Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Sep 2008

Football Outsiders Game Charting Project

TO ALL CHARTERS: Please do not be shy about asking questions. Let us know if you don't know how to score a certain play. With the NFL Game Rewind service, I can see any play from the regular season, which means I can help answer questions. Also, if you have a problem with the validation and/or automatic cell highlighting, let us know. -- Aaron

Game Charting Explanations and Training

The following films help explain how to chart certain events, although these films are pre-ESPN integration and may concern things we now depend on ESPN Stats & Information to chart:

It is also to useful to look at a section of the 2009 Week 1 Jets-Texans game which has a number of interesting plays that help clarify specifics about how to chart. Make sure to download my chart with commentary as well.

Another game to check out: Here are two sections of the Buffalo-New England game from Week 1 of 2009 for you to download and compare to my charting. I'll also be taking pieces of this game to put in new charting tutorial movies. These are big files -- sorry about the mediocre quality, but otherwise they would have been even bigger.

You can also check out this four-part video put together by the NFL offices in 2007 for the official scorers. It discusses the official rules for assigning tackles, assists, hits, and passes defensed. It isn't necessary for charting, but you may find it informative. It comes in four parts, and you will need to turn the volume WAY up.

Notes and Clarifications

  • Please look for the highlighted cells in the MISTAKE column that ask for things like missing run directions and whether a QB run is a scramble.
  • Please when you make any PBP changes, list them in the MISTAKE column -- that's the column where I look for that stuff. If you only put it in the EXTRA COMMENT column, I may not see it. Also, don't change the PBP, I take care of that. Just list in MISTAKE.
  • Don't tell me if there is a one-yard difference between PYD and what you think PYD should be. That's really just personal choice. I need to know when there are major differences, not minor ones.
  • On a Wildcat-type play, the RB-WR-TE will add up to SIX rather than five. If a quarterback is lined up as a wide receiver, please mark him as a wide receiver and put his name in the "X as WR" column.
  • The easiest way to mark a missing QB hit is to put the defender's name in brackets like this [69-J.Allen] - obviously you don't need to put the name of the QB who was hit, since we know who is the QB!
  • On a pass interference play, there can't be a "Defensed" under reason. That should be "Pass Interference" under reason.
  • No need to list the player who drops a pass in Reason-Player. Of course the player who drops the pass is the receiver!
  • Please mark plays even if they are cancelled by a penalty; in particular, the yardage on passes cancelled by a penalty, which is not normally listed in the standard PBP.


Q: What about when the corner is the primary defender, but the safety comes over and intercepts or defenses the pass. Who do I mark as the DEFENDER1?

A: DEFENDER1 is always the player in pass coverage, no matter who "makes the play." If a ball is defensed or intercepted by someone else, put that player in REASON-Player.

Q: On plays where the QB gets rid of the ball so quickly that you can not tell if the RB is going on a route or staying into block, which way should we mark it; blocker or not?

A: Err on the side of "not."

Q: There are some really half-assed attempts at play action where the RB is four yards away from the QB who only lowers the ball slightly for a second. Is is still considered play action no matter how lame the attempt is?

A: Err on the side of marking play-action, but we know what you mean. Some of these are SO lame that you have to figure NOBODY is being confused by them. In that case, you can leave it out. And note this in EXTRA COMMENT so in next year's book we can write "Quarterback X sucks at play fakes."

Q: When a wide receiver motions in tight and blocks like a tight end, do we mark that TE or WR?

A: WITH THE NEW TEMPLATE FOR 2012 this player should be marked WR by ESPN. You should list his name in the X TIGHT column.

Q: If a tight end or running back is lined up as a wide receiver and gets a screen, do we mark that RB Screen or TE Screen (depending on the player) or WR Screen?

A: WR Screen

Q: What is the difference between a swing pass and a dumpoff?

A: A swing pass is when the running back is basically the first or second read on the play. Doesn't try to block first, except maybe to chip a guy. A dumpoff is when the quarterback is looking downfield, but he's under pressure, or everyone is covered, and he goes to the back to make sure he gets a few yards.

