Thursday, November 24, 2011

#88: The Games that Changed the Game: An Evolution of the NFL in Seven Sundays by Ron Jaworski, Greg Cosell and David Plaut

New York: Ballantine Books, 2011. 313 pages

Do you like the football? Large men running around smacking the crap out of each other? Is football just about who can get more 350 pound men away from the nearest buffet table long enough to strap on pads to play a game? Ron Jaworski plumbs seven games for coaching styles and developments that cast a long shadow over the NFL. The book is very rewarding, and proves that Jaworski is perhaps the best color commentator on TV today; he has a unique ability to explain what you are seeing on the field.

Jaworski looks at seven different games, breaks down the film, and explains what was the important development of the game for the NFL. I watched several of these games:

Game #5: The 44-0 beatdown of the Cowboys by Buddy Ryan and the 46 defense (11/17/1985)
Game #6: A painful loss by the Steelers to the Bills in the playoffs (1/9/93)
Game #7: The upset of the Rams by the Patriots in the Super Bowl (2/3/2002)

Jaworski puts games in their historical context. The Bears 46 defense (in which the defensive tackles cover the center and guards) decimated the Cowboys, and hastened the demise of the core 1970s and 1980s "pro set": two backs and 2 WR with a tight end. The Dolphins beat the Bears that year by using Nat Moore as a slot receiver to create matchup problems. Doug Plank, who wore #46 with the Bears, said "the 8 man front (of the 46) can't defend a spread offense." (189) The spread offenses of the 90s and today have their start as a response to the Bears and then the Eagles playing the 46, which funnels everything inside in an effort to knock the quarterback on his ass.

Four of the seven feature defenses (the '74 Steel Curtain, '85 Bears, Dick LeBeau's zone blitz and Belichick's hit Marshall Faulk plan) which all deal with pressure. The offenses (vertical stretch, Air Coryell and the West Coast Offense) all deal with the passing game. All of the strategies strive to create pressure on single players or sections of the field. Jaworski does an excellent job in making the difficult much easier to understand. One thing I do not understand (nor does Jaworski) is the NFL's reluctance to allow fans to see the "All 22" film angle that shows all the players on the field at the same time. "This is the only true way to see all the assignments" Jaworski writes in the introduction, and he is correct. It is much the same as viewing a baseball game from the center field camera with only the pitcher and catcher in view. This makes baseball on the radio MUCH better than on TV, as you can picture how the fielders are playing the batter.

In any event, if you like the football, read this book. You'll learn quite a bit. 

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