Football Survival Kit

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With the season one day away from kicking off, there is sure to be plenty of opening day parties going on. With parties come the opportunity to gather with our favorite people. Football is a great way for us to come together. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is always enjoyable. I’m sure all my coaching colleagues can relate, it can become a little irritating listening to people obnoxiously yell at the T.V. really not understanding what they are yelling about. That is both the gift and the curse of coaching. You love and appreciate the fans but also know that you can never be a normal fan again. It’s not that we know it all, it’s just that we have been exposed to a little more and understand that this game isn’t as simple as, “block better”; “Catch the ball”; “You suck”; or “We lost that game because of the refs.” It is far more complex than that.

Let me start by saying this: There is no way I, or any other person sitting in front of the T.V. on a Sunday could possibly know exactly what each team is trying to do in the NFL. Football is a complex game, so complex that each component of the game could be its own research project. NFL coaches and players spend countless hours mastering their craft. One of my favorite quotes is by legendary coach Bobby Bowden, in which he states, “I know about 40% of what there is to know about football.” So, when that one person is explaining to the entire party how much he knows about football and that he/she is god’s gift to all things gridiron (another word for the football field) drop that line on him and then follow it up with this; “If Bobby Bowden only knows 40% about football, how can you possibly know it all?” You probably won’t need to go any further than that because whoever you are conversing with at that moment will be too surprised that you even know who Bobby Bowden is. Just in case this person replies condescendingly by saying, “Do you even know who Bobby Bowden is?” He was the winningest coach in Division 1 football at the time of his retirement from Florida State University. Now you have the football credibility you deserve to have a great football season. However, you now have pushed all in and are committed to showing your football knowledge for the next 3 hours. Take a deep breath, I got you. In this addition of the football fix I am going to empower the common fan. If you are someone who simply just doesn’t get it, if you are looking to understand, or maybe you are looking to impress your favorite football fan at the next party. This one is for you.

With all that being said, let’s dive in! This isn’t going to be an X’s and O’s talk, because they change from team to team. I am going to equip you with some tools to defend yourself at the party. Football language can be very complex and confusing in general. Think about the last 3 seasons and every time you heard one of the broadcast announcers talk about Paxton Lynch’s inability to “get” the playbook. That is because it is complex and the football language he spoke at Memphis was completely different than the language the Broncos were trying to teach him. Here are some things that seem to be common language you are likely to hear from intense Bronco fans and how you can respond.

1. Situation: Quarterback gets sacked. Response: “You have to block!”

This is usually blurted out about 115 times a game. The Broncos offensive line has a long way to go before this stops coming out of a fans mouth, so it is somewhat true. However, you are an informed football fan and are going to respond a little differently. When a quarterback gets sacked it can be the result from a number of different things. “The quarterback held on to the ball too long.” “The receivers didn’t create any separation.” “The running back missed his blitz pick-up.” So, take it easy on the big fellas. When you watch the replay and the QB had more than 3 ½ seconds to throw the ball and still got sacked it could be one of the other reasons.

2. Situation: Handoff right up the middle with no success. Response: “You have to block!

The other time this is said is when the offense runs a play right into the back of the offensive line for a seemingly meaningless 0-3 yard gain. This can be frustrating to the casual fan, but rest assured there is a method to that madness. The execution of that play is frustrating, because we expect every play to go for a touchdown. These plays are usually set up plays. Think of a jab in boxing. It’s not the knockout punch you want, but the threat of this punch will set it up the haymaker for later. So be patient. If it seems to be a problem later in the game you can give credit to the defense by saying “Man, their defense is really sound and disciplined against the run.” Or if you would like to keep it home, “We need to get to the second level and finish our blocks better.” That means we are not blocking the linebackers very well or we are blocking well initially but the defense disengages from our block before the running back has got passed the offensive lineman. Generally speaking there is usually one defender unaccounted for on every run play. It is the running backs responsibility to make that defender miss. If the running back is constantly being tackled by the first person who makes contact with him. We have a running back problem not an offensive line problem.

