Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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18 Jan 2008

Too Deep Zone: Chess Match

by Mike Tanier

Football strategy is so complicated that it defies metaphors. Calling football a "chess match" is an insult to coaches and coordinators, who have much more to worry about than does the average chess champion. I am sure that chess masters study each other's moves as closely as Steve Spagnuolo studies game tape, but chess' rigid rules limit tactical creativity. It's not like there have been any new formations developed in the past 600 years. ("Oh my God! Topalov just lined up in a three-rook, no-bishop formation! That forces Kramnik to put his queen in the slot to the near side.") And in chess, if you knock out Bishop Rivers, Bishop Volek doesn't come off the bench to en passant his way into the end zone.

Last Ditch

Desperation plays –- fourth-and-forever, two-ticks-on-the-clock, heave-it-and-hope passes –- sometimes offer fascinating insights about football tactics. They're like desert island plays: If you had just one page in the playbook to gain 10 yards, 20 yards, or a touchdown, what would you call? Who would you throw to? How creative would you try to be?

Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett got to answer those questions on Sunday. The situation: fourth-and-11 from the 23-yard line, 16 seconds left, no timeouts, down by four points.

Figure 1: Cowboys' Last Gasp

Think about exactly how dire the Cowboys' situation is and how limited Garrett's options are. The Cowboys must gain 11 yards or the game is over. They must score a touchdown or get out of bounds; otherwise, they face the iffy proposition of lining up and spiking before time runs out. An all-or-nothing deep pass to the end zone makes the most sense, but the Giants are well aware of that. There's no chance of isolating Terrell Owens or Terry Glenn on an unaided cornerback; there will be safeties in the end zone. Do you take the deep shot? Do you send a receiver on a 15-yard out-route, hoping to stop the clock? And what do you do about the Giants pass rush?

Garrett's call didn't work, of course. Figure 1 shows a rough interpretation of R.W. McQuarters' game-clinching interception. There's little complexity here. The Giants are clearly in man coverage with two deep safeties stationed at the front of the end zone. The Cowboys run two go routes, with Terry Glenn running a post from the slot. The game tape showed that no one was open. Glenn had half a stride on McQuarters for a moment, but McQuarters knew he had deep help and was in good position to come underneath Glenn and intercept the pass.

What's most striking about this play is that it uses a seven-man protection scheme. Marion Barber and Jason Witten, two of the Cowboys' best weapons, are stuck in the backfield for the most important play of their season. On one level, that shows what kind of impact the Giants pass rush can have on an offense. Garrett didn't want to risk blocking the Giants five-on-four (or more) when he knew Tony Romo would have to throw deep.

On another level, the three-man route is part of the design of the play. More receivers in the end zone would just attract more defenders, and the defense always wins that numbers game in prevent situations. Witten or Barber could run underneath routes, but with the middle of the field essentially closed, there's not much they could do. Interestingly, the defenders assigned to cover Barber and Witten do not blitz as defenders often do when their receivers stay in to protect the passer. The two defenders drop in anticipation of a) a release route or b) a Romo scramble. That's sound defensive discipline. If nothing else, they force Romo to put some air under his throw.

Figure 2: Barber Option

I could sit at my computer and devise all manner of deviltry that would look better on the screen than Garrett's post to Glenn. Figure 2 shows a slight variation on the Cowboys' final play. In this hypothetical play, Barber runs an option route, breaking outside if his defender gives him the sidelines or running the angle route in the (much more likely) event that the middle of the field is open. The most likely outcome of this play is a completion to Barber over the middle, hopefully for more than 11 yards. The Cowboys would then have to hustle to the line and spike the ball.

Of course, if Barber doesn't reach the sticks, if he breaks two tackles and gets stopped at the 4-yard line when the gun sounds, if Osi Umenyiora sacks Romo ... A lot can go wrong with a play like Figure 2. There's no such thing as a high-percentage play on fourth-and-11 in the waning seconds with no timeouts left. Instead of trying to outsmart the world, Garrett did his best to isolate a very good receiver against a nickel cornerback, then crossed his fingers and hoped Romo and Glenn could make a play.

Last-ditch passes are interesting but rarely successful. Great strategists don't design brilliant schemes for fourth-and-11. They design brilliant schemes to avoid fourth-and-11.

Yada Yada Yada

When the Giants upset the Cowboys, they ruined a potential Rundown intro. If Jessica Simpson lays down for Tony Romo, and Brett Favre laid down for Michael Strahan, and Strahan said that he would gladly lay down for Jessica Simpson, does that mean that Romo will lay down for Favre?

