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The Importance Of Scheme, Talent And Execution

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When people discuss scheme, talent and execution, we often hear the phrase or meme..."It is all about execution." But is it really all about execution?

Being in the right place.
Being in the right place.
Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

To start our conversation let's define scheme. Scheme includes the system that you use, such as the options on defense like using a 4-3 or 3-4, one-gap or two-gap, man, zone, or a mix of coverages, and other nuances.

On offense the choices can be things like using a route-tree or Earheart-Perkins style, and if they are going to be mostly a zone-blocking or power-blocking team or a combination of both. There are lots of other nuances that determine what kind of offense a team runs, as was explained in this article I wrote back in August of last year.

The most misused or misunderstood concept or word is "execution." Some people mistakenly think that if you execute perfectly on every play, then you will score on every play. Myself and some of my fellow FPW's discussed what the proper definition of execution should be since there seems to be a lack of one on the great world wide web as it pertains to football. All of the sites that had terminology definitions that I could find did not have 'execution' as one of them.

One of the best quotes I found was this one....

"Following a Tampa Bay Buccaneers loss in their early seasons, Coach John McKay was asked what he thought of his team's "execution." He replied, "I'm all for it."

When we are talking about execution, we are talking about two things: first, the individual player's execution and second, the execution by the team. When coaches are talking about execution, they mean did the play work as designed based upon the players "carrying out" or executing their assignments. You can have most of the players executing well enough that the play works as designed or desired, even if some of the players did not execute very well, perhaps because they were far enough away that they could not, and did not, affect the outcome of the play.

Just what part does scheme, talent, and play-calling have in the overall success of a play or game plan?

Let's start with defining execution. I posed the idea of defining it to my fellow FPWs and here is how the definition evolved:

First my attempt at a definition:

"The ability for a player to carry out his assignment as defined for a given play."

Next a refinement by O.C.C.:

"The ability for a player to carry out his assignment as defined for a given play and putting his team in a position to successfully complete the play."

And now for some great comments from neithan20000:
"...every play has a purpose, and that purpose isn't always to score.  It could be to pick up X yards, or even to set up a future play.  Execution for the individual means winning their particular assignment regardless of what happens on the play, execution for the team means the play achieved its purpose regardless of what happens with the individuals."
My reply....
"Down and Distance."
And from O.C.C.
"Here's my overall logic in terms of execution:

Every offensive play is intrinsically designed to be successful at achieving a specific objective (1st down, 5-yard gain, 4th and 1 conversion, whatever).

When an offense or an offensive player achieves the desired objective with the designed play, they executed effectively.

The defense's primary job is to stop the offense from executing effectively."
And now armed with that final definition of execution we can put into perspective where talent, scheme and play-calling comes into play.

For me it is readily apparent that all teams execute at a high level (the best of the best) and since they all run essentially the same basic plays, the area where the most improvement comes in is in the area of game-planning and scheme. I think we can all see the part that calling the right play can be (three runs with Marshawn Lynch, instead of a pass in the middle of the field where it can be deflected or intercepted).

To me that play call was just as important as the execution, since several of the talking heads pointed out that the receiver and the quarterback executed the play as it was designed (but it did not achieve the desired result). Imagine if the quarterback had thrown the ball a little later than was designed, say slightly behind him, and the defender would not have been able to get to the ball, but the receiver may have.

And as Rabblerousr pointed out..
"We too often judge the process by the result."
Now many can rightly point out that if the play doesn't succeed, then perhaps they didn't execute properly. It could be said that the defensive back did a better job of executing his assignment, but if the play was not executed correctly, then the defensive back may not have been able to get to the ball....hmmmm.

Since football I.Q. and talent levels differ, we can see that a guy that has more speed can jump the route, while a guy that is bigger and stronger can defeat the other player that perhaps is very good at using the proper technique and doing his assignment as designed but is just not as physically gifted.

Can we blame the slower guy for not doing his job if he is just not physically capable of keeping up with a faster guy or defeating a defensive tackle with a running back? Can asking a running back to pick up a guy like J.J. Watt be the problem (play call) as opposed to the running back not being capable of executing the assignment?

After a loss coaches may blame the loss on the players by saying they did not execute. The players will complain that the coaches did not have a good game plan or did not call enough good plays based on talent matchups.

So, are the play-calling, scheme and talent (including all the measurables) just as important as execution? Perhaps those other factors are just as important because they allow a team or player to do a better job of executing?

What do you say, BTB readers?