Utilizing Economic Analysis Models in American Football – Part 5


Football Coach Whiteboard


For decades, economic analysis models have been facilitators for business managers in establishing strategies on short-term and long-term scales. These analysis models are often quick to learn and easy to understand, but offer a wide range of applicable possibilities. With a number of adjustments, these models are not only suitable in analyzing a company’s status quo, but can also be used to help improve a football team, both on the field and financially.

In the age of Big Data and instant access to information, knowing as much as possible about your upcoming opponent is often the decisive factor between making the game-winning play and losing the game on a trick play. In order to avoid these situations, conducting a SWOT analysis may help you recognize the strategies of your upcoming opponent and exploit the other team’s weaknesses by using your best tactics.

SWOT analysis has been known for millennia. Sun Tzu, one of the most influential generals in ancient times, formulated the framework of the SWOT analysis in his now world-famous book, “The Art of War”:

“So it is said that if you know others and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.

If you do not know others but you do know yourself, you win one and lose one.

If you do not know others and you do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.”

In a business setting, a SWOT analysis is used when a company wants to determine favorable and adverse factors, both internally and externally, that can influence the achievement of an objective. In order to do so, the aforementioned internal (Strengths and Weaknesses) and external (Opportunities and Threats) elements must be identified. Based on the findings, a subsequent planning strategy can be developed.

In order for this analysis to function properly, some factors need to be considered. First, there must be a clear end goal of the exercise. You cannot simply start analyzing your situation without knowing exactly what you are trying to solve and what this analysis will address.

Second, one must always keep in mind that opportunities are not necessarily strengths. Just because your opponent’s secondary allows a lot of long passes does not necessarily mean that your receivers are capable of exploiting that weakness.

Finally, remember that this is an analysis with the means of facilitating a strategy. Conducting the analysis itself does not initiate any actions or changes in any ongoing operations. At this point in the process, there are no risks with implementation as the strategy itself is still being established.

With that in mind, we now can start our analysis. In this example, we are an offensive coordinator strategizing on how to beat the upcoming opponent’s defense.

It all begins with an external analysis; in our football context, that means observing the opponent. What coverage do they play? Do they blitz often? Who are their key players (Threats) and who can be exploited for big plays (Opportunities)? Let’s say that the defense plays a lot of man coverage and has a strong defensive line, but lacks talent at outside linebacker and in their secondary unit.

After analyzing the opponent, it is now time to focus on your own team. What plays have worked so far? Which ones were promising but haven’t delivered yet? Who are the offense’s playmakers and who are the weakest links? In this example, our offense has a subpar offensive line that struggles to run the ball inside the tackle box despite having a big and strong running back. Furthermore, our receivers are fast and have good hands, but the quarterback lacks the arm strength to consistently throw the ball downfield.

After those two initial studies have been concluded, it is now time to put it all together and find a strategy using four categories: Strengths that benefit from opportunities (S/O), strengths that offset possible threats (S/T), weaknesses that have to be transformed in order to seize opportunities (W/O) and weaknesses for which one must find a strategy to shield the team from possible attacks (W/T).

The following graph shows all of the different categories and each respective strategic approach:

SWOT Analysis


Let’s start with S/O: It’s a no-brainer to use your biggest advantage, especially when it correlates directly with an opponent’s weakness. In our example, this would mean to attack with our short passing game, as the receivers can consistently beat their defensive backs and use their speed to turn a quick pass into a huge gain.

When transforming your weaknesses into strengths, the art of deception can be useful. If the opponent knows your weak spots and tendencies, disguise them by utilizing trick plays or other uncommon plays. Does te defensive line create a lot of pressure and constantly rush the quarterback? Let them through and run a screen play. Do they know that you only can run to the outside? Pitch it to the running back and let your receiver run a reverse. These are just a few examples of the countless ways to trick your opponent into a fall sense of security and going for the big play.

Neutralizing possible threats in football is done by using your best players and trusted plays to reduce risk. For example, if you have a quarterback with a weak arm such as in our example, it is wise to call simple and short passes, as the receivers are sure-handed and will compensate for their teammate’s shortcomings. In football, it is usually the team that avoids costly mistakes and manages the game appropriately that gets the victory.

Avoiding risks is also a big part of the W/T section. Once you determine your weaknesses, it is wise to not make the mistake of running plays that heavily rely on them. For example, why try to always go for the deep pass when the quarterback has a weak arm? If you have problems running the ball inside, why try to power through the holes when you can spread the field and call a short passing play? Not only is it important to know what not to do, but it is recommended to work on those weaknesses and find a way to transform them into bright spots.

Overall, conducting a SWOT analysis can give you immense benefits. Not only can it be useful in preparation for your opponent, but it can also help identify areas of improvement, select the right starters for a specific system, and improve the organization holistically.


This is part five of a series on how to apply economic analysis models to a football team. To read part one, click here. To read part four, click here.


Leon Häfner is a junior contributor and German editor who resides in Bayreuth, Germany. He began playing football for the Aschaffenburg Stallions at the age of 13 and currently plays wide receiver for the Hof Jokers. Leon is currently studying Business Administration at the University of Bayreuth. You can reach him via his Twitter handle at (@86haef).