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An introduction by Clive Palmer
This is an introductory article for those new to Gridiron or wanting to understand a little about the game before deciding whether to join the waiting list.
Gridiron3 as it is properly titled is the 3rd incarnation of an American Football simulation game originally devised by Les Walker and extended and currently moderated by Richard Egan (RME) and Richard John (RJ). The game is completely web based and therefore internet access will be required to participate.
Knowledge of the basics of American Football and terminology is desirable, although not completely necessary. Some coaches (the term used for a person playing the game) prefer to calculate as much as they can from the information given, others prefer to go with their instinct and not worry about the maths involved.
Gridiron seeks to be as realistic as possible, whilst adhering to the tenets of being enjoyable, and also able to be automatically moderated.
Essentially, coaches manage a team of players, coach them, trade them, and then play other teams in a defined schedule. Coaches select players, formations and a range of plays and tactics in order to win their division and progress to the Bowl!
Each coach manages a team of players which make up their Roster. This Roster can vary in size over the season, but it starts at a maximum of 51 players (this is subject to change as new rules are introduced). A team’s roster can vary over the season by trading with other Coaches for example, and in the off-season a Draft is held at which time Rookies (young players) are acquired.
Each player has a name and shirt number (chosen by the coach) and a designated assignment (playing position), an initial skill level and a split of abilities (all generated by the software). Each player also has an age, initially zero for rookies, and incrementing 1 year at the end of each drafting session.
This ageing process not only increases the age of a player, it may also increase or decrease his skill level according to his age. The ages of players across teams varies, with some coaches preferring Veterans (older players) and some trying out new blood. The age range of players is roughly from 0 to 10 although certain high level players may last longer if they are fortunate in their ageing roll.
The mix of players at each position is up to the coach, although key positions (such as the Quarterback) are usually protected with one or two backups, and other positions require a number of players (a team must always field 2 Defensive Ends for example). There is no set mixture of players in a team, each coach will mould his team around a particular strategy or playing style although it is common to have at least one backup player in most of the Offensive and Defensive positions, and less common on Special Teams positions.
A player has abilities in 3 areas, Quickness, Strength and Technique, (known as Q, S & T) representing a mix of qualities which are suited to particular methods of play. The proportions of a player’s QST’s always add up to 100 and this proportion cannot be modified. A player’s contribution to the game is measured by his Level times the QST proportion. For example a Level 10 Running Back with QST 30-50-20 would be said to contribute (10*30%)=3 levels of Quickness, (10*50%)=5 levels of Strength and (10*20%)=2 levels of Technique.
Although the QSTs cannot be modified, a player’s level can be increased through coaching (and aging) and so the entire contribution made by a player varies over his career. There is no limit to a player’s Level although it becomes harder to coach players as they get better. As an indication the top players could be expected to reach Level 20 or so although the majority of starters in a team will be in their teens. It should be noted well that a player’s true level and to a lesser extent his QST’s should be guarded so that opponents cannot predict your strengths and weaknesses too accurately.
Some players may also play “out of position” from that which they are designated, but usually this attracts a penalty in their level reflecting the unfamiliarity of the role.
A coach chooses a set of players from his roster to form an Offensive unit, a Defensive unit and a Special Teams unit. Your Offense will play against your opponent’s Defense and vice versa, with Special Teams performing various functions such as kick-offs and field goals.
There are a number of standard formations which the Offense can use which dictate the number players at each assignment. For example, the standard formation is the Pro-Set comprising 1 Quarterback (QB), 2 Running Backs (RB), 2 Wide Receivers (WR) and 1 Tight End (TE) as well as the standard 5-man Offensive line of 1 Center (C), 2 Offensive Tackles (OT) and 2 Offensive Guards (OG). Each formation has strengths and weaknesses as we shall see.
