FAB 3. Arians’ Approach To Game-Planning
Bucs head coach Bruce Arians believes it’s critical to get his quarterback into rhythm early in games, but his approach is decidedly different from that of TV commentators who suggest that quarterbacks should get into rhythm early in the game with simple throws, such as check downs to running backs or quick outs or curls to wide receivers. Arians explained his philosophy on scripting plays in his autobiography, “The Quarterback Whisperer.”
“Some TV analysts will say that’s it’s always good to start the game with an easy throw – such as a wide receiver screen – to give a quarterback confidence. I don’t buy that. I want my quarterback to execute his favorite plays early in the game, no matter how difficult the throws may be. If it’s a bomb, then we’re calling a bomb on the first play. If it’s a play-action pass, then we’re calling that. The idea is to make your quarterback comfortable, and the best way to do that is to run his favorite plays.”
Arians meets with his quarterback to select his favorite plays from the week in practice and incorporates those into a script of the first 30 plays to open a game.
“Coaches have been scripting the opening plays of games since Bill Walsh started doing that in the late 1970s. Bill’s sheet had fifteen plays on it. I script the first thirty. In those plays I try to get each guy involved. I want our running backs to have a few carries and begin to get a feel for the game. I want all of our wide receivers to have a chance to make a catch or two. The earlier your best players are engaged in the game, the better they’ll generally play for the remainder of it. That’s why the first thirty offensive plays are so extremely important.”
With Byron Leftwich calling the plays this year as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator, he will be meeting with Arians and quarterback Jameis Winston to formulate the game plan and helping to script the first 30 plays after watching plenty of film with both men.
“The most important part of my week happens on Thursday mornings. Alone in my office, I’ll analyze every morsel, every bit of information at my disposal. This can take hours, but I think games can be won and lost during this time. I’ll come up with my top thirty offensive plays that I’ll want to run in the game. I’ll then write them on our big whiteboard in the main coaches’ conference room. I’ll always get this done by late afternoon.”
“Friday practices are dedicated to short-yardage situations and goal line plays with blitzes. After practice the quarterbacks and I will head back into our conference room with the whiteboard. I pick the first fifteen running plays we’ll call in the game, but I leave it to our starting quarterback to select the first fifteen pass plays.”
This is the type of ownership that Arians wants his starting quarterback to have in the game plan. It was that way in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger, in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck and most recently in Arizona with Carson Palmer.
“I want my quarterback to feel – to believe – he’s got a key role in shaping the game plan. I also want to raise his level of accountability. … “I’ve always believed that the quarterback needs to run the show, not the offensive coordinator or head coach. When I’d had special quarterbacks in the past – most notably Peyton in Indy and Ben in Pittsburgh – we’d enjoy great success operating out of the no-huddle offense. To make this work, though, the quarterback needs to understand the offense as thoroughly as the coaching staff does.”
Winston has thrived in an up-tempo, no-huddle attack before in Dirk Koetter’s offense, and don’t be surprised to see Arians and Leftwich incorporate that as well, as soon as Winston fully digests the playbook and becomes comfortable with all of the ins and outs of the offensive scheme.
In his “The Quarterback Whisperer” book, Arians recalled taking over as the Colts’ interim head coach after Chuck Pagano contracted leukemia in 2012. Indianapolis was set to play Green Bay in Arians first game replacing Pagano, and quickly fell behind at home 21-3 at halftime before rallying for a 30-27 victory. Arians put Luck, his rookie quarterback, in a no-huddle offense that day and had him pass the ball 55 times. Luck completed 13 passes for 212 yards to Reggie Wayne, including the game-winning touchdown with 39 seconds left.
“During the week I told Andrew just to let it rip during the game. I encouraged him to take chances because I felt we needed to make big plays to have a chance at pulling off the upset against the Packers. And when I told him we were going to play fast and go no-huddle, his eyes lit up like neon signs in Times Square – the exact response I wanted.”
This has to be music to Winston’s ears.