Buddy Ryan’s “Polish Goalline” tactic

Reader Alex sent in the below page from Buddy Ryan’s old Houston Oilers playbook. I have to say I haven’t seen this tactic before. Count the number of defenders:

My question is, given the current state of NFL (or college) rules with run-offs and so on, would this tactic still work? Seems just like Ryan: clever and devious.

Update: Alex also tracked down evidence of other “Polish” schemes Ryan employed:

Having just watched his Vikings lose, 10-9, Lynn was rankled by the sight of what the Eagles called their “Polish punt team.” In a most unusual formation, designed to prevent a blocked kick or a long runback, 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 forthcoming and the safest punt in NFL history was executed without mishap. Was Ryan sheepish about employing such a questionable tactic? Hardly. When Al Meltzer asked during the taping of Ryan’s weekly television show about the propriety of having 14 men on the field, the coach did note a flaw in the strategy. “There should have been 15,” he snapped.

  • Kendal Strickland

    Tennessee tried it last year vs. LSU. Didn’t work. 

  • Daniel

    Why only 3 extra defenders? Why not have all 45, including the punter and kicker?

  • DerekDooley

    Wouldn’t a smart QB recognize this and spike the ball (assuming he had downs to spare)?

  • Guest

    This reminds me of a related discussion I was having with my friend this weekend. Please shed some light if you can…

    Scenario: Pitt is leading Cal by 3 points. 15 seconds left in 4th quarter, no timeouts remaining. Cal has the ball on their own 20 yard line. They need to get to Pitt’s 35 yd-line to give their kicker a shot. So they need to go 65 yards in two plays or less, then kick a FG.

    What if Pitt mauled the Cal receivers downfield? Let’s say Cal dumps it off underneath and run more time off the clock. A pass interference penalty is called, the ball is advanced 15 yards. Is time taken off the clock?

  • DerekDooley

    But that was with time expiring…you would revert to your base defense for the last play of the game. This is just to burn time from the clock.

  • JD

    It wouldn’t matter if he had downs to spare.  And yes, that might be the correct tactic – that, or throw a fade to get a free shot at the end zone away from the LBs.

  • Rob

    The time remaining does not fit the scenario, but the GWTD from Stafford to Calvin Johnson against Dallas (Rob Ryan!) fits the bill.  Dallas had 12 people on the field defensively (11 in the box, one on Johnson).  Link to video below:


  • Daniel

    I’d argue that the “optimal” strategy might be to combine your idea and Ryan’s. Throw a bunch of linebackers on the field and, since you’re already getting a flag for 12 men on the field, commit every penalty in the book knowing that only one can be enforced.

    That said, and I think this is the flaw in Ryan’s plan, I think the officials can use their discretion to remedy blatant tactics designed to take advantage of loopholes in the rulebook. I wouldn’t be surprised if they added time back to the clock in these situations, for example.

  • Rob

    The time taken off the clock during the play would still be “gone,” but the clock would stop at the end of the play due to the penalty.  Plus, the game could not end on an accepted defensive penalty, so if time expired anyway Cal would still get one more play.  Starting at the 20 is probably too far out anyway for such a maneuver to have any use for the defense I think, but the penalty would stop the clock only at the end of the play.

  • Anonymous

    Even if it did work, it would likely only work once; the conference and NCAA would probably issue instructions the next week reminding officials about penalizing teams for deliberately breaking rules. See the Wisconsin-Penn State kickoff shenanigans as an example (the year of the dumb rule changes with respect to the clock).

  • Jonathan Ellsworth

    The most interesting thing about it to me is the attention to situational detail. It makes me think of the most successful coaches and their insight into situations more than schemes, maybe?

  • Pigskin11

    Our officials blow the whistle as soon a they count more than 11…  I am still trying to figure out a way to do this like Wisconsin did on kickoff many years ago…

  • Chris Clement

    I’d considered this from an offensive perspective before, but never for the defense.

  • This is a bit like the idea of an offense getting an intentional illegal formation penalty to stop the clock (and lose 5 yards) if they complete a long pass into field goal range (because IIRC there isn’t a ten second run off on illegal formation penalties).

  • Asd

    Why limit yourself to “too many men” how about positioning a defender in the offensive backfield?

  • Twobits

    There is a new rule,  that puts 10 seconds back on the clock if the defense commits a penalty,  or something to that effect.   Its in both college and NFL.

  • Joe

    Offsides with an unobstructed path to the QB is a dead ball foul.

  • I’m not sure the spike was legal yet.

  • Ol’ TM

    “Our defensive philosophy is simple.  We will do anything and everything it takes to win, within the rules.”

    When did utilizing 14 defenders fall under “within the rules?”

  • In both college and the NFL, intentionally doing this could be deemed a palpably unfair act, for which the rulebook grants the officials a great deal of discretion in giving the proper remedy. Offhand, I’d say they might penalize Ryan’s team for 12-men, tack on another penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, and, potentially, add time back on the clock. See this link for more info on unfair acts.

