Which game involves more strategy: Football or Footie?

To avoid hijacking this thread, I decided to open up this debate here.

I’m a hardcore football fan, and generally hold the typical American view of “soccer is sluggish, low-scoring, and has way too many ties.”

I wouldn’t mind at all becoming a fan of MLS, but cannot get past my perceptions of this seemingly stategy-deprived game.

Help me out here. What are some examples of the extensive strategies involved in footie?

Before we begin, I’m using the dictionary definition of strategy:

I just don’t see it in footie. In football, you might see any of the following strategies. The definitions presented are my understanding; cites are pretty tough to come by.

West Coast Offense - A philosophy developed by Bill Walsh that involves short passing in lieu of a traditional running game. You’ll see lots of screen passes, single back formations, and not many deep passes. This system attacks the (defensive) line and linebackers. The QB is relegated to high-percentage short passes, while relying on receivers to get their yards after the catch, reducing the need for arm strength, and artificially inflating the passer rating numbers. Benefactors of this artificial inflation include Joe Montana and Chad Pennington.

Smash Mouth Football - Old school philosophy that emphasizes hard hitting defense and running the ball. This system requires big lineman on both sides of the ball, athletic linebackers, power runners, and emphasizes the fullback. The idea is to hit the offense so hard and so frequently that the individual players no longer want the ball. This was in evidence on the 2000 Ravens team, who successfully pounded the snot out of my beloved Giants in the Superbowl. This system also emphasizes power running between the tackles, and puts pressure on the opponent’s receivers. Tackling ability is sacrificed to increase the power of hits.

East Coast Offense - Obscure term used to describe a balanced offensive gameplan that emphasizes stretching the field by throwing deep, a reliance on mid-level passing, and running the ball to the edges. This system puts pressure on the defensive backs, but requires a highly skilled QB.

Ball Control - Philosophy of controling the flow of the game through running the ball, and protecting the ball in the passing game. QB awareness is emphasized; a punt is a worthy goal in order to prevent turnovers. (No “bad decision” passes allowed.) Tackling skill is the highest priority on defense. This strategy is highly effective against explosive offenses, because they cannot be explosive while watching the game from the sideline. Pressure is put on the running back, full back, tight end, and offensive line. Tight end passes are featured. This system pressures the opponent’s linemen and linebackers, who usually will tire out by the fourth quarter if executed properly. Field goals and battles of field position figure prominently. The best example of this strategy was the 1990 Superbowl between the Giants and the Bills. Which brings me to the

K-Gun Offense - The Buffalo Bills of the early 90s elevated the hurry up offense to a complete game strategy. This strategy emphasized medium passes and single back running up the middle. This requires a very skilled QB and RB. This system puts extreme pressure on one’s own defense, due to the fact that they often spend 2/3 of the game on the field. It puts pressure on the opponent’s defensive coordinator, who was rarely given time to call a play before the ball was hiked.

Run & Shoot - This was the philosophy of the Oilers in the early 90s. I was never sure what the definition was. Perhaps somebody could help me out with this one.

Fun & Gun - Steve Spurrier’s offensive strategy. Not completely positive about it, but I believe it emphasizes the passing game to include the RB, who needs speed and catching over tackle-breaking and agility. The emphasis is on passing deep, and screens are fairly rare. This system appears to put pressure on the secondary, and requires good protection from the offensive line.

3-4 Defense - This strategy requires athletic (and gifted) linebackers, and puts pressure on the opponent’s offensive line and QB. The “4th pass rusher” will be one of the four linebackers, and the offense will never be sure which one it is. This strategy (implemented by the Patriots) is effective against inexperienced teams, or teams unfamiliar with it. (My poor, poor Giants, for example.) This strategy has, for the most part, fallen out of favor in the NFL.

Mobile QB - A new strategy that exploits the abilities of athletic QBs who do not have great passing accuracy. Many plays will be designed QB runs. Most passes will involve rolling out. This puts extreme pressure on defensive lineman and linebackers. It is best seen by the Eagles and Falcons, but is also employed by the 49ers, Vikings, and to a lesser extent, Titans. Typically the QB has great arm strength, and so you will see some deep threats and cross-field throws on rollouts.

These are all different overall strategies. Others not mentioned include the turnover style which propelled the Patriots to the Superbowl in 85, and Buddy Ryan’s innovative 4-6 Bears defense that crushed them in that same Superbowl.

Each NFL coaching staff has approximately 300 plays in their playbook. Usually, 150 of those are activated for any given game. These 150 are selected to exploit weaknesses on the particular team they are facing, taking into account that team’s overall strategy, personel, and injuries.

