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Monday, September 1, 2014

The Nuts and Bolts of Game Planning

One of the great things about the online football management simulation MyFootballNow is the level of control you can have over the decisions your team makes. You can choose to focus just on roster management - signing players, drafting rookies, renegotiating contracts - and let the AI do things like manage your depth chart and game plan.  Or, if you want to get more involved with the day-to-day decisions, you can choose to take on more of the responsibilities - and be rewarded by seeing your creation come to life on game day!

Perhaps the most daunting task in managing your team is the weekly game planning. While you can set your game plan once and forget it, you should at least jump in and tell the AI to update your game plan between each game. Under the menu "My Team->Gameplanning" you will be presented with the game plan control panel. In the upper right corner you'll see a button that says "Load Recommended" - if you click this button you'll get a popup dialog where you can determine what aspects of the game plan you want the AI to set for you. If you leave everything checked, it may take a minute for the processing to complete - but once it's done, you'll have a game plan that is tailored to your strengths vs. your opponent's weaknesses.  But you might want to go a bit further and adjust the game plan yourself; this post will detail what the various options mean, and how to use them.

The first two tabs in the game planning control panel are the offensive and defensive game plan. This section determines what plays are called by your team in any situation during the game.  They are broken down into types of plays.

The top row of buttons define the situation - down and distance. The field graphic below illustrates what quadrant of the field the line of scrimmage is located at. The direction of the offense goes from left to right. The graphical view here illustrates what weight each decision has in the final decision; if you have half of the graph filled with run plays and the other half with pass plays, then you should run 50% of the time.  If your inside run takes up 20% and your outside run takes up 30%, those plays will be called in that frequency. So, each control element determines the probability that you will call a play with that decision based on the down, distance, and field quadrant.

Graphical View vs. Text View

You can switch between the graphical view and the text view; the text view gives you sliders that you can move to adjust the weights of each decision. It is entirely up to you which method you use. You don't have to worry about the sliders summing up to 100%, the game will automatically normalize everything for you.  Just move the sliders so that you get an acceptable balance for what you are wanting to do.  In either case, there is a button beneath each quadrant that allow you to copy a set of decisions to another quadrant and situation, and also a button to view the plays in your active playbook that apply and what each play's probability for being called is.

Offensive Decisions

Your offensive decisions are made up of "Gameplan" and "Personnel." The Gameplan is broken up into 5 options: Inside Run, Outside Run, Short Pass, Medium Pass, and Long Pass.

The Personnel decision decides what offensive personnel you will have on the field. Of the eleven players on offense, five are on the offensive line and are not eligible to catch a pass. Five players are considered eligible receivers, meaning that they are allowed to run downfield to catch a pass.  The eleventh player is the quarterback (who is technically eligible to catch a pass, although at this time there are no plays in the MyFootballNow playbook where a quarterback will receive a pass).  The five eligible receivers are the players that will get subbed in and out depending on the play. They are made up of the Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, and Running Backs (which include the Halfback and Fullback). Your personnel determines what combination of players make up your eligible receiver package. So you might have 5 Wide Receivers as a high option when it's third and long, or have two Tight Ends and two Running Backs in a short yardage situation.  Note that Personnel is not the same as Formation - a Formation is where a player lines up on the field, and while each Formation consists of a single Personnel package, each Personnel package will have many available Formations.  You don't control the Formation for each play, it is automatically assigned via the play.

Defensive Decisions

On the defensive side of the ball, the decisions are a bit more complicated. Because the defense is somewhat reactionary to what the offense does, the first decision is made for you - the defense will deploy personnel to match what the offense sends on the field. So if the offense has extra Wide Receivers, the defense will choose a play that has extra Defensive Backs to match.  Or, if the offense has extra Tight Ends and fewer Wide Receivers, the defense will deploy extra Defensive Linemen.

What you do have control over is the play of the Secondary and the play of the Linebackers.  There are multiple combinations of options here, but the general choices are whether the play is primarily a Zone, Man-to-Man, or Blitz.

Zone vs. Man-to-Man vs. Blitz

Zone coverage means that the player is responsible for an area on the field.  If an eligible receiver enters that area, they will cover him until he leaves his area.  Against a pass play this can be effective as the receiver will not outrun a defender; but it leaves areas of the field open where the receiver can catch the ball between two zones, or if one zone is flooded with two receivers.  A zone defense is good against a running play because the defense shouldn't get drawn out of their area to cover a receiver, leaving it open for the running back to go to.

In a man-to-man defense, the players are assigned an offensive receiver to cover.  They're responsible for this receiver for the entire play.  If they are fast and have good man-to-man coverage skills, they will make it difficult to complete a pass to their man, and may even be successful at intercepting the pass if it's tried.

In a blitz call, a player who is normally in coverage will rush the quarterback, with the idea being that even though a receiver might be left open, the rusher won't be met by an offensive blocker. Calling a blitz can result in a big loss for the offense if successful, but can also result in a big gain if the quarterback is able to throw the ball to the uncovered receiver.  The more familiar an offense is with a blitz, the more likely it will fail, so you will want to use blitzes with caution.