2016-07-08 12:36

Chapter 16 - The gruesome playbook
Version 1.2.0 - 18.07.2018

The Playbook is the ultimate control over you teams plays on the field.
It does override all game settings, if a play is found in it, matching the current situation on the field.
If no play is found, the engine takes the game settings as guideline or becomes creative.

If you are new on this game and you face the task of creating your first playbook, don't start too complicated, better start simple and evolve from that.
It might be a good start to just work with the most extreme situations, which the game settings don't cover, like a last second field goal or running the clock out in the final minutes while leading.

Creating a playbook is the most difficult task in this game, and there are managers which struggle with this since ages, which do avoid this task completely or which keep the structure of the playbook to a minimum.
The reasons are not necessarily that they don't GET the tasks, they might just don't have the time to build up a playbook needed for the top of the game, or they don't want to change the playbook for every opponent.
Or they have a good plan in theory but the match itself comes out completely different.
In addition are the mechanics and the editor not the user friendliest tools you will use in your lifetime.

I will be honest with you here: I'm a lazy manager in regards of playbooks.
I have created several, and most were OK or sufficient enough to win games, championships or to compete with the best (although I never won an Elite Bowl, a Supercup (Global Bowl) or a Champ of Champs cup, sorry), but they did always lack that extra "mile" (or just an “inch”) to be the best playbook possible against that particular team.
I'm lazy preparing against opponents, I do invest my time in other things (like writing this guide or writing the Block of Granite College Football Blog) so I'm not THE playbook guru you might seek.
Regardless I will try to give you an overview and at the end you will need to build a playbook on your own anyway.

Combining playbooks
There is a defense part and an offense part of the playbook and you can create many playbooks (if you are a supporter) , which you then can mix up in the game settings.
You can say "take as offense playbook 1 and as defense playbook 2" and next game you could setup some other combination.
This can come in handy if you did set up for example a run stopper defense and on another playbook a pass stopper defense.
Then you could switch the defense selected prior the game, based on the strength of the opponent.
What you can't do is to mix 2 playbook offense rules, like first half playbook 1 and second half playbook 2. Not possible to set up on the highest level, means game settings.
You could create a new playbook 3, containing the rules of 1 and 2 and make it the way described, but that takes time and effort. You might even have to adjust several rules just to fit. Time and effort.

What does a playbook do?
Each line in the playbook will represent a game situation and with so many wildcard possibilities ("any" on several parameters), you can set up quit general rules and you can set up on the other hand rules which might happen only once a season or even never in several seasons.
Keep in mind that the engine will look into the playbook on each down and will s e l e c t the best matching play based on these rules:
1) Take all given parameters and get all plays fitting to the parameters
2) If no rule is found fitting, take the game settings rules
3) If as a minimum one rule is found, take the highest sorted rule out of the found rule set.

Keep that in mind when you do set up rules, because a wrongly sorted rule might never be taken, even if that was the initial intention to put it into the playbook and to use it in exactly that situation.

Assuming you did set up a general rule for 4th down, punting the ball, regardless of score, field position, quarters and so on.
It's your safety-net you did set up to ensure a punt when all other 4th down situation do not happen.
Now you do set up a field goal rule for 4th down, when you are inside the opponents red zone.
You did put that rule UNDER the general rule.
The engine will now punt, even in the red zone, since on 4th down inside the red zone the engine does now find 2 rules fitting the parameters and will pick the higher sorted one, the general rule.

The Checker Tool
This whole setup can become very complicated, since you can set up rules with wildcards and no wildcards on many parameters and it's not always clear which rule will be taken in certain situations.
For that the checker tool is implemented, on top right of the playbook screen.
There you can put in all situations you like to get checked and the tool will highlight the rule which would be taken.
What it does not is, to show you all rules fitting the situation so you can see the rules the engine did pick that final rule from as highest sorted rule.

Deactivation of rules
There is next to every rule a small circle which can be clicked.
If that circle is clicked, it means the rule is deactivated.
It will be ignored for the next match as if it is not in the playbook.
That can be quite helpful to setup aggressive and not so aggressive plays and depended on the opponent you can activate or deactivate such rules.
But keep in mind, the more you put in, the more work it becomes to have those in the right status prior a game and the more error prone it can become.
I suggest to create a separate playbook, if a certain amount of rules to check or uncheck are exceeded and it becomes a nightmare to work with it.
Keep also in mind that if you deactivate or activate rules, the selection process in special situations can now result in different results and sometimes in plays you did not like to have. I suggest to check stuff out extensively with the checker, to avoid such things to happen.

