Calling Offense Face-to-Face

The tag line at APBA, once upon a time, was “You are the Manager!”  I genuinely feel like that is now lost to the more modern age.  It’s so much easier now to create charts and leave the decisions to a “system” that people lose sight of what these games were designed to do.  Namely, have some fun playing against someone and trying like all get out to win.

I am going to take a look at strategy from both sides of the ball, starting with Offense.  As I have emphasized already, there’s more than one way to play this game.  No matter what, the dice will ultimately decide.  Still, as the Late Great Howard Ahlskog used to remind me, Football is the only APBA game where you have the ability to turn a 66 dice roll into a nothing play.  That’s for the defense.  On offense you’re hoping to set up even a 25 to be a good play.

I recognize that when you set up a game for F-T-F you may not have a ton of “prep” time.  If you do than one thing you want to do is prep the offense.  For this discussion I am going to use the Tennessee Titans.  Why the Titans?  Well they have a good combination of Running Backs and Receivers and their QB is good not great.  This is a 9-7 team but I think when the Oguard replays the 2016 season some time in 2021 Tennessee might over achieve.

mariota.jpgTo start I will tell my opponent that my lineup is:

Pro-Set:  Mariota/ Murray/ Fowler/ Walker/ Sharpe/Wright

3- Wide: Fowler out and Harry Douglas in

2-TE: Wright out Henry to FB and Fowler to Tight End..

Now what I do is I map out my first 10-15 plays.  The reason for this is I don’t want to get Down/ Distance dependent early and I want to see how my opponent reacts.

Here’s the script:

Formation Play Call Player
Pro Medium Pass Sharpe
Pro Outside Run Murray
3W Short Pass Wright
Pro Inside Run Murray
2-TE Short Pass Walker
3W Medium Pass Wright
Pro Outside Run Sub Henry/ Henry
3W Short Pass Douglas
3W Outside Run Henry
3W Medium Pass Sub Murray/ Sharpe
Pro Short Pass Wright
Pro Inside Run Fowler
Pro Outside Run Murray
2-TE Inside Run Murray
2-TE Short Pass Walker


Now that you’ve read it go read it again and see if you can determine my goal with this.

What I want to do is a few things.  I want to see how my opponent reacts when I change formations from Play to Play.  I want to see if the reaction is different if I stay in a formation for multiple plays.  What is the response when I substitute?  Will he automatically key the new player?  Does he ignore Douglas because he’s not an A (as he should) or is he just guessing?  What formations is he calling?  When I go 3-Wide does he automatically go to a Dime, as most solitaire players do?  When I am 2-TE is he always going goalline?  My whole intent here is to try and get the rhythm of my opponent.  Football games and APBA games are rarely won in the first quarter.  Setting things up is a crucial part of the game.

So what did I learn?

Let’s assume he called a straight defense/ middle line and keyed Murray on the first play.  Shows me he is playing a little bland to see what I have.  My play calling is heavily influenced by two books I read back in the 1980’s about offensive football.  I can’t remember either book but I remember the passion one coach had for opening with a big pass to set the defense on their heels.  I like to do that, hence the medium pass (which I can now never do again I guess).  If the coach went Nickel and doubled a receiver that would tell me all together something different.  He’s considerate of the pass and recognizes my 4-A receivers.

After plays I go 3W/Pro/2 TE/3 W/ Pro.  That gets me a feel of how my opponent is going to deal with formation shifts.  Here’s the thing about APBA football, you have to pay attention.  It’s not a dice rolling contest, if you can’t keep up with changes you’re going to struggle.  If I feel like making a bunch of formation changes will confuse than I will absolutely be doing that in big spots.

Then I go 3W for three plays, we’re into the game now and I want to see if my keeping a formation means my opponent stays in a stagnant defense.  I played in a league where a guy in my division refused to call anything against a 3W offense other than Dime-Middle and Double Cover.  I played him 6 times in three years and it was never close.  If I know what you’re going to call I know how to beat you.  The same holds true for Pro Set and 2 TE but I want to see what happens.

Hopefully by this time I know what makes sense to call when.  Understand that I may not go back to what I have learned until the fourth quarter.  I don’t want to emphasize an advantage too early and lose it after all.  Still if you are always going dime than I am going to run Murray and Henry straight down your throat, A index plus a yard with those two is going to garner me some real large chucks of real estate.  Murray has 14 numbers that A3 plus a yard will get me a first down.  Not counting the penalty numbers.   Oh by the way, so does Henry.  Murray’s 3 K’s mean som big shots at paydirt to boot.

Now we have to play a little “APBA”-ball.  Baseball isn’t the only place for that.  Mariota has a pretty safe Passing column.  He has a 22 which is not a big pick number, he’s got 3 26’s and a 27 so he’s going to run a lot, he has a 29 for a sack and a 32 which can be a lot of bad things.  He also has 2 35’s and a 36 which I am not crazy about.  He does have a 33 and a 34 in his R column, so he will fumble on the run but his scrambling is going to be generally a plus, especially if he’s running in light line (D).  Basically I am not overly concerned about Marcus turning things over but there’s a chance on a Medium pass he’ll lose the ball.

