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15 Sep 2006

Too Deep Zone: Score. Pause. Rewind.

by Mike Tanier

We waited seven months for a meaningful touchdown. And then, last Thursday night, one finally happened: Charlie Batch to Nate Washington, 27 yards.

Wait a minute. Batch-to-Washington? Are you sure it's not still preseason?

The first touchdowns of the season have a magnified significance right now. They are all we have to work with, all that the sports talk personalities have to dissect. After half a year of waiting, we all want to talk football, football, football, on the radio or around the water cooler.

But we have little to really discuss. Every team is either undefeated or winless. The storylines and stats are still percolating. All we have are the highlights, the plays we all witnessed, the ones that stuck in our memory. We can talk about those plays in gee-whiz, did-you-see-that tones. Or we can learn from them. There's information to be gleaned from the first plays of the 2006 season. You just have to look closely.

So let's pause, rewind, and freeze frame, again and again, looking for football truth one blurry frame at a time.

Nate Washington

It's third-and-2 at the Dolphins 27-yard line. The Steelers are driving at the start of the second quarter in a scoreless tie. Third-and-2 is usually a running down for a team like the Steelers, but they line up in a shotgun formation with four wide receivers on the field. Hines Ward (inside), Nate Washington (middle, on the line of scrimmage) and rookie Santanio Holmes (outside) are bunched right. Cedrick Wilson is alone on the far left of the formation. Change-up running back Verron Haynes stands to Charlie Batch's left.

The Dolphins counter with their dime defense. Zach Thomas is the only linebacker on the field, though safety Yeremiah Bell lines up to Thomas' right as a second linebacker. The Dolphins respond to the Steelers' bunch of receivers by moving cornerback Will Allen inside over Ward, with rookie nickel back Michael Lehan on Holmes' outside shoulder and safety Travares Tillman so deep that he can't be seen on television. Andre Goodman defends Wilson, with Renaldo Hill playing deep on that side of the field. It's a Cover-2 look, with two deep safeties and two corners covering three receivers. With Bell playing shallow, it appears that Nick Saban is worried about Ward on a drag route.

Holmes goes in motion, crossing behind Washington and Ward, turning just before he reaches the right tackle, then returning to his original position. Lehan and Allen shuffle right when Holmes starts, then slide back when he returns. It's definitely a zone look. A split second before the snap, Thomas crashes the line of scrimmage, heading for the bunch-side A-gap. At the same time, left defensive end Matt Roth pops out of his stance and steps back. Zone blitz. Did Batch have time to read it? It's hard to tell, but the Steelers offensive line appears ready for it.

The ball is snapped. Thomas hits the line. Bell charges as well, attacking the other A-gap. Roth drops into a hook zone. The receivers start their routes. Ward releases outside, as does Washington. Lehan drops into the flat zone along the sidelines. Allen appears ready to retreat into the seam zone. Holmes takes two steps out, pivots with his right foot, and turns for the football.

The Dolphins don't want to give up the quick screen in a short yardage situation. Allen, Lehan, and Roth all react to Holmes' route. Holmes, after waiting a second for the ball, backtracks toward Batch as if anticipating a slip-screen pass, then runs a short drag. The deception hooks Lehan, who mirrors Holmes. The defenders lose track of Washington, running an out-and-up route. While Holmes runs his dipsy-doodle, Batch focuses on Washington, who gets behind Lehan and Allen. Batch pumps slightly just before Washington breaks up the sideline.

It's up to the pass rush to stop the play. Thomas is picked up by center Jeff Hartings, turned out, and doubled by Kendall Simmons. Right tackle Max Starks, who would normally block Roth, handles Kevin Carter with ease. Left tackle Marvel Smith has no problem with Vonnie Holliday. Where's Jason Taylor? After a quick penetration step, he drops into zone coverage on the far side of the play. Wilson runs a slant route on that side of the field, far from Taylor. The Dolphins' top pass rusher guards grass.