Q: Is there a set amount of time that you would use when deciding to mark a sack a Coverage Sack?

A: Roughly four seconds, and look for two bits of body language: 1) The QB obviously swiveling his head to look for multiple receivers, and 2) Clear indication that defenders are pulling away from good blocks (guys working inside after working outside, inside rushers ripping away, that sort of thing). If a guy turns back in the direction of his first read, he has a clear problem.

Q: How do we mark an incomplete that was caused due to an obvious defensive pass interference that went uncalled?

A: Defensed. I know, I know, sometimes a clear DPI is missed, but it isn't our position to challenge officiating calls in the PBP. You can mark in the EXTRA COMMENT column that the officials missed a clear DPI.

Q: What does "Rusher Untouched" mean? Does it mean a player who was unaccounted for because of a numbers advantage, like six rushers vs. five blockers, or is it confusion in the blocking scheme that turns a guy free. like the center and guard mess up an assignment and the DT gets a clean run at the QB?

A: Both, actually. Also, if a defensive back comes on a DB blitz and nobody picks him up, that's "Rusher Untouched." Unless a couple guys also blow blocks and everything collapses at once, in which case it is "Overall Pressure."

Game Charting Schedule, Week 1 2014

New Charters: Click here to download the GB-SEA Trial Game template for Excel 2007 or later. Please make sure to OK macros.

New Charters: Click here to download the GB-SEA Trial Game template for Excel 2003. Please make sure to OK macros.

New Charters: Click here to download Aaron Schatz's Week 1 GB-SEA first half charting to compare to yours.

Click here to download the entire Week 1 template for Excel 2007 or later. Please make sure to OK macros.

Click here to download the entire Week 1 template for Excel 2003. Please make sure to OK macros.



Time (East)







1 4-Sep 8:30 PM GB SEA NBC Schatz Hu Salick Wierichs
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM NO ATL FOX Hurley Chang  
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM MIN STL FOX Vesel vander Bent  
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM CLE PIT CBS Kacsmar Kacsmar  
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM JAC PHI CBS Stewart Bonner  
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM OAK NYJ CBS Lee Koski  
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM CIN BAL CBS Beasley Verhei  
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM BUF CHI FOX Morrow Boguslaw  
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM WAS HOU FOX Weston Lindsey  
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM TEN KC CBS Gower St. Clair   Lyon
1 7-Sep 1:00 PM NE MIA CBS Grebel Dooley  
1 7-Sep 4:25 PM CAR TB FOX Philipse Clay  
1 7-Sep 4:25 PM SF DAL FOX Neumann Sharma Baumann
1 7-Sep 8:30 PM IND DEN NBC Richards Kirpekar  
1 8-Sep 7:10 PM NYG DET ESPN DuPlantis DuPlantis  
1 8-Sep 10:20 PM SD ARI ESPN Rutter Dunn  

Game Charting Schedule, Week 2 2014

Click here to download the entire Week 2 template for Excel 2007 or later. Please make sure to OK macros.

Click here to download the entire Week 2 template for Excel 2003. Please make sure to OK macros.



Time (East)







2 11-Sep 8:25 PM PIT BAL CBS/NFLN McCurrie McDonald Sherman* Gundy*
2 14-Sep 1:00 PM MIA BUF CBS Morrow Grebel  
2 14-Sep 1:00 PM JAC WAS CBS Arsalla Lindsey   Markley*
2 14-Sep 1:00 PM DAL TEN FOX Clay Gower  
2 14-Sep 1:00 PM ARI NYG FOX Flaherty* Chang Sinclair*
2 14-Sep 1:00 PM NE MIN CBS Kirpekar Dooley St. Clair
2 14-Sep 1:00 PM NO CLE FOX Boguslaw Kacsmar  
2 14-Sep 1:00 PM ATL CIN CBS Hurley Koski  
2 14-Sep 1:00 PM DET CAR FOX DuPlantis Wierichs Boyd*
2 14-Sep 4:05 PM STL TB FOX Philipse Verhei  
2 14-Sep 4:05 PM SEA SD FOX Rutter Hu Dunn
2 14-Sep 4:25 PM HOU OAK CBS Lee Weston  
2 14-Sep 4:25 PM NYJ GB CBS Salick vander Bent  
2 14-Sep 4:25 PM KC DEN CBS Richards DeVol  
2 14-Sep 8:30 PM CHI SF NBC Neumann Sharma Baumann
2 15-Sep 8:30 PM PHI IND ESPN Stewart Bonner Kirpekar Swartz*