Then again, the world needed another Romo-Simpson joke the way I need two more waistline inches.

Every Internet chucklehead has probably also weighed in on the Seinfeld ban by now. In case this is the only football article you read, the local television affiliate in Green Bay has canceled all airing of Seinfeld this week. Seinfeld is Eli Manning's favorite show, and Wisconsin football fans don't want baby bro to feel at home.

As hollow gestures go, this one is exactly backward. Less time watching Seinfeld means more time watching game tape. The television station should run a Seinfeld marathon. Heck, they should invite Jerry himself to come up to Wisconsin and meet the Giants while hawking the DVD release of Bee Movie or doing whatever it is he does in his down time.

In lieu of that, the station should at least declare a moratorium on other Giants' favorite shows, including Divorce Court (Michael Strahan), Gomer Pyle (Tom Coughlin), and the Pauly Shore classic Son In Law (Chris Snee).

Or maybe they should run an endless loop of Good Morning America.

Bone, Inverted

At about this time of year, I realize that I am completely unprepared for winter: no rock salt, no scraper for my car, not even a good pair of boots. Watching Packers-Seahawks reminded me that I needed to find the shovels in the garage and that the car could use a jigger of antifreeze (Just in time, too: it snowed on Thursday as I finished this piece). They're always ready for snow in Green Bay, which is why Mike McCarthy winterized his offense, adding more inverted wishbone to the mix.

Figure 3: Full House Cutback

The Packers have been using the full house formation (a.k.a. inverted bone, or u-formation, or diamond) since McCarthy became head coach, and I diagrammed some of their plays from the alignment earlier in the season. But the full house is perfect for snow and ice, so McCarthy used it again and again on Saturday. His goal was simple: To exploit the over-pursuit of the Seahawks linebackers by positioning an extra blocker to open cutback lanes.

Figure 3 shows the first-quarter play in which Ryan Grant fumbled, but only after a substantial gain. All three Seahawks linebackers flow right with the motion of the play at the snap. That makes it very easy for Packers center Scott Wells to climb out and block Lofa Tatupu while the backside fullback erases Hill. Grant starts to his left, then pivots in a classic cutback move and has a wide lane.

Figure 4 shows a similar play from later in the quarter. Here, McCarthy uses a different look. The Packers start in a 2-tight end I-formation, but Bubba Franks shifts into the backfield presnap. It's a high school/small college formation that has a hundred names but is rarely seen above the Division III level. The blocking scheme is similar, with Franks taking out LeRoy Hill on the weak side while the linebackers over-pursue.

Figure 4: Grant Cutback with TE in Backfield

There are a few differences between Figures 3 and 4 besides the formation. In Figure 4, the right tackle chips Patrick Kerney, releases, then takes on a safety, leaving Kerney unblocked. This risky move provides additional second-level blocking at the risk of a stuff by Kerney, but only the best defensive ends can come off a chip block, then get a clean hit on a runner cutting inside. Unlike the play in Figure 3, the center doesn't double team the nose defender but climbs straight out to the second level. Favre doesn't turn to his left presnap; this play is clearly designed to go to the right, and Grant's first step left is just a jab to sell the motion to that side. But the concept is the same, and the Packers used tactics like these again and again, especially after they took the lead.

Of course, the full house isn't just for running the ball. Figure 5 shows the first-quarter touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. Here, the Seahawks start in a Cover-2 look, but before the snap they move a safety into the box on the offensive left side and shift another into the middle of the field. The adjustment is a natural reaction to a run-heavy formation. But it effectively isolates the cornerback on Jennings. When the in-the-box safety reacts to the motion in the backfield by stepping up to stop a potential running play, Jennings has lots of space to release outside then get inside on a slant route.

When I diagrammed these plays on Sunday morning, I assumed they wouldn't be relevant this week. The Packers probably wouldn't have used the full house formation much against the Cowboys. They would probably be playing catch-up in good weather for most of the game. Two-fullback formations aren't effective in high-scoring shootouts.

Figure 5: Full House Slant

But we'll see some full house alignments against the Giants in Lambeau. The Packers want to establish the run to slow the Giants pass rush. They'll want to throw some high-percentage passes from max-protect formations. And the weather is supposed to be downright Arctic. The Packers should have some success against the Giants with plays like the ones diagrammed above, but remember that they won't be facing the Giants' smallish Four Aces line when they put two fullbacks on the field. Steve Spagnuolo will counter the full house with a conventional personnel package featuring guys like Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield. Expect both teams to do a lot of personnel swapping when the Packers have the ball. The players will appreciate it: Running on and off the field will keep them warm.