  • Reber13

    You are on defense. Offense in on the 1 foot line with 20 seconds in the game. They need  a TD to win as you are ahead by 4 points. Why not have your best 2-3 leapers (one at a time alternating attempts) try to time a perfect jump over the center to tackle the QB? Every time the leaper mistimes the attempt you only lose half way to the goal. The yardage is meaningless, more so over time as what is half an inch. When one of the leapers finally times it right you now play defense from the 3, not the 1 foot line which is a big deal!

  • Bounce

    This tactic is already covered in both the NFL and NCAA (rule 12-3-2 in the NFL and 9-2-3 in the NCAA, see http://quirkyresearch.blogspot.com/2009/12/blogging-nfl-rule-book-palpably-unfair.html). Now it might still be worth it if you could time it correctly before the officials invoked the rule (in the first, say, two tries).

  • Bounce

    The auto-formatter messed up the link, it should be http://quirkyresearch.blogspot.com/2009/12/blogging-nfl-rule-book-palpably-unfair.html

  • Mr.Murder

    Had issues with a motion wideout coming down to crackback and being on the LOS. Ref never called it, often he was the split end, or lined up on the ball with a tight end on the ball over the tackle. Got the HS rules out(7-2-7) and showed it. Guess “not being clearly off the line” isn’t covered if the wideoutis within the frame of the side judge’s body when he starts motion. Hell he even motioned on the LOS, if a split moves he has to settle for one second, correct? Coach thinks if they have eight on the LOS it would be okay.

  • Mr.Murder

    In today’s Polish Goal Line it is done on pass downs where nobody commits to a stance or position, so the prtoection cannot be set and the team runs out of play time before setting the call and loses any read to middle crossers or quicks.

  • Johnny Appleseed

    It’s not, but that next play from the 2.5 yardline with 11 men is within the rules

  • 4.0 Point Stance

    Sure, but you only need it to work once. If you recall, Wisconsin got away with their kickoff shenanigans that year.

  • David

    I have a vague recollection that the Eagles attempted something like this in the late 80s – possibly ’89 or while Buddy was HC there – although I seem to recollect that it was on a play where the Eagles were punting. Anyway, the Eagles were gaining some sort of advantage by deliberately committing a penalty by having 13 players on the field — the problem was the officials didn’t actually notice.

  • Will Veatch

    Similar: when defending a 2pt attempt, commit pass interference.  Worst case is a re-try.

  • just4acomment

    that would be blown dead unevaded to the qb

  • Squall

     It’s completely ‘within the rules’…to try to take advantage of how the system deals with illegal formations.  Take away those highly situational advantages, and it’d never happen.

    I say it’s an outstanding example of out-of-the-box (heck, burn-the-box) thinking.

  • Anonymous


  • Mr.Murder

    Ryan was going to blitz everybody anyways. Why not get a penalty before doing that so they have less space to throw the ball forward and your press coverage gets amplified in tighter confines? Not like you were afraid of a goal line run right at Reggie White anyways.

  • Mr.Murder

    What did work against LSU? It’s LSU you are facing.  It’s not “blowout st. tech” or “the university of homecoming” that you face.  Try everything!

  • Rev1sland

    amplified by inches at a time…?

  • woofermazing

    Giants may have pulled this one out to force a hail mary.

  • Matten

    That was the first thing that came to my mind as well

  • Halconnen1

    Giants penalty for 12 men on the field on the play that brought the clock down to 9 seconds in Super Bowl 46 may have been inspired by this playbook. On the topic of getting a field goal running out the clock or scoring a TD leaving more time but forcing NE to get a TD to win, if I were the Giants I would prefer the sure 7 points with more time over assuming the short field goal running out the clock is a sure thing.  I’ve seen too many chokes and flukes for field goals under that much pressure.

  • Guest

    All-caps was pretty standard practice back in the early days of personal computers. Reasons for doing so varied, depending on the document. Sometimes all-caps was used for emphasis, in the same way we use bold today. Use of all-caps also often revolved around issues of ambiguity. Monospace fonts weren’t the most distinctive and could occasionally cause ambiguities. By typing in all-caps, you could reduce some of these ambiguities.

    I believe it was also found to be easier on the eyes to have less variable character sizes… This is one of the reasons old computer programs were written in all caps. It made reading through lines of code much easier.Another clear example of this was with postal envelopes. If you look in old keyboarding/formatting textbooks, you’ll often find they instruct readers to use all-caps for when envelopes are addressed using computer print-outs. This was because the postal service would often use computer scanning technology to read typewritten addresses, but the technology was in such an early stage that it could be confused by small-case letters.

  • William_JD

    That play (with 12 men on the field) generated a lot of discussion where I was watching the game. Apparently there’s nothing to stop a team from doing it over and over.

    Or maybe there is, if you read Tom Gower’s comment below.

  • There is nothing that says you can’t use more than 11 players on the field. The rules state that if you do and you are caught, you receive a penalty which may even be declined by the opposing team. If this is deemed as an unfair act, then they need to put in rules that allow for time to be put back on the clock in the case of a penalty in the last 2:00 minutes of a game.

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  • DT

    Any penalty that would stop the clock while it is running with less than a minute left in the half incurs the runoff. This includes illegal formation. In fact, illegal formation is probably the leading cause of ten second runoffs.