Game Charting Schedule, Week 3 2014


Time (East)







18-Sep 8:25 PM TB ATL CBS/NFLN Hurley Philipse  
21-Sep 1:00 PM SD BUF CBS Rutter Morrow  
21-Sep 1:00 PM DAL STL FOX Clay Verhei  
21-Sep 1:00 PM WAS PHI FOX Stewart Lindsey Swartz* Markley*
21-Sep 1:00 PM HOU NYG CBS Bonner Weston Sinclair*
21-Sep 1:00 PM MIN NO FOX Vesel Wierichs Brobst*
21-Sep 1:00 PM TEN CIN CBS Gower Gower  
21-Sep 1:00 PM BAL CLE CBS Beasley St. Clair Sherman*
21-Sep 1:00 PM GB DET FOX Salick DuPlantis  
21-Sep 1:00 PM IND JAC CBS Kirpekar Arsalla Gundy*
21-Sep 1:00 PM OAK NE CBS Dooley Lee Buday*
21-Sep 4:05 PM SF ARI FOX Koski Sharma Baumann Neumann
21-Sep 4:25 PM DEN SEA CBS Hu Dunn  
21-Sep 4:25 PM KC MIA CBS Lyon Grebel  
21-Sep 8:30 PM PIT CAR NBC Kacsmar Chang  
22-Sep 8:30 PM CHI NYJ ESPN vander Bent Boguslaw Boyd* Reinwald*

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 12 Sep 2008

34 comments, Last at 22 Oct 2012, 6:58am by Matthew Davis


by qed (not verified) :: Thu, 11/20/2008 - 7:30pm

The Packers and some other teams use a formation with (usually) 3WR and 1TE with everyone in tight, the inside receivers standing a couple steps back. How's everybody been marking this formation? I usually put 1/3/1, slot (left or right) all wr in tight. Is there some more common name for it?

by Sergio :: Fri, 12/26/2008 - 3:50pm

If at all possible, I go by the players. On tight formations, anyone who's a TE or RB and he's up on the line (or a step back) and tight is marked as TE, and anyone who's a WR is marked as such even if he lines up tight.

Of course, the footage doesn't let you check every time... :(

-- Go Phins!

by qed :: Thu, 09/17/2009 - 8:03pm

In today's Walkthrough Tanier referred to this as a "tight twins" formation. It's always good to have formation names that can double as porn titles.

by andrew :: Wed, 12/03/2008 - 1:39am

Just one of those things...

you pause a play before it starts, see someone unusual lined up outside. Looking up the number on the roster you see its not a WR... is he close enough to the line or is it lined up as WR? You think about it a bit, look up some examples and finally mark it down, knowing you took the time and trouble to get the correct info in.

You put down the rest of the formation, unpause... and the guy motions back into his regular position...

by Sergio :: Fri, 12/26/2008 - 3:48pm

That's why I always pause as soon as the ball is getting snapped. Those kinds of thing are annoying...

-- Go Phins!

by Polinsky (not verified) :: Fri, 12/05/2008 - 2:01am

Some helpful charting tips from watching certain teams enough:

Houston - WR Kevin Walter regularly is in tight with a hand on a ground. Obviously not a tight end, but can be easily mistaken.

Dallas - Tight ends, Tony Curtis and Martellus Bennett, regularly line up at fullback until near the end when Dallas is killing the clock. Then the actual fullback, Deon Anderson, starts seeing some playing time.

Jacksonville - Tight end, Greg Estandia, is split out as a WR commonly.

