A few years old, from 2002. Not a whole lot of new information, but I like the fact that he explains things so clearly and so simply, even to a layman fan.


Turner: I try to play the game in my head

By Norv Turner
Special to NFL.com

(Editor's Note: It's an inexact science at best and a high-stakes chess game that can make the difference between victory and defeat. Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who is in his 18th NFL season, sat down recently to discuss the art of play calling.)

(Dec. 12, 2002) -- The thing that is hard to understand, or for a lot of fans to have a real command of, is that you really have only so many base formations. You either have two receivers to a side or a receiver and tight end on one side.

There's only so much of that. The idea is that by moving one guy and running the same play, how much can you change when the defense lines up against you? I don't think it's hard to be innovative with your play calls, but it's hard to make sure that the guys you have are comfortable running those plays. The key is to make sure you have a group of plays that your team can execute and then find a way to make them look different to the defense.
That was the key to this system when Don Coryell put it together years ago. He made it very player friendly. You can give the defense a lot of different looks while running basically the same plays.

In a given week, we'll have 12 to 15 running plays that we're going to work on, and maybe 50 to 70 pass plays. In a game, we'll run maybe 10 of the running plays and 20 to 30 of the pass plays, depending on how the game goes.

I don't script necessarily the way it became popular years ago, but we do try to script the 12 first- and second-down plays that we're really looking at using. We use it mostly for the teaching and preparation aspect. Those are the plays that you go over on Friday for the entire walk-through and then show them on Saturday night at the last preparation session. If someone messes up one of those plays, he's really not paying attention.

We don't script as much as other people, and we don't script third downs because it's just too hard to predict the down-and-distance situation. But the 12 plays we look at are ones you're definitely going to call on Sunday and probably call early. If you get too caught up in a script and they completely change up the defense, then it's really hard to get out of that mentally and pull something up.

The basic premise is that the techniques and things that you ask the players to do are pretty much the same, but during the week, you're still looking for the best matchup of your best guy matched up against one of their players who you think you can beat.

That may account for a given blocking scheme during a game; you're trying to isolate one guy. Or maybe they have a third cornerback who is not so good and you're trying to get him on the field as much as possible.

In our (Week 12) game against San Diego, I obviously have a lot of first-hand information on their personnel, and I know they're a heavy pursuit team. That's why you saw a lot of cutbacks in the backfield. We also came up with a slightly different way to block (Chargers linebacker) Junior Seau.

With Buffalo the following week, they're an eight-man front team, and while we ran pretty well against them the first time, it wasn't nearly as good as what we felt we could do. In that game, we ran a few more traps. If you can get them moving and then make sure you get to the guy who is farthest away from the ball, you have a chance. That's how we were able to be so effective with the running game (as Ricky Williams gained 228 yards).

The real key is that you have to do things you work on and practice. I don't know that you set up plays a week in advance or something like that. What you do is see what works and continue to build on what you've been doing. If a certain play works very well a certain way, you might change it up slightly to give the defense a different look. It's not so much about changing things up completely or bringing out a play that you haven't worked on.

If we're going to run something we haven't done pretty good work on, it's an unusual circumstance, and you'd probably get the guys together and tell them we're going to run it.

With play calling, there is a certain timing involved in it, but what's underestimated is preparation and making a decision early in the week. I try to play the game in my mind. You go through all the situations and what you're going to do if this and this happen.

But there is a certain amount of spontaneity to it. Being around (former offensive coordinator) Ernie Zampese for so long (with the Los Angeles Rams), you learn to change up. If a corner who normally plays off is crowding you some, you have to be willing to change something to take advantage of that.

There are games when you go in thinking you can pass 40 times, but then you end up running it a bunch. Or there are times when you think you can crank it up with the run, but then you have to say, "Screw it," because it's not working.

That's where I tell everybody that it really comes down to the players executing. We had this one game in Dallas where we had three plays during the first half that should have gone for more than 30 yards, but Michael Irvin drops the ball, Jay Novacek drops the ball, and Troy Aikman misses a throw that he'd normally make.

I went into halftime and said, "Look, we're going to come back and run those again because they're going to work." We did and this time Irvin makes the catch, Novacek makes the play, Troy hits the pass, and we run away.

After the game, (Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist) Randy Galloway comes up to me and says, "Boy, I didn't think you'd ever open it up." I said, "Randy, if you only knew. The three plays we hit in the second half, we had chances in the first half." That's the way it goes with calling plays.

As told to Jason Cole
NFL Insider