Pocket Presence

My five-year-old takes a sports readiness class, which is a nice way of saying that I pay 25 bucks a week to watch him run around a gym with other kids and throw things. This week they played a game called Gladiators, which is kind of like dodgeball for the hyper-litigated culture. One kid runs a straight-line gauntlet on a well-padded surface while six others try to bean him or her with Nerf balls so foamy that they wouldn't hurt you if you fired them out of a howitzer.

My boy took his foam ball and his place on the firing squad, then waited. A hyperactive preschooler ran the gauntlet, and my boy watched, poised to throw. But he did not throw. Another little Nintendo junkie sprinted through the no-man's-land, but still my son didn't throw. The coach told him to throw. Another kid ran, and my boy watched, but he just couldn't make up his mind to throw. He held the ball and held it, waiting for goodness-knows-what.

On the way home, I bought him a Ben Roethlisberger jersey.

Bluer Than Blue

My "Blueprint" to beat the Patriots garnered a lot of attention last week, and I want to thank everyone who took the time to read it and comment, ask questions, or just boast that it is all meaningless because the Patriots are just too good to be beaten by non-Asgardians.

Several people suggested that the Jaguars used something close to the blueprint. When I watched the Patriots game on Saturday night and saw the Jaguars using a three-man formation with a linebacker flashing as if he might blitz from the edge, I started dancing around and singing "I'm a genius!" Everyone at the sports bar looked at me funny. But for a moment I felt ecstatic, thinking that the Jaguars coaching staff struck upon the same ideas that I outlined in last week's article.

Of course, a sports bar is no place for the sober dissection of plays. Once I was home (and sober), I took a hard look at what the Jaguars did. Mike Smith had his own blueprint, which looked superficially like my blueprint (which was really a mish-mosh of Jimmy Johnson's and Steve Spagnuolo's blueprints) at times. The three-man fronts were there. There was a lot of man coverage. But there were two major fundamental differences that I was able to spot immediately: 1) The Jaguars used a great deal of Cover-2, something I tried to avoid in my gameplan. 2) The Jaguars specifically double-teamed Randy Moss, whereas I suggested a variety of rolling coverage schemes and man/zone mixes.

Clearly, my game plan would have worked better.

Yes, that was sarcasm. One of my main goals when writing the blueprint was to show that a game plan isn't a haphazard collection of plays that a coordinator thinks will work. It's a top-down master plan that flows from the general (stop the long pass) to the specific (double-team Moss) to the microscopic (have Brian Williams jam Moss at the line and force an outside release, align the safety 12 yards deep and 2 yards inside of Moss and coach him to anticipate the Moss corner route when Ben Watson tries to bait him with the seamer). Smith prioritized stopping Moss, as most sane people would. He left his defense vulnerable to the Laurence Maroney delay and the 6-yard pass over the middle to Jabar Gaffney, both reasonable concessions. The scheme plain didn't work.

What will the Chargers do? They'll use three-man fronts, because that's the system they run. They will rush Shawne Merriman, Shaun Philips, or both, because they are elite blitzing linebackers. I am guessing that Antonio Cromartie will draw Moss in man coverage as Ted Cottrell tries to match athletic freak on athletic freak.

Beyond that, I won't speculate. I was eliminated from the playoffs last week. No more game plans until next season. It's time for me to focus on a less mentally taxing activity.

Like chess.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 18 Jan 2008

42 comments, Last at 20 Jan 2008, 10:57pm by JoRo

Comments

1
by zip (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 11:27am

Columns like this are why I read this site. Tanier, you're the f-ing man.

2
by Matt (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 11:31am

#1 - Agreed.

Mike, you are probably the best NFL writer on the web at present. TDZ and Rundown are a great read.

3
by SomeGuy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 11:34am

The freakin' full house counter never works in Madden. Guess those silly EA programmers give the linebackers too much credit.

4
by JasonK (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 11:44am

[i]Figure 5 shows the first-quarter touchdown pass to Adam Jennings. [/i]

Surely you meant Greg Jennings.

Apart from the above nit, top-notch work!

5
by JasonK (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 11:45am

Oops. Wrong brackets!

