In 1992, there was no Internet, no YouTube, no Facebook, no GIFs shared on Twitter, no
sideline laptops. Scouting an opponent was done by studying a game, live and in-person or by
studying VHS game film. My job description, as defensive coordinator of an AAU-style, 22-under
summer team in 1992 was the same as my high school head coach job in the fall â€“ stop the run.
Until 1992, we defended the same opponent every week â€“ run first, run second, pass third.Â The
only difference was helmet logo and jersey design â€“ every opponent dressed differently but
looked exactly the same… until game 5 in 1992. Hereâ€™s what culture shock looked like then:
500-plus total offensive yards and a 2:1 pass-run ratio. Our opponentâ€™s previous weekâ€™s stat
sheet featured an upside-down pass-run ratio that turned the league upside down â€“ 67% of
their plays called were passes, 33% run. And, 67% of their yards were in the air, only 33% on the
ground. This team re-defined â€œbalanceâ€: 2:1 pass-run play-call ratio, and 2:1 pass yards-run
Game 5 was our first time defending a 2:1 pass-run ratio. Our undefeated opponent was in the
process of slaughtering a high-performance league with a run & shoot offense, bombing
through the air and on the ground. They were a pass-first team. And pass-second team, but
they could run at will. Yet, they were labeled a â€œfinesseâ€ team by our coaches and players â€“
â€œsoft.â€ We bashed them at practice, meetings, and during film study. I encouraged it. The â€œsoft,
finesseâ€ label was our reaction to what we didnâ€™t believe in â€“ pass first, pass second, run third.
We bashed them because they threatened our perceived sanctity of the game. If you didnâ€™t play
â€œsmashmouthâ€ football, you werenâ€™t a real football team. But, our bashing stopped after we
studied them on film. Studying their film taught me lessons in the science of coordinating a
A true, balanced offensive attack is not defined by numbers. A true, balanced attack is defined
by will and capacity, the potential to pound you equally in the air and on the ground. A 50-50
split on the stat sheet is not direct evidence of a balanced offense. A 50-50 split is only
circumstantial evidence of a balanced attack. A 50-50 split in pass-run plays called, is not the
main, direct evidence that youâ€™re going to face a balanced attack. The main evidence is what
they can do in the air and on the ground if you donâ€™t stop them. A true, balanced attack is the
outcome â€“ yards gained and points scored by the equal power of air game and ground game.
When the opponent shows the will and capacity to pound your defense into the ground by air
or ground, youâ€™re facing a balanced attack.
One element of a great offense is defensive weakness and ineptitude. A bad defense makes an
offense look good. A weak defense makes an offense look stronger than it is. The worse the
defense, the better the offense looks. The defense that allowed the 500-plus yards on the film I
was studying, weakened physically and psychologically because they couldnâ€™t keep up. They
couldnâ€™t stand up to a fast-paced, pass-first offense because they were in worse shape than
their opponent. Opposing strengths and weaknesses work together as a team. Mediocre
defenses donâ€™t just get physically pushed around. They get psychologically pushed around as
well. Getting pushed around in body, mind, and soul manifests in the inability to stop the
strength of the opposing offense. If your defense cannot build its strengths to match and
exceed the opponentâ€™s strengths, their offense will look like images in your side-view car mirror
do: closer, bigger, and faster than they really are.
Defenses donâ€™t win championships. They contribute to championships but they donâ€™t win
championships alone. â€œGreat defenseâ€ is an abstract concept, open to wide-ranging
interpretation. â€œGreat defenseâ€ is the product of a complex mixture of high-performance on
defense and low-performance on offense. Winning championships takes high-performance on
offense and special teams.
Pass-first, pass-second teams are more dangerous than run-first, run-second teams because
they use the entire field and the entire offensive unit. They challenge your fitness level,
physically and psychologically. They do more than spread your defense. They force your
defense to play at higher levels, literally and figuratively. â€œHigher levelsâ€ has a dual meaning â€“
higher performance level and a higher geographic level on the defense â€“ downfield.Â We call
downfield our â€œoutfield.â€ Spread offenses create your outfield. Run-oriented teams donâ€™t. They
play in the infield. Spread offenses force you to cover the outfield to make big hits before the
offense does. Run-first, run-second offenses make your outfield complacent by teaching your
outfielders to play as infielders. Playing the outfield is more than chasing the long ball. Playing
the outfield is taking away the run at the highest level. If your secondary doesnâ€™t change its
mindset against a spread, pass-first, pass-second team, they will only cover deep â€œgroundâ€ and
never cover the opposing â€œgroundâ€ game. Spread offenses re-define â€œground & poundâ€ by
moving the ground game to the highest level. When they ground and pound you deep, they will
ground & pound you short. Essentially, spread offenses create a multi-level ground & pound
game. If your defense cannot physically and mentally handle multi-levels of ground & pound,
your defense will get pounded into the ground. If they can handle it, it will force the spread
offense to change its multi-level approach by abandoning the outfield and sticking to the
infield. The moment you change a spread offenseâ€™s mindset, you change their character.