Tampa Bay - Only charted them one game, but hated it. They regularly shuffled Jerramy Stevens and Alex Smith in and out, and at any time, those two would be placed as a wide receiver. Earnest Graham is now done, but he was regularly put at WR in that game as well. Whoever regularly charts Tampa, I feel bad for you.

Arizona - Only charted once, but safety, Adrian Wilson, blitzed regularly.

General tip: something I find helpful before I start charting, is to go through a team's roster before I begin, and note in a notepad document the tight end's for each team.

by qed :: Mon, 12/08/2008 - 11:52pm

Agreed, Bucs TE are the worst. In the one game I charted there was at least one play where Stevens, Smith and the third TE were all on the field, but the formation was something like a standard I with two of the TE in the standard WR positions. I hate Jon Gruden almost as much as I hate the Fox producers for their camera selection.

by zlionsfan :: Mon, 12/15/2008 - 1:41am

When I chart a game, I always grab the Game Book from nfl.com ... occasionally they will list someone out of position because they "started" at a different position (like a TE lined up at WR or something), but it gives me all the numbers and players who were in the game on one page - it fits nicely on my laptop monitor, so I can flip back and forth between it and the Excel charting workbook. Eventually I'll set up the other monitor so I can see both at once ...

by qed :: Sat, 12/20/2008 - 12:01pm

Has anyone used the NFL.com Game Rewind package?

Looks like it might be a good way to chart games. I'd like to get some feedback from actual users before I buy it though.

by Sergio :: Fri, 12/26/2008 - 3:46pm

Rewind is only available within the US.

-- Go Phins!

by qed :: Thu, 01/08/2009 - 3:00pm

I purchased the NFL Rewind package and used it to chart one half. I think it's about as good as using my DVR (which is the DVR built into the Comcast box). I expect charters with better DVRs won't like Rewind as much as I did.

Good video quality
The time slider allows you to go to any point in the game (great when you're only charting the second half)
The controls react quickly, you can get it paused exactly where you want it
You can use mouse/keyboard for everything instead of switching to the DVR remote

No slo-mo, frame-forward/frame-back or step forward/step back
Time slider tends to move in 20-30 second increments only
Have to click through a "Hit ESC to exit full screen" pop-up every time you go from reg-screen to full-screen
No play controls in full-screen mode
There was technical glitch in the stream that swallowed one play

Overall I think it's a good way to chart games for me, but it's not dramatically better than the Comcast DVR. I did miss slo-mo, I can chart a simple pass play on the DVR in one pass just letting it run in slow motion. I really like being able to skip to the second half without waiting through the DVR fast-forward, and when I took a break from charting I just wrote down the video time when I stopped and was able to pick right up from there when I came back to the game. nfl.com could make it even better with some more play controls. Who knows, maybe if enough people order it they'll even consider adding multiple camera angles. I thought it was worth $20.

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 11/17/2011 - 9:05pm

Two years later, I can add some to these observations:

There is a list of plays with links, so you can go directly to a specific play, and as a bonus, they also list when an OL reports as an eligible receiver.

Game Rewind uses Flash, so it's best not to have any other Flash apps running at the same time, or you'll likely experience worse performance.

On my DSL connection (5M down), I can maintain a high-quality connection only by choosing the 3000 Kbps Quality option; choosing "Best Available" frequently drops the quality, sometimes into SD (meaning "unwatchable") levels.

Scoring plays and other long gains have alternate views as well, an all-22 showing the entire play and an "all-22" look from the offense, which usually misses the wide receivers at the snap (and sometimes after).

Obviously there's no local storage needed, so you don't have to worry about keeping games around to chart.

You'll need monitor space for the Game Rewind window, so keep that in mind: it might be difficult to get both the Excel workbook and Game Rewind visible (especially if you also use Game Books for reference), plus you'll have to flip back and forth when you're trying to pick up specific information, like on passing plays. In those cases, I'd prefer to use a good DVR.