Each NFL team employs a dozen or so formations, involving different players. The basic 8 stay the same: 5 linemen, QB, RB, and WR1. The remaining 3 players will consist of 3 from the list of FB, TE1, TE2, WR2, WR3, and WR4. More often than not pre-snap motion will be used to disguise the offense’s intention.

I have not mentioned play action, which I consider to be a tactic rather than a strategy, but it could be argued that the Colts have elevated play-action to a complete game philosophy. I have also not really scratched the surface of defensive strategy; such things include zone coverage vs. man to man.
So I ask you, does footie possess the same depth of strategy on the overall scale? Could someone point out a half-dozen differing footie philosophies a team could choose from?

Does footie possess the same depth of strategy as football’s playbook? 150 (of 300) distinct, designed, disguised exploits of varying potential weaknesses?

Does footie possess the same breadth of tactics as football does after the snap? These include, but are not limited to:

  • play action
  • pump fake
  • counters
  • chip blocks
  • release blocks
  • double moves
  • hot reads
  • swim move
  • bull rush
  • rip move
  • draw play
  • reverse
  • double reverse
  • flea flicker
  • screen
  • dump offs
  • blitz
  • bump & run (press coverage)
  • double team (OL)
  • shadow coverage
  • scrambling
  • fakes on ST

I have heard in countless discussions, both here on the SDMB and IRL, that claim soccer has in-depth strategy on the scale of football. But I just don’t see it. Somebody please set me straight.

The strategies you speak of have few equivalents in footie, save perhaps in free kicks around the area (or better yet, indirect free kicks inside the area: While rare, these look most like American Football plays to me.) Footie’s strategies tend to be in the positions employed (more in midfield = “tighter” game with quicker breaks) or the “position of the positions” (defend deep and break away quickly, or push up the entire team gradually?).

The reason is precisely due to footie’s fluidity (ie.i no equivalent of a “down”) and dependence on the feet: Getting past a man who can grab you when you can hold the ball is an entirely different prospect to getting past one who can’t when you can’t.

For this reason, strategies cannot be so “perfect” as AF (wherein plays typically comprise only one forward - read difficult - pass) since footie attacks require several difficult passes. (There is the “long ball game”, perhaps equivalent to “deep passing”, but teams who try this are genuinely desperate.)

However, it is precisely this dependence on individual skill and chaos which I would suggest bestows upon footie its status as “the beautiful game” worldwide. If you seek perfectly executed strategy, why not play chess?

Moderator’s Note: Punting this one over to IMHO.

As said above, in football (soccer) strategies cannot be defined rigidly due to the nature of the game. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t wide varieties of tactics, approaches and formations that can be used within a game. If your opponent is playing two central defenders, why not try playing three strikers, or two strikers and a man behind “in the hole” to make runs between them?

The permutations for playing formations are plentiful; in England at the moment (and presumably Scotland and much of the rest of Europe too), 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 formations are popular, but every manager will tailor this to his opponent or to his gameplan. There are different styles of play - long ball, direct ball, short passing, counterattacking, “Total Football” and so forth. There are numerous tactics available for set pieces (corners, free kicks etc), and intricate plays practiced on the training ground prior to games.

The combination of these tactics is the nearest soccer comes to “strategy”, but the sheer variety and often reactive nature of play (i.e. adapting your selection of tactics as the match progresses) means that this rarely constitutes a named “strategy”.

Due to the fact the number of permutautaions in the game of football (association football that is) is probably greater than for any other game there are many strategies and tatics, far too many to even be detailed on this board so I’ll concentrate solely on the basics of defence:

Depending on the formation they’re are usually 4, 3 or 5 defenders, most often arranged as two full-back and two central defenders, 3 central defenders, 2 full backs and 3 central defenders or 1 central defender and 2 full backs. Sometimes esp. when there are 5 defenders the full-backs will become what are known as wing-backs, these players will run up the wings in order to join in the attack by providng crosses. Also sometimes a central defender will become a sweeper, this is a highly specialized postion which plays behind the other central defenders as a last line of defence but is also expected to come forward into the midfield during attacking plays. In a professional outfit players postions will be even more fine-tuned for certain situations.

Before the game a marking stragey will be adopted this will be a variation on either man-marking or zonal marking and it decides how the players will track attacking players (in man marking each player will be pre-assigned a man who they will follow during an attack and in zonal marking each player will be assigned a zone in which they will mark any man coming into it).