Only Bell gets any penetration, slipping past Alan Faneca and overpowering Haynes. He's in Batch's face as he throws, but the pressure comes too late. Tillman, the deep safety, has little chance to make a play on Washington, now streaking up the sidelines well beyond the reach of Lehan or Allen. Tillman gets good position, but Washington leaps at the five-yard line, shields the defender with his body, and lands in the end zone. Touchdown. The season is truly underway.

Pause. Rewind.

Analysis Overload

Watch a play a hundred times, and you can learn a hundred things. But what good is information about Nate Washington and Charlie Batch? If the Steelers mount another Super Bowl run, they'll be watching from the sidelines. Santonio Holmes ran a fine decoy route. Yeremiah Bell beat a double team. Interesting tidbits. Will those insights make my analysis 1 percent better this season? Probably not.

Just look at the players who score in Week 1. Washington. Anthony Thomas. Bernard Berrian. Chris McAlister. Some of these guys won't score again all year. For many fans, the Week 1 results themselves are suspect -- Rams over Broncos, Seahawks and Patriots just edging the Lions and Bills. We all remember the Panthers team that won their opener 24-13, then lost 15 straight, and the Patriots team that lost to Buffalo 31-0 to start a Super Bowl season. Week 1 results are meaningful, but overreact to them at your own peril. And if you scrutinize plays at stop motion until your eyes are tearing and the batteries in your remote are dying, it's easy to turn a molehill of blown coverage or poor tackling into a mountain of false conclusions.

But there's little else to do. Reading transcripts of coach's press conferences only gets you so far. Surfing blogs for fan reaction is more interesting than informative. There's not enough data to muster meaningful DVOA. There are Rundowns to write. Radio stations need sound bytes. A successful Pro Football Prospectus 2007 next July starts with careful observation today.

Rewind. Freeze frame.

Julius Jones

It's first-and-10, and the Cowboys have the ball at the Jaguars' 23-yard line. It's early in the first quarter, and the Cowboys are driving easily. Their passing game is clicking, but their running game isn't. On a rainy day in Florida, that could be a problem. Bill Parcells wants to establish the run.

The Cowboys line up in an I-formation, with rookie tight end Anthony Fasano at fullback. Terry Glenn is the flanker, aligned tight to the right side. Terrell Owens is wide left. The Jaguars are showing a vanilla 4-3. Then, motion: Jason Witten backs up, Glenn steps forward. Witten crosses the formation, right to left, pauses behind Drew Bledsoe, then turns back and sets up two yards behind right guard Marco Rivera. Actually, he never quite sets up: he's adjusting his weight at the snap, preparing to move to his left. The Jaguars appear to be in man coverage, as the Jaguars linebackers can clearly be seen checking their assignments as Witten moves. But it's irrelevant. The Cowboys aren't planning to throw the ball.

The ball is snapped. Left guard Kyle Kosier is covered up by defensive tackle John Henderson, one of the best linemen in the game. But Kosier drop steps with his left foot and turns his attention to right end Paul Spicer, allowing Henderson to enter the backfield unblocked. A suicide strategy? No, because Witten's motion essentially gave the Cowboys a full house backfield. Witten blocks Henderson under his left shoulder and turns him out. By the time Jones takes the handoff, Henderson is in no position to make a play.

Marcus Stroud, the Jaguars other tackle, is easily blocked and turned to the right by Rivera. Center Andre Gurode may have double-team responsibilities on Stroud, but Rivera doesn't need any help, so Gurode climbs out to the second level. Flozell Adams is already there; with Kosier blocking his defender, he's free to embark on a linebacker seek-and-destroy mission.

The Jaguars have three linebackers on the field: Mike Peterson (middle), Daryl Smith (defensive right), and Nick Greisen (defensive left). By the time Jones takes his first step with the ball, the Cowboys have three second-level blockers: Adams, Gurode, and Fasano. All three Cowboys find their targets. Gurode smothers Greisen. Adams brushes Smith aside as Smith tries to run around the block. Peterson gamely tries to fill a hole about seven yards wide. Fasano gets under his pads and drives him back three yards. Peterson sheds, but Jones is already through the hole and cutting to his right.

