What you see vs. what you think you see

It usually takes me a few days to churn out a game post (or a few years in the case of the Texas Bowl). It stinks sometimes, especially after losses; by Wednesday, most of us have moved past the last game and have started looking forward to the next one. The reason it takes so long is that the video clips are a bit time-consuming to put together. First, I have to copy the game from my DVR onto DVD. Once the game is on DVD, I watch each play several times in slow motion until I understand exactly why the play turned out the way it did. If there’s anything noteworthy, I write down the timestamp of the play in my notebook with a short description, then move on to the next play. Once I’m done with the game, I pop the game discs into the DVD player that I have hooked up to my computer, capture the plays that I wrote down in my notebook, and begin editing them. Once all the movies are done, I upload them to YouTube and start writing. Unfortunately, since the paying job and family obligations force me to share my time with things that aren’t Navy football, I’m lucky if I get it all cranked out by Wednesday night.

It’s worth it, though, for those of us who are tired of the same platitudes-from-a-can that we hear every week in every game. Football has a lot of moving parts, and those parts move pretty quickly; there are 22 players on the field, and the average play only lasts about 8 seconds. There is no way someone can watch play after play in real-time and feel like they have a grasp on what all those parts are doing. We see the results, and sometimes we come up with some generalities or clichés to explain why things turned out the way they did.  For those who aren’t content with that and instead crave true understanding, there only one way to go. You have to slow things down.

The reason why I bring this up is because sometimes– maybe more often than not– what we think we see on a given play isn’t what we actually see, and that is what shapes our opinions. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples to show you what I mean.

Here are a couple of very similar plays, with the fullback getting the ball on the dive. Here’s Noah Copeland:

Your first impression after watching that play might be that Copeland did something wrong to run into a pile like that. However, if you slow it down you can see what really happened; after the tackle released outside the DE, he couldn’t get to the MLB fast enough:

That’s not Noah’s fault.

Ashby Christian came in on a similar play and was able to gain 5 yards on 4th & 4. At full speed, it looked like Christian was able to read the defense better to find his running lane. In reality, the blocking assignment was changed. On this play, the guard blocked the MLB (more or less) instead. It was just enough that Ashby didn’t have to meet a linebacker head-on, and he was able to squeeze out the yardage he needed:

Two plays, two different results, two different impressions.

It’s also common to see an option play get shut down and assume that the quarterback made the wrong read, but that isn’t always the case either. Take a look at this counter option:

See that enough, and you start to think that maybe Trey is messing something up. In reality, it isn’t his fault. Usually you want to run the counter option when the DE is squeezing in order to make him easier for the pulling guard to block. On this play, though, the DE stepped upfield. When that happened, Trey made the right read and cut inside for a keeper. The problem, which you can see in slow motion, is that both the playside tackle and slotback missed blocks on the middle linebacker. That’s who makes the tackle:

Something similar happened on an earlier play. In real-time, it looks like a missed read. In slow motion, you can see how the playside guard is unable to get a block on the DT that’s lined up over the center. The DT gets into the backfield and keeps the pulling guard from making his block on the DE, who stops Trey for a loss:

If you see enough plays like that, you start to wonder when Trey is going to get it together. But that’s not on Trey.

Another reason to slow things down is that you can see a lot of good things you might have missed. Check out Tanner Fleming on Christian’s 4th down run:

That, my friends, is a block you can top with butter and syrup. And he’s only a sophomore.

I know not everyone is going to spend their Sunday and Monday nights watching offensive line play (you’d have to have no life to want to do that!). The lesson, then, is only to avoid jumping to conclusions too quickly. What you see isn’t always what you see.


13 thoughts on “What you see vs. what you think you see

    1. tphuey

      Once you have the DVR recording, you can edit out the commercials, and then send it to your iTunes for viewing on iPhones, iPads, Apple TV and your computer. DVDs are so 20th Century!

  1. 89inthehouse

    Mike- Super analysis, and brings up something I have wanted to know for quite a while! I know I am an idiot when it comes to the TO (and many other things, which many will confirm!!), but how in the world do the coaches analyze what they are seeing in real time, determine whether it was a blown assignment versus a defensive adjustment that made a play work or not work?

    Then, how do they make adjustments to what they are seeing fast enough to make a difference? I know this is what they get paid to do, but still, this is all happening pretty fast, and the next play is coming in pretty quickly, so what are they looking at in order to make the right adjustments? Can we hacks do it from the stands or from home?

    It always blew me away how good PJ was at making adjustments constantly to take advantage of the mistakes the defense was making. IJ is certainly doing a nice job as well overall. How can we follow along at home to see what really caused the play to work or not work?

    Thanks for the time!!



    1. It’s not just one guy. You have guys on the field and in the booth, and they all can look at something different. One guy might look at the secondary, another the linebackers, etc. They’re all wearing headsets and report to the coordinators what they see. Based on that, the coordinator knows what play to call.

      These guys have been doing this for a long time. They know how defenses react, and they know how to counter it.

  2. goat7ed

    Thanks, Mike. As someone brought up in the tv world of follow the football, you’re work and analysis has made watching and appreciating the game so much more enjoyable.

  3. BearShark

    Thanks, Mike. We want you on that wall, we need you on that wall. Fun post, probably very necessary to avoid knee-jerk comments from folks like myself. Still think Ashby looks hungrier when his name is called, and it was painful watching Noah jump twice in the shotgun. I wish Noah a better game today because we need both to be effective for a solid season.

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