Similarly there are several Defensive formations that can be used, each of which protects the 4 defensive areas to differing degrees. For example the Standard 3-4 Defence comprises 2 Defensive Ends (DE), 1 Defensive Tackle (DT), 2 Outside Linebackers (OB), 2 Inside Linebackers (IB), 2 Safeties (SF) and 2 Cornerbacks (CB). Each player contributes to one or more of the defensive areas: the Deep Zone, the Short Zone, the Run Flat and the Run Line.
The offense had 4 attempts or “downs” to move the ball 10 yards or more. If it succeeds on any down, it starts a new series of 4 downs, if it fails the ball is “turned over” to the opposition. A series of downs that move the ball up the field is called a drive.
There are a number of standard “plays” or methods that the Offence can employ to move the ball, and they generally fall in to one of two types: Passing plays where the ball is thrown by the QB to a WR, RB or TE, and Running plays where the ball is handed off to a RB (or kept by the QB himself) to be run with. Currently there are 16 basic plays which effectively attack a particular part of the Defense.
Against the Deep Zone:
Against the Short Zone:
Against the Run Flat:
Against the Run Line:
Each play has a value calculated from the individual players and their attributes and this is compared with the value of the Defensive area it attacks. The resulting number is used as the basis for determining how many yards are gained, if any, on the play. Passing plays have a chance of being intercepted, or of not being complete, whilst running plays have a chance of being fumbled, and all plays rely on a good snap (the action that initiates each play between the OC and the QB).
For example, the Long Pass relies on a QB with a good deal of Strength to throw the ball far, and upon WR with a decent Quickness in order to sprint down the field. Therefore if you are looking to utilise this play you would benefit from a QB and WR with QST’s that reflect those factors. Additionally, having Quick OT and OG will provide better Pass Protection for the QB, whilst contributing less to the running game, where Strength is more important.
There are other choices available to a coach in order to modify these values such as using the shotgun (where the QB stands further back in order to give himself more room to make a pass), blitzing (where some of the Defense try to rush the QB and force a sack) and also the opportunity to switch formations and players dependent on the number of yards required for the next 1st Down.
The first step for most coaches is to download the entire roster into a suitable spreadsheet programme so that some values can be calculated. This will give you a good idea of what your team is capable of doing, of which plays it is suited to, and which plays to avoid attempting.
There are several strategies to choose from in creating or moulding a team from scratch such as going for a balanced team that is capable of defending all areas moderately well and attacking one or perhaps two zones very well. Alternatively, the capability to attack any of the zones reasonably well to take advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses balanced against the demands this puts on having a variety of differing QST players at key positions in your roster.
For coaches inheriting an existing team, you will not get this opportunity however you can still trade and draft new players to alter your team strategy over the course of a few seasons.
As mentioned above, each player contributes an amount to each play. This is actually in 2 parts, firstly the overall play value is calculated and then a Ball Carrier is selected and his additional specific contribution is also calculated. The probabilities of players from each position being chosen are given in the tables in the rule book. Additionally better players in the same positions will have correspondingly more chance of being the Ball Carrier in direct proportion to their contribution to the play. It is worth remembering that the software will chose only one Ball Carrier when the play is executed but that you can only work out a weighted value for a play based on the likelihoods involved. When checking the results against expectations, bear this fact in mind.
A basic spreadsheet is provided on the website in order to start you off, further helpful sheets are given on the Gridiron community group forum, where lively discussion also takes place..
Each of the Offensive formations available (as of Season 10 there are six; Pro-Set, Ace, I formation, Pistol, 3-wide-I and Trips) uses a slightly different set of formulae for some of the plays. In addition, while the Pro-Set and the I-back utilise 2 RB’s and 1 TE, the Ace uses only 1 RB (sometimes known as the Ace-back) and 2 TEs. Thus if your TEs are better in quality than your RBs you may wish to explore what benefits you can get out of using them to the full.
Looking at the plays and the contributing abilities of the players, it is easy to see that there is no single combination of QB, RB, WR, and TE that performs well in all plays. Remember, if you only have the capability to attack one of the Defensive Zones, it will be correspondingly easier for your opponent to organize his Defense to stop you.
