Dan Reeves, the former halfback who has coached the Denver Broncos for five years, still uses two of football's most controversial tactics in almost every game.
These are the two-minute offense and the prevent defense, which are opposite sides of the same coin, Reeves said in a recent interview.
And, he said, all National Football League coaches consider them indispensable.
Answer: The game changes in the last two minutes. In each half, the offense needs a 28-minute game plan and a two-minute game plan.
A: Well, the best way to play football is with a balance of runs and passes.
But this takes time. If you try to come down the field with a good mix of runs and passes in the last couple of minutes, time will run out before you get to the end zone.
Q: How does the two-minute drill solve that problem?
A: You quit running the ball. By and large, you don't run it in the last 2 or 2 1/2 minutes of the second quarter. And you only run at the end of the fourth quarter if you're ahead. A run takes time. It takes longer than a pass. And the clock doesn't stop after a running play.
Q: Unless you run out of bounds.
A: That's hard to do if the defense wants to keep you in. So in a two-minute game plan, you use three or four wide receivers and mostly throw the ball. You can crowd more passes than runs into two minutes.
Q: How do offensive players surprise the defense if they're passing all the time?
A: They don't. The defensive coach knows a pass is probably coming in the last minute or two. So he puts in his prevent defense. The offensive coordinator would rather use a balanced offense against a prevent defense--but he can't. There isn't enough time.
Q: How do you define prevent defense?
A: It means prevent the long pass.
Q: With extra defensive backs?
A: Yes, with extra backs lining up deeper. The prevent defense is the same one you use on, say, third and 16 when you don't want the other team to complete a long one. You don't care if they get 12 or 13 yards. You prevent them from getting 16. Your goal is to make them punt.
Q: Specifically, what personnel is in a prevent lineup?
A: In that situation, most coaches today send in their four quickest and most agile defensive linemen--not necessarily their biggest and strongest--to rush the passer. In the other seven positions, they use their best pass-defense people, most of them defensive backs.
Q: Isn't it true that in the last two minutes, the prevent defense often fails to prevent?
A: The reason it looks like it's failing is that it's designed to give up a few yards instead of quick points. Any time a quarterback is completing a lot of short passes for first downs, he looks good. But that kind of football keeps the clock moving.
Q: Along with the offense.
A: But the clock is beating him. If the quarterback is eight or more points behind, the odds are he can't overcome it on short passes in two minutes. What he really wants is a quick touchdown so he can get the ball back and score again--and that's what you try to prevent.
Q: Don't prevent defenses sometimes cost the game?
A: Yes but what we're talking about here is percentage football. When the odds favor a prevent defense, every coach in the league uses it. Football is a game of percentages.
Q: In what respect?
A: For example, the percentage thing to do in a passing situation is throw from the shotgun formation with three or four wide receivers. And a percentage defense against passes is one with five, six or seven defensive backs instead of the usual four. You can buck the odds, of course, and sometimes you'll win.
But more often you'll lose. That's why people use the prevent defense.
Q: What would happen in the last two minutes if a coach used his basic defense, the one that has been succeeding all afternoon?
A: There's no way to double-cover four wide receivers with four defensive backs. Most linebackers are far too slow. The quarterback would kill them with passes to his four fast wide-outs.
Q: Isn't that what he does, anyway, against the prevent defense?
A: The difference is that short passes are all that are open against the prevent defense. Of course, that isn't literally true. Nothing in football is foolproof. But these modern two-minute offenses are pretty explosive. The percentage way to stop them is with some kind of two-minute defense.
Q: If the two-minute offense is all that lethal, why don't NFL coaches use it for 60 minutes instead of just four?
A: As I said earlier, you have to give up running the ball in a two-minute offense. When you're using three or four wide receivers--instead of tight ends and running backs--you don't have enough reliable blocking on the field to count on running the ball consistently.
Q: All right, give it up. You've proved in your two-minute offense that you can move the ball with passes.
A: What you're telling me to do is to throw passes on every play--all day.
Q: Is that bad?