Modeling The Process of an NFL Play as a Sequential Game to determine the meaning of Offensive and Defensive Formational and Personnel Splits

By Max Mulitz


Here’s what a sequential game is.  Below I took a crack at Modeling the general process of a play as a sequential game.


Basically, nature determines the attributes of the situation such as the down & distance, score differential, time remaining, whatever other factors could be relevant to teams strategy on a given play. Obviously in reality these factors are determined by previous events in the game, but from the perspective of selecting a given play they can be taken as a given.

Then in reality the order of the decisions made differs by team. Some offenses will choose their personnel, formation, and play prior to lining up and will not deviate from that regardless of what the defense does. Other offenses will select personnel, then formation, then choose between a menu of run and pass plays depending on defensive alignment. Still other offenses will select personnel and formation, then use motion to change the formation and snap the ball quickly to prevent the defense from adjusting their coverage to the new formation. This tactic is outlined below.


Similarly, a defense may attempt to disguise it’s front/coverage until right before the snap, so really after personnel is chosen both teams have options to to manipulate the information the opponent observes.

On the other hand, the only option an offense has to manipulate the personnel of the defense is to hurry up following an in bounds play to prevent the opponent from substituting. Nevertheless, it is evident that the process of the offense and defense selecting personnel is usually a sequential game while formations and player location at the snap is more fluid. For this reason, analysis of Offensive Personnel vs. Defensive Personnel performance is easier to apply directly than formational/pre-snap alignment analysis.

Anyway, looking at personnel usage has become all the rage in Basketball. Thinking about sequential order of decision making on a play can help inform what situational splits are the most informative when looking at tendencies and making decisions.

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