Polish Goal Line Defense – A Blast from the Past

8 Nov

Knowing the rules and how to manipulate them is often an aid to coaches as the diagram below will illustrate.  It’s from the Houston Oilers’ playbook in 1993, the one season Buddy Ryan spent as the team’s defensive coordinator. It depicts a special goal-line formation Ryan designed for the end of the half or the end of the game—situations in which there were “less than 15 seconds” according to Ryan.

You’ll notice that there are 14 defenders. The idea is to allow the offense to run a free play, which more than 11 defenders would presumably be able to stop, with the understanding that a penalty has to be taken. The purpose is to force precious seconds to waste away, leaving the offense with less time to maneuver. The wonder is why Ryan stopped at 14 players.

The Polish Goal Line defense was followed up by Ryan’s “Polish Punt Team” which he introduced to football lore while coaching the Philadelphia Eagles.  In a most unusual formation, the Polish Punt Team was designed to prevent a blocked kick or a long runback.  In it, Ryan sent 14 men onto the field for a crucial last-minute punt. At the worst, the expected penalty for too many men on the field would set the Eagles back 5 yards but drain precious seconds from the clock.

To the surprise of the Eagles, no flag was thrown and the safest punt in NFL history was executed without mishap. Was Ryan sheepish about employing such a questionable tactic? Hardly. When asked during the taping of his weekly television show about the propriety of having 14 men on the field, Ryan did note a flaw in the strategy. “There should have been 15,” he snapped.

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