One thing to keep in mind is that Game Rewind is "unavailable" during nationally-televised games (Sunday, Monday, and I think Thursday nights): this is because the NFL is dumb. Note that "unavailable" is in quotes: you can't start a Game Rewind session during the broadcast (which frequently includes the pregame show), but an existing session won't get interrupted. What I do when I want to get charting done on those nights is just load the game I'm charting in advance, set it on the next play to chart, and go off and do whatever else I need to do. When it's charting time, I can pick up where I left off, even during an exclusive game.

by Polinsky (not verified) :: Mon, 12/29/2008 - 9:32pm

Highlights of the 2008 charting season:

Easiest charting week:

2nd half of Houston-Minnesota. A ton of running plays, simple formations, no motion, and hardly any plays since nobody ran out of bounds or had an incomplete pass.

The charting week that made me want to email Bill Moore telling him to shove it:

2nd Half of the MNF game between SF-AZ. 146 plays, a ton of passes, 2 teams with whom I have no familiarity with except for maybe 6 players. Having to constantly look up player numbers on every play. Having to type 29-D.Rodgers-Cromartie too many times didn't help my psyche either. Arizona insisting on blitzing every other play, and making me look for numbers, then looking them up. Grrrrr...

Team I would hate to chart regularly:

Tampa Bay. Only charted them once, but way too many formations, random usage of tight ends and running backs at WR, and passing plays.

Game I would have given my left hand to chart:

1st Half of Week 17 Buffalo-NE. My god, 12 pass plays in the first half!?!?

Anyways, being this my first year of charting, it has been fun, and I hope to be back next year if Bill Moore allows it. I have learned more about football this year than I have in 25 years of watching my Pittsburgh Steelers every Sunday. Take it easy guys, we will need the break that is coming to us! Unless you're like me, and are coming back to chart the playoffs. The suckers for punishment that we are. Happy New Year everybody.

by argus :: Mon, 09/21/2009 - 11:43am

What does the color coding on the spreadsheet mean? Is that just for "office use" or should it be guiding us?

by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 09/22/2009 - 5:33pm

I added an answer to this question to the FAQ above.

by qed :: Tue, 10/13/2009 - 9:31pm

In the Eagles Vick packages I've been marking him as a QB. I think the convention for "Wildcat QB who is actually a RB" like Ronnie Brown is to mark them as a RB (so you end up with 6 RB/WR/TE on the Wildcat play). Any guidance on marking Vick, Pat White, and other option backs who are actually listed on the depth chart as QB?

by navin :: Tue, 12/01/2009 - 1:38pm

A few questions/comments:

I've been marking uncovered for dumpoffs to RBs where the defender is 5 yards off. Should I do hole in zone instead? My rational for uncovered is that screens, a similar situation, are marked as uncovered.

Can we add a QB option to play design?

On a trips formation I marked 2 of the 3 as TEs even though they were the outside two members of the formation.

I also had an idea for an optional column where we can mark if a player did something special or something boneheaded. It would be interesting to see which players have the high totals in each column at the end of the season.

by zlionsfan :: Thu, 09/09/2010 - 12:09am

Sunday Ticket schedule is up for week 1. Also, I highly recommend using the506.com (http://www.the506.com/nflmaps/) or a similar site to check which games are televised in your area. Those of us relying on satellite can receive an unpleasant surprise if we don't check the locally-televised games first.

Games at 1:00 pm ET
Cleveland Browns at Tampa Bay Buccaneers 704
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills 705
Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans 706
Denver Broncos at Jacksonville Jaguars 707
Oakland Raiders at Tennessee Titans 708
Cincinnati Bengals at New England Patriots 709
Carolina Panthers at New York Giants 710
Atlanta Falcons at Pittsburgh Steelers 711
Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears 712

Games at 4:00 pm ET
Green Bay Packers at Philadelphia Eagles 713
Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams 714
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks 715

by steelerslob5 :: Sat, 09/11/2010 - 7:34pm

Hi guys, really excited to be a part of this awesome project! Yet with the excitement comes a big overwhelming feeling too... I was hoping I could get a couple tips to get started. I feel quite comfortable with my ability to diagnose the goings-on during certain plays, etc., but here are my admittedly very simple, nearly embarrassing questions:

- To begin charting a game, should I simply start with a normal template, such as the example from the 2007 Jax/Pitt game?

