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How To Understand Football on TV

Understanding Football on TV

Once you know how to understand football on tv, you’ll be able to watch the game with your friends, relax into your sofa and take part in the discussion. Football watching in front of the television is, in many ways, better than viewing the game live from the stands. That’s because the tv lets you see the whole field, with commentary, and then see a replay from several angles while the fans in the stadium are watching the players stand in the huddle.

For that reason, football is a tv sport, unlike baseball and hockey. The problem is, if you haven’t grown up as a football viewer, you aren’t going to understand what the heck the broadcasters are talking about during the broadcast. So I’ve compiled a list of football notes, so you’ll have a better understanding of the game you’ve just watched.

3 Downs and a Punt

Teams get 4 downs to gain 10 yards or the other team gains possession of the ball. Most teams use that fourth down to punt the ball to their opponent, if they haven’t reached 10 yards in three downs. Football is a game of field position, where the odds of scoring decrease the further back starting field position is. If you start on your own 20 yard line, the chances of scoring a touchdown are statistically pretty small. If you start on the 50 yard line, you have twice the chance of scoring a touchdown.

Since most NFL punters average 40+ yards per punt, and most punts net less than 10 yards per return on average, a punt is likely to give you an extra 35-40 yards of field position. So punting the ball becomes the standard strategy on 4th down.

Running the Football

Traditionally, teams that run the football the best win championships. Running the football isn’t as dramatic or pretty as throwing the ball, but a team that can run the ball can impose its will on the other team. They can “control the clock”, which is shortening the game and keeping the opposing offense off the field.

Also, running the ball effectively lets you beat up and tire out the defense, while giving your own defense a long rest on the sideline. If you’ve ever played even backyard football, remember how much more energy it takes to play defense than offense. You simply tire out quicker, so the longer your offense is on the field, the better your team is likely to do.

That’s why running the ball into the middle of the line is a legitimate strategy, even though most casual football fans see that as a wasted play. For one, it lets your linemen get on their toes and drive the defense, instead of getting on their heels and having to react to the pass rush. This also allows your big linemen to get their hands on a defender. Since your offensive linemen are usually the biggest guys on the field, they get to maul the defensive player. This might not look effective at first, but once your offensive lineman gets to hit a defender in the chest 30 times, it begins to have an effect on the defense.

Passing the Football

The NFL is undergoing an evolution in the last five years. To make the game more entertaining for the casual fan and to protect their big name, high dollar offensive stars, the NFL has instituted new passing rules that are meant to make it easier when passing the ball. Since the new rules changes in 2004, both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have broken the all-time passing TD record, which is a bit like the era of the home run in baseball, where old home run mark of 61 was surpassed with increasing regularity, which eventually exposed the new state of baseball as something of a fraud.

The point being, since the new rules have gone into effect, the best passing offenses have begun to dominate the NFL regular season. The New England Patriots went 16-0 in 2007. The Colts when 14-0 this year, while the Saints went 13-0. All three teams were characterized by great quarterbacks and passing offenses.

At the same time, that hasn’t translated to championships. While Peyton Manning won a Superbowl in the rains of Miami, the New England Patriots were defeated by dominant defensive effort by the New York Giants, while the Pittsburgh Steelers, not necessarily known as a pass-first team, have won two Superbowl titles since 2004.

Defense Wins Championships

Which brings us to defensive football. If you can consistently hurry or sack the passer with four pass rushers, you’re going to be a good football team. If you can consistently stop the run with your front seven (4 DLs and 3 LBs in a 4/3 Defense; 3 DLs and 4 LBs in a 3/4 Defense), you are going to win a lot of games. If you can do both, you are going to be a championship contender.

The new rules have therefore put a premium on one aspect of football, one that had always been important anyway: defensive line play. The one thing both of the above statements about defense have in common is this: both require effective defensive linemen. So if you have defensive tackles who can stuff the run and defensive ends who can rush the quarterback and hurry him into bad throws, you can dictate how the game is played to the offense.

With rules in place to help receivers get loose down field, the only effective and consistent way to stop an offense is to force the QB to get rid of the ball quickly. If he has time to stand back and look for a receiver, any NFL quarterback will find the open man. That has never been more so, in the age where defenders can’t touch a receiver down field.

Sure, great linebackers are nice to have. Sure, you have to have effective cornerbacks to have a chance, while ball-hawking safeties like Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed and Darren Sharper are nice to have back there. But it all starts up front with the big guys.

Won in the Trenches

That’s why they say that football is won in the trenches. If you have an offensive line and defensive line dominating their phase of the game, pro quality skill position players are usually going to succeed. That’s why Jimmy Johnson has always said that, to win in the NFL, you need a quarterback, a pass rushing defensive end and a left tackle. The left tackle in the NFL almost always faces a defense’s best pass rusher, in the form of the right or weakside defensive end.

Understanding Television Football

So when you are watching the NFL on tv, watch to see who is controlling the line of scrimmage. The line of scrimmage is an imaginary line running through the football from sideline to sideline. When a running play happens, see where the big guys up front end up. If several defensive linemen burst through and get into the backfield, you know the defense is controlling play. If several defensive linemen are pushed 3-5 yards off the line of scrimmage by the offensive linemen, you know that the offense is knocking their opponents “off the ball”.

When it comes time for a passing play, see if a “pocket” forms around a quarterback. If a pocket forms, the two defensive linemen are held up at the line of scrimmage. Also, the two defensive ends are pushed to the outside and down the field by the offensive tackles. They should end up behind the quarterback or to his left and right, but still blocked from getting to him. On a perfect pass play, a quarterback should be able to get into his 5-step or 7-step drop, set his feet, survey the field quickly and then step into a throw. The pocket should be large enough for the QB to stand comfortably, then step into the pocket to throw off his front foot. When this happens, he should be able to find receivers consistently.

But when the quarterback barely has time to get his feet set before a defensive end is crashing into him, the pocket is collapsing. A defensive tackle pushing his blocker towards the quarterback can limit the QB from stepping into the throw, so the throw might be slower or weaker than usual. These plays cause incompletions and even turnovers.

When you can check out these few things, you’ll know how to understand what’s going on in a tv football game. Knowing the score also helps. :-)

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 19th, 2010 at 4:09 pmand is filed under College Football, Football, NFL. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “How To Understand Football on TV”

  1. Freddie Mac says:

    Thanks for the great article. I like to watch football with my buddies, but sometimes I feel like I don’t know what’s going on. This post really cleared up a lot of things for me. Keep up the great work on the blog.

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