How To Watch & Breakdown Football Film

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Understanding how to break down film and game plans is one of the most important skills that any football coach can have.

Unfortunately, most coaches will watch football films like a fan. Studying only the big plays and not looking at the intricate details of each player.

How To Breakdown Practice Film

First, if you’re not filming your practices, you need to.

It doesn’t need to be high-quality film, you can use your phone, or an old iPad, or even buy a cheap $60 camera off Amazon.

Regardless you should always film your practices, that way you can see what you may have missed during the live practice. This also allows you to get more reps in during practice, as you’re not micro-coaching every small fault.

In addition, players often learn better through visual examples. If you film your practices, you’re able to show your player exactly what they missed and talk through their faults.

Practice films should be filmed in segments. We recommend having 3 different practice types:

  • Individual periods – this is the phase where you can slow things down for the player and teach them the raw fundamentals.
  • Group periods – Start to introduce the technique in a semi-live scenario, where players can start to get a feel for what they learned during the individual period. A good example of this is 1/2 line drills with offensive/defensive linemen or 2/3 man coverage drills with wide receivers and defensive backs.
  • Full team periods – Use these live scenarios to replicate exactly what you want to see on game day.

When you’re breaking down practice film, every step, hand placement, and alignment matters.

If it doesn’t look good in the individual periods, it won’t look good during group and team periods. This allows you to correct it when watching the film with your players.

How To Breakdown Game Film

Breaking down game films can be extremely overwhelming if you do not know what you’re looking for.

We’re going to take a look at offensive game film breakdown and defensive game film breakdown.

Breaking Down The Opponent’s Offense

Football is a game of tendencies. Good coaches are aware of their tendencies and try to break them every game. However, a good amount of coaches do not self-scout, so we can take advantage of both player and coaching tendencies.

If you use Hudl, it’s extremely easy to see your opponent’s tendencies through data. I did a whole video for Hudl breaking down how to use their system here.

Down & Distance

When watching the film, the first thing you should look at is the opponent’s tendency to certain down and distances. Look at:

  • 1st & 10
  • 2nd and Long/Medium/Short
  • 3rd and Long/Medium/Short
  • 4th and Long/Medium Short

Accumulate data on how the opposing coach is handling these situations. Are they super pass-heavy on certain downs and run-heavy on others?

Formation Tendencies

Formations are one of the biggest tendency tip-offs in football.

Remember, offenses are similar to an orchestra. Everything is timed up to hit perfectly. If something disrupts the offense’s timing or structure, the defense typically will win that down.

When you’re entering information about the opponent’s offensive formations, make sure your entire staff knows what you’re calling each formation. For instance, if we get a 2×2 set with a pistol back, our staff knows that we call it “Pistol Deuces”. Universal language helps us all identify formations on the fly.

Once you have labeled all of the opposing team’s formations, start to look at:

  • Run or pass tendencies from that formation
  • Types of plays that are run from that formation
  • Direction the play
  • Do they run the play to the field or boundary?

If you spot any tendencies in certain formations, teach your players what to expect when they come out in that formation.

Play Tendencies

Once you spot formational tendencies, start to hone in on what plays are run from that formation.

This will give you a clearer picture of what defenses to call, against those formations.

For example, if the team you’re playing only throws the ball when they line up in a spread formation, it might be advantageous to drop 8 players into coverage.

Similarly, if you notice that the other team struggles against the blitz on 3rd down, mark it down as an area to be aggressive in.

Player Tendencies

The last thing to look at is player tendencies. Remember, players are chess pieces in the game of football. They are a direct reflection of their coach. Some coaches are strict about technique, and some only care that the job gets done.

Because of this, we can pick up on player tendencies to give us an advantage.

