By Jene Bramel
Television makes football look and sound amazing. They give us HD video and surround sound, on-field suspended cameras, and parabolic microphones. But the TV production crews – including many of the color broadcasters and their spotters – still miss showing us crucial chapters of the game story.
Thankfully, football geeks can get a glimpse behind the scenes every week with the Game Rewind service on NFL.com, which provides the coaches film for a few selected plays. It’s a great way to see if something went down as the television angles and the announcers said it did on Sunday. Sometimes, the two stories are as different as what my seven year-old and four year-old tell me after I find that half the Halloween candy has been eaten two weeks before they’ve put they’re costumes on.
Here’s an excellent example, with just under nine minutes left in the third quarter, the Ravens lead the Texans 13-7. The Texans have the ball 1st and 10 on the Ravens 32 yard line. The Texans run a play action fake with Arian Foster, roll Matt Schaub away from the run action, and Jacoby Jones catches a well-thrown ball over Ed Reed on a deep post for a touchdown.
Here’s a link to an NFL.com video highlight of the CBS television broadcast of the play.
Before the snap, we see the Texans line up in an I formation, with TE Owen Daniels (81) in line to the left. WR Kevin Walter (83) comes in motion to a tight slot formation prior to the snap. The Ravens counter with an eight man front, with the right corner reduced to the line of scrimmage as a force run defender. Neither safety can be seen on screen prior to the snap and the left corner, who was playing well off Walter prior to the motion, has rotated off screen as well.
As the play progresses on television, the pass drop and rollout prevents us from seeing anything beyond the line of scrimmage before the throw is made. The pass is completed with Ed Reed trailing and the color analyst Dan Dierdorf spends the next 30 seconds discussing how the Texans beat Ed Reed on the play and may have specifically targeted that particular matchup.
I’ve seen Ed Reed gamble and get beaten deep, but this situation (first down, play action, single receiver to his side) struck me as odd as one in which Reed would get caught with his pants down. And I thought Dierdorf’s comment – that the Texans might choose to test Reed, arguably the best cover safety of all time, over Pollard, a strong physical presence who’s been essentially cut twice in three seasons for coverage inconsistency – was a bizarre one. So I was happy to see the coaches film on Game Rewind later in the week.
Here’s the presnap defensive alignment from the All-22 camera angle after the Walter motion is complete:
The Ravens disguise coverage frequently so this pre-snap look could mean a few different things. A Cover-2 shell, rotation into a three deep zone, man coverage concepts to the right side, zone coverage to the left, lots of things are possible. But I’d argue that both safeties (12-14 yards off the line, just outside their respective hash marks) are showing deep zone responsibility rather than man responsibility this late in the presnap progression.
What happens next is something the announcers never once hint occurred and you’d never have guessed after watching the two TV replays.
The offensive line and running backs carry out a run action suggesting an inside zone run to the left, but Daniels runs a crossing route at intermediate depth. Jones is running a post, but he threatens a corner route first to leverage a better angle to the deep middle. Interestingly, Pollard doesn’t flinch on the play action, but drives immediately on the crossing route by Daniels. He continues to drive on the route and is across the opposite hash before the ball is thrown far enough behind him that it finishes even with the numbers and further outside where he aligned at the snap. Reed meanwhile is busy showing off his amazing range and athleticism by turning around out of his backpedal and adjusts to nearly make the play. Dierdorf mentions this fact, but his tone suggests that he thinks it’s part of Reed’s mistake in play rather than great recognition and recovery to an area of the field that is not his responsibility .
Here’s a screencap of Pollard with his hand in the Halloween candy from the All-22 angle.
Pollard could have been in some form of unusual bracket or man coverage on Owen Daniels on this play – it’s something I’m not completely certain of. However, his presnap alignment and my inference of how quickly he turned his head when he saw the ball go back across his hash mark and the understated (but evident) glance that the ever-professional Reed gave Pollard after getting up off the turf in the end zone are all telling to me.
There’s usually an example or two of this kind of disconnect between the television broadcast and the coaches film every week, along with all kinds of other interesting observations to be made. It seems we’re getting closer and closer to increased access to coaches film every year. The Game Rewind service is a great start but NFL.com is surveying fan interest in coaches film footage for every play and every game. Let them know your thoughts here.