It's up to the secondary. Cornerback Robert Mathis isn't far from the play, but Glenn does a fine job tying him up at the line of scrimmage. Brian Williams is far afield, his attention focused on Owens running a little slant route. Neither Donovan Darius nor Deon Grant is blocked; either could stop the play for an eight-yard gain. But Jones makes a tight, downhill cut. Gurode pulverized Greisen so badly that Jones can simply hug the block and turn on the burners.

Both Darius and Grant anticipate a wider cut by Jones, and they take bad angles. Jones closes the distance between them too fast. Darius attempts an ankle tackle at the 19-yard line, Mathis comes off Glenn's block and dives at the 17. Jones is tripped up momentarily but keeps running. Grant realizes that he took a poor angle; he starts at the 10-yard line, drives to about the eight, then plants and starts giving ground as Jones escapes from Darius and Mathis. He chases Jones to the far right corner, but can only apply a shove as Jones reaches the end zone.

Pause. Rewind.

The Wrong Tree

Touchdowns make great analytical tools. We all saw the last two plays several times on highlight shows. You read the header "Julius Jones" and you knew what was coming. It's easier to describe action to an audience that already knows the particulars. Plus, touchdowns are important plays, reviewed from multiple angles on television. The more angles, the more thorough the breakdown.

But touchdowns aren't the only important plays. There are sacks, interceptions, and long gains that don't result in a score. Then there are the incomplete passes, nearly 7,000 of them every season, each one an example of great coverage or poor pass protection, a heads-up play on defense or a mental breakdown on offense. Indeed, except for the scores by the McAlisters of the world, most touchdowns are offensive successes and defensive failures. Study only the touchdowns, and you risk learning only half the story.

But we have to start somewhere. There will be time to break down sacks and fumbles and four-yard runs in the weeks to come. Week 1 is the time to brainstorm and outline, not to edit and fine tune. Touchdowns tell us what the offense wants to do and what defenses must do to stop them. Touchdowns tell us the Steelers plan to throw on third-and-short, and that the Cowboys can ignore their star-studded receiving corps, run up the middle, and achieve some success. They're simple insights, but they'll do.

Plus, we can break down other plays while searching the tape (DVR, actually) for the touchdowns. Scan the first quarter of the Chargers-Raiders game, and you'll find LaDainian Tomlinson's 58-yard run. A slow-motion review reveals beautiful blocking: Lorenzo Neal on Thomas Howard, Antonio Gates on Michael Huff, Shane Olivea on Derrick Burgess. A fake reverse freezes the backside defenders. Kirk Morrison fills the wrong gap or just takes an awful angle. L.T. does what he does best.

But it's not a touchdown. Fast forward.

LaDainian Tomlinson

It's fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line at the start of the second quarter. Marty Schottenheimer is going for it. Pick your jaw up off the ground.

Schottenheimer isn't a subterfuge kind of guy. He plans to run the ball. The Chargers are lined up in a traditional goal line formation, with three tight ends, one of them actually tackle Cory Lekkerkerker. Brandon Manumaleuna and Lekkerkerker are on the left side of the formation, Manumaleuna a yard off the line of scrimmage. Tomlinson is ready to run behind a battalion of vowels and consonants. The Raiders respond accordingly, with six defensive linemen and five "linebackers," though cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and safeties Jarrod Cooper and Derrick Gibson are among the nominal linebackers.

The ball is snapped. The play is clearly designed to open a hole between the guys with the long names. Manumaleuna stands up linebacker Jeremy Irons and turns him out to the left. Lekkerkerker and left tackle Marcus McNeill slant left and cut their defenders. There's no initial defensive penetration on that side of the line. Center Nick Hardwick helps prevent an interior surge. Fullback Lorenzo Neal draws a bead on Asomugha. Tomlinson follows Neal and takes the handoff. It looks like he will walk into the end zone.

But Asomugha makes an alert play. He prevents Neal from getting a clean hit, shedding the block and gumming up the hole. Cooper is charging behind him, unblocked. Tomlinson assesses the information, plants with his right foot, and squares his shoulders. Change of plans. He's going over the top behind Harwick's block.

