How to Win in Football

Pitch the Ball
By: Paul Bessire,
January 15th, 2009

10. Pitch the ball: As much as I would love to do it, I am not sure that I will be able to go Mike Leach and take the controls of a major college or NFL team, but I have a playbook filled with offensive plays that rely on the downfield pitch. Sound gimmicky? It's not.

In fact, at its core is the central focus of most offenses: neutralization of the defense. With most NFL offenses, wide receivers who do not receive the ball are asked to block downfield (i.e. neutralizing individual defenders). Some are good at it, while others are not, but, either way, blocking is not why those players are on the field. Receivers, running backs and tight ends are supposed to catch the ball and run downfield with it.

An offense based on the downfield pitch allows "skill position" players to neutralize defenders while still serving to achieve the main offensive goal of this article: gain as many yards as possible every play in attempt to score on each possession. If there is a player downfield with the ball and a wide receiver is in front of him, the wide receiver may be able to move a defender in front of him out of the way. If that same wide receiver is even with or behind the ball carrier awaiting a pitch, the threat of the pitch will require at least one defensive player to spy the receiver meaning that the defensive player is always neutralized.

That makes this system at least as good as the previous one. The ball could be pitched. A successful pitch keeps the play alive and almost always results in more yards gained as the defense scrambles to chase another player. Every play should have at least one pitch option to maximize the potential yards gained and distract the defense. And it does not always have to be a receiver or even a running back or tight end. Any player is eligible to advance a pitch.

I guess my ideal offense would look a lot like Leach's until the ball crosses the line of scrimmages, at which point it looks like something Knute Rockne, Tom Osborne or any rugby coach would devise.

Go to #9 Blitz a Desperate Defense or go back to the Introduction for more.

Paul Bessire is the Senior Quantitative Analyst and Content Manager for and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at Thanks!

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