Nfl coaches play card

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Coaches Use Laminated Game Outlines for Any Situation

The play chart the Jets used against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 1. The Jets scored 28 points, but lost,

When Baltimore Ravens Coach Brian Billick takes over the play-calling Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, he will carry with him the football equivalent of a cheat sheet.

On two double-sided, byinch laminated pages, he will find lists printed in small type that feature every play he could call, and a whole lot more.

Billick can review clock-management situations to remind him when his offense can safely take a knee. He can peruse a list of the officials’ calls that can and cannot be challenged. There is a formula for when to go for a 2-point conversion. A spot is even reserved for the names of the referees working the game, so Billick can act as if he remembers them well.

Coaches have long carried notes about plays they like, but in recent years the National Football League has embraced the outsized play card, making the computer-generated, weather-resistant accessory as common on the sideline as Gatorade and ankle tape. From the pages of plays that coaches once stuffed in their pockets to the card that a secretary for the Cowboys’ Tom Landry wrote by hand, the stigma of a coach referring to a play card to call the offense is gone, taking with it much of the freewheeling creativity that fans like to imagine enlivening a huddle.

Some traditionalists are not thrilled.

“They drive me nuts,” said Ernie Accorsi, the general manager of the Giants. “They remind me of the menu at Denny’s.”

They offer about as many options. The increasing complexity of the N.F.L., with its constant substitutions and specialization of plays, is reflected best in the cards that coaches now clutch. They bear a sorting of more than plays, organized for every situation a team could face.

And in the era of the television close-up, the once-anonymous play cards have received their star turn. Coaches use them to shield their faces from a camera or an eagle-eyed opposing coach who might be trying to decipher the play call by reading lips. Paranoid? Perhaps. But Accorsi remembers when the Baltimore Colts won a game to clinch a division title in because an assistant who had coached at Gallaudet University, a college for deaf students, was able to read the lips of the opposing defensive coordinator. He alerted the team to an oncoming blitz.

Still, Accorsi said the best offensive coordinator he was ever around, Lindy Infante in Cleveland, never carried a big card.

The point of the cards is to avoid the possibility that in the cacophony of the sideline, as the clock ticks down, a coach cannot summon a play he spent the week preparing. The card is structured for ease, and each coach shuffles his a bit differently.

In a normal game, the offense will get about 65 plays. To cover all possibilities, the Ravens will enter their game considering to different plays. Billick said some teams prepared plays.

“Most of the cards are color-coded — for quick recognition,” said Dick Vermeil, the former coach of the Eagles, the Rams and the Chiefs who is now a broadcaster for the NFL Network. “Things happen so fast.”

The guts of the Ravens’ card are the plays that the team will have practiced during the week and that coaches will have mulled over in meetings. They will be organized in every conceivable fashion, under different headings: base run, play-action, quicks (for quick passes that quarterbacks make after a short drop back), two-minute, four-minute. They are listed, the coaches hope, in something close to the order in which they will be called.

“We’ve all become card coaches,” Billick said. “That used to be a derogatory term, but defenses are so much more complex, it’s such a chess game of matching up. You need the help. It’s compartmentalized. It’s Chinese food takeout. One from Column A, one from Column B.”

Even in a relatively uneventful game, it is rare that a coach will not refer to his play card.

Vermeil still has, shoved in a drawer, the old 8½-byinch forms he would fill out in pencil with the hieroglyphics of the game. Those were Vermeil’s first play cards while he was coaching at U.C.L.A.

But during one of the best games Vermeil ever called — the Rose Bowl, in which his Bruins upset the top-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes — he never looked at the play card. He said he called the offensive plays that day by feel, his intuition rendering the memory device unnecessary. For one afternoon, Vermeil delivered a rebuff to the card coach.

A few days after that Rose Bowl, Vermeil accepted a job as the head coach of the Eagles. Just like the players themselves, the cards got bigger over time.

Ron Wolf, the former general manager of the Green Bay Packers, said coaches have always carried notes with them — Joe Gibbs said he carried his on a clipboard — but the first full-size play card he remembers seeing was Mike Holmgren’s at Green Bay in

“His wasn’t like they are nowadays,” Wolf said. “It was large. But these things they have nowadays are huge.”

On the Ravens’ cards, runs are in red ink, passes are in black and screens are in green. There are sections for second down and short yardage, second and medium and second and long. There are sections of plays for when the team is backed up deep in its territory, in the open field or in the red zone.

On one side of the card, plays are sorted by the protections for the offensive line. So if the defense is pressuring the quarterback, the coach can look for plays to be run with extra blockers. On another side, the plays are organized by the personnel groupings the team uses — two tights ends or three wide receivers.

“Let’s say we go in and have a smattering of two tight ends and you run a couple of plays and they hit,” Billick said. “For whatever reason, this personnel grouping is kicking them, so I go to my personnel grouping page to see what else we have.”

Computers have caused the proliferation of detail. Computer analysis can tell coaches that the offense is likely to be in a third-and-1 situation in the open field once a game, Billick said, so coaches know to limit preparation to two runs, a pass and a deep pass for that situation.

But the intuition that guided Vermeil at the Rose Bowl is still in use. When Billick was the offensive coordinator for the Vikings, Dennis Green, then the head coach, wanted 13 runs in the base-run category.

