressure on my players by increasing support so they have more, closer passing options. I offset the mentality increase by playing lower tempo in order to match the “Balance” tempo setting; similarly, I have normal width and defensive line in “Control” to match the higher line and width in “Balance”. I don’t lower the tempo or passing length below medium because it is important that my players are not giving the defense time to react to my ball or player movement. If I am slowly moving the ball, it wastes any advantage gained through movement and it just becomes wasted time on the ball. I also don’t have work ball into the box or retain possession for similar reasons.

I use this set up when I feel like the opponent is defending deep, giving me space with the ball and they are letting me run my offense uncontested. If that’s the case, then I want to keep that offense going. Also, the added creativity and support can also be helpful to break down a defense. Last, I consider this option when the opposing team is showing good attacking movement and I want to disrupt their tempo or keep the ball away from them as a means to use my offense to play defense.

This setting doesn’t change very much for the attacking players in my formations. For the advanced, attacking players the structured shape of “Balance” already had them playing a bit more aggressive than they would have on standard normally. With fluid, those same attacking players are now playing slightly less aggressive than control would have them normally. In the end, its more or less a wash. They get a bit of creative leeway and get a little fancier on the ball. Else, they just apply more defensive pressure.

The mentality/shape change has the biggest effect on the defensive players. In addition to the additional pressure they bring on the ball carrier, they become far more involved in the offense. While it is not enough to cause the CD to run up the field with the ball himself or forget his defensive duties. It does encourage the defensive and support players to give in that little extra to step up and give support to the attack when the opportunity presents itself. It is not a huge difference, but if the opposing team is giving me space or I need to keep the ball away from the opposing team, that extra bit of support can make a world of difference because it creates more avenues for recycling possession and gets players to step up into the zones for closer support.

“Attack” — Attacking/Highly Structured

The “Attack” name is a bit of a misnomer. It is not about attacking, it is about transitions. The entire premise of this setting is to create turnovers and transitions to see if I can turn that transition into an attacking opportunity. If not, then I need to be in good position to defend the resulting turnover and transition coming back my direction. This setting is as much about counter attacks from deep in my own half as it is about high pressing turnovers in the opposing half. It is about creating a fast paced, wide-open, back and forth game that hopefully, my team is a bit better prepared to play than the opposing team. Again, starting from “Balance”, I want to increase the tempo and speed my team moves forward, but take care to ensure my defense is prepared to handle the extra pressure they will be under. The Attacking mentality already raises the tempo, but I also want the players to open up and play a more direct passing game. I also want to apply pressure (close down more) to the opposing team to try to force them to match my tempo and make mistakes, encouraging more turnovers and transition opportunities.

While “Control” didn’t change much for the attacking players, this setting turns them into madmen. Because of the highly structured shape, almost all of the increased risk from the attacking mentality is pushed into the advanced players and players with attacking roles. As such they are hyper aggressive at closing down in defense. When they recover the ball they immediately look to run or pass the ball up-field. If they don’t have the ball they run towards goal trying to get themselves into a goal scoring location. It is a bit like triggering the “counter” event, but it happens almost every play and I can control who it effects by toggling them from attacking to supporting roles. This is also why I have so many attacking roles by default in my formations and why all my wide players have an alternate support & get further forward role. I can remove them from reacting this way by switching them from the “attack” to “support + get further forward” version of their role.

Now those guys are going up the field with reckless abandon and will turn over the ball or take shots from terrible locations constantly. That’s fine. The highly structured shape means my defensive players and support players are no more risky than they were in the “Balanced” setting. This means that my defensive line is still holding its shape, my central midfielders are still supporting the attack, and I’m still getting my double teams. The total team defense is slightly less stable than with the “Balanced” setting. But that’s because the advanced, attacking players are almost always out of position, either because of the previous attack or because they were aggressively trying to close down a ball carrier. This lets the opposing team more easily penetrate those first layers of the defense. But that can work to my advantage as well as it will give me space to attack back into on the next transition.

I use the “Attack” is often my response to an aggressive team as it raises the tempo to offset their press and looks to exploit the space behind the defense in transition. I also use “Attack” to disrupt a team that is trying to play a slow tempo game. It can also be useful in situations where I have a man advantage or disadvantage, am trying to score a goal, or have a player playing out of position.

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