Tomlinson leaps from just outside the three-yard line. Morrison meets him in the air just at the goal line. Another linebacker, Robert Thomas, reads the play from the backside and leaps to help Morrison. Terdell Sands, who had some penetration, tries to get a piece of Tomlinson but whiffs. By the time Thomas collides with Tomlinson, it's all over. Momentum carries them both into the end zone.


Remote Viewing

This may be tealeaf reading or naval gazing, an exercise in futility for the football obsessed. Maybe I've studied the wrong plays, looked for the wrong things, made the wrong interpretations. For every detail I've included, I've omitted a dozen more. Maybe each omission was an error.

But I know what I saw. Ovie Mughelli crushes Barrett Ruud. Pause, rewind. Chris Simms misreads zone coverage and throws to Chris McAlister. Pause. Rewind. Donovan McNabb sells a play fake, tucking the ball behind his hip. Pause. Safeties bite. Linemen miss blocks. Blitzes are picked up. Rewind. What's his uniform number? 56? 58?

Freeze frame.

I really need a high-definition television.

(Check out the Football Outsiders blog on FoxSports.com in the weeks to come for more stop-motion analysis of interesting plays.)

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 15 Sep 2006

47 comments, Last at 19 Sep 2006, 8:36am by Peter, Denmark


by Tom S (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 12:06pm


by BigManChili (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 12:11pm

I love this kinda stuff. This was great.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 12:19pm

I heart MT.

by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 12:26pm

I loved this column. I'm very intersted in the sort of interesting breakdowns you only rarely get, if at all, from the announcers.

Mike, did you get all this just from the broadcast feed, or do you have access to the coaches' film of the games? How do you know what safeties who are "so far back they can't be seen on television" are doing?

by andrew (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 12:28pm

If you get a High Definition Television (only way to watch football now IMO) you'll also need a new DVR. DirecTV NFL sunday ticket does NOT feed all games in HD, either. Likely you'll get the two national broadcasts in HD down in the local channels, plus maybe a couple others depending on your regional sports networks.

by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 12:30pm

To spell Manumaleuna and Lekkerkerker correctly and Hardwick incorrectly, oh the irony.

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 12:52pm

I dont understand the "first" post. What is the point if you dont contribute anything?

Anyway, pretty good analysis...other that the fact that I think Nate Washington will be playing a bigger part than most people think this year.

by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:00pm

Great, great analysis. Thanks.

by Mike M (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:03pm

This article was sublime. Well done.

by Queequeg (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:14pm

Great article

by centrifuge (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:17pm

Very nice. For what it's worth, third and 2 has commonly been a shotgun down for the Steelers lately, although they aren't shy about drawing Haynes.

by Nate (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:26pm

Great article. I also think that anyone who responds with a "First!" should have his IP banned from this site.

by Tally (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:27pm

Tomlinson's numbers were pretty good, if not spectacular, and you'd think the Raiders defense actually held him somewhat in check especially later in the game. Then you realize that since the Chargers were hardly passing at all, the Raiders were stacking the box with eight or more and LT was still getting his.

by Sam! (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:44pm

What the heck was Robert Mathis doing on the field against Dallas? And playing cornerback no less? He should have been in New York getting ready to play the Giants!

Oh. You probably meant Rashean Mathis.

by James C (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:45pm


We should all take a deep, understanding breath. It may be foolish to post 'First' but it doesn't actually cause any harm. It appears to be some kind of meme which unfortunately has manifested itself on this website, the people who do it seem to be readers who don't post, maybe its their way of introducing themselves to us without unwittingly opening themselves up to a thorough slagging for venturing an incorrect opinion. It is stupid, but can you really find disdain in your heart for someone who would put an exclaimation mark after such an inocuous post?!!!!

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:48pm

Mike is absolutely one of the best sports writers I've ever read. Period. Adaptation (Mike Tanier version) and Life Long Lessons in Losing were just a glimmer of the great stuff to come.