3. Situation: Opposing team connects for a long pass or TD. Response: “Roby can’t cover anyone!”

This has been a popular one in Bronco circles over the last couple years. When a touchdown is given up through the air it is not always the cornerbacks fault. What makes football the greatest game in the world (go ahead lets argue) is that it truly takes 11 people on the field doing their job to be successful. There are times that receivers get behind cornerbacks because it is not the corners responsibility. He might be expecting safety help over the top because his responsibility is underneath. You would have to determine if it was zone or man coverage to offer up this defense of Roby or any corner. I know this is hard to grasp but sometimes you can have great coverage (Roby often does) and still be beat. That is the life of a cornerback. These NFL receivers make great plays; that is why they are where they are. Great coverage is a combination of great communication and pressure on the quarterback. If the opposing team has more than that magical 3 ½ seconds to throw don’t expect anyone to be successful in the secondary (Corners and Safeties. Chris Harris, Justin Simmons, Bradley Roby, Adam Jones, Darrian Stewart)

4. Situation: The Broncos are losing. Response: “Vance Joseph sucks!”

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all rogue here and outright defend Vance Joseph. He seemed to have plenty of flaws last season. The results on the field are ultimately the responsibility of the head coach. I will say this, a coach’s job is to teach and demand. A player’s job is to prepare and perform. Mike McIntyre (head coach for the CU Buffs) ends his pregame speeches by saying “Players make plays, players win games.” A coach’s job is done after practice the day before the game. At that point, “The hay is in the barn.” When the Broncos offense is on a downward spiral you have to ask yourself if it is a scheme issue, play calling issue or an execution issue. If it is an execution (Dropped passes, penalties, turnovers) issue the responsibility falls more on the players. If it seems as if the defense is miles ahead of our offense or vice versa and we are showing no ability to change or make adjustments then you can start calling for his head.

5. Situation: The Broncos are playing the Raiders and are winning. Response: “The Raiders suck!”

This is true. You should support your friend in Raider bashing. Seriously, how do you trade your best asset? If Khalil Mack isn’t the best edge rusher in the game he is definitely 1B. I don’t believe he was asking for money that he doesn’t deserve. If you are the Raiders you have a championship window right now because you have a franchise quarterback. But you trade away your biggest impact player on defense? I’m at a loss on this one. To top it all off, not only did you trade him for 2 first round draft picks and the potential that whoever you draft in those positions will be as good as Mack (highly unlikely). You also gave up a 2nd round pick in next year’s draft! It is going to suck for Raider fans when that first round pick ends up being 20 or higher because the Bears parlay that great move into a playoff run.

Enough about the Raiders. I’m going to give you two things to look for in a game that will thoroughly impress the people you are with on game day. When you are watching the game and you are eager to demonstrate you’re football aptitude and want to call out a run or a pass before the ball is snapped, take a look at the offensive lineman. If their weight is forward on the balls of their feet, heel slightly off the ground it will be a run. If their weight is back on their heels it will be a pass. Now of course this isn’t an exact science because the NFL has gotten so good at disguising these little intricacies, but you will be right the majority of the time. The reason: in a run play the offensive lineman need to be a little more aggressive and attack. In a pass play the lineman need to set to form the pocket and their first step is backwards. Take a look at the pictures below. The one on the top shows Garret Boles in a stance geared more to execute a run block, while the picture on the bottom shows him in a stance that will allow him to pass set more efficiently. Now Obviously other factors will contribute to whether or not it is a run or pass such as down and distance and situation of the game. For the most part this will be a great way for you to get an edge on your friends.

The other big one that will come up on Sunday is if the defense is in zone or man. As I alluded to above, corners get a lot of the blame when it comes to giving up pass completions. But it really can vary depending on the coverage. Sometimes linebackers or safeties should shoulder the majority of blame. An easy way for you to tell if the defense was in zone or man coverage is to take a look at the cornerback’s helmet, if you can see it on the television. If his facemask is looking directly at the receiver he is likely in man coverage. However, if his face mask is facing the quarterback that is a good indication of zone coverage. Now, what type of zone and who is responsible for what zone is another conversation. Take a look at the pictures below. The one on the top shows the corner looking directly at the receiver (man coverage). On the picture on the bottom the corner is looking in at the quarterback (Zone coverage).

That should be enough info for you guys to survive at least week one of the season. I would love to answer any questions or engage in a discussion. Cheers to NFL football 2018! Next on the football fix will be my bold predictions for the NFL season. Stay tuned.