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How to Watch NFL Football, Lesson 1

Posted on the 19 July 2013 by Wallstlawblog @Wallstlawblog

By Joan Madden NFL expert
Hey, NFL football fans –

95% of you have no clue what is going on in a football game.  

Your eye is on one thing and one thing only: the guy with the football.  You scream and yell and cheer and boo and, way too often, you sound like idiots.

So swallow your pride, read up, and learn a little something about what really goes on during a game in the National Football League.  

Lesson Number 1:  Not all interceptions are created equal

Football pik

CBS play-by-play guy:  Third down and eight-Mark Sanchez takes the snap and… 

Hold on.  Bad example. Mark Sanchez doesn't know how to play football any better then you do.  But, hey, the guy gave us the butt fumble, which might be the funniest play in NFL history.  But Sanchez isn't the right guy for our hypothetical play.  

So let's try again.

Fox NFL play-by-play guy: Third-down and seven. Eli Manning takes the snap. He takes a five step drop. Protection is good.  Eli has plenty of time.  Fires it out to the right side for Cruz and... the pass is badly underthown. Intercepted!  Picked off by the free safety. Manning never even saw him there. Boy, You have to wonder about that throw. Cruz was wide open deep but Eli hit Eagles' rookie safety Wolff right between the numbers.

Fan at home on the couch:  Bleeping bleep bleep.  I could have bleeping hit Cruz for a touchdown on that bleeping play.  GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR BLEEPING BLEEP Eli! 
Fox NFL color commentator:  You have to wonder what Manning was thinking. He threw it right to the guy in the green jersey.  I bet he wishes he had that one back.


Fan at home on the couch: Bleeping bleep.


That night, on SportsCenter: The turning point in today's Eagle-Giant game came midway through the 4th quarter.  Eli Manning makes one of the worst throws of the year, giving Philadelphia Eagles rookie safety Wolff about the easiest interception as you will ever see.  You have to wonder this - What was Manning thinking?

* * *

Pretty bad play by Eli, right? Maybe. Maybe not. Because a lot is happening on most pass plays in the NFL.  And most of it is way beyond anything the average fan understands.

What if, on our hypothetical play, both the quarterback and the wide receiver have read responsibilities?

If the defense is playing man to man, the receiver runs one route, maybe a stutter step and go.  

If, on the other hand, the secondary is in zone coverage or a blended man-zone look (we'll save the nuances for another lesson), then, instead of running a stutter step and go, the receiver's job is to run hard at the corner AS IF it is going to be a long pass over the top of defense (what most of you would call a fly, go, or bomb), and then break the pattern off to a curl just inside the hashmarks, 20-25 yards downfield.  

Now, the defense is in fact playing zone, and the free safety reads "deep pass" based on what he is seeing.  So he starts to move toward the receiver's side of the field to give over the top help (which is his job in this particular coverage when he reads bomb).  Only, based on the play call, the receiver is only pretending to run a deep pattern against this coverage.  Instead, if he makes the correct read, he runs cuts off the pattern and curls toward the middle of the field.  

The QB, who was reading the coverage too, made his throw based on the pattern the receiver was supposed to run.  In our hypothetical, the receiver was supposed to run a curl at 20-25 yards, where he would have been wide open.  The QB made the correct read and the right throw, but the receiver screwed up and ran a fly because he either read man coverage or forgot his responsibilites on the play. 
Ten yards further downfield from where the receiver should have been wide open, the free safety (who was totally fooled by the play and would have been out of position had the receiver not bleeped up) basically gets hit in the numbers and gets a gift interception.  To you the fan on the couch, the QB looks like an idiot.  But the real idiots on this play are (a) the receiver, (b) the announcers and analysts, (c) the SportsCenter anchor, and (d) you.
Lesson 1 learned?  Good.

By guest blogger Joan Madden, NFL expert.

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