Once I move past the script I am much more focused on where on the field I have the ball.  In my end I like to be a little more conservative.  Short passes, inside runs being more to my liking.  I’ll gamble on a Screen/ Draw in my end a little more as well.  I don’t want to turn the ball over and give my opponent the short field.  Once I get to about my 45 I flip the switch.  Chucking deep from the 50 is fine, if he picks it off it’s probably better than a punt.  No reason not to take that chance.

Let me pause here to say a word about the Long Pass play.  Don’t throw it.  Okay, that’s three words.  Seriously though, don’t do it.  I love to play Gilles Thibault (the great T-Bo) but when we started he couldn’t help himself he’d be out there chucking the Long Pass.  I think he’s learned.  For whatever reason the company turned the “bomb” into a very High Risk/ Low Reward play.  It’s a Hail Mary and if you have 1-2 plays in the half or game than it makes sense but in general, seriously, don’t do it.

Once you’re across the 50 it’s really time to wear your APBA hat.  Look at your FG kicker and ask the question, can he make this kick?  Ryan Succop has a pretty good card.  He doesn’t’ have a 1, opening things with a 3.  The 1 is of interest because in quarters 1 & 4 the FG is good between the 40 and 48 but a miss between the 30 and 39.  So if you have a FG kicker with some 1’s you may be better off to go deep when you’re on the 42 so if it’s incomplete you can take a shot at a FG.

When I get to the 50 I like to “take a shot” deep with a Medium pass, basically my thinking is if it’s picked off it’s probably better than a punt.  Since Mariota only has a 22 it’s only picked in BD short and  AD half the time medium anyway, so as I said before, I am not really too concerned.   I’m not trying to “settle” for a FG but I want to make sure I get the best chance at points so from the 50 to the area where a 3 or 5 is a going to be a good (Succop has 18 of those plus 3 19’s) I can be a little more conservative.  So basically once I get inside the 29 I know I am going to get points.  My one caveat is if I get three straight FGs I try to be aggressive for a TD, trying to avoid “settling” once again.

There are a few other “tricks” I like.  One is if I get to the 15 or 16 yard line, the last line on the Medium Pass chart I like to throw that pass.  I figure you might as well take that shot.   You have two “trick plays” in your arsenal, here again I like to use them when it means a chance to score.  For example I had the 2011 Packers in the most recent APBA football tournament.  Before each game I told my opponent that my holder was Matt Flynn.  Nothing remarkable about having the backup QB as the holder.  This was the year that Flynn played one game and earned himself a boatload of money.  To say he had a nice card is to understate things.  So why does it matter if he is the holder.  Fake Field Goals, which one really can’t defend.  I ran one in every game and always successfully.  Realistic?  I don’t care and neither should you, the point is to try and win.  So if you have a receiver that is good on the end around, wait until it may mean a TD, I like to run them on or around the 20 yard line, 3’s will usually be a TD and a good End around receiver has a lot of 3’s.  Use your trick plays.

Audibles and Time Outs are another thing to use to your benefit.  There is really no excuse for not using these during the game.  I like to use audibles to stick my opponent in a formation from which he can’t do too much and then run a counter play.  So if I am 3W and call a Medium pass and my opponent calls a Dime-light defense I audible.  I know he is going to go Dime-Middle, he basically has too, so I know the defensive call and I can take advantage.  In the first half especially I use time outs to stop plays that are not going to work.  If I am throwing a medium pass to Walker and my opponent calls a Dime-Light double Walker, if I have all three timeouts I call one.  I also compliment the call, I mean he nailed me.  In the second half you may want to hold on to your Timeouts for clock management but there are times, just like in real-life, that you need to call a Timeout and reset the team.  Don’t be afraid to do that.

Calling offense in the APBA football game takes a good degree of focus.  You want to try and outsmart the defense.  Just like the NFL.  The game still relies on dice rolls so don’t be disheartened if you set up the perfect play and have a medium pass AS to your best guy and roll a 24 for an incompletion  Happens to the best of them.  Just keep your focus for that moment when you throw a screen to an A receiver against a blitz and turn a roll of 22 into a TOUCHDOWN!!

That’s when you are having some fun.


Historical Database

My favorite site for conducting research for an upcoming replay is It is a comprehensive database for the four major sports (Baseball, Football, Basketball, and Hockey).  It captures nearly every statistic imaginable and covers several decades (i.e., football, 1920 – 2010).  If you have never visited it, please, give it a look. I’ve placed the link in my Blogroll on the side bar. 


“Yards per Carry” Calculator

The average of the RB’s card may or may not reflect his actual yards per carry. If the RB is slotted to spend a lot of time in “A” index, the card normally is downgraded and the opposite is true if the RB will spend a lot of time in “C” index. Factors such as hot or cold dice, defensive alignment, line changes associated with keying, blitzing, nickel or dime defenses will have either a positive or negative impact on the card’s performance. Attached is a “Yards per Carry” Calculator to estimate the runner’s average based off his card. If the RB has a “K” (breakaway run) in his “R” column, determine if he has a ‘1 or “2” in the “K” column of RPN 66. For example, Tony Dorsett’s card listed in “Top Rushing Performances” has 3 K’s on his card and a “1” in the “K” column associated with RPN 66. I would insert “3” adjacent to RB with a “1” @ RPN 66 in the All-Purpose Rusher (15-17-19) table. Finally, ensure all 36 numbers listed under the RB’s “R” column are entered into the calculator.

Yards Per Carry Calculator