On Film Buffs, Enlightenment, and the Red Pill

>> 6.08.2010

This recent Ross Tucker article on SI.com tickled my fancy for many reasons.  First, it deals primarily with the importance of film review; as many of you know I’m a wholehearted believer!  Tucker interviews Greg Cosell, an NFL Films employee--and the creator of NFL Matchup, ESPN’s incredible film breakdown show.  As a youth, I never missed an episode; it was worth Herculean effort to peel myself out of bed at 7:30 on Sundays.

The amount you can learn from watching what’s really happening is enormous.  I’ve called it “the red pill” of fandom; once you slow it down and watch what’s really happening, all the easy “he sucks” and “he rocks” stuff goes right out the window.  Players you think can do no wrong do, and players you think are worthless prove their worth.  Once you’ve watched one player for a hundred snaps in a row, you understand his play better than if you read a million words written about him on message boards and forums.

As a wide-eyed youth I watched, enraptured, as Ron Jaworski break down Tom Moore’s play-action based offense.  Some of you might know Moore as the Colts’ longtime offensive coordinator; the man who built Peyton Manning into Peyton Manning.  But as my pimply self sat in my beanbag chair, Moore was calling signals for the Lions.

That's right, Moore became the Lions’ OC in 1995—and quarterback Scott Mitchell had the year of his life: 4,338 yards, 32 touchdowns, and only 12 interceptions.  In that episode of Edge NFL Matchup (as it then was), Jaws broke down how well the Lions’ offensive line “sold” the run, which in turn dramatically increased the effectiveness of the play fake.  When I saw from the end zone camera how the line’s “run blocking” made the linebackers creep up, the play fake made the safety bite, and Mitchell’s inexplicable pass to nothing in the wide-open middle of the field became gloriously on-target when the wideout made his break, the scales fell from my bleary eyes.

As Tucker says, NFL folk get access to two critical angles: the “all-22,” a sideline view that extends from the tailback to the safeties, and the end-zone camera, which records action along the axis of play.  Grading secondary play is almost impossible without the first, and understanding the distances, spaces, and angles involved in football is difficult without the second.

Tucker laments the loss of his access to those film angles; they’re only available at NFL Films HQ, or NFL team facilities.  So, uh, if the Detroit Lions wouldn’t mind declaring my basement an official “team facility,” I’d really appreciate it.  Yes.  I would.

Another topic of interest Tucker touches upon, something I’ve spent a lot of time looking into lately:  the relationship between pass rushing, pass coverage, and pass defense.  Specifically, he asks Cosell whether, if starting a franchise, he’d rather have an elite pass rusher or an elite cover corner.  Cosell says:

"If the players are equivalent in terms of skill set and impact, I think you always have to go with the pass rusher."

I can’t put that data point on a scatter plot, but it’s valuable nonetheless.  There was one other part that got me all warm and fuzzy inside, this time about a certain quarterback, and his fellow 2009 top-five draft pick:

"Stafford is a more gifted passer than Sanchez. He has a more complete skill set for the position. His issue, which was a function of his team last year, is that because of his big arm he has a tendency to too often try to make 'stick' throws into tight windows. Normally, that trait is a positive in the NFL. When you are forced to do it too often because of the score of the game, it can become a negative."

. . . allow me to do a little happy dance.

So, you take the blue pill, the story ends.  You keep scrolling, you go to forums, and you believe whatever you want to believe.  You read Ross Tucker’s article on SI.com, you stay in Wonderland, and he’ll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.  Actually not really, because there’s no film clips in that article, but I had to complete the quote . . . I am a film buff, after all.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,ross tucker,si.com,nfl films,matthew stafford,mark sanchez


Weston Corbitt,  June 8, 2010 at 11:24 AM  

I suppose my generation uses Madden to the same extent. Sure, its hardly the same, but it does have some of the same concepts. Still not a worthy equivalent. Doesn't the NFL Network have a show similar to this? Great article.

Mike,  June 8, 2010 at 12:12 PM  

Really good article ty.

Anonymous,  June 8, 2010 at 3:32 PM  

Okay, Peter King has been promoting NFL Matchup for years and now you and Tucker are endorsing it as well. Suppose I'm going to have to implement it into my Sunday morning routine. Not easy because I already watch OTL, Sports Reporters, & NFL Gameday prior to the 11 AM kickoff (one of the many perks of living in Denver). But if it's as good as you guys suggest, I guess I'm going to have to get up even earlier.

BTW, good Matrix reference. Keep the movie quotes coming.


Ty,  June 8, 2010 at 3:45 PM  


"YOUR" generation? Listen, you whippersnapper, I've been playing Madden since back in '93! Damn kids! Get off my lawn!

Seriously, though, there's no doubt that football video games have helped bring about an understanding of football Xs and Os--though you lose the element of actual film review, where you can grade the players based on their performance, and you can see what the coaches are actually doing.

But yes, in terms of learning what formations are what, and what to look for when you're watching football, Madden has been a great teacher.


Ty,  June 8, 2010 at 3:58 PM  


Yeah, my own viewership of the show has taken a tumble in recent years, because A) I now have three kids of my own and I get my sleep when I can, and B) church is an all-hands-on-deck production. I am probably going to figure out a way to watch it this season, though . . . I miss it too much.


Ty,  June 8, 2010 at 4:02 PM  


Ah, yes. Sunday, six hours of watching sports TV before the games even started! Honestly, I've never understood how there can be THAT MUCH general sportsness on Sunday morning, and yet the best part--the film breakdown show--only gets a tiny half-hour sliver. It could be three hours long, and they couldn't run out of material!


Kris,  June 9, 2010 at 11:14 AM  

I need to start DVR-ing this NFL Matchup show (assuming it comes back, which doesn't appear to be a given). Why do they put a show that so many football fans speak so highly of at such a crappy time? I never heard of this show until this off-season and feel I've been missing out for years.

I don't generally watch much pre-game anymore... partly because it's hard enough to keep my daughter (no interest in watching pretty much any sport sadly) entertained for the actual games, partly because the pre-game shows are just a rehash of what ESPN has been talking about all week, and partly because they don't hardly ever talk about the Lions.

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