The Beginner's Guide to online Football Leagues
This document is intended to assist people who are getting started with
online football leagues based on the "Football Pro" series by
Sierra Online, Inc.
I played through my first (complete) season and managed to finish with
an 8-8 record and a wildcard playoff berth. By no means am I claiming to
be an expert coach or an authority on online leagues, I am just offering
some tips that helped me move from a league whipping-boy to be at least
competitive and capable of winning a few games. Its always more fun to win
Pick a league carefully: There are lots of leagues that start (and stop)
all the time, many of them fold up before completing a season. If you pick one
that fold up, don't despair, there are many more leagues with openings and you
can certainly find one. I recommend look for one that has played out at least 1
complete season and has low turnover rate of its owners. Look for a league that
suits your style, there are "home sim" leagues that let the owners simulate
their own games and there are "commish sim" leagues that require owners to mail
in their PPP's each week and the commissioner simulates the games, posts the results,
and mails out updated league data files. There are also some leagues that play
all of their games head-to-head using SIGS.
Evaluating your talent: Once you are join a league you will probably inherit
a team with existing players. It should be noted that it is not necessary to have
the QB or RB with the highest attributes to have a good passing or running game. A
good coach will often take a mediocre QB and have him end up with a rating of 120 or
more just because he knows how to write great plays and disect defenses. You can follow
the links at the bottom of this page to find lots of information on how the various
attributes affect play.
If your league has a salary cap, choose your big money players wisely and don't overlook
the importance of good defensive players, especially linebackers.
Making your PPP (Plans/Profiles/Plays)
Profiles: The profiles dictate the tendencies of your team. Do you want to
be a ball-control rushing team, or an air-it-out passing team, or strike a balance
in between? The profile editor in FB97 is a tedious and quirky part of the program,
USE CAUTION when using the "copy" feature as it will often overwrite parts of the profile
that you did not want to change. Always check your profiles carefully before saving them.
Plans: Your game plan is the what contains all of your plays. If you are in a league
that allows custom plays, this is where the plays that you wish to use get stored. Often, the
sim leagues (home sim or commish sim) have very specific requirements for how and where to
store your plans and plays on your computer,
FOLLOW THE INSTRUCTIONS.
One of the most frustrating thing in online leagues is when you work all week on your
plays and your game profile and it doesn't get used because you didn't store them in the
right directory or you didn't name them correctly.
Many leagues have minimum requirements for the number of unique plays that your game plans
must have (offense and defense). The game allows you to have up to 64 plays in your
Do not make the mistake of thinking you must fill up your plan with as many
plays as possible. Its better to have a small number of very effective plays than
to water your playbook down with alot of really bad plays. Start by putting the minimum
number of unique plays allowed by your league in the plan and work hard on refining those
plays until they are effective in a variety of situations.
Plays: This is an area where I am most definitely not an expert. I will only offer
a few play making tips that helped me alot this year. If your online league does not allow
custom play making, then this is of little or no value.
Stock plays suck - for the most part. There are a few stock plays that are
pretty good, but don't go into a custom play league thinking you will get by with
mostly stock game plans. You may get lucky against other new coaches, but experienced
online coaches will rip you apart with ease. If you don't have the time or interest in
designing plays, join a stock play league, its better for everyone.
- Eliminate Fumbles When you see the results from your games, check to see
if you are fumbling the ball alot. Most fumbles are caused by poorly designed pitches to
RB's, usually on wide sweep runs to the outside. When designing your plays pay special
attention to the separation that develops between the QB and the RB before the pitch occurs,
if its too great, fumbles occur. Also, make sure that the RB is behind the QB when the
pitch/hand off occurs, otherwise the possibility of a fumble is greater AND it may get
counted as a passing play due to flaws in the program itself.