An example of offensive player tendencies:

  • An offensive line in a 3-point stance is light on their hand – this could mean they are pulling (if it’s a guard) or a pass if it’s an offensive tackle.
  • Quarterbacks licking their fingers – most quarterbacks will lick their fingers before receiving the snap. Are they doing this before every play or only when it’s a pass play?
  • First/last look from the quarterback – As the quarterback approaches the line of scrimmage, where is the first/last place they are looking? Does that mean they are throwing it that way? Why does the quarterback look where they do before the snap?
  • 3-Point Or 2-Point Stance – Do offensive lineman line up in 3-point stances during runs and 2-point stances during passes?

These are just some of the common tendencies offensive players give off. If your film quality permits, see if you can study individual opponent tendencies to get an advantage on a play.

Quarterback Throw Tendencies

In order to break down quarterback tendencies, we use what’s called a launch chart.

This chart is great for breaking down many things such as:

  • Who is the quarterback’s favorite target?
  • How long does it take for the quarterback to throw the football, on average?
  • The location in the pocket where the quarterback is throwing the football?

This chart will help you decide whether you should blitz the quarterback or drop 8 into coverage.

Download The Free Launch Chart Here

If you have any questions about the launch chart, let us know we’re happy to help.

Breaking Down The Opponent’s Defense

At the youth and high school level, defenses are more stagnant and less dynamic than offenses. The main reason is that it’s a lot harder to teach gap control, schemes, and various coverages in such a short amount of time.

Because of this, offenses can take advantage of the opponent’s defensive schemes.

Uncover your opponent’s offensive and defensive tendencies so you can easily build a game plan.

Inside You’ll Find:

  • Strategies to pick apart defenses
  • How to identify player weaknesses
  • How to save time in your weekly breakdowns

Defensive Fronts

The first way to break down film is to look at the defensive front. What is the other team trying to accomplish with their defensive fronts? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are they a 4 down or 3 down front?
  • Do they slant their front or are they gap control?
  • If they slant, are they slanting to the field or the boundary?
  • Do they stunt?
  • Where do the linebackers typically play and how aggressive are they?

Keep track of these alignments throughout the game and note what you have to prepare for. If you’re not familiar with defensive alignments, we recommend you read this blog to learn how the defense lines up.

Defensive Coverages

Next, once you determine what the front is, what coverages are the defensive playing?

One thing that makes it easier to determine coverages is to split the field in half. Yes, you can determine if it’s two high or one high, but if you teach your quarterback progression reads, it’s easier to split the field in half.

For example, if you look in the picture below you can see that on the right side, the team is playing cover 4, however, on the back side, they are playing cover 2. If your quarterback is able to identify the difference, it’s easier than trying to read full-field coverage.

Blitz Packages

How often does your opponent blitz you, and from where?

Teams will often carry 3-4 blitz packages into a game. We recommend you diagram all of the opponent’s blitzes, and make sure that you have the protections (whether it be 6-man, 7-man, or hot protections) to block all of the blitzes properly.

Once you’ve identified all of their blitzes, we recommend having a blitz pick-up period during practice so your offensive line can mentally prepare for the blitzes that they’re going to see.

Spill Or Box Edges

If you’re a team that likes to run counter, power, or any gap scheme run, you need to have a plan if the opposing team tries to spill your blocks.

Do you log them into the line of scrimmage? Does your running back know where to go if the hole isn’t there, or is he going to run toward the sideline like the defense wants him to?

These questions can easily be answered by the structure of the defense and seeing how the defensive ends and outline linebackers play on gap schemes.

Distributing Information

Now that you have all of the tendencies broken down, it’s time to distribute the information.

If you have the time and facilities, we recommend having smaller individual meetings, rather than a long group session.

Take your receivers in one room, running backs in another, etc., and lay out the expectations for each position.

If you have a smaller staff and don’t have the facilities, cover each topic quickly and to the point. Make sure all of your players have writing utensils and a notebook, so they can properly take down notes and refer back to them later.

This should be the first step in installing your game plan.

After you meet with your players, do a walkthrough on the field with your players so they know exactly what you expect of them. Then filter into your practice the next couple of days leading up to the game.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.