The Engine
Building a playbook is linked to the game engine.
If you know Football in detail and you think you could build a playbook in real life, you can forget almost everything about this.
The only thing which will help is the understanding of game situations, like last second field goals or how to secure a win.
Since you have to predefine all rules, there is no way to make in-game decision as coach on the sidelines would be able to do.
That means, you have to think about situations and you have to find a solution for this, but this is limited by the engines behaviour.
And don't forget the gameday random factors, which are not transparent, like coaches consistency.
A real live coach would be able to adapt, you will have to set up a rule set and then live with it.

Hail Mary Bomb? Not possible the way you did see it on TV. You can try to pass deep, but no chance to order a 50+ yard pass for sure.
Spiking the ball to stop the clock? Not implemented, the clock is simulated but there is no real time management, which can become a problem at the end of each halftime, especially if you are behind.
Fake punt? Nope, not implemented. No trick plays possible.
Crazy Formations like overloaded formations or other fancy stuff? Not implemented. All formations will line up perfectly. You could only switch to strange combinations like defending a 4 WR set with a goalline defense and you might be even successful with that.
Reverses? Miss direction plays? Nope. As said, no trick plays. In fact no real plays available as seen on TV or Madden NFL.
That's not a critic, just a fact.

The engine does work with several pre-defined formations on offense and defense and does basically offer run, pass, pass medium and pass long as offense plays and does allow a pre-defined expectation for pass or run on defense and also a go-for-a-blitz-rule on defense.
That's it, if you ignore special team plays like punt and field goal.
Doesn’t sound as much, but the possibilities are quite wide and managers do easily get confused with a complete playbook, especially if it became a big monster with hundreds if not thousands of lines (I wouldn’t recommend thousands of lines, but it’s up to you ;-) )

The order of playcalling
The offense is always the acting part on the field; the defense does react on the offense.
So if you did setup a rule for 1st down to run from I-Formation through the middle, the opponents defense "play" is based on a line in his playbook (if there is such a line or playbook) which does look on the game situation and selects a rule which fits this, if available including the I-Formation.
That rule has a pre-defined expectation and based on this and eventually already learned behaviour in this quarter the defense does line up.
If the defense did line up with "run" in mind, that offense play might get stuffed on the line of scrimmage or after short yardage, but based on calculations can result in good gains.
If the defense did line up with "pass" in mind, the run will very likely result in a bigger gain (compared to a “run” setup, but maybe not, depended on the calculation happening. Chances are just higher for a big gain.
If the defense has no real clue it will lean on the pre-defined expectation in the playbook.
So to create the best results it would be good to "know" prior the game, which formation you will face and what they do.
The offense can try to "exploit" weak defense setups, while the defense can try to "exploit" regular happening plays with the right formation and expectation.
That’s it and at the same time the start of all problems.

It might sound too easy, but basically it comes down to this:
Try to find the weaknesses of your opponent and get the best result possible out of this.

The Problem
Both teams will in best case change their playbooks based on their scouting results and on gamedays will then eventually something totally different happen.
It's like a cloak and dagger game, with both teams not really knowing what's coming and both teams guessing how to play and how to react.
And even if both teams KNOW what will happen in terms of formation and play type, the calculations can still work in favour of the offense or defense.

The surprising truth is, that a simple short playbook is not necessarily inferior to a complex multi-hundreds of lines playbook.
Simple playbooks might have spots which can be attacked easily, but they can also be changed quickly, while a complex playbook is more or less a monolith hard to change and also hard to attack, but eventually not fit against THAT specific opponent.

Regardless of the approach it’s always best to put the best players on the field, which can even result into an advantage on the field so big that the opponent can’t match that, even if he knows what’s coming or what’s going to happen.

Run vs Pass
For a good part of the last seasons it looked like it is easier to pass than to run. Now it seems that a pass can become easier a turnover.
The game engine is constantly adjusted and playbooks which worked seasons ago do now eventually not work the same way.
Still, passing is still THE BIG THING and it has a lot of benefits.
The most important one is that a "pass" play (not a fixed pass medium or long one) will aim for a first down, while a run will have to work its way through the line, the linebackers and defensive back field to eventually getting the first down.
It's easier to get that first down with ONE play passing than running.

The “Pass”-option
Because it fit here, a short explanation to "pass" as an option
The option "Pass" includes all sort of pass plays, depended on the yardage needed for a first down.
That means screen, short, medium and deep.
The difference between option "pass" and the two options "pass medium" and "pass deep" as predefined options is, that "pass" will used the range needed for a first down, while the other two will fix the attack on that particular pass plays.
So if the yardage needed for a first down are high enough the "pass" will also become a medium or deep pass, with all the consequences on yards and turnovers.
You can't switch that off!
On the other hand, most downs need a distance under 10 yards, which does result in a short pass, which is a quite save option.

The possible description you will find in the game reports and their translations for distances are

yards gainedpass play
negative yardsscreen pass
0-10short pass
10-20medium pass
20+deep pass

The run on the other hand does allow a better ball security.
Nothing is more frustrating than having scored the leading TD and stopped the opponent and then throwing an interception for a pick six to the house to tie the game or even getting up front.
Fumbles do happen also, but not that often.
If you think about using "pass medium" or "pass long", be aware that both plays have a tendency to turn the ball over more often than the regular "pass" play.
That turnover rate is such high that some managers do not use those plays as predefined play at all.

In general is rushing a bit better for low skilled teams against low skilled teams, because the rushing calculation is not that complicated and there are not many players involved.
Snap - Center to QB
Handover - QB to RB/FB
Block calculation - 5 OLs vs 3 to 5 DL
Blitz calculation
Running vs DL
Running vs Backfield

On the other hand is passing loaded with calculations
Snap - Center to QB
Receiver Selection
Block calculation - 5 OLs vs 3 to 5 DL
Blitz calculation
Coverage calculation - WR vs CB or OLB
Catching calculation
Interception calculation
Run calculation, based on the point of catching and the remaining backfield

On almost every point of those calculation can something bad happen and you have to get through all this to get a good run or pass.
With low skills, the chance to have something bad happening is higher on passing, since more calculations do happen.
With higher skills the chance are high you go through the first few calculation without a big chance of anything bad happens.
At that point the overall results get more weight, meaning that a successful run is in general shorter than a successful pass in average and you need less successful plays for a first down on passing than on rushing.

That's more or less my take in this, but the calculation part is more or less a high level explanation of Peter a while back, so the engine will very likely do something like that.

That means also that it's important to have the formations in order.
A 5 men defense front should have better results against the o line than a 4 men or even 3 men front.
A 3 men defense back field will help in some cases the offense quite significant, when the first tackle attempt fails and only green is between the WR and the goalline.

In generall you can say the formations are used this way:

pass happy -> run happy
Shotgun 4 WR
Singleback Spread
Singleback Big
Shotgun 2 WR
Pro set
Big I formation
Goalline O

against pass -> against rush
Dime 4DL MLB 4CB 2SF
Goalline D

That’s also my take, but the overall direction should be valid.

Strategies on Offense
Based on the defense expectation behaviour one solution could be an almost scripted playbook.
Like 5 times run from one formation and then 5 - 10 times pass from the same formation
The effect would be that the opponents defense would initially maybe expect run right away or would switch to run after a few play and if then pass does happen, it will take some time to switch back again, which should help to gain some yards.
Problem with that is, there is no counter to configure rules with, so all you could do is to think about a start and configure a switching point when it is best or best possible.
Could be yards to go, could be field position or could be time to play.
Keep in mind that a defense will learn again eventually with every quarter change, so those confusion should better start in the same quarter and you better set up new confusing plays for each quarter.

If you know the substitution rules of your opponent you might try to create mismatches, as long as the starting formation is on the field.
That is of course a major influence from depth chart and substitution rules, but the selected plays do come from the playbook.
You might set up you best WR on the right to get him covered by the second best CB of the opponent and pass right more often.
Or you know the LBs are not the best and you do pass middle and your super TE does his star player thing all day long.

Also a good strategy could be to have several playbooks available eventually doing the same playcalling in terms of rules and priorities, but all do differ in run and pass or in formations or just in certain situations.
The basic idea is, that the more different formations and plays you do give your future opponents to analyse, the less they can scout you for your next game. The opponent would have to either setup some kind of generic defense or he has to guess which play calling might happen most likely and with more playbooks to choose from, the less are the chances to have that guess done right.

Strategies on defense
A major decision you will have to make is whether you like to have a rule for every formation per game, half or quarter.
Because the engine will work with what's defined, a rule per quarter will mean, the engine will start learning, again, each quarter.
Same for the half and for the game.
So if you did setup just a rule for the game, the opponent might bring you off guard when switching plays from run to pass on certain formation in second half or fourth quarter.
Because if your defenses learned to defend pass in the majority on that formation and the opponent starts running, it might take some time to switch to run defense.
Maybe too much time is needed for that and you will see your defense allowing huge yardage gains until the game is over.
A rule per Quarter will mean the team will reset and starts learning from scratch and might switch to run defense much faster even if the playbook still said pass as starting point.
On the other hand will a very well learned defense against a quite static offense get the best results probably later in the game and a reset might destroy the learned results.
Tough choice, but most managers do set up rules for each quarter.

The major problem on defense in general is, that it will always react and it will learn, but will not get smart.
If the team did play pass from I-formation all day long the defense will expect more often pass from I-formation later in the game, but it will not get smart enough to expect a run on 3 and short from I-formation, if you did not setup a rule for that. A coach on the sideline would expect such a thing, the engine will decide based on the playbook rules and the learned behaviour.
The defense will just remember pass for that I-formation play in that example and will line up that way, probably to get run over.
It will also not play better against pass later in the game even if the prediction is right, compared to an earlier right predicted play.
The calculation will happen the same way and the players stats will decide the outcome.
For example does a 5-3-3 tend to be quite weak against the pass and also against the run it can happen that you get big plays on offense against such a formation.
So if you do setup this defense against run in the opponents half and the engine does his thing, it can happen that no players is available to make the tackle after the first try.
This can result in 80+ yards TD plays, which is the reason some managers do use that run stuffer defense only in their own half or even own red zone.
Most extreme defense formation is the goalline defense which you better consider as such.
There is a huge potential to get beaten on that defense if you use it mid field, but if there is not much room to lose to the endzone, the goalline defense might be you friend to stop the opponent from scoring.

Many managers do keep the defense easy and try to cover only extreme situations with extra rules, like goalline plays, long distance downs with 20+ yards or 3rd down situation with 7+ or even 10+ yards. Some even skip those special rules. It’s always a question of time and effort.

Strategies on special teams
This is more about the when-to-use-special-teams, then what to do with them.
Because special teams do just happen. You will setup a K, a P, some G, some KR and some special team blockers and tacklers on depth chart and from that point on you will just call plays, when needed or rules do demand them (like Kickoffs).
But you better think about it when to use special team plays.
When to punt and when to kick a field goal?
General rule is to punt on fourth down, since if you did not punt and you did not made that first down on 4th down, the opponent will get the ball right at the spot of the last tackle, which could be deep inside your territory.
So punt is better, great. You can set that one up on game settings are as a generic line inside the playbook.
But should you always punt?
Of course not.
It's obvious you don't need to punt on your opponents 1 yard line, right in front of the endzone, right?
4th and goal on the 1, you can decide to go for it as a play and you might turn the ball over or you might decide to kick a Field Goal, but you will for sure not punt.
But where is the best area to do this?
After a while you will get a feeling for the distance your punter can punt.
30 yards, 40 yards or even more.
Let’s assume 40 yards.
He will punt 7 yards from the line of scrimmage, so if you don't want a touchback, everything closer to the goalline than a line of scrimmage at the opponents 33 would be dumb.
That would also be a 50 yard FG try.
Is you kicker good enough for that?
And right here you have that tiny area for special rules.
4th and something on the 34 yard line? Punt?
No, chances are good it will result in a touchback.
No, the Kicker is not good enough.
So go for it?
Your decision.
But it looks like it would make sense here.
Just to give you a feeling, a good punter can really punt the ball in average 40+ yards, the not so good ones do punt shorter. A good Kicker CAN make a 56+ yard FG, but can also miss and if you try this often, the good ones will sink those more often than the bad ones.
Of course such rules do also have to consider leading and being behind situation.
It doesn't make sense to kick a FG while losing by 4+ points in the last minute. Better try for a TD and get the tie or the win.
That brings up another extreme situation for special teams.
This is based on the special time management of RZA.
It happens not often that a team makes a TD with one play left in the game or the half, if they are mid field or even longer away from the goalline.
So if you are near enough the opponents goal line and there are just a few seconds left in the half, kick a FG. Even 60+ yard tries can score, sometimes.
But avoid a too long try, because if you miss, the opponent will get the ball 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage and then they might try a FG on their own, if enough time is left.
60 yards would mean a try from the 43 yard line as line of scrimmage and the opponent would get the ball mid field.
That sounds OK, since he would have to make a 67 yard FG then.
But if you try a 67 yarder on your own, it's not unlikely the opponent will sink that 60 yarder later.
So think about it.
Still a rule for such a situation is a good thing and with 30 seconds to go this sounds like a good starting point.
But you will have to accept the risk of a potential return TD or a one-play-score after the return. Doesn't happen often, but CAN happen.
Same for the end of the game, but with a lot more options.
This is the most important phase of the game and you should have rules for that.
Leading and in scoring distance with still some time on the clock on fourth down?
Kick a FG and let the opponent crawl over the whole field again, now even more points behind.
Or you decide to go for it, in that situation, aiming for the first down. Your decision, but you better have a rule for it, and in case for going for it, you might better run instead of passing and potential interceptions.
Having a tie and a few seconds to go?
Kick a FG and win the game!
Being just 1 to 3 points behind and near enough to kick a FG with time is running out?
Kick a FG for the win or the tie.
Being behind even more?
Get desperate and go for the long distance, you have nothing to lose.
Think about it and make a rule for that.
Sometimes a few lines are enough.
Remember that there are not many plays inside a minute game time to play, so if time is running low and it gets crucial, like 30 seconds left, and you have the chance to win a game by FG, make it, you don't get extra bonus points for scoring a TD with 7 seconds to go.
In one game those 7 seconds are left to score the TD, in the next not and you lose because of a missing rule.
Of course you could also decide to go for it in those situations and you might even outplay your opponents and surprise them.
Just make sure you did think about it and did cover the situation. The real implemented play is your decision of course.
Worst case is, that there is not such a rule and the engine picks either a generic rules or even worse, gets creative.