- Eliminate Penalties: If your team is highly penalized, check the logs and
see if any of your plays consistently result in penalties such as ineligable man downfield,
or illegal formations, or defensive holding (for defensive plays). The offensive linemen
and OL logic in FBPro is not very good and if you have a particularly "stupid" (i.e. low IN/DI
rating) lineman then he will often generate alot of penalties for you. These can be eliminated
by taking care not to give that player very complicated logic. "Move to" or "lead to" logic
for blockers may result in the "ineligable man downfield" penalty for some linemen. Illegal
formation penalties should be caught in the play editor but sometimes they slip through.
Defensive holding penalties are often the result of a DB with low IN/DI being given a
bump-at-the-line assignment. Less disciplined DB's will often get flagged for the holding
or, worse, defensive pass interference. Use that logic wisely.
- Eliminate Sacks: In FBPro it is not uncommon for teams to get 10 or 20 sacks
per game. Usually this is because the coach that is getting sacked has not learned the
basic rules of FBPro pass blocking. #1 - give the Guards .2 second delay logic before giving
them the "block pass", or give them a slight "move to" logic to the inside (towards the center).
#2 - Keep extra blockers in to help out on long plays. The FBPro QB's rarely have the time
or necessary intelligence to check-off 5 or 6 receivers before they will have too much pressure
and either leave the pocket on a scramble or fall to a sack. Keep a strong RB or FB (or 2)
in the backfield with a slight delay logic (.2 - .5 seconds) before giving them the
block-pass logic. The 5 reciever set is not seen that often in the NFL and it should not
be used in an FBPro league unless you are very good and know how and when to use it. These simple
rules will help your team eliminate alot of unnecessary sacks. Very effective pass plays
can be designed with only 3 or 4 receivers.
- Eliminate Interceptions: I still haven't completely figures this problem out,
but I have some suggestions. Timed passes often work great in practice but result in INTs in
real games. This is because in practice the players are playing at full potential, no fatigue
has been factored in. When a game is simmed, fatigue is a factor and players slow down,
considerably in some situations. Be aware of this as you are designing your plays and
draw the timed pass line behind where you would normally want it to be because your receiver
may not be as fast in the game as he is in practice. Another way to avoid INT's is to have
good pass protection (see above), and don't make all your WRs go to the same area, that will
just result in all the DB's also going there and it becomes a free-for-all going for the ball.
- Use the Shotgun Formation: This is good advice
for passes and for almost all running plays. Good defenses will often nail the QB before he
can even hand the ball off if he is lined up "under center". Move him back a few yards, but
make sure that other players going in motion or shifting position do not run into him.
Defense is an area where most coaches, even experienced ones struggle. I have some links
at the bottom to some much better guides than I can provide. My only tips are these:
- Don't run all M2M or all Zone defenses: Other coaches will pick up on
this and rip you apart with the right offensive plays to counter these.
- Don't blitz every play, don't ignore the blitz completely: Teams that blitz
every play often get burned bad when a good coach picks up on this fact. However, the blitz
is not to be ignored, the QB must be pressured and strong pressure, even if it doesn't
result in a sack, can cause the QB to fumble and throw interceptions.
All the best coaches, to some degree, do their homework against their opponents.
At the least, you can study his statistics and see if he tends to favor the run or the pass.
If you have access to old log files and one of the many log analyzer programs available,
you can see his tendencies and what the team likes to run in each situation.
If you have a access to alot of highlights, you can see what plays are working for him
and prepare accordingly. If the opponent scores alot on outside runs, then you should
shift your defense to be prepared for that. If he throws timed passes you can play more
bump-at-the-line logic. If he blitzes alot, keep more blockers in and run quick passes
Once your profile is established, tweaking it weekly is pretty easy (except for the
bugs in the crappy profile editor in FBP97). Don't become predictable by always using
the same profile each week, don't be afraid to mix things up and try some trick plays
occasionally if the opponent is much stronger and will probably not expect it.
In short, don't be discouraged if you get destroyed the first time you play against
an experienced coach. I lost my first game 75-6. I've seen other teams lose as bad as 120-0.
I eliminated alot of my problems by just getting rid of bad plays (fumbles, penalties, sacks).
Here are some links to some other FBPro tutorials and information that I referenced often
when I was getting started:
Will Ingersoll Nov. 1997