One of the most common defensive strategies is what is called the offside-trap, which takes advantage of the offside rule (the rule which basically states that there must be two defending players between someone receiving a pass and the goal when that pass is made). In this the whole defense will move several yards forward in a line in order to play an attacking player offside, this does take alot of practice as a mistake can mean an easy goal for an attacke. Another startegy occasinally used in defense is switching where the two full-backs or wing-backs will swap sides in order to confuse the oppsoing team when coming upfield.

I can’t believe the OP left the Broncos out of the Mobile QB idea with both Elway and now Plummer.

The basic philoshpy behind this one was to spread the defense so that they couldn’t control any area. 4 spread WR and one running back who alternated blocking and running a pattern himself. Basically an attempt to create the possibility of a big play if any defender makes a mistake. In reality a good zone defense, and the QB becomes a tackling dummy.

I also think we need a term for the Vermeil offense. It’s a variation of the west coast, so I’m not sure it qualifies as a new theory rather than just a variation though. Make a deep option, a medium option, a short option and and a backfield option in that order. Look deep first, and keep checking down until a little toss to the back. The Rams, the chiefs and last years Raiders used it to good effect in recent years.

I don’t think that counts as mobile QB. Very few plays are designed for them to run except as a very last option.

In my considered opinion, the game which deserves the title of “most similar body contact sport” to American Football is a variation of Rugby Union which is known as Rugby League.

It’s a fantastic game. Imagine having 6 defensive linesman and 7 attacking running backs including a quarter back. Then, just to make the mix a bit more interesting - both the defensive AND offensive players have to stay on the field for two halves of 40 minutes with stoppages only for injury and dead balls etc. But there are no stoppages between “tackles or downs”.

Sadly, Rugby Union is the world’s major form of the game and oddly, it’s a bit closer to Australian Football than any other code - insofar as the ball is never allowed to go dead whilst it’s in the field of play.

Rugby League is definitely a long way to closer to American Football than Rugby Union. And it’s a game which lends itself to very strategic plays and field movements - primarily because it’s far more structured than Rugby Union. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.

Certainly, it’s far more appropriate to compare the strategies involved in American Football to Rugby League than it is to compare them to Association Football.

You could make the case for Denver being a “mobile QB” system, though they were decidedly not using that system when they won their 2 Superbowls. I probably would have included them, but I simply forgot about Denver.

Thanks to wolfman for explaining the Run & Shoot. That’s a nice synopsis.

Sorry about the wrong forum, MEBuckner…I couldn’t decide if this should be in GD, IMHO, or MPSIMS, so I pretty much just randomly picked one.

I’m confused on the feedback. Is the concensus that AF does have more strategy than footie? MC makes some good points about formations, but those map pretty evenly with AF’s defensive formations: Goal Line, 4-3, 3-4, 4-6, Nickel, Dime, and Quarter, not to mention the several variants of each.

Is the term strategy, as applied to footie, a misnomer? Is the intended meaning really tactics? I agree that footie probably has some intricate tactics, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it has more involved tactics than football.

This thread originated in response to the following, paraphrased discussion:

Why isn’t footie more popular in America?
We like strategy too much. That’s why football and baseball rule the American sports landscape.
That’s an opinion heard from people who don’t understand the intricacies of footie strategy.

I haven’t read anything yet that convinces me that footie has the depth of strategic possibilty of football.

I love chess, personally. The great thing about football is that it combines (almost) the strategic depth of chess with the exciting factors of brutality, toughness, and heart. It seems to me to be the perfect combination of them. In order to be successful, your team must combine intelligence, strength, speed, toughness, fortitude and skill.

ANohter way to look at this topic would be with the following question : Which is the hardest game to coach? I have seen this argument on other message boards and it invariably leads to many different opinions based on what sport you know the best. However, I can think of no game where a coach has a more direct influence over the game than in American Football. The coach is calling every single play from the sidelines and the outcome of every play is largely decided upon those decisions. It is much like chess. The best players in the world can’t overcome bad playing calling or being outcoached by the other team. I don’t know enough about soccer to know how hard it is to be a soccer coach. Granted, there are intricacies of each game and no one is going to coach like a pro with much ease in any sport. However, honestly, out of football, baseball and basketball I truly think football (American) would be the hardest game to learn from a coaching standpoint. In basketball, there just aren’t many plays or variations of plays that can be run on about a 30 foot long area with five players to a side. In baseball, how many decisions a game does the coach really make? Its the pitcher mainly in control of the game. In football, though, there are hundreds of possible plays for both teams each down and 11 players a side to move around. The number of decisions by a coach in each game is huge.

