When I was working for the Cleveland Browns back in the early 1990s, then-owner Art Modell routinely asked me questions after each game. He always prefaced them with a declaration: "Now, kid, you know I am not second-guessing, but rather first-guessing ... " With the NFL allowing fans to view the All-22 film this season, I have a feeling there is going to be plenty of first-guessing in every NFL city after every game all season long.
Yogi Berra once said, "You can see a lot just by observing." With the All-22 tape -- a staple in coaching circles which quite simply allows the viewer to see all 22 players on the field at the same time, as opposed to just following the ball -- observations will be made across America. But here's the fundamental question: From this influx of observations, will the right conclusions be drawn?
It is one thing to simply watch the All-22 coverage. It is quite another to understand what is really happening on the field. There are people in some personnel departments across the league who will watch the All-22 and not be certain which players deserve blame and which ones deserve praise. This is not a knock on personnel folks, but rather a tribute to the complexities involved in just one football play.
Professional football has become a game of high-level chess. Therefore, if the people critiquing the All-22 tape are not well-versed in the strategy, the potential for misinformation becomes even greater. Bottom line: Mondays in the NFL just got worse for all the coaches who lose on Sundays.
Early in my career, I drove Hall of Fame49ers coach Bill Walsh around in his car. Oftentimes, our conversations centered on my goals -- how I could reach them, and what I ultimately wanted to become. At that time, I thought I really knew the game of football. But in reality, each time I viewed the All-22, I was just watching film. Not studying, not improving, not learning. Just running the machine. As Coach Walsh would tell me, I did not understand the play, so I couldn't correctly evaluate the player. Each time you watch the All-22, you must be able to simultaneously assess the play and the player to understand both. This is not easy for some in the NFL, let alone fans who want to access the coaches' tape.
And therein lies the problem with All-22 tape becoming available to the general public, particularly when it comes to passing plays. Someone will be open and many fans will assume that the quarterback did not make the right read or was locked onto another receiver. Yet in reality there is a progression on every pass play -- based on the coverage -- that a quarterback must rely on to determine who gets the ball. What might appear to be open on the All-22 might not be on the progression.
Correctly studying the All-22 requires a complete understanding of schemes -- both offensive and defensive -- and what each player is supposed to do on each play. Let's go back to the example mentioned above, where it appears a receiver is open, but the quarterback does not get him the ball. The viewer must know the coverage and understand the principles of the coverage -- what looks like man at times can really be matchup zone -- before determining whether the quarterback really missed a potential target. Computing all of this information is very difficult if you are not in the meetings each day, not around the team and not privy to the playbook.
By allowing everyone to see the All-22 film, the NFL has opened up Pandora's Box -- which is fine, as long as everyone understands that many observations are going to be wrong.
Fans should want to watch football from the coaches' viewpoint, as it will help broaden their knowledge of the game, allowing them to see more than just where the ball is going. But be careful what conclusions are drawn and always preface your observations like my old boss Art Modell did, with a "first guess."