TDZ is just an absolute pleasure to read.

by Levente, Hungary (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:51pm

As a European who never had the opportunity to play the game these articles are extremely informative and help me enjoy the matches.
Thanks, Mike.

by Podge (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:52pm

This sort of thing is why FO is the best Football site on the Net. Even without using DVOA and all the statistics, the analysis is great.

by Phil (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:54pm

Out-freakin-standing stuff!

by Nate (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 1:54pm

Yes. Yes I can. My disdain for people who post "First!" in threads is only matched by my disdain for people who think that caps lock is cruise control for cool. They are trolls, pure and simple. See link in my name. Their PCs (likely a Packard Bell running Windows 3.1 and AOL) should be thrown into Lake Erie, with all the other trash.
I agree completely. Mr. Tanier is outstanding.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 2:03pm

Mike, are you married? And if not, how would you feel about moving to Massachusetts with me? ;-)

That was tremendous. The typical media outlets are so barren of this kind of insightful breakdown that every time I see something that isn't dumbed down to a 5-year-old's comprehension level it almost takes my breath away. Goddamn it's good to have football back!

by DavidH (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 2:08pm


Everybody talking about the "First!" comment has disrupted this thread WAAAAY more than the first comment itself. (Yeah, I know I am now included in that.)

Mike Tanier-

Awesome, awesome article. Only complaint is that there weren't even more plays broken down :) On LT's TD, do you have any idea how often that happens - the play calls for him to hit a hole, the hole closes, and he leaps over the pile? In other words, how often is a dive called, and how often is it an improvisation by the RB? The only types of football I have ever played are touch football in the street and old versions of Madden, and let's just say random dives over the pile didn't happen much in either of them.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 2:09pm


I do post, and I like to say "First!" whenever possible. It's just mindless fun - is it really such a sin to not use your brain for a second?

Anyway, kudos to Mike Tanier for this article. Obviously not to this degree, but this is similar to the gamecharting project - play, pause, rewind, and hope you're picking up on the right things in your comments. I've been saying that the most frustrating thing is that the TV feeds suck when you try to analyze anything beyond the basics, but Mike does a fantastic job here. Maybe I'm missing something?

Also, excellent dissection on the Washington TD. Now I'm sure Bill will bite my head off for not measuring up... :P

by Brad (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 2:25pm

What's really great about the Nate Washington TD is that Whisenhunt came back to that same formation on 3rd and short in the second half, ran the screen and gained 7 or 8 yards. I believe Washington got the ball on the screen also. Nice!!

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 2:45pm

Just one suggestion for future pieces like this. Since I'm not intimately familiar with the personnel on every team in the league, it would be a little helpful if the player's position was mentioned along with his name (especially for the guys who don't get the spotlight all that often). I found that I kept having to go back and re-read the initial description of where everyone was lined up so that I could follow how the two parties of a particular block came together. Something like:

The Jaguars have three linebackers on the field: Mike Peterson (middle), Daryl Smith (defensive Right), and Nick Greisen (defensive Left). By the time Jones (RB) takes his first step with the ball, the Cowboys have three second-level blockers: Adams (L-OT), Gurode (C), and Fasano (FB). All three Cowboys find their targets. Gurode (C) smothers Greisen (L-OLB). Adams (L-OT) brushes Smith (R-OLB) aside as Smith tries to run around the block. Peterson (MLB) gamely tries to fill a hole about seven yards wide. Fasano (FB) gets under his pads and drives him back three yards. Peterson (MLB) sheds, but Jones (RB) is already through the hole and cutting to his right.

I realize that anyone reading this article probably doesn't need to be reminded the Jones is the runningback, but some people (myself included) might find stuff like being reminded which side of center Adams plays useful. Not a big deal. Just a thought.

by Adam H. (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 2:59pm

Twenty Sixth!

by andy (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 3:02pm

Keep your eye on Washington. Cowher seems to like him and kept him on the roster over an established veteran like Quincy Morgan. I think we'll be seeing more of him as the season goes on.

by Adam H. (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 3:02pm

Sorry couldn't resist. Excellent article Mike, TDZ is swiftly becoming quite the institution round these here parts, one of the best columns on THE best football site around.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 3:15pm

Re: 27

You do realize that you just used a favorable comparison over Quincy Morgan to show how "good" Washington is, right?

by zlionsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 3:25pm

#5: That's only if you want to watch the games in HD. You can still watch a standard broadcast on a high-def TV, and IMHO it still looks better than a standard broadcast on a standard TV.