If strategy is such a key factor for the American sports audience, why isn’t chess hugely popular in America?

How come baseball is so popular? I don’t think it involves substantially more complex strategy than soccer or cricket, for that matter.

How come ice hockey (NHL) is more popular than field hockey? Has anyone even heard of field hockey? They look comparable w.r.t strategy.

Bottomline: I cannot buy the notion that AF is more popular here because it involves much more complex strategy. How about factors like tradition, the notion of being an “American sport”, the violence, the advertising, and of course one has to throw in the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the sport.

I think the nature of the games themselves kind of prevent this sort of comparison. Like IUHomer said, in American football, each play is a whole new plan of attack. The action is divided into finite spurts of time from snap to snap. It’ll be pretty hard to find the same depth of terminology and variations of play in “world” football (I’m just going to call it soccer), because there aren’t that many isolated plays. In an NFL game, a coach can provide a specific instruction for each of the 11 players on the field, and then these instructions will be modified before the snap. You just won’t see that in a free-flowing game like soccer, because there aren’t the opportunities to micromanage. That’s not to say you won’t see different styles and such in soccer, but there’s no soccer equivalent to the “Z Right Go, Flat Right, 44 Tango Y Release bla bla bla” kind of stuff you’ll see in the NFL. I would say that compared to American football, soccer strategy is approximately as deep as, say, a nickel or dime coverage, or 4-3 vs. 3-4. Formation and alignment-type stuff, with a few special plays, but no deeper than that.

Football, I think, is unique in this regard- there’s no other sport where every play is encapsulated and thoroughly strategized by both sides. It’s like basketball, hockey, or soccer, if there was a timeout before every play.

I agree, mostly. I do think that all the strategy and terminology involved with football leads to the cult mentality a lot of football fans have, though. It’s like a whole new religion, watching football. You could be a big-time baseball fan and never worry about why they shade outfielders to one side or another from pitch to pitch, or what’s the best count on which to steal a base, but you’re not a “real” football fan unless you scream at the TV, “DRAW! DRAW! IT’S A FREAKING DRAW FOR GOD’S SAKE!” every once in a while.

Because it’s not a sport, and it is not a team endeavor.

I am not a baseball fan, and couldn’t even hazard a guess as to the strategic depth of baseball. I do know, however, that when watching baseball, I am virtually always left wondering why each pitch was chosen and why each batter elects to swing/not swing. Batting order, pitching rotation, and other general aspects of the game are cloaked in mystery from my perspective. I would bet you that an expert could write a very long book detailing the various strategies. I agree that it would be shorter than football’s book.

Field hockey is the female version of ice hockey in the US. Boys play ice, girls play field. (Some injured lacrosse/hockey players have recently joined field hockey teams, invoking Title IX. These gigantic guys pretty much have their way against the predominantly female competition.)

My position is not the standard one. Your points are more along the lines of conventional wisdom. I posit that football, given the same heritage, advertising, and violence, would not have caught on if it wasn’t so fundamentally geared toward strategy. If, say, only one formation was allowed. Or if there was only one playbook for all teams. It wouldn’t have been able to overcome the “violence for violence’s sake” condemnation.

I say that, here in the US, you need strategy to entice the masses. If violence was all you needed, hockey would be way more popular. Football’s perfect union of strategy and violence laid the groundwork to allow the NFL advertising juggernaut to work its magic. Without such deep strategy, football would never have overtaken baseball.

As evidence of the American passion for strategy, I submit ESPN’s ratings for their poker broadcasts.

Chess isn’t a sport? And, you never mentioned team endeavor as a necessary condition for a sport’s popularity in the US. You are throwing a new one in the mix here. (In any case, the popularity of golf is a counter-example)

First off, Men’s field hockey is a big international sport. It is not played here. Why? IMHO, it is very difficult to explain why a sport has not caught on in a particular country. Anyway, getting back to my earlier point, can you explain why field hockey isn’t as popular as ice hockey in the US? They are virtually identical w.r.t. structure, only ice hockey is faster and more violent.

That is impossible to prove eitherway. To make your theory a valid conjecture, we need to at least establish that strategy is paramount for the US sports audience. It would be great if we could also establish that strategy is not that important elsewhere in the world. The counter question is: why isn’t AF popular elsewhere? :wink:

Can we establish these two propositions? I can quickly see why conventional wisdom makes a lot of sense.

That’s not what I said. Violence isn’t all that is required. It is a combination of reasons and strategy plays a part but I don’t believe it is a necessary and sufficient condition.