- Will I have any issues charting with iWork for Mac? Has anyone used this?

- It seems that there are certain macros in the template which the notes and clarifications section mention (i.e., " Zone Blitz will be pink when the play might be a zone blitz"). Again referring to my first question, does this mean there are specific templates for each game or is this simply a macro built into the original charting template available on this page? And to my second question, could my ability not to figure these things out be due to using a Mac?

- For things such as the name of a zone (Back, Mid, Front, etc.), are these also fields which should also be auto-filled while charting? If not, is there a way to find the definition of these zones? Again, I suppose this could be a compatibility issue with the Mac, but I don't normally run into those issues with Excel...

- Lastly, the Game Commentary in the white fields of each template: Are charters supposed to manually input this section? How else would it work if not?...

Again, I'm sure these questions are quite Rookie-Level, but I would be incredibly appreciative for any help which can be provided by any veteran charters. Thanks so much, guys, and happy football season!

by Bill Barnwell :: Sat, 09/11/2010 - 9:21pm

The Week 1 PBP file will be posted on the Charting site after the week is finished. That has virtually all the data you're asking about here.

I don't believe iWork works with XLS files; either way, you should be charting in Excel.

by Duke :: Sat, 09/18/2010 - 5:39pm

The open source program OpenOffice.Org will read the charting files, but it incorrectly doesn't let you type in values to some cells (you have to type it in another cell and paste it in).

There's not really a good solution to charting on the Mac (even Excel for the Mac has the problem with the validation).

by BigDerf :: Fri, 09/09/2011 - 10:13pm

The link right above the schedule for week one is the spreadsheet with the proper play by play for Saints/Packers, but it lacks the pictures for formations that are in the link at the top of the page.

by Aaron Schatz :: Mon, 09/12/2011 - 3:08pm

Not sure why that happened, but will work to make sure it is not an issue in the future.

by Sidewards :: Tue, 09/20/2011 - 12:10pm

New charter here.
I'm getting an issue when I'm trying to open the excel 03 version of the week 2 charting sheet. It says "The file may be read-only, or you may be trying to access a read-only location. Or, the server the document is stored on may not be responding."
For reference, I'm using Excel 04 for mac, and didn't have this issue when I did the GB-NO game.

by Aaron Schatz :: Thu, 09/22/2011 - 9:28pm

Hmmm. Not sure. Can you try e-mailing mailbag-at-footballoutsiders.com and I'll send you the file?

by Sidewards :: Fri, 09/23/2011 - 12:35am

Managed to fix it somehow. My copy of excel does a thing with not finding some framework library thing, so I just bulled around that.

by rstevick :: Thu, 09/22/2011 - 3:25pm

Is it considered "All Tight" whenever all the receivers are inside the numbers?

by rstevick :: Thu, 09/22/2011 - 8:59pm

Nevermind, found the diagrams.

by zlionsfan :: Mon, 09/26/2011 - 9:31am

Don't forget that in the Week 1 book, the first diagram is hidden. (The Excel 07 version of the book didn't have that page, but of course you can just copy it from the first week: I like to have it in the same book because there are always things I want to look up, like scramble rules and such.)

by Ken (not verified) :: Thu, 09/20/2012 - 11:33am

When we have questions, is there a particular place we should submit them?

by Aaron Schatz :: Wed, 09/26/2012 - 3:30pm

You can post questions here or e-mail them to mailbag-at-footballoutsiders.com.

by Matthew Davis (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2012 - 11:28pm

Could we list these as collaborative Google Doc's files?

by Aaron Schatz :: Tue, 10/16/2012 - 9:09pm

I'll look into it, but I'm not a big fan of Google Docs.

by Matthew Davis (not verified) :: Mon, 10/22/2012 - 6:58am

Hey Aaron,