This is more of a philosophical question and requires a deeper answer. There are a few things that you need to answer first. The first question would be, why do you want to throw the ball. What is the purpose, how does it fit your personnel?
Why – The reason you want to throw the ball is easy. It can help you get the ball into the end zone. Whether its because you’re seeing single coverage on a good receiver, or the safeties are at seven yards and over committing to the run game, there are going to be opportunities to throw the ball.
Throwing the ball with play-action compliments the run game. I’ve usually carried only three play-action passes into the season. Each of these will look exactly like our run action for the first two steps after the snap. We want the routes to mimic what the blocking schemes on the perimeter look like. This creates the most deception for the defense.
If the safeties have crept up to the line of scrimmage and are hell-bent on stopping the run, it’s only too easy to throw the ball over their heads.
If you have a great or multiple great receivers, you are going to see watered down coverage concepts because you are an option team and often times one on one situations or even trailing defenders as they get fooled by the play-action.
How – I’ve written some about the play-action passing game in the past. You can see those articles here and here. Your play-action game is the most important part of your passing offense. Big play possibilities are abundant in the play-action game, and has been the source of most of our passing yards throughout my career.
Outside of the play-action game the rest of your passing attack is up to you and dependent on your talent and that of your opponents. I’ve always been an advocate of the old school run and shoot passing game. Those same concepts have carried over to “modern” football and it’s very easy to install them both together, and can be done in the first year of install. It’s a little heavy on trips sets, but outside of Choice it can all be run from the standard double slot set.
How Many – I’ve always said, “however many times I need to throw to win”. The feature graphic shows that Navy has has much more success when throwing the ball less. The obvious answer why is likely two-fold. If they are running the ball well and winning, they wont need to throw much to maintain their lead. If they are behind and the running game is going poorly, the passing game is a last resort to try to win.
I’ve been comfortable throwing somewhere between 10-13 times a game. Less than that is fine, it means we are winning and mashing the defense with the run. I think if we are throwing more than that, like Navy, its because we are behind and we are desperate.
Don’t be afraid to throw. It can and will help you win, but don’t try to do too much. Three play-action concepts, a few half-roll routes and some sort of drop back game is all you have time to be good at. Our passing game concepts are covered in depth through the Flexbone Association Academy.