I haven't watched any NFL games on the new TV yet (caught a bit of Maryland-WV last night, not enough for analysis, but enough to note it looks much better, especially from the kitchen at about a seventy-degree angle from the screen), but I already noticed from week 1 that if you use the worst setting on your DVR for a standard broadcast, those numbers are pretty hard to read on a standard TV ... and you're in trouble if the cameraman is slow to find the ball (is that the football or a woodchuck?).

by Tom S (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 4:10pm

RE #7; FO Tradition steelberger1.

Nice to reflect on the 2001 Draft. Cincy picks #4 and LT is picked #5. Groan.

But life is good now.

by andrew (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 4:41pm

Its not just the resolution, the HDTV broadcasts give you a wider aspect ration, which means more often than not you can see more of the field, allowing you to see things like how receivers got off the line, where the safety was lurking, etc that would have been lost on the conventional 4:3... of course sometimes they waste it like that miami-fls game where they sliced up the screen to show us constant footage of each coach, fans from each team and the scoreboard..

by M (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 6:08pm

Off topic -
Did anyone see the end of the Oakland-SD game where the Raiders had the ball around the ten and went for it on 4th and goal with just a couple seconds left? Did anyone think the decision not to kick the field goal and avoid the shutout was a little strange? I haven't heard anybody talk about that play in the media.

by Kal (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 6:50pm

This was about as close to NFL playbook with Jaws that I've seen. Really cool work.

by Matt (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 7:14pm

Nate Washington is the Steelers #3 receiver, unless supplanted by Santonio Holmes at some point. So he will be on the sidelines except for all the plays on which the Steelers go 3 and 4 wide.

Great analysis of the play. Now if you can just wean yourself of the ponderous prose that precedes it, you may be onto something.

by Jerry (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 7:14pm

It looked to me on Washington's touchdown like Ward was open on about the 5 in the right middle of the field. This was with the naked eye, so I can't confirm it.

by Matt (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 7:22pm

Also MT, while I have you, loved your Fox preview of the Steelers-Jaguars game.

It's wonderful that everyone can so conveniently forget the questionable calls that went against the Steelers in the playoff game at Indy. Or the year in which the Steelers received three official apologies from the league for blown calls that basically cost them regular season games.

When you say that "none of [my whining] is meant as a knock against a phenomenal Steelers team," of course you don't mean it. If it weren't meant as a knock, you'd have no reason to say it.

In any event, "frankly, the Steelers are due for a dud" is exactly the kind of rock solid statistical analysis I've come to depend on from FO. It's just common sense, right? If I flip a quarter two times and it comes up heads, it must be due for a tail on the next flip, right? It's elementary.

But I'd better shut up now and stop complaining before someone comes in and tells me to put on some Vivaldi and have a glass of Shiraz.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 7:22pm

#26: Adam, you stole my move, man. I must have telegraphed just before the snap. Good job. But not quite as good a job as Tanier. TDZ is now on par with EPC as super micro-analysis.

Wouldn't it be great to see about 5 minutes of this during a halftime segment? How long would it take them to prepare it during the 1st half action? How much would it cost? Take one retired coach to pick one "representative" or "key" play and pick apart the roles of 5 guys on O and D. Might teach the "masses" (ahem, admittedly, more than just the masses) a bit more in-depth about the game, and would certainly get the juices flowing for die-hard fans.

This way we wouldn't turn off the game or do laundry during halftime and would actually see some of the commercials that indirectly pay the big NFL salaries (filtered through NBC, ESPN, etc.)

If you were a sponsor, wouldn't you demand some more face-time with America?

