What does it mean for a football coach to "script" his plays?

I’m a knowledgeable football fan (watching MNF as I type, in fact), and I’m familiar with the concept of a coach scripting his first few plays. It’s often the topic of announcers, normally spoken as they fling around terms like “west coast” and “genius”.

But I’ve never heard an explanation of the mechanics of it. Is it literally a list of the first 15 or 20 plays the team will run? If so, that seems odd to me, since it doesn’t account for the down and distance variables of the actual game.

Or is it just a list of preferred plays for each individual down and distance scenario (i.e. 3rd and 5 or more, we run X; 3rd and 5 or less, we run Y)? If so, why limit the script to just the first 15 or so plays?

I’ve always wondered, but never knew who to ask.

It becomes predictable. So, they pre-plan the plays for certain downs and distances, but mix it up after a while so the defense can’t guess the next play.

I have the same questions. They all script the first 15 plays, and from everything I hear when it’s being discussed, down and distance are not a consideration when running the script.

My favorite quote on this was Jim Zorn talking about how long the Giants held the ball in the first half on Sunday: “I didn’t call the 5th play in the script until halfway through the second quarter.”

Which is why you only script 10-15 plays.

You may have a play that you want to make sure you run at some point in the week, but that you might forget to work in the craziness of a game; so you put it in the script.

Keep in mind, playcalling is not always about making a given play work; oftentimes you are setting up plays for later on down the road. Line up in a given formation with a given personnel package and run given given play. Maybe it’s a running play, and when you put it in the script it comes up on a third-and-nine, and you don’t convert. That sucks, but you can overcome it later on. Now keep on running that play, five or six more times during the season. Let everyone see it on the game tapes. Then in week 17, you fake it and throw deep.

I once read a Joe Gibbs quote where he said that they’d been setting up a given play for a couple of years.

That is nuts. And totally awesome.

It does make me mildy curious about the Henry Winkler character in The Waterboy, supposedly a play-writing genius until his spirit was broken and he got stuck at some fourth-rate college. Reinvigored, he starts making up new plays during the climactic game and they come off perfectly. How long does it actually take to train a squad to pull off some loopy play? Can even the most disciplined yet flexible team ever get something like that right the first time?

For that matter, is the final play remotely legal?

The quarterback takes the snap, then hands off to Adam Sandler, who falls back. The QB then runs like hell into the end zone and takes a long pass from Sandler for the winning TD.

Is the quarterback in shotgun? If so, he is eligible. If the QB took the snap under center, he is not eligible.

Edit: This assumes the NFL, I don’t know about college football or other pro leagues.

Really? The halfback pass is a classic trick play at pretty much every level. Now that I think about it, it’s been a toss every time I’ve seen it. But that makes more sense anyway, because you want the HB to have a little time to set it up. What rule prohibits a ballcarrier from passing after taking a handoff from a QB who took the snap under center?

And actually, the old ‘QB throwback’ is unoriginal enough to have its own name, even thought it’s somewhat uncommon.


ETA: Now that I think abut it, I know it’s legal. The end-around pass involves a QB taking the snap under center, handing off to a WR on an end-around for the WR to throw. Jerry Rice threw a couple TDs that way. A single forward pass to an eligible receiver is always legal, unless there’s a new rule I’m not aware of.

To an eligible receiver, yes, which the quarterback is not if he’s under center.

Rice completed 3 passes in his career, none of them to QBs. The end around out of shotgun pass to the QB has happened, but I can’t think of a classic example.

AIUI, the QB is an eligible receiver by virtue of being a back and wearing an eligible number. Does the NFL specify that a QB is ineligible unless he lines up in the shotgun? That just sounds strange.

From: http://www.nfl.com/rulebook/forwardpass

Eligible receivers on the offensive team are players on either end of line (other than center, guard, or tackle) or players at least one yard behind the line at the snap.

That’s a back. Backs are eligible receivers. An offensive player can only be a lineman or a back, and a lineman lines up on the line. A QB cannot be a lineman, because he lines up directly behind one. The NFL is a little lenient about the one-yard thing – tackles are often nearly that far off the line, for example, although the league is cracking down on it. The interior lineman/end/back distinction is what really matters. If that’s the only rule that suggests otherwise, I’m sticking with my original position that a QB is always eligible. I can’t cite a specific QB throwback where the QB started under center, but I’m almost certain I’ve seen it.

Besides, given the size and stance of an NFL center, a QB under center probably does plant his feet a yard behind the LOS.

Quarterback? You’re wrong bro, Google around if you don’t believe me.

I don’t think he has to be in shotgun, but he has to be at least a yard behind the line, so he can’t line up directly under centre in the usual way. Uh, if I’m not mistaken. Which I could be.

ETA: I don’t post fast enough.

I did Google around. Wikipedia supports your position, but without a source. So do a number of unsourced comments on various message boards. I did not find anything quoting a rule, other than the basic football rule you cited that backs and ends are eligible receivers, and interior linemen are not. Again, the QB throwback play is unusual (with good reason), but it’s been done. The reverse is slightly more common, and that requires the QB to get downfield and throw the lead block, which would be illegal were he ineligible.

Maybe we should appeal this to GQ.

There is no such thing as “ineligible man downfield” on a running play.

The appropriate note in the NFL rulebook follows rule 8-1-4-d:
Note: To become an eligible pass receiver, a T-formation quarterback must assume the position of a backfield player (as in a Shotgun, Single Wing, Double Wing, Box or Spread Formation) at least one yard behind his line at the snap. In case of doubt, the penalty for an ineligible player receiving a forward pass shall be enforced.
In NCAA, the quarterback is specifically stated to be eligible in this position:
7-3-3-c: [The following team A players are eligible:] A player wearing a number between 50 and 79 in position to receive a hand-to-hand snap from between the snapper’s legs.

Thank you for the cite. I stand corrected.

And of course, I mis-transcribed and the NCAA rule should read “A player not wearing a number between 50 and 79…”