Parts I, II, and III of my talk with NFL Films senior Producer Greg Cosell – co-author of The Games That Changed the Game were portions of a recent conversation. Part IV and Part V about what goes into evaluating certain positions on the football field are from 2008. The final installment of this series features a short conversation about “favorites.”
Waldman: Who were your favorite players growing up?
Cosell: Wow, it’s funny because I watched football, but the NFL was probably my third or fourth favorite sport after baseball, basketball – the NBA and college – then football. I liked the old AFL. There were players in the old AFL that I really enjoyed watching.
I loved watching the old Oakland Raiders with the Mad Bomber Daryle Lamonica throwing to [Fred] Biletnikoff and Warren Wells.
I remember the Chiefs and Otis Taylor. I loved watching Otis Taylor. I loved watching the old AFL.
Waldman: What have been some of your favorite offenses in recent years (as well as all-time) to watch from a schematic standpoint and why?
Cosell: Wow (laughter), many overlap now so it’s tough. So much of what is called certain things comes from the terminology as opposed to the actual concepts because concepts overlap. As you probably know, in the West Cost terminology words are used to describe plays. In the sort of Don Coryell on down to Mike Martz use a three-digit number system, which I find a whole hell of a lot easier.
I’m not calling plays in a huddle, but it seems to me it’s a lot easier. But I guess at the end of the day if I’m talking personal preference, I’m more of a Coryell disciple. I like the down field passing game.
I like the intermediate to down field route combinations from an aesthetic standpoint. I like to watch that more. I like quarterbacks who can throw the ball down the field with some velocity and accuracy.
This is why I always loved watching Troy Aikman because they ran that down-field, Coryell passing game. Norv Turner came from that and when he was the offensive coordinator in Dallas they ran it. As did Ernie Zampese when he then became offensive coordinator.
Waldman: Likewise, what have been some of your favorite defenses in recent years (as well as all-time) to watch from a schematic standpoint and why?
Cosell: I’m still fascinated by the zone blitz and its evolution. When it started it did a certain thing. It’s evolved but it’s still the same concept of exchanging rushers and coverage players. I really enjoy that because I think it creates a lot of confusion pre-snap to post-snap, because it puts players in positions where quarterbacks and offenses don’t expect them to be.
That to me is sort of the essence of defense. It creates confusion without sacrificing numbers. And I really like that. Maybe it’s because I’ve had the chance to talk with Dick LeBeau when I did the book (The Games That Changed the Game) and I just loved listening to him talk. He doesn’t teach it this way because obviously it would sound like it’s too much like a classroom, but the way that he spoke about the zone blitz concept overall – including coverage – as sort of a mathematical equation and I like that.
Waldman: Would it be safe to say you’d want LeBeau as your team’s defensive coordinator if you were to start a team from scratch?
Cosell: Yeah, it would be safe to say that. But again when I did the research for the book LeBeau wasn’t the first guy to come up with the zone blitz. I remember looking at the 1963 AFL Championship Game when the Chargers beat the Patriots and we were fortunate to get a wide-angle copy of it I saw the Patriots doing what were zone blitzes. So LeBeau wasn’t necessarily the first, but I think he was the first to say hey, this is where I really want to go and I want to make this my own. And he took it to the next level.
Waldman: Let’s just keep going with that idea. If the NFL started from scratch and held an expansion draft with the entire player and coaching pool and you were a GM with a team of scouts who had your sensibilities what kind of fantasy team would you build? Who would be your head coach, your offensive and defensive coordinators, the type of schemes you’d want your units to run, and some of the key players you’d want to execute those schemes?
Cosell: (Laughter) Those are not “off the cuff” questions…again, I know I just said I like the Coyrell offense but in terms of the kind of head coach, and obviously this coach had a different system, I got to spend a lot of time with Bill Walsh. I was just so amazingly impressed with the man and the way he talked and the way he taught.
In many ways he helped shape my view of watching tape. And by the way Matt, I’m certainly not comparing myself to Bill Walsh – I hope you and [everyone reading] know that – but he saw the game as an intellectual-academic challenge. And maybe because I didn’t play the game growing up in Queens, New York, I see it the same way when I watch tape.
I’m certainly not at that level of understanding or knowledge, but I see the game that way and I think the great coaches see the game that way. They see it as 22 moving pieces on every play in a finite amount of space and that has to be balanced in a certain way.
To me the great coaches don’t see it as just a physical, knock-your-dick-in-the-dirt, kind of game. I think they see it as moveable chess pieces on a board in a finite amount of space. That’s my appreciation of the game.