Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens: John Ross And the Weight of the Playground

Matt Waldman’s RSP NFL Lens showcases a touchdown pass to Cincinnati Bengals receiver John Ross that involves the same scheme philosophies found on every playground. 

The sum of my football experience is 14 years of tackle football at the apartment complex where I grew up, the high school practice field, and various neighborhood games within a five-mile radius of my home in Tucker, Georgia. Even so, it didn’t high school, college, or professional experience — or even another 14 years of studying football 60-80 hours a week — to understand one of the fundamental strategies behind personnel usage and offensive alignments in the NFL: Opponents place greater focus on proven talents.

When I played in my neighborhood’s games where opponents knew my skills, the team’s best tackler guarded me on routes. When I played in neighborhoods where no one but the friend I arrived with knew me, they usually put a slower guy on me until they got tired of being significantly behind in the game.

Again, this is pick-up football; I wasn’t a football star. The point is that team sports always have a scouting component–even if it’s as simple as watching players goof around before the pick-up game begins to get a gauge of who’s fast, strong, shifty, and sure-handed.

While far more elaborate of a process in pro football, the basic philosophy remains the same. Watching John Ross score on this play below reminded me as much this weekend in Atlanta.

Ross and Tyler Boyd are at the right of the formation. Both are talented receivers but they aren’t the most proven receiver talents on the field. In this respect, they’re two most unproven options of the five Bengals in this empty set. The first three — A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Benard — all carry more weight based on their game film, statistical production, Pro Bowls, and pre-game scouting reports.

When you line up Green, Eifert, and Bernard on the same side of the field and Ross and Boyd on the other, which side will the deep safety drift towards and why? You know the answer and it’s based on proven results — just like the neighborhood game where the known players with the best reputations drew the most attention.

The goal of a team’s personnel distribution in many alignments is to create mismatches. John Ross has a ton of speed but on this play, he is the new kid in the neighborhood that’s getting underestimated.

It happens every weekend in NFL stadiums and playgrounds across the country.

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Categories: Players, The NFL Lens, Wide ReceiverTags: , , , , ,

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