Change their character and they become someone they donâ€™t recognize. When a spread
offense loses their identity, they lose their true self, self-confidence, and the game.
During my 15-year police career between 1975-1990, I learned the difference between zone-
policing and district policing. I realized that the same principle applied to defending a spread
offense â€“ change zones to districts, creating freedom within a geographic area. Instead of one
player manning a zone, several players man a district. The key to stopping our first spread
offense opponent in 1992 was separating the field into districts â€“ a defensive strategy that
pounded and grounded our opponent, holding them to only 234 total yards and 13 points in
our 28-13 win.
There was no email, no websites, no screen communication in 1992. So I interviewed the top
minds in run-and-shoot philosophy â€“ by ancient landline telephone. They gave me a crash-
course in how to dismantle a defense regardless of how tough they thought they were. My job
was to find a way to not let it happen to us. They taught me how to think differently about
moving the ball, gaining yards, about bashing and gashing offensively on the ground despite the
label of a â€œpass-happy offense that couldnâ€™t cut it on the ground.â€
I had made the mistake of participating in and encouraging off-field bashing of our upcoming
opponent. Believing if you didnâ€™t ground and pound, you were soft. If you shook the Football
Establishmentâ€™s unwritten rules of winning in the trenches, you were an outsider, an unworthy
foreigner who represented a threat to mainstream thinking. If you didnâ€™t play like us, you were
disrespecting the sport. But all this rhetoric was just a manifestation of bulging F.A.T. â€“ fear,
anxiety, tension â€“ grown through the unknown â€“ we had no idea how to stop them. And it was
us who were disrespecting the sport by bashing a foreign system that was working and working
harder than we were.
By the end of my film study, I had changed my perspective. No more off-field bashing. Bash
them on the field. No free passes, no free releases. No box. No distinction between run defense
and pass defense. No difference in pressure. No such thing as blitzing the pass. We blitzed the
play, pass or run. Our interior linemen were expected to drop into coverage. We reduced and
minimized the number of dual responsibility players. We pressured the backfield not just the
quarterback. We re-defined and re-structured the concept of pressuring the backfield by adding
it to our pursuit-angles curriculum. We stopped differentiating between rushing the backfield
and pursuit angles. They were the same.
Research is only as good as its relevance. One week was not enough to change our system. We
added to it instead, without ripping out the heart and soul of our SWAT Defense. We learned to
embrace every style of offense because the greater the diversity in opposing offensive systems,
the stronger our system grew.
Our first spread opponent played by the rules but they used formations we had never seen
before. The used the field in ways weâ€™d never seen before. They distributed the ball like weâ€™d
never seen before. They played at a tempo that we had never played at before.
Twenty-four years ago, we were blessed to face a spread offense so different that it scared us
into changing, not through subtraction but through addition. Thinking straight under pressure
doesnâ€™t just happen. Nothing just happens. It takes life-long learning and practical experience.
Blunt Talk Podcast is committed to coaching higher education and higher performance â€“ with
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Blessings & all good things.
Gino Arcaro M.Ed., B.Sc., Level 3 NCCP (Natâ€™l Coaching Certification Program)
Head coach â€“ Niagara X-men football
Owner – X Fitness Inc.
Host – BLUNT TALK PODCAST http://blunttalk.libsyn.com/
Gino Arcaro is a widely published author. His website, blog, Youtube channel, and list of SWAT
FOOTBALL Books are at: www.ginoarcaro.com
His books include:
4th & hell: seasons 1 and 2, Soul of a Lifter, SWAT Offense, SWAT Defense, SWAT Tackling Video
& e-book,Â X Fitness Workout System, and a 3 business book series called Soul of an
He also has written 20 editions of 6 law enforcement academic textbooks. A new 8-volume
interrogation book series will be released in 2014. And just released, a new childrenâ€™s book
called â€œBE FIT â€“ DONâ€™T QUIT.â€ The first stage of his new Blunt Talk e-books is now for sale. His
latest book on human potential called â€œHashtag Peaceâ€ is at the editing stage. He is writing
three other non-fiction novels book called The Mystery of Murder: Working with the dead,
Midnight Shift from hell, and Another Bar Fight.
His SWAT FOOTBALL BOOKS are at: