There was much rejoicing when the NFL announced that this season they will be offering access to ‘coaches tape’ or ‘All-22’ film through their Game Rewind (and presumably GamePass) services.
Coaches tape has long been seen as the holy grail amongst those of us that are paid to analyze football, or even just enjoy doing it as a hobby. It has always been irrationally and fiercely guarded by the NFL to the point that I never really expected to see it released as an option to the general public, however silly and farcical the arguments against it have been.
Now it has been, what does it mean for everybody?
Well the first thing to point out is that it shoots a giant hole through a certain section of NFL analysts who have dismissed anything else for a long time. Some people with access to the All-22 believe you can tell nothing from anything less. That’s frankly a ridiculous viewpoint. While working from TV tape certainly has limitations, it’s far from useless, it just requires a bit more work and is far more time consuming.
When PFF was in its infancy I remember reading an article that claimed compiling accurate snap data from TV footage was impossible. How could you possibly tell one LB from another, a runner from the next, receivers? Forget it. It’s not exactly easy, but anyone with any sense knows that viewpoint is nothing more than ignorance.
Regardless of the information you come to the table with, if you weren’t using All-22, some people would simply ignore you. Those people become irrelevant overnight, and I won’t miss the argument.
What All-22 tape won’t do however is make idiots smart, and like Tim Tebow articles, stupid people are everywhere. The smart people will get better, they’ll be able to see more, analyze deeper, and improve the level of discussion for us all. Idiots will remain idiots. Without knowing what you’re looking at coaches tape is no more useful than TV tape. Hell, if you don’t know what you’re looking at you might as well just be reading out the box scores.
Similarly, unless you’re watching every game you’re in the same boat as people who just watch a few games of tape now. Yes it’s better than nothing, but what happened in the other games? Nate Livings played well against Justin Smith, arguably the best defensive player in football. If you watched that game and nothing else you’d think he was a Pro-Bowl caliber guard. But what about the other games? Not so pretty. All-22 is the same. You might see more in every game you watch, but if you’re not watching all the games, there will be major gaps in your big-picture canvas.
Another problem with the coaches tape is that you still don’t know the calls on the field, or the specific assignments of individual players, without which you will always be misled on some plays. Chris Brown of SmartFootball.com summed that up well by saying that now you’re in the same boat as opposing coaches, which is true, but there is significant scope for wrong analysis in these plays.
In the process of talking to Eric Weddle for a PFF interview I asked him about a particular play that seemed very strange at the time of analysis. In essence is looked as if Weddle had bitten down on a crossing route by the TE and taken himself out of the play, which ultimately went deep over the top for a touchdown. It seemed like a very uncharacteristic blown coverage, but with nothing to have caused it. That’s because in the Chargers’ scheme the safety is instructed to cover anything over 12 yards from a TE crossing the middle of the field in man coverage. As soon as the TE cut across the field, Weddle fulfilled his role and jumped down to cover it. Without knowing that, there is no way you can diagnose that play correctly, regardless of what tape you’re working from. Part of the PFF ethos in grading is that if we’re unsure, we grade with 0s, rather than guess and pin a significant penalty on somebody. That play seemed fishy at the time, so we didn’t downgrade Weddle.
So what am I getting at with all of this? All-22 has the potential to be a great help to all of us. It will give us a view of the action that we haven’t had access to before, and allow us to do a few more things, and a few things we already did more accurately. It will not cure all ills, and it is not in and of itself the answer to all analysis.
In order to make the best use of All-22 we will all need to remain aware of its limitations, be mindful that in any one game, anything can and does happen without translating over a season, and that we’re going to have a learning curve ourselves.