The Truth Behind Why Field Position Matters Over Everything Else

As national signing day has come and gone, and offseason programs have begun, football coaches, players, and teams alike are honing-in and focusing on next season. Every team strives to earn championships through the daily discipline, hard work, grit, toughness, and excellence that offseason workouts and film sessions demand. While the workouts and X’s and O’s are vitally important for any program, so is field position.

Over the past month, the AFCA staff dug into various metrics related to starting field position and drive length. These metrics include the average starting field position resulting in a touchdown or field goal, the average number of plays and yards per offensive drive, the average drive time, and the average percentage of drives a team scored when starting at their own 25-yard line or worse. Here is what we discovered.

Field Position

At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the top and bottom five FBS teams were selected.  We then averaged Starting Field Position, Field Position Resulting in a Touchdown, and Field Position Resulting in a Field Goal of the top five and bottom five. The results are below:

Key Takeaways

It is vital to make your Special Teams special because this play is the largest exchange of field position. As a return unit (kickoff return or punt return) fighting for the extra first down proves to be beneficial for your offense as they quickly put themselves in four-down territory and thusly scoring position.  In all three metrics measured above, there is nearly a two first down difference between the top 5 and bottom 5.

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Obviously, it isn’t feasible that one would start every drive near mid-field, so in those circumstances, offensive efficiency is of key importance because you have the opportunity to flip the field for your defense.  You may not end the drive with a score, but you can win the field position battle.

Move The Chains

Once again we took the top 5 and bottom 5 teams from 2019 and looked at Average Number of Plays and Yards Gained Per Offensive Drive. The results are below:

Key Takeaway

As mentioned above, offensive efficiency is vital for moving the chains.  This should be measured in Yards Per Play (YPP).  Both the top 5 and bottom 5 averaged a little over 5 plays per drive, but where you find the difference is in the yards generated per drive.  The top 5 averaged 15 yards more per drive than the bottom 5 team on basically the same number of plays. The top 5 averaged 6.73 yards per play while the bottom 5 averaged a mere 4.29 yards per play.  This allows for the more efficient offense to stay on the field longer by moving the chains.

Drive Time

Next, we took a look at the top 5 and bottom 5  Average Drive Time. The results are below:

Key Takeaway

At first glance, there does not seem to be a significant difference in drive time as the top five FBS teams had an average drive time that was only 17 seconds longer than the bottom five FBS teams.  But if you dive deeper and assume that teams average somewhere between 8-10 drives a game, an extra 17 seconds per drive amounts to over 2 minutes in time of possession. This allows the top 5 teams to essentially steal a drive away from the opponent and increase their scoring chances.

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Finishing Drives

Lastly, we looked at the top 5 and bottom 5 Average Scoring Percentage with a Starting Field Position at the -25 or Worse. The results are below:

Key Takeaway

As previously stated, teams will not always have the luxury of advantageous field position.  In the scenarios where your team is deep in its own territory, it is crucial that the team is not only able to flip the field but be able to put points on the board on longer drives.  As you can see above the top 5 teams scored 31.9% more often, when starting at their own 25-yard line (or worse), than the bottom five FBS teams.

The Final Drive

In conclusion, there are some key points that one must consider regarding preparing your team for the field position battle.

Special Teams

Field position matters. Every yard. Anytime you are exchanging field position in the kicking game your cover team or fielding team must fight for every yard they can.  A longer field for the defense minimizes scoring chances significantly and makes it more difficult for the opponent to flip the field for your offense.  A short field for the offense increases scoring opportunities and allows for you to put your defense in advantageous field position by flipping the field.  Special Teams and the fight for field position truly is one-third of the game.

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Offense

Good teams finish drives. Whether starting at the -25 or +48, good offenses finish drives with a score. This sounds like common sense and to an extent it is, but the proof is in the numbers. Top teams score nearly 50% of the time when starting at the -25. While the average starting field position is the +48 (for top teams), this shows that elite teams score from anywhere on the field.  A consequence of an efficient offense is better field position and fewer drives for your defense.

Defense

Great defensive units consistently set up their offensive crew with good field position. Getting turnovers early in drives, forcing quick three and outs, and getting the ball back to your offense on the plus side of the field is crucial for offensive success and allowing your special teams to operate effectively.  Good defenses minimize yards per play, shorten drives, and thusly win the field position battle.

Talk to your team about the field position battle!


This Article was written by AFCA Director Of Coaching Education, Mario Price. To learn more follow Coach Price on Twitter @CoachMarioPrice

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