3 Ways for the Secondary to Decode the Offense

Playing defensive back involves a wide array of physical skills, but none of those skills will be worth anything unless you can embrace the mental side of the game. Having a strong understanding of what the offense is trying to do is crucial to you becoming a playmaker on the field. With that said, here are three basic but important ways that you can determine what the offense is trying to do.


Obviously, people are the most important currency in football. Every team has players who fulfill a role. Offenses have playmakers and intelligent coaches who try to get the ball to those players. It is important to locate the playmakers on the offense. Through film study, you can learn how they do that. Do they move their playmakers around? If so, you can get a bead on what plays they run by where the playmakers line up. On a simple level, some teams bring in more wide receivers when they want to pass and more tight ends when they want to run. Some teams make use of a third-down back. Study film to determine what plays they run when he’s in the game. Other teams will use things like an extra tight end or a fullback when they want to be powerful or tricky with play action. Make it a point to study those things. Always make a note of who is in the game.


Some teams use a variety of formations. Study the formations to determine what plays they like to run from them. Some teams will run the same plays over and over while using different formations to confuse you. You can determine that from film study.

The more formations a team runs, the fewer plays they are able to run. There’s only so much that a team can learn and execute well. As you are watching film, pay close attention to the plays and concepts that are being run from each formation. Oftentimes you will notice that the concepts are the same. For instance, a play run by a team from their trips formation is very similar to the play they run when they’re in a 2×2 formation.

Offenses also have favorite plays in their formations. If you can hone in on the handful of popular plays from each formation, you can put yourself in a position to make a big play with anticipation. Take notes as you study film regarding their top plays in each formation.

Down and Distance

The name of the game is to advance the ball down the field towards the end zone. To do this, offenses must get first downs. With this in mind, down and distance are very important to the offense. We don’t see fullback dives on third and 10, right? That tells you that the down and distance is important.

As you watch film, be sure to notice what your opponent likes in certain downs and distances. Add to that what they do when they are in certain parts of the field. The plays that get called on certain downs and distances are different when they are on their own 20-yard line as opposed to midfield.

Third downs are very crucial to the offense. In most situations, that is the last down they have to get a first down before they must punt or attempt a field goal. Offenses tend to rely on a small number of plays in these crucial situations. Do your best to determine what those plays are. Having a firm knowledge of this can put you in a position to make a big play in a crucial moment.

Putting it All Together

Using these three important things—personnel, formations, and down and distance—can give you major clues into what is coming before the ball is snapped. Having quick reaction skills as a defensive back is important, but there is no substitute for the power of anticipation. Your ability to anticipate will be developed through your careful film study. Through these three components outlined in this article, you can begin to uncover how the offense attacks. Having a firm understanding of this will give you the ability to know what’s coming. There are few things better in life than knowing what’s going to happen before it does. Being able to do this on a football field will make you a star.

I go more in-depth on film study and uncovering what offenses do in the All Eyes DB Camp members area. If you play or coach defensive back, it’s definitely worthwhile for you to join. For more info, click here.

Author: Chad Wilson

Chad Wilson is the owner of All Eyes DB Camp and author of "101 DB Tips". He played college football at the University of Miami and briefly in the NFL for the Seattle Seahawks. Over his 15 year high school football coaching career, he tutored over a dozen Division I defensive backs and as a trainer has worked with NFL All Pros, first round draft picks, college football All Americans and Top 10 ranked high school football prospects.

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