6
by lobolafcadio (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 11:54am

Great read !
Too much lines to be quoted (Big Ben, Chess formations, Asgardians...)

We want a book recapitulating the whole season !!!!

7
by nat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 11:55am

A gameplan is...
...a top-down master plan that flows from the general (stop the long pass) to the specific (double-team Moss) to the microscopic...

Mike, your defensive blueprint generated a lot of comment precisely because it was well thought out and realistic. It had the virtue of having enough meat in it that it could be wrong instead of just wishful make-believe. Those of us who thought it wouldn't work had real propositions to deal with: Is preventing long pass attempts the right goal? Are the proposed defenses too weak against the run and short pass, as opposed to just normally weak? Is shortening the game worth reducing the chance of turnovers?

Don't give up on game plans just because this one (or the Jaguars' version of it) didn't work. If nothing else, your plan raised the level of the discussion over the usual cheaters! haters! garbage.

8
by Flounder (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 11:57am

Adam Jennings?

9
by Thinker (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:11pm

Any time you mix good football analysis with real chess accumen, count me in. Great work again, Mike.

See folks, all Philly phans aren't inebriated, battery-chucking, incoherent yahoos!

I'll be looking for the SD wishbone and perhaps the "Option I"

Finally, that Farve v Bradichick SB looks like a near lock, but I expect both away teams to go down with valor, and each to have a glimmer of hope remaining into the 4th.

10
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:15pm

As hollow gestures go, this one is exactly backward. Less time watching Seinfeld means more time watching game tape. The television station should run a Seinfeld marathon. Heck, they should invite Jerry himself to come up to Wisconsin and meet the Giants while hawking the DVD release of Bee Movie or doing whatever it is he does in his down time.

Sony must be run by Packer fans, seeing how they just shipped Eli a DVD player and the complete Seinfeld collection. Story here.

11
by Mikey (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:24pm

On the 4th and 11 play, it looked to me at the time that before Romo threw the ball, Barber released and became a check-down receiver with a ton of open field in front of him.

I think that if Romo had dumped it down to him they could have picked up the first down and still had time to spike the ball and stop the clock. But I haven't seen the play again since Sunday so I may be all wrong.

12
by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:42pm

My God, I would like chess so much better if such things as a three-rook-no-bishop lineup were acceptable. Or if you could line your pieces up three rows deep at the expense of your flanks. Or if you could put the Queen front and center. Or.....

I mean, it's no space chess, but you're less likely to get your arms ripped off by an opponent.

13
by SGT Ben (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:43pm

On the way home, I bought him a Ben Roethlisberger jersey.

Another Classic line! Great article man!

I agree with number #7.

The other point to make is that game plans are only as good as the execution of the players. This is why "Hole In Zone" gets a spot above that other guy in KCW All-Pro team!

14
by noahpoah (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:51pm

Mike, I think you made a logical error in your ruined intro. Let _ be the 'lay down for' operator (i.e., 'A _ B' means 'A lays down for B'). The set up, then, is:

1. Farve _ Strahan
2. Strahan _ Simpson
3. Simpson _ Romo

and the proper question is, will 4 hold?

4. Farve _ Romo

Instead, you ask if Romo will lay down for Farve, but football related homoerotic transitivity implies no such thing! Of course, we all know instinctively that Farve is no bottom, but even a man's manly man cannot defy the laws of logic.

Oh, and good column.

15
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:54pm

Awesome. Loved the "3-Rook no Bishop" stuff, and the Ben Roethlisberger skit had the whole office stop what they were doing to watch me laugh.

16
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 12:57pm

Oh Mike, one complaint; Everybody knows that

"There are no plays for 4th & long".

Unless, whisper it quieetly, most commentators are wro...wro...wro...cretins.

17
by pat on the back (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 1:05pm

Random insert, but Bobby Fisher died today. Strange timing.

18
by Go Niners! (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 1:18pm

I don't think the Patriots would have much trouble with Asgard, but I understand the Chulak Jaffa have a really nasty defense.

19
by zip (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 1:31pm

#14

You either suck at transitive reasoning or at describing it. In any case we've already got Farve laying down for Strahan so he doesn't lay down again, the only one who hasn't laid down in Romo and the only one who hasn't been a top (heh heh) is Farve.

4) Romo _ Farve.

I can't believe I'm discussing this.

19
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 1:31pm

14: I think the GB/Dal regular season matchup proved that Favre will in fact lay down for Romo.

