Monday, January 22, 2007

On Watching Football

I've been making some effort the past few years to actually pay more attention to what's going on in a football game, especially since playing Madden for a few years, so I'm a tiny bit ahead of Mark Bernstein, who asks:

American Football is very popular in the US. It’s a very complicated game; every play involves 22 players, and almost every player has a crucial role in every play.

I know there's a lot I'm missing when I watch a game. For example:

How do you figure our where the linebackers are lining up? Should you figure out where the linebackers are?
This is both simpler and more complicated than it appears. Near the offensive line, the big defensive players are either linemen or linebackers. The linemen are the ones that put a hand on the ground. The linebackers might be right next to the linebackers or in between them if they are blitzing, or they may be 5 or more yards off the line of scrimmage if they're playing pass coverage. Also, blitzing safeties may be mixed up in there too. Anyhow, keeping track of the simple point that linebackers don't put their hands on the ground, is very helpful in understanding the defensive formation.
Is it worth trying to keep an eye on blocking schemes? When?
Well, once you understand football well enough to know when and how to do this, you're pretty much an expert. A large TV and TiVo also helps here.
Is it worth paying attention to backs in motion? When? Why?
A good way to read the defense is to watch who follows the players in motion. That tells you if the defense is in man to man coverage (as opposed to zone) and who is covering the player in question. If you see, say, Reggie Bush motion to the outside, and a linebacker follows him, that's significant because you know there is a coverage mismatch (Reggie Bush is faster than any linebacker).
Who plays a lot of Tampa-2? Why do they? How do you tell?
I'm not sure who plays Tampa-2 other than Tampa and Indianapolis. It is a fairly simple and conservative defense. You keep two safetys back, play a lot of pretty straightforward zone, rush with your 4 linemen and hit hard. You can tell because there are 4 down linemen, not a lot of blitzing, and whenever there is a 20 yard pass down the middle of the field, the announcers will say something about the "hole in the cover-2."
What are the distinctive philosophies of those organizations that have philosophies? For example, it seems to me that the Bears have been dedicated to the proposition that quarterbacks matter less than people think, and that they've followed this belief from Bobby Douglas to Rex Grossman....
Well, quarterbacks are still pretty much luck of the draw it seems, and it is hard to get a good one through free agency or trade, unless another team happens to have two good ones.
There must be Web sites that carefully dissect games, teams, and schemes. Where are they? (This, incidentally, is one place where hypermedia should easily outshine paper. If the site doesn't exist, it's a slam dunk winner for an intelligent coach who can write a bit.)
Football Outsiders seems to be filling this niche pretty well.

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