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srjcBy Nick Hill, Safeties Coach, Santa Rosa Junior College

Fall camp may have not started yet, but now is the time to start formulating how to break down opponent’s offensives. Every defensive staff should have it’s protocol and Coach Hill shares the seven components he dissects and why now might be the perfect timing to adjust yours.

By Nick Hill 

Safeties Coach

Santa Rosa Junior College

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Editor's Note:  Coach Hill is entering his first year as safeties coach at Santa Rosa JC.  Prior to this assignment, he spent 2 seasons as the quality control coach at Cal Poly while also assisting as a linebacker coach.  Coach Hill started his coaching career coaching outside linebackers at Santa Rosa JC after graduating from Linfield College in 2008.




srjcEach week defensive staffs across the country face the challenge of formulating a game plan that will slow down today’s high-powered offenses.  In order to do this, they must have an understanding of what they are up against including strengths, weaknesses, tendencies, and developing an overall feel for what the offense is trying to do.  The process of breaking down film accurately as well as creating scouting reports will help your staff achieve this and hopefully lead to a game plan that will allow them be successful on game day.  Listed in this article are some ideas on how a defensive staff can go about preparing for an offense on a week to week basis. 


1. Grouping Plays by Field Zones and Down and Distance

One task you want to take care of before you start to break down the opponent film is set up your program that groups together plays by field position and down and distance.  By putting these into the settings of your film breakdown program, it should automatically put the field position in for you based on what yard line you type in when you are doing the down and distance segment. Below is an example of how you may want to set up the field position on your program.

-1 to -5 YDL= Backed up

-6 to -19= Coming out

-20 to -50=Field Zone Minus

49 to 26= Field Zone plus

25-16 YDL=High Red Zone

15 to 5 YDL=Red Zone

4 YDL to 1 YDL= Goal line

The same thing goes for field position.  Listed below is an example of how you can set up your distances.

2nd & 11+=2nd & Extra-Long

2nd & 7-10 yds=2nd & Long

2nd & 4-6 yds=2nd & Medium

2nd & 1-3 yds =2nd & Short

***You can set up third down the same way

The first part of film entry is known as Down & Distance (D&D).  To do this aspect it is best to get an official play by play from the games that you are breaking down.  If you can’t find an official box score you may have to go off the scoreboard shot, or you may have to look at the down markers on the field and try and eyeball the distance.  When working on the D &D part of the film, one person will read the play by play, while the other person enters the data into the computer and ensures that the play by play matches up with the film.  If for whatever reason this doesn’t match up then you need to stop and figure out what the problem is.  I’ve found common problems include: missing clips from the film, clips that are out of order, end zone and sideline view not matched up, or the play by play will be off or missing a play.  Whatever the problem is, it is important that it is fixed right away so that it doesn’t throw the rest of the film off and ensures accuracy.  Other information that should be entered into the film during this time period include:

  • 1st play of series
  • Series number
  • Punts
  • Turnovers
  • Sacks
  • Scrambles
  • Penalties
  • Quarter.

General information summary

  • Use play by play and partner if possible to ensure accuracy
  • Information to be entered into film-quarter, 1st play of series, series number, when the series ends (punt, turnover on downs, turnover), down and distance, hash (from defensive point of view), run/pass, yds. gained/lost on play, incomplete/complete, enter penalties, QB scrambles,


2. Evaluating Formation and Personnel

The next information to be put in is the formation/personnel of the offensive team.  Before getting started with the data entry for this section you should print out a two deep depth chart as well as a roster to help with personnel identification.  One thing I found helpful when doing this was taking a small sticky note and putting it on the two deep with a column for QB’s, RB’s, WR and TE’s.  I would then write down the number of the players in the appropriate column as the game went on, making my own two deep that was easier to read.  When entering personnel data into the film it is important that you are not only accurate but that you are also consistent in what you are labeling the personnel groupings.  This requires a lot of attention to detail.  Throughout the season you may run into a team that uses a primary personnel group, but gives you formations that are of another personnel group.  An example of this would be a team that runs a lot of 12 personnel but has an athletic tight end that will at times line up in a detached position in the slot, giving them an 11P look.  Although the offense is presenting and 11P picture, the film should still be labeled as 12P, to distinguish from when the offense is truly in 11P.  Other scenarios to keep in mind that may come up during the season include teams that use two QB’s, or perhaps they bring in another quarterback for a wildcat type of package.  These should be labeled with something to distinguish them to allow them to be sorted out later when the film cutups are being made.  If a team runs wildcat but the regular QB stays in the game, then just label it what the personnel is, and add wildcat in the formation or backfield set box.  Others scenarios to watch out for include extra OL in the game, especially by the goal line or in short yardage situations.

Formation/ Personnel summary

  • Personnel
  • Formation name/ backfield (note for 20/21/22P groups make sure to label whether the two backs in the backfield are both tailbacks or if there is a tailback and a fullback in the backfield, just add T to the end if both of the backs are tailbacks (i.e. 21T)
  • Passing strength
  • Formation tree ( 2x2, 3x 1, 2x 1)
  • Motion/shifts
  • Formation into the boundary


3. Evaluating Opponents Run Game

Just like labeling the personnel and formations, consistency is the key when labeling the run game.  As a staff you must decide what you want to call the different run plays that you will see throughout out the year so that everybody is speaking the same language in regards to the run game.  One way to label the run game is to first split it up into perimeter run game ( tosses/sweeps/ stretch zone) vs inside run (power, inside zone).  Plays such as power read where there is a perimeter element (the sweep) and an inside element (the QB power) can be labeled as either.  It is important to make sure that whatever you decide to label, you label it the same every time so that when it comes time to make the film cutups they are all grouped together.  Other factors to take into account when labeling the run game is who is carrying the ball.  If the team only features one back that carries the ball 90% of the time it is not as important to label who is the ball carrier.  However, if a team uses multiple backs then it is important that you enter who carried the ball on every play so that you can see if the types of runs the offense is calling is based on who is in the game.

If you are an even front team you may want to enter into the film whether the run was at the three-technique or the shade.  Another option is to enter the defensive front so you can take a look at what plays the offense likes to run vs various fronts, what fronts have given them problems, how they block certain plays against the various fronts and any potential adjustments that they may have in their blocking schemes. 

Run Game Summary

  • Inside run/outside run
  • Play name
  • Three technique/shade/front
  • Who carried the ball
  • Yards gained/ lost should have already been entered during the down and distance



What You're Missing:

Join XandOLabs.com exclusive Insiders program and gain full access to the entire clinic article including: 

  • The seven categories he uses to break down opponents pass game
  • His “plays after series” progression which tracks offensive tendencies after crucial downs.
  • How to evaluate two-minute, four-minute, end of half and end of game situations.
  • How to organize film cut-ups to most efficiently plan a scouting report.
  • Plus 13 downloadable templates that Coach Hill uses in breaking down offenses.

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