21
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 1:31pm

If the Asgardians can beat the Patriots, does this mean that the Asgardian linebackers are all on steroids too?

22
by Travis (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 1:38pm

Re: 11

On the 4th and 11 play, it looked to me at the time that before Romo threw the ball, Barber released and became a check-down receiver with a ton of open field in front of him.

Barber had just finished blocking when Romo began his windup; he was in no position to catch the ball. Picture here.

23
by vijay (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 1:57pm

Couple of comments.

Echo the "3 rook no bishop" comment, that's genius! And it'd be pretty sweet if you could do that eh?

#3 - you're so stinking right. I play Madden as the Cowboys and have tried the full house backfield in the counter play like the Grant play, and a pass play like the one the Cowboys ran at the end of the game. And neither EVER work!

Tanier - great article. I agree that I like your diagram of the play the Cowboys could have run, but at the end of the day, unless the play works, there is no good play for the situation the Cowboys were in. The good play would have been to actually have not committed 200 penalties in the 2nd half. That would have been an awesome play!

24
by BadgerT1000 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 2:02pm

Regarding the Packers use of two fullbacks the other pass play used with great effectiveness is play-action to Donald Lee down the middle. The Packers gashed several opponents with that but later in the season folks were ready. Since GB hasn't tried it now in about four games I wonder if Mike won't give it another go given the aggressive nature of the G-man defense?

25
by Independent George (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 2:42pm

#20 - I hadn't thought of that. More importantly, I really didn't want to think of that.

26
by JCRODRIGUEZ (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 2:50pm

Unless your boy was chased down by nasty-looking linemen and knocked down on a play by play basis, I think the Big Ben Jersey is nothing but a good quality and great tasting gift for your boy...just avoid giving him a motorcycle in the near future...

27
by McGayTrain (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 3:16pm

21: Is there evidence that Pats' LBs are on steroids? If so, where?

28
by Eddo (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 3:31pm

27: I believe that was a reference (albeit not the most apparent one) to San Diego's linebackers.

29
by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 4:13pm

3: It's because actual human beings can't make the "run nearly past the RB, pivot, and dive" tackle like VG athletes can.

30
by ZasZ (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 4:23pm

Best. Article. Evar.

31
by Herm? (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 4:26pm

Oddly, if you read Fischer's write up today, there is a section where they explain how after his mastery of the "normal" method of chess, he would only play a game with mixed up pieces selected at random...possibly causing an actual 3 rook no bishop formation!
But that's not why I'm here, I suck at chess and am here to echo the praise for this article...

Re: Last Ditch Play
Despite the fact that there is no high percentage method of executing a last ditch play, I, for one, would like to see MT's offensive blueprint for a great desperation play that gives the offense the best possible percentage (1%? 2%?) of getting the ball as far downfield and as far away from tacklers as possible...There seem to be 2 prevalent methods:
the deperation bomb and
and the short pass run with the option to lateral lateral lateral.
There seems to be 1 prevalent defense: 3 guys rush (but sometimes fewer) and everyone else gets back, with the defense using their own teams jumpiest WR.
distance is a factor, there is a major difference between needing a TD from your own 20 and your opponent's 20.

I'd think that executing multiple misdirection exchanges would give a team the best chance (assuming 31 teams don't have a Randy Moss type guy for a jump ball).
Because football is predominantly a one-exchange game on every play, execution would be extremely difficult, hence the lower percentage. And hey, you shouldn't have been losing in the first place!

32
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 4:32pm

12 Dryheat, just set up the way you want, make an agreement with your opponent, and have at it.

I am stunned by all the variants I see at my kid's tournaments--team chess in which your teammate, playing on another board next to you, gives you all the pieces he captures and you pop them on to your board (and vice versa), speed chess, all pawns and a king, so why not as you suggested?

33
by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 4:41pm

Re: Madden and Last Ditch by Cowboys

It looks like the play the cowboys used is very similar to HB option from singleback 4 WR. But the HB is told to stay back and block, and the other slot reciever (WR4) is in the backfield as well. It is also similar to Shotgun 4 WR Deep Attack. I think Deep Attack play would have been better than what was called. You would have one more person in the passing tree read, but the 4th WR running an out at the first down might have given another out if the slot was covered (Witten maybe). I find in Madden, the slot is always a pick in Man or Cover 3, but against cover 2 it works. A floater gets picked by the safety, a bullet gets picked by the man assigned. Of course, the D-line of the giants is the problem, and so you need someone to stay back and block. I know Osi was beating the LT here and there, but i would have risked it, and let only Barber help on Strahan. Keep Witten out running an out or another post (something like that twin tight end crossing route, where you have a TE on either side of line, but of course from a 3 wide set, almost like Glenn sets a moving pick for Witten)

As far as the full house, I've never seen it work, but I haven't used any playbook with it in it since I started playing seriously. As for run blocking, I'm finding that you should never sprint till your past your own line, not on toss' or anything, it allows your blockers to get on their men.

