All-22 Available for All NFL Fans: How to Use It to Your Advantage

Alen Dumonjic@@Dumonjic_AlenContributor IIJuly 1, 2012

Last month, the NFL reached a milestone that some never thought would occur: They released the vaunted All-22 film to "super fans" around the world.

They made a package available to the public for a lavish $70, enabling fans to study the game in detail that was little seen before. It reveals all plays in coaches' films and makes it open season at all times on coaching staffs because everybody will have an opinion now.

But, how do we use this available film to our advantage? 

In order to form a strong and quality opinion, even if it isn't entirely correct, we have to intensively study, not watch the film.

There's a difference between studying and watching film. Studying requires a complete understanding of what actions are being done and for what reason by each team, while watching is simply sitting back and essentially guessing what is supposed to be happening. Michael Lombardi of NFL.com explained this well in his column:

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 [quarterback progressions], 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.

Lombardi is correct that it can be difficult to understand all of the concepts and responsibilities of athletes in them, but he's also underestimating some of the league's fans.

The truth is, there are plenty of fans that have a general understanding of the offensive or defensive philosophy of their favorite team and can develop the eye to evaluate the intricacies of the game on a play-by-play basis. 

What this will take is extensive time watching and rewinding of plays, as well as diagramming them for a visual view, to get an understanding of the tendencies of each concept.

For example, watching the Chicago Bears defense prior to the snap will reveal that they align in a "even" coverage shell as seen in the image below against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 1.

This means that there are two safeties deep prior to the snap, implying Cover 2.  Four (also known as "Quarters") or Six are possible concepts that could be used when the ball is snapped.

However, once the ball is snapped, there is a rotation of both safeties to what's an "odd" coverage, meaning there's a single safety deep in the middle of the field. This reveals that the coverage is some form of Cover 1 or Cover 3.

From there, we will find out if it's a zone or man coverage, which indicates if it's Cover 1 (man) or Cover 3 (zone). Once that's narrowed down, the variations are sorted through revealing the exact coverage used. 

In this instance, it's a form of Cover 3 "Sky," meaning the safety is a "force" player with three deep defenders and three underneath ones. In a traditional Cover 3, there are four underneath and three deep defenders but with a defender being sent on the blitz, it makes it three underneath as opposed to four. 

Understanding these concepts can sometimes be a long process that takes hours upon hours to do, which not everyone is willing to do; but those that put in the time will get better studying the game and identifying concepts. Much like NFL players, the student will get better at their craft through repetitions. 

That's been the case with me, having spent a very brief time coaching high school that allowed me to learn more about the game.

Once I had to step away from it, I took what I learned in the short time I was there and continued to put in work that enabled me to form a stronger and more correct (debatable, I know) opinion than what I previously had. 

Despite this, I'm still learning much about the game and continuously working to improve by watching extra footage. It will be easier to evaluate plays now because of the availability of the coaches' films, but we still have to proceed with caution as Lombardi further explained:

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."

A "first guess" is a fine way to put it, as it aptly describes what is being done by the viewer: making an assumption based off of data compiled.

We do not know what the exact responsibilities of a cornerback are on every play, nor do we know the technique that they've been taught to use. Consequently, we cannot state that we know what exactly occurred, but we have a general idea of what did.

For instance, as viewers, we know that on one specific play, the defense played Cover 3 which featured some form of four underneath defenders playing zone coverage while three others split the deep depths of the field into thirds.

But the question is, which variation was it? "Sky?" "Cloud?" or "Buzz?"  What technique did each defender use? And why was he using that technique?

These are all important questions that need to be answered in order to understand the game within the game.

But for now, a "first guess" will do as we practice analyzing the game.