Monday, November 23, 2015

Coup d'œil

Inspired by the insightful post of Alex Kirby at Life After Football , I wanted to offer feedback on this same process with an emphasis on developing a routine for interpreting live football broadcasts. The method I'll outline is one that I've used for years while being in the box for gameday communication.

What we'll outline here is how to assess the next play that is going to be run before that play starts.  The beauty here is this is a skill you can hone with hundreds of reps at your leisure. Likely, you will already be watching 12 hours of football each weekend that you can practice with.  Let's assume you watch 3 or 4 football games in a weekend. That translates to roughly 450 - 500 repetitions to train your brain with instant feedback to develop this skill. This allows you to stay engaged with any broadcast, playing this game (within a game broadcast) but also developing a skillset invaluable to football coordinating.  Watching games dispassionately, just focusing on formations and areas of the field,  allows you to develop an intelligence towards predicting outcomes.  Naturally, the type of plays called will depend on the play-caller, but those become exceptions to the rule.  The more you exercise this technique, the more scenarios you will have to draw from because you will receive instant feedback once the play is run (were you right or wrong? What did you learn from your hypothesis?).

When all is said and done, it really is the commander's coup d'œil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship. Only if the mind works in this comprehensive fashion can it achieve the freedom it needs to dominate events and not be dominated by them. -Carl von Clausewitz 

The intent of this exercise is to use the 25 second play clock to assess what is on the field and the possible outcomes after the ball is snapped.  The goal here is to consolidate all the information you see on the field and assume the probable outcome within 15 seconds, leaving 10 seconds on the play clock. I believe if you examine the game from a defensive mindset, it becomes easier to process what transpires after the snap and compartmentalize the components of a play, making your viewing experience more enjoyable. The following represents a cascading punchlist of data elements you will use to deduce a  probable outcome in a given situation.

3 Seconds
This bit of information can be garnered immediately after a play has concluded.

Field position - where at on the field is the offense trying to advance the ball? When backed up inside their own 20, offense will be looking simply to convert the down and get out of the shadow of their own end zone. Between the 40s, the objective is looking to break an explosive play to reach the red zone.  Inside the red zone, offense look to take advantage of the limited depth of the field (usually resulting in some form of man-to-man coverage) for a score.

Down and Distance - the area of the field and distance for the conversion influences offenses on how aggressive they will need to be while mitigating a negative yardage play.
Time remaining - more often than not, this really only matters in the 4th quarter in a close game.  Depending on the momentum the offense is in, you can start reducing the time remaining by the average drive duration and figure out how many possessions are left before the game expires.  If there are 10 minutes left in the game and the offense is trailing by more than 10, they would need to operate under the assumption that they'll only have 2-3 possessions left in the game and need to quicken the pace or reach for more explosive plays.

Hash - this makes a big difference outside of NFL, where the field width can magnify the space between the ball and the furthest receiver.  The chasm makes it difficult for defenses to disguise their intentions (coverage/pressure).

Personnel - what kind of players  are in the game? The offense has run 3 tight ends on the field. Okay, we're probably not expecting a vertical passing concept. Some network television broadcasts have begun listing personnel between plays.

7 Seconds
Pare down the unknowns by paying attention to the formation and how the defense matches with their front.
3-man surface: Pro strength or compressed trips?
1-back/2-back: 21 personnel? Find exceptions on why they won't be running Power/Iso because that is probably what is coming.
Balanced / unbalanced: is the formation symmetrical (expect it to be, then work the exception), is there more numbers to a side of the field, are there more than 3 players on one side of the ball?
What is the run strength of the formation (assume they will run to this side)? Is there a TE or H-back added to the box ?
Slot:  What I'm looking for most often is what is the span of the slot (2 receivers) and how the defensive backs align (how deep are they? Inside/outside leverage?). 

  • Is it slot (where is the potential #3 receiver) or trips (is the single receiver closed/split or to the field)?
  • Are the receivers compressed - what grass are they squeezing you to get?
  • Is it to the field? If so, where are they in relation to the numbers, to the hash?
  • Is the back offset? To or away from the field?

Defense matchup
The shell of the defensive coverage is a good indication of how the defense will respond and give a tip of who the force player will be (safety, corner, backer, end?).

As an example, if you see twins to the field and you have 2 defenders over these receivers no deeper than 5 yards with a safety over the top (in relation to both), assume a run inside because that would likely be the most successful scenario simply by the numbers remaining in the box.  

  • Determine the slot coverage being used here; will it be man or will someone drop to cover the curl/flat?
  • Is the front playing even or odd? Is the center covered (nose) or are they playing shades?
  • How many rushing threats are in the box? Who would the offense declare the mike and slide coverage away from? 
  • Are there any "out-of-box" defenders in close proximity to the box to be included as a potential rusher/primary run support defender?

Use this information to start making logical assumptions. Eliminate the exceptions and determine the most probable plays to run.

12 Seconds
Leverage / Matchup -
What is the target of opportunity? What is the most plausible scenario given this front/coverage and formation?

Example: You're watching Iowa offense. It's 2nd and 8, at mid-field and they come out in 12 personnel with double-tight Ace.  Assume they are going to run stretch until you see something glaringly obvious (safeties drop down or a receiver motions across the formation). 

This also helps you visualize any support fits of the defense and who is going to be in the best position to make the play on defense. Use the example above, you expect an immediate inside run, what defender could present the biggest problem.  If they run zone left, which defender would be in the best position (just by alignment) to make the play on the ball carrier?

list the probabilities, then select the most appropriate response

16 - 20 Seconds
Reassess what you've just assumed.  What have these teams been successful with? What is necessary just to convert the down?
Visualize how your assumed play will run against the given defense.  How will that play be blocked and what are the risks to this play being successful?

What is the first step at the snap? Is it flow / web / split action by the backs? Is that congruent with where the line is going?
Did anything happen that contradicts what you assumed would happen?

* this is actually a game I used to have our linebackers play during film study, where we would show opponent film one frame at a time.  The winner would be the first guy to call out the play being run (based on the fewest frames/steps).

The bottom line is compile all the presnap data, determine the likely scenarios, then once the ball is snapped find the exceptions that would immediately alert you of the special play (blitz, counter, play-action, screen).

Example: if either of these safeties in a 2-high look were to drop, immediately we know we have an alert that could become pressure or an indicator that the safety is playing zone and will  be covering the curl/flat area (looking for back out to his side / perimeter run defender). Does the other safety rotate to the middle of the field or does he jump the slot receiver on his side (telling you the middle of the field is wide open)

When you look at the game this way, it eliminates a lot of the unknowns when the ball is snapped.  When you do this, you have the capability to focus on seeing technique, particularly on the pivotal players needed to make the play successful (i.e. a pulling guard in space on sweep).

This exercise is a great practice to condition your mind to interpret on-field patterns.  This is also why I am a big fan of watching games via ESPN 3's Spidercam or just reviewing presnap alignment pictures on your own.  Using the 6-10 seconds of presnap post-huddle alignments as a sort of football Rorschach Test, you quickly have to interpret what you see and list all the possible conclusions that would take place simply by leverage of each player.

I hope this has provided a framework to enjoy broadcasts while strengthening your "football IQ" to build off of.  We welcome your feedback, so drop your recommendations or concerns in the comments section below. 

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