There are two ways around this: either be so good at what you can do that you can overcome any Defense, or spread your attacks across several zones to take advantage of the Defense’s weaknesses. One ally you have here is the software’s built it Optimizer which, for specific situations, will chose those plays more likely to succeed than others based on the strengths and weaknesses of both teams.
The Optimizer effectively pre-calculates the likely outcome of each play against your opponent’s Defenses taking into account the chances of Interceptions, Fumbles and Incompletions and also averaging some of the random elements. However it does not take into consideration any blitzing from the Defense and it does not weight the Ball Carrier’s effects in proportion to their contribution.
To understand why the Optimizer can be a great tool, we need to look at the method by which the plays are selected by the coach for each Offensive unit. This is controlled by the “eights”, the Set-8, Short-8, Long-8 and Game Over-8. Each “eight” is a selection of 8 of the 16 available plays that the coach wants to use. The Offense will use the Set-8 on all first down (some penalties may change this) and on all subsequent Downs where the coach decides not to switch to the Short-8 or Long-8.
The plays that will actually be used from the Set-8 are biased towards those that the Optimizer has calculated will provide the better average yardage gains. Whereas the other 8’s are biased according to the coach’s order of selection (20% chance each for the leftmost pair, 15% each for the next pair, 10% each for the next pair and 5% chance each for the rightmost pair). It follows that for certain situations a coach will wish to force the software to attempt some specific plays more than others. For example when only 1 yard is needed on a play, it might be less of a risk to run the ball and attempt a modest gain, rather than pass the ball. Conversely if 13 yards are required then running the ball in to the Defensive Line is possibly less likely to deliver that yardage than, say, a Medium Pass would. Selecting the appropriate plays on the Offensive Game Plan screens allows this flexibility.
Be aware that the opposition could modify its Defensive formation in response to the obvious switch to the Short-8 or Long-8 thus allowing for some element of bluff and counter bluff in the tactics of Game Planning. The optimizer, however, will provide the Offense with roughly, its best chances against whatever the Defense comes up with. It is particularly useful in conjunction with an Offense that can attack 3 or perhaps all 4 Defensive Zones, as we shall see below.
The Defense is primarily concerned with two things, stopping the Offense’s chosen plays and sacking the QB. Similar to the Offense, each Defensive player contributes to one or more of the 4 zones. Several Defensive formations are offered so that the number of players contributing to each zone can vary, thus allowing a coach to bias his strengths against a particular threat.
The Defense will comprise 2 Defensive Ends (DE) who contribute to the Run Line only and the Defensive Line Rush; 1 or 2 Defensive Tackles (DT) (when there is one he is referred to as the Nose Tackle (NT)) who contribute to Run Line only and the Defensive Line Rush; 1, 2 or 3 Inside Linebackers (iLB) (when there is one he is referred to as the Middle Linebacker (mLB)) who contribute to the Run Line and Short Zones; 2 or 3 Outside Linebackers (oLB) who contribute to the Run Flat and Deep Zones; 1, 2 or 3 Safeties (SF, SS, FS or Nickel backs (NB)) who contribute to the Run Flat, Short and Deep Zones and finally 2 Cornerback (CB or as Nickel backs (NB)) who contribute to the Short and Deep Zones.
In addition, more Defensive Line Rush pressure can be applied to the Offense’s QB by Blitzing certain players. Be aware that this detracts from the player’s contribution to his zone.
When planning your Defense it is useful to be aware of what your opponent’s Offense is likely, or is capable, of doing. Offenses tend to favour either the Long or the Short passing games, that is, they attack either the Deep Zone or the Short Zone but it is difficult to do both with conviction. This is because the types of QB and WR required to be successful against the Deep Zone (usually Strong QB’s and Quick WR’s) are not the same as those Short Zone attackers (usually Technique QB’s and Technique WR’s). It therefore pays to take a look at recent games and see what sorts of plays and what players were used by your next opponent.