Wow, how'd I get on that rant after only intending to congratulate MT? Weird.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 7:33pm

Whom would you rather have, Scarlatti or Vivaldi? If you're talking Italian Baroque, I think Vivaldi's your man. He's done too much all across the board. Now Bach, 1,000 miles north, is hard to argue with, especially since he's credited with spawning (musically speaking), in addition to about a thousand of his own little prodigies, Mozart. The argument ends there in my view.

And there is NOTHING--I repeat, nothing--wrong with Shiraz. Like any other grape, it can be abused, but taking $15 bottles head-to-head, it seems to beat basic cabs, pinots, merlots, and it's kissin' cousin, Zin. If yo take $50 bottles, I think the Shiraz is WAY ahead. Beyond that, where I may not drink nearly often enough, I suspect the top-line cabs level the playing field.

Generally, Shiraz lacks the refinement of Bordeaux blends, but it is generally not grown nor mixed to take them on. (and personally, I prefer the Parkeresque fruit bombs anyway) Plunk down a few Benjamins some time and try a top-line Hentschke Hill of Grace or Grange. I suspect you will not disparage that grape again.

Oh, and Indy will thrash Pitt when they meet in the playoffs this year.

by MikeT (not verified) :: Fri, 09/15/2006 - 9:14pm

BTW, I don't have coach's film. I just chose plays I had several angles of, except the LT touchdown, which was real simple. And there are some guesses ... like, I don't really know who the deep safety is for Miami on that Nate Washington TD, but I only count 10 guys from every angle and the 11th guy had to be somewhere.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for the feedback!

by Jim Haug (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 9:42am

Steelers have favored a shotgun on 3rd and shortish (2-4 yds) with one or two wingbacks lined up next to the QB for pitches and blitz pickups for a few years.

Washington is a favored split end choice in the three WR set with Wilson sliding inside, and four WR with Holmes outside and Ward into the slot.

by john (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 6:43pm

Great writing. I'm officially hooked on this site now!
That was the single most important play of Charlie Batch's pro football career; huge win for the Steelers especially with Balt. and Cinn. looking to make alot of noise this season. He definitely proved me (and alot of other doubters i'm sure) wrong with that comeback performance on a big stage.

I'd love to hear some opinions on Pennington and Leftwich; I believe these guys have the right mix of emerging young playmakers and vets to become elite QB'sthis season, that is if they can stay healthy. (Watch Wilford for JAX and Cotchery for NY, these guys are FOR REAL)

by BlueStarDude (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 7:49pm

Wonderful prose. "The Dolphins’ top pass rusher guards grass" - a gem. "It’s easier to describe action to an audience that already knows the particulars" - perhaps, but few do it so well as it's done here. Do they still do those "Best Sports Writing of [year]" anthologies? If so, MT should be represented every year.

by mattman (not verified) :: Sat, 09/16/2006 - 11:44pm

Reading this article, it suddenly occurred to me - this is how I would write, if I could write. Someday, perhaps.

Another outstanding piece. I think Mike Tanier just might be starting to pull away from the FO pack as a pure writer. Just a heads-up to the rest of the Outsiders.

by Sam! (not verified) :: Sun, 09/17/2006 - 9:28am

and it still says "Robert Mathis"

by Kalyan (not verified) :: Sun, 09/17/2006 - 1:01pm

Note to the Editor (Aaron):

I guess you would agree that article 1 for "BEST OF FOOTBALL OUTSIDERS IV" is a lock now

by Peter, Denmark (not verified) :: Tue, 09/19/2006 - 8:36am

Great article, nice to have focus on the actual game.

One note though:

"The Jaguars appear to be in man coverage, as the Jaguars linebackers can clearly be seen checking their assignments as Witten moves. But it’s irrelevant. The Cowboys aren’t planning to throw the ball." "It’s up to the secondary. Cornerback Robert Mathis isn’t far from the play, but Glenn does a fine job tying him up at the line of scrimmage."

- The fact that it is man coverage, is not irrelevant, as Mathis' focus is clearly on his man only. Had it been zone, he would have recognized the run much earlier, Glenn wouldn't have done such a good job tying him up, and he would - at least - have made the gap a lot smaller.