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Is football just a big chess match?

Posted by Chance on October 18, 2007

Colin Cowherd from ESPN radio listed the following 4 things to look for when determining if you have a good coach in football.

1) Team plays better after halftime.
2) Team plays better as the season progresses.
3) Team scores few offensive penalties. Defensive penalties are less importance since they are more reactionary.
4) Team plays fairly consistently. Team does not do awesome one week then totally blow it the next.

The quality of coaching, Colin insists, does not depend on play calling. Or, at the very least, cannot be surmised from the play calling.

I believe those 4 points he mentioned are probably pretty good ones, although 2 and 4 could probably be combined. However, the lack of these qualities could also indicate an inexperienced team, especially on the college level, so that should always be factored in.

So, how important is play-calling? I think people like strong leaders. They like their quarterbacks to shoulder the team, and they like their head coaches to be the mastermind pulling the team’s strings. We like to envision football as a big chess match between two head coaches. When a fourth and one is not converted, we may tend to blame the coach for calling the play, not on the players who should have executed properly. So I think we harp on play-calling too much at times.

However, I don’t know if we can dismiss the importance of play calling. I’m not talking so much about when a run or pass is called, but an overall play calling philosophy. It is important that a coach utilizes the talent he has. Many people in the area claim that the Denver Broncos performed better when the current coach, Mike Shanahan, took over, simply because he utilized John Elway much more than the previous coach (although there are not a lot of Shanahan fans at the moment). When you have a star quarterback, you want to make the riskier calls and go long more often, and when you have a stud running back, then you want to go for the sure running game.

But I can still see Colin’s point in that we often assume that we know what the best calls are, but we aren’t in the coaches shoes. We also don’t know what is the result of bad play-calling and simply poor execution. But we tend to look at the end result of the game, when the end result is a combination of coaching and players.


3 Responses to “Is football just a big chess match?”

  1. Lee said

    Depends… the four points discused above seem to be items that originate in practice before anybody on the outside gets a chance to critique.

    In other words, they are the boring but solid foundation upon which a well coached team is built upon.

    Using my sports experience, I know that my high school wrestling coach did three things extremely well: we went over fundamentals until we were sick of them, we conditioned until we were puking in wastebaskets (I can’t count the times I did) and he instilled (not to be sacrilege) the fear of God into us. He went on to win a state title three years after I graduated.

    Any good coach will do those things, and not have it too readily observable to the casual eye.

    But play call does have a place. Thing LSU going for first down five times on fourth down in the game against Florida. Or, in another example you may not be familiar with, the former UK coach, Bill Curry, trying to use Tim Couch as an option quarterback!


  2. Anonymous said

    There is an incredible amount of strategy involved on both sides of the ball. Execution is important, to be sure, but defenses do not stay stationary, and one of the signs of a great QB is the ability to find a weakness in the opposition’s formation. Hence, the audible. It is probably Manning’s greatest strength. Physical size and speed are important in a QB, but smarts is equally important.

    On defense, again, a good linebacker or corner learns to “read” an offense, and some guys just have a sense of where the ball is going, and get there before anyone else.


  3. Chance said

    Good points. One thing about a quarterback is if you do poorly, it really shows. If you are a running back, if you aren’t exactly the greatest, it really just shows in your yards per carry. The thing with quarterbacking however, is if you aren’t exactly the greatest QB, is that defenses eat you alive. Interceptions look a lot worse and cost the team a lot more than a running back who simply doesn’t run that many yards. The point is, a bad quarterback looks disastrous, whereas a bad running back just gets tackled a few yards shorter than a good one.

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