Developing a Defensive Game Plan

Oct 7, 2018 | Defense, Game Planning

By Tom Hochhalter

Head Coach,

Calvin Christian High School (MI)

Researchers' Note: Coach Tom Hochhalter is entering his first year as head coach at Calvin Christian High School in Grandville (MI).  Before taking on this challenge, Tom served as Defensive Coordinator at West Ottawa High School and at Holland Christian High School where his team won a State Championship in 2008.  Tom is known for his exhaustive preparation and understanding of the 3-5-3 defense.

The first year I was a varsity defensive coordinator my head coach told me that defensive game planning was simply matching up your best defensive calls to the offense's best plays. I thought that was easy enough. As that first season progressed so did my skills of developing a defensive game plan each week. I thought his idea was straight forward, but I had to figure out when and where the offense was going to call their best plays. So I devised a method that I continue to use and tweak weekly.

The first step is to determine tendencies that the offense has. The ones I look for are:

  1. Down, Distance, and Field Zone location.
  2. Personnel grouping which is determined by the number of running backs and tight ends.
  3. Formations.

Of course getting all of this information can be quite a laborious task.  I have worked to minimize the time it takes to find this information by using film breakdown programs like Hudl.  These are great tools for breaking down scout film of an opponent and allow break down film in many different forms and create scouting reports for your staff and players.


Once all of the data is logged in Hudl, I use a variety of custom reports to help me construct a detailed "Hit Chart."   This "Hit Chart"combines the two most common defensive gameplan concepts, down and distance breakdown and field position breakdown, creating a hybrid form that has proven to really find the tendencies that the offensive coaches lean on during the game.  Here is how it works...

First, I established the list of down and distance categories that I want to assess with the chart.  You can get as detailed as you want, but I have decided to use the following 18 categories.

  1. 1st and Possession
  2. 1st & 10
  3. 2nd & 1-3
  4. 2nd & 4-6
  5. 2nd & 7-10
  6. 2nd & 11+
  7. 3rd & 1-3
  8. 3rd & 4-6
  9. 3rd & 7-10
  10. 3rd & 11+
  11. 4th & 1-3
  12. 4th & 4-6
  13. 4th & 7-10
  14. 4th & 11+
  15. 1st & Goal
  16. 2nd & Goal
  17. 3rd & Goal
  18. 4th & Goal

Each of these categories will become it's own chart that tracks the type and direction of the offensive plays from of that particular  down and distance in the different field zones.