I'll stand with the others, Mike, I love your article. Great job.

Can we get a petition started to have the NFL can the camera position, or at least get more replays with that quarterback camera?

34
by Richard Arpin (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 4:42pm

*** change the camera position

35
by Andrew (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 4:49pm

Bobman: Bughouse! Great game. Loved it when I played chess as a kid.

Japanese chess - Shogi - has the rule that, instead of making a move, you can put a piece you've captured onto the board as one of your own. Makes the game way more attack-focussed than Western chess.

36
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 5:15pm

Bughouse! Of course! I forgot. In fact the WA State Chess Championships had an entire bughouse tourney the day before--I had no idea until my 6 year-old and I saw all the older kids playing it between matches.

I also never learned as a kid that if your pawn hits the opponent's baseline, you can get it turned into any piece you want. (Hey, I learned from my peers, not an instructor.) Recently I've officiated a couple games in which kids had multiple queens. The goal is probably a "Henry VIII" game in which you have a king and 6 queens, but it would never get to that point.
I need my three boys to get proficient so we can play Bughouse at home. Youngest is 3, which may be a problem....

37
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 5:19pm

BTW, isn't ot only pawns who move en passant?

Okay, okay, I'll drag my chess-liking ass back to work.

38
by Dr. Wayne Pitcher (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 9:18pm

Mike, excellent article. I was wondering: have you (or anyone) broken down the Steve Young to Terrell Owens TD to beat the Packers in the 1998 wild-card game? It strikes me as somewhat similar--similar yardage, play had to score a TD, heck, even TO was there for both plays. We all know that the Young-to-Owens play worked, but why? Was it the perfect throw by Young? Was it the 1-2% of the time that the play would work? Just wondering if anyone had looked at it.

Oh yeah, Bobman, you are correct that only pawns can capture, or be captured, en passant. In a high school tournament years ago I gave up an almost certain draw to capture a pawn en passant, just because it was something most average high-school players hadn't seen before. As a result of my showing off I lost. :(

39
by Paul (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 9:26pm

I think this comparison is a little unfair to chess. Sure, the pieces are always the same, but the tactics that you can employ with those pieces are incredibly varied. For instance, in the openings, there are the tried-and-true, relatively standard variations (e.g. QGD, Sicilian Defense, etc.), which we can call analogous to the pro-style offense and 4-3; there are the more aggressive variations which tend to produce sharper games (King's Indian, Modern Benoni), which you can think of as the zone blitzes and shotgun spreads of the chess world, and then there's the crazy stuff which can surprise an unprepared opponent but which will generally fail against someone who just plays soundly, which fills the Martz niche nicely.

40
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/18/2008 - 10:28pm

I think this comparison is a little unfair to chess. Sure, the pieces are always the same, but the tactics that you can employ with those pieces are incredibly varied.

A football game typically consists of ~60 plays total on offense. There are 11 men on each side. There are very few restrictions on how individual players can be aligned, and how those players can move. Chess has 16 players on each side, with strict restrictions on how each player can be aligned (on an 8x8 grid) and move, and games don't usually last significantly longer than 20-30 moves. In that aspect alone, football has a significantly larger state space than chess.

Add in the fact that you've actually got about 22 players on each side (counting backups who can be used for additional tactical variation), while the evolution of tactics in chess probably bears a similarity to tactics in football, the complexity isn't even close.

That being said, the "600 years" comment by Mike is a bit much. There's been a fair amount of tactical variation in chess over the past 100 years.

41
by James, London (not verified) :: Sat, 01/19/2008 - 5:51am

"...and then there’s the crazy stuff which can surprise an unprepared opponent but which will generally fail against someone who just plays soundly, which fills the Martz niche nicely."

Great analogy! Sounds like Grob's Defence to me.

42
by JoRo (not verified) :: Sun, 01/20/2008 - 10:57pm

I would love to see you guys at FO start doing more "gameplans" for the weeks next season or even as a superbowl special.

Great read Mike as always!