I first fell in love with breaking down film when I was in college. During the summer of sophmore year I met a guy around my age who was a student assistant coach at the University of Kansas. He invited me to make the trip up north to Lawrence and he would show me everything he did there and also try and teach me more about the game. I was excited to pick the mind of all the football coaches around there and see what they knew about the game. The only experience I had of watching game tape up to that point was low quality film that we used to watch in high school when I was playing football. I arrived there eager to learn and to have a fun weekend breaking down tape and drawing up schemes on the white board.
It only took watching one tape for me to fall in love with the process of breaking down film. I loved everything about it. The film he showed me was the first exposure I had to the all-22 film. I was used to watching games from the broadcast angle, saving the games on my DVR, then going back and studying them during the week. I never really saw why a play worked and what every player was doing on every play.
When I got home from that trip I knew I needed find game tape of any and every NFL game. I thought I would try and combine my love of the Packers with my new found love of breaking down tape and looking at the scheme. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I would search for game tape online. Then NFL Game Pass came out and that was an absolute game changer. I immediately knew I needed it. With its availability I could now break down actual game tape week-to-week and know what really goes in to each play that the Packers run.
I don’t have all the answers to breaking down tape but I do feel like I have learned a fair amount over the past 5 years of breaking down film. Some of the things I learned came from when I was coaching and seeing how other coaches would break down film. Some things came from other writers when I would read their articles. Some things I just had to teach myself. I’m going to share with you the things that I do when I break down tape so you can hopefully improve the way that you see the game.
Tip #1: Don’t watch the ball.
Here’s an example of what you see during the broadcast version of a game:
Here’s what you see when you watch the tape:
The first thing I had to do when I started to break down tape was to train my eyes. Naturally, many of us want to watch the ball. We want to see quarterbacks make highlight throws or running backs make ankle-breaking jukes. When we watch the ball, we don’t really see what goes into the success of a play. Take this play as an example. Pittsburgh comes out in a 3 shell look. The Packers come out in a 2X2 look. The responsibility that a corner has in a cover 3 look is to use inside technique and squeeze the receiver down toward the boundary. On this play though, Adams gets the corner to bite on the double move, the slot was able to draw the nickel defender inside and the deep middle safety had to honor that. Because of this no one was in good position to make a play. If you were watching the ball you’d just see Brett Hundley ride out the play action and lay up a pass for Davante Adams. Usually when I watch a live game on the broadcast copy I watch 3 players: the center and both guards. Watching these 3 players will always tell you what the play is. In this case because all 3 raised up you know its a pass. If a guard pulls and the other blocks down you know its a trap our counter. If there is a fullback in the game I will use the ‘triangle’ method and watch both guards, center, and fullback. These players cannot lie and will always tell you what the play is.
Tip #2: Write everything down.
Every time I watch a tape I have a pen and paper to write down what I see. If I was watching the Packers defense, for example, I write down the down, distance, personnel package, front, coverage, stunt, line stunts, offensive personnel, and hash mark. If you go back and review your notes you can generally have a good idea of how the defense performed against certain offensive sets. You can start to generate tenancies for the team. Were there more stunts on 1st and 2nd down or were there more on 3rd? Was more zone coverage or man coverage called vs empty sets? What coverage was called when a touchdown was given up? These are all things you can write down and resort back to your notes. I like to review my notes several times a week to try and get a feel for what the team is doing on either side of the ball. This is especially helpful during the season when you look at upcoming opponents offenses. If the Packers play Seattle one week and they like to run a lot of 3X1 sets and turn around and play a team like New England who also likes to run a lot of 3X1 sets, you can have an idea of what to expect in the secondary.
Tip #3: Grade it out.
Grading is an important part of watching film. I think this is why a website like Pro Football Focus is so popular. People want to have an idea of who performed up to expectations and who didn’t. When I grade I use the +2 -2 system. Here’s how it works:
- +2 is an outstanding play. (sack, forced fumble, interception)
- +1 is the correct technique, correct assignment (filling a gap)
- -1 is correct assignment, bad technique (filled a gap but got blocked out)
- -2 is a busted play (giving up a touchdown, throwing an interception)
Once I have a grade for each play on a particular player I will add the total number of plus plays and divide them over the number of grades given to find the total grade. This is a popular system that a lot of people use and I have found it to be the most helpful. I will generally grade one whole unit per week. If the wide receivers had an outstanding game then I will more than likely grade the receivers to see how they did. If the defensive backs struggled and gave up a lot of points I’ll grade them to find out what went wrong. I think this gives you a better feel for the team as a whole and what position group needs to improve and what group is doing well.
I hope that you found these small tips helpful and can apply them to your next film session. I want Packer fans to be known around the league as the smartest fans in all of football. I feel like these are just a few simple things that we can do to reach that goal.
Go Pack Go!
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