It is not that difficult to calculate the few permutations of your players that fit each of the six Defensive formations (as of season 10) as ten of the positions are common to all 3 normal Defenses and with a slight variation all 3 of the Middle Linebacker Defenses too, with the remaining player position distinguishing between them.
The 3-4 is regarded as a standard formation and it uses the Free Safety (FS) as its additional player. The FS is a normal Safety, usually Quick, who contributes mostly to the Deep Zone, but also contributes a portion of his Strength to the Run Flat, and some of his Technique to the Short Zone. Safeties are thus fairly versatile in fine tuning your team.
The 3-5 loses the FS and instead uses a third Inside Linebacker (iLB), once again his Quickness is of most value though it applies to the Short Zone and a lesser proportion of his Strength contributes to the Run Line.
The 4-4 sacrifices the extra backfield man for a second Defensive Tackle, whose Strength contributes only to the Run Line as well as his Quickness adding to the Defensive Line Rush (DLR). This run-stopping formation might well be considered when the Offense requires only a 1 or 2 yards for a 1st Down and could be expected to use its Short-8 formation to run the ball for a small number of safe yards.
The 4-3 formation is characterised by only having 1 iLB, and he is then known as the Middle Linebacker (mLB). Both a second DT and a FS can then be used, with the effects as described above. The formulae are slightly different from the normal Defenses, and the mLB gains some additional bonuses when facing running plays and Screen Passes (doubled if it’s an Ace Offense) where his level is compared to that of the Ball Carrier. So be aware of this both for your Defense and if you are playing against a team with a known good mLB.
Finally the Nickel formation loses the second DT and instead uses a Nickelback (NB) who can be a Safety or a Cornerback (with slightly different formulae for each) who both contribute to the Short Zone with Technique, and Deep Zone with Quickness. The Nickel probably gives the best protection to the Deep Zone with some flexibility in the Short Zone too for the right players.
It is worth noting that the Run Flat is perhaps the least variable of the zones as the only modification to it with some formations is the addition of a small portion of the Free Safety’s Strength. So to strengthen or strip the Run Flat, a coach will need to turn to another aspect of defensive coaching (defensive stances), which lies beyond the scope of this introduction.
There are essentially two parts to a Special Team; the specialists - the Kicker (K), Punter (P) and Returner (R), and the Runners and Blockers - which are functions performed by some of the other Offensive and Defensive players.
The Kicker performs all place kicks (Kick-Offs, Extra Points and Field Goals) whilst the Punter performs snapped kicks (Punts) usually on 4th Downs where the chance of making the yardage is too small to risk turning the ball over to the opposition. Kick-offs and punts can be caught and returned back up the field by the catcher who is called a Returner. A good returner can gain significant yards and place the team’s Offense in good position to start their drive.
Most teams ensure they have modestly good Special Teams players although they are not considered to be the superstars of the game.
The Runners and Blockers protect the specialist players and are drawn from the rest of the existing roster. Runners tend to be the Quick players, notably receivers and defensive backs, and the Blockers tend to be the Strong players notably Centers, Guards, Tackles and Ends.
It should be noted that Special Teams players suffer slightly more injuries and thus you need to decide if you want to expose your better players to the greater risk or use the less valuable members to do the work.
The above is a broad overview of most of the basic parts of the game. There are more detailed areas not covered, such as moaning about your Injuries, maximizing coaching returns, the intricacies of Blitzing, effects of Fatigue and the role of Experience. The game still evolves each season, with input from GMs and coaches.
However it should give you an idea of what the game involves and how some of the more basic parts are handled. Gridiron essentially is a game of risks and trade-offs, a team cannot be good at everything, and for every strength there is a weakness, for every opportunity there is a risk associated with it. Your job as coach is to have fun trying to make the best of those situations and to see how your skill and judgement fares against other coaches doing the same.
Coach of the Fair Isle Dodgers
Updated January 2010, start of Season 10