“That was just his number,” Billick said. “If we had 12 runs up, he’d come in and go, ‘It looks a little short.’ If we had 14, it was, ‘Looks a little heavy.’ I don’t think he sat there and counted. That was the number that looked right.”

With the Ravens coming off their bye week, Billick will return to calling the plays after having just fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel.

No matter how many plays are on the card, a coach will occasionally call something out of nowhere, without it being on the card. It happens a few times a season. But when it does, Billick said, coaches ask themselves a question: If we like that play so much, why is it not on the card?

“You have to fight the tendency to panic and go outside the box,” Billick said. “But the days of drawing it up in the dirt are over.”


7 ON 7 Offensive System and Downloadable Play Cards

The Coach

The veteran coach serves as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Acosta has been involved in coaching at various levels, from high school to the NFL, for 19 years. Recently, he spent the and seasons at Syracuse before moving on to Cornell in At Syracuse in , he served as the Orange’s wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator, ­where he helped attract 18 three-star recruits and five players ranked among the top 50 at their positions in the country, according to sports.

Before his stint at Syracuse, Acosta spent one year as head coach at Widener () and five seasons as assistant coach at TCNJ (), the last four as offensive coordinator. That came on the heels of two seasons as the tight ends coach at Delaware, where he helped the Blue Hens reach the FCS National Championship game and assisted in the development of future Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco.

Acosta served as head coach at both Marlboro HS () and Monmouth Regional HS (), sandwiched around three years as wide receivers coach at TCNJ. He began his coaching career at Rowan () as the team’s defensive backs and special teams coach. In addition, he spent the (Cleveland Browns) and (New York Jets) NFL preseason in coaching internships.

In his one season as head coach at Widener, the Pride went and averaged yards and points per game. At TCNJ, his offense set school records for passing yards (2,) and completions () in a season in During the campaign, the offense scored the most points in a single-season in program history (), as well as yards in a game ( vs. FDU-Florham).

Acosta played four seasons at Rowan, helping the team to the Stagg Bowl, the Division III national championship game, each year. He graduated in with a degree in health and exercise science

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Ben McAdoo's play card resembles a diner menu, but it has a purpose

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It is printed on oversized paper. It is laminated and even sports ringed binding.

It is not the menu from a New Jersey diner that we’re talking about here. It’s the extensive and encyclopedic play card of New York Giants coach Ben McAdoo.

“I can see how it’s like a diner menu,” said quarterback Eli Manning, who gets a similar version during the week. “A lot of pages. Sure.”

It may be practical. It may be efficient. It also does look like a menu from one of Jersey's finest diners.

“It does with the gloss and finish on it,” wide receiver Victor Cruz said while chuckling. “It really does.”

The kicker is that the play card, often in front of McAdoo’s face during Giants games and sometimes even covering him completely, is littered with Post-it Notes. That part made even Manning chuckle when the topic was broached this week.

McAdoo’s play card has become a popular topic during game broadcasts and on social media.

“Have I heard that?” McAdoo asked after conceding that he re-watches the game broadcast. “There are certain things I listen to, certain things I don’t."

McAdoo’s menu-like play card isn’t completely unique. His mentor Mike McCarthy uses something similar in Green Bay. Andy Reid, who also possesses a Green Bay background, works a bit more horizontally than vertically but is a member of the same Oversized Play Card Anonymous.

It’s not an isolated playcaller problem. It appears to be more of an epidemic.

Detail-oriented NFL coaches take preparation and organization to unique levels.

“Yeah, the first time it seemed like a lot, a ton of stuff,” said Manning, who receives an even bigger version during the week before it’s cut during a ranking day of the Giants' favorite plays. “It all makes sense, and now you see the reasoning for it.”

The McAdoo play card is extensive. It has different sections and pages, hence the need for ringed binding. Some of the content is redundant. It’s organized by situation -- whether it’s first down, second down or red zone -- and seemingly based off where the Giants have the ball. Each page is its own section of the field.

“It’s a map of the field,” McAdoo said. “It’s more of a thought process than a play sheet.”

The goal is for the Giants coach and playcaller to be more efficient in the moment.

With only 40 seconds in between plays in an NFL game, playcall decisions must be made quickly. The coach or coordinator has only several seconds to analyze the situation and select an appropriate play for the given down and distance. It then needs to be relayed through the headset to the quarterback, who must then have ample time to align his unit and make any necessary pre-play adjustments in order for it to run efficiently and effectively.

All this must occur in a matter of 40 seconds or less.

The play card is the tool that helps McAdoo make it happen, and it has become somewhat of its own sensation. But inside the Giants' locker room, most of the players haven't blinked.

“I thought it was normal,” backup quarterback Ryan Nassib said. “What can I say? We have a lot of good plays. I’m sure he wishes he could call them all.”

The sheer enormity of the play card isn’t anything new. McAdoo’s version since joining the Giants as offensive coordinator in has always been large -- just maybe not quite this large.

“It has evolved as situational football has evolved,” McAdoo said.

It's also that head coach McAdoo is a much more common target of the camera during games than offensive coordinator McAdoo. When the Giants have the ball this season and the camera pans to the sidelines, there is McAdoo, not Tom Coughlin. And maybe you can see McAdoo's face if it’s not behind that oversized menu.

Or maybe not. The play card can shut out the camera.

“It’s healthy, man,” Cruz said. “He’s got the full gamut on there. He has to be able to get to any given play at any given time.”

© ESPN Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.


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