Over the top
If you really like to sink a lot of time into that playbook thing, do a review of your game and analyse every play, every game.
Did some player make something you didn't like to see or didn't want to see?
Set up a rule for the next game to avoid that, regardless of offense of defense.

You can also try to analyse the opponent’s plays and try to find the rules behind them.
You need to analyse very likely several games (sometimes a lot) and the results are not always clear, still you might get a clue what the opponent has configured in certain situations or how he does set up a playbook in general.
That takes time and energy.
The problem is, the every extra inch you might want to achieve might cost you literately hours of time.
Up to you.

AC Bonus
If you do think about formations and when to use them, don’t forget the ACs.
If you want to use a special formation, look if there is an alternative and s e l e c t that formation which gives you the best bonus.
If you don’t have an AC for SFs, but for CBs, better use a CB heavy formation than a SF heavy formation.
If you have an AC for RBs but not for FBs, better use a RB formation than a FB formation.
Of course it might make sense to NOT use those formations, to confuse or to have the best fitting formations which is at that time not the formation with the most AC support, but overall it’s clear that you will get better results, if the individual players are supported the most, instead of being not supported at all.

Special Formations
It’s common mem that on offense the 2 shotgun formations are the ultimate passing formations.
Not because the WRs are hotter, just because the FB playing as extra blocker does have a very high percentage rate of picking up the blitz, while on other formations the QB gets decked more often.
It’s not 100% of the blitzes, but a quite high rate.
That is of course a gigantic plus compared to other formations, since you can almost never get a big minus yardage play that way.
On the other hand is then the run out of those formations quite successful, since many do expect pass out of them.
That’s the reason you see a lot of shotgun plays from Elite level teams and level 1 contenders.

The pure pass defending formations are 3-1-7, Dime 4DL MLB 4CB 2SF and the 3-3-5, but usually you don’t see them very often, since they are very weak against the run and you never know what’s happening.
So they are usually just used for the sure-to-defend-pass situations like 3rd and a mile or special scouted plays.
But be aware that the engine is changing and the strength of the formations might change.

The balanced defences are the formations 3-4-4, 4-4-3 and 4-3-4, which can defend against both pass and rush. The managers do like some or all of them with favouring one or two over the rest.
Some see the 3-4-4 better against pass, some see it as the outside run stopper. Some see the 4-4-3 better against the run than the 4-3-4, some the opposite. Keep in mind that the formations do live and die with your players, so if your LB squad is better than your defensive backfield, better use 4 LB than 4 DBs as general advice.
The 4 LB sets are often used as blitzing formations, since then still 3 LB are left in the mix.

The pure run defences are 5-3-3, 5-2 and the goalline. Here is all valid as for the pure passing formations, just with runs. If used in a right way, they will stop the run quite good, but in passing situations they can be burned.
Only the 5-3-3 has some limited qualities on stopping the pass and you can even survive an extensive usage of it against pass, if you have the right players.
The 5-2 has no OLB, so you might get burned on outside runs, but it is normally good against inside run. Short passes are not good defended, but long ones can be stopped quite successfully. But not many long ones are thrown, so think about it.
The goalline has basically no real backfield but works good in short yardage situation and you are sure the team will run or the remaining field is not very deep.
All 3 formations are prone to big play TDs, since once a tackle is broken on a pass play, usually there are not many players left to make the tackle, especially if you did bring an additional blitzer.

That’s it for now. This topic is far from exhausted, but for now I’m.
If you have suggestion and topics on playbooks I should add, let me know, we can discuss the issues and see what can be used.
I hope this helps you to create a better playbook or at least a good first one.

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