This offseason, the NFL announced that it would make “All-22” tape available for all plays of the upcoming season. For those who are uninitiated, All-22 is footage that shows all 22 players on the field in the same shot. In the zoomed-in TV broadcast, after the snap you get maybe a second to watch the wide receivers and cornerbacks until they run out of frame. And safeties? What safeties? Only when the QB throws the ball do we get to see what has ultimately unfolded down the field. All-22 lets you follow the action rather than just following the ball. Before this announcement, this tape was reserved for a select few, treated like the holy grail of football analysis.
So when the NFL announced that they’d make it available for every play as part of the NFL Game Rewind package, it was met with much fanfare – so much, in fact, that they decided to jack up the price just a few hours after its release. So what’s the problem? Clearly, the title of this post doesn’t make much sense yet. Along with the excitement from game tape geeks, obsessed fans, and NFL bloggers came backlash from many writers and pundits. Rather than celebrating the release of this incredible resource, these people quickly began to rain on everyone’s parade by claiming that the ordinary fan wouldn’t know what they were seeing. They claimed you needed to be taught how to watch to really see.
Some think that this decision by the NFL is a huge mistake that will lead to increased scrutiny for coaches and players.
Others think that All-22 access doesn’t necessarily make you any smarter.
As one of these uneducated game tape mongers that will apparently be hatching dastardly plans with my new-found resources, I’d like to respond to these criticisms.
Why would more information lead to less-educated analysis?
In baseball, we have seen the evolution of this. Here’s a box score from 1903:
Take a good look at this box score. Could you tell me the on base percentage of any of these players, even if you wanted? There are no walks listed. And what are the pitchers’ stats? We’ve gone from evaluating a guy based solely on Wins to a time when we scoff at people that use ERA, preferring more advanced metrics like FIP or xFIP. Batting average? Who uses that any more? Now, we use WAR and wOBA and all sorts of other acronyms I can never remember or figure out. In the transition from archaic box scores to PitchFX data, we’ve certainly taken positive steps to understand that which no one knew about or had access to 100 years ago.
Were you complaining when ESPN was launched?
Why is this particular increase in information more caustic than any before? In 1911, a crowd of people watched a mechanical representation of a football game, play-acted to telegraphed results. In 1921, Pittsburgh and WVU clashed in what was the first ever radio broadcast of a football game. On October 22, 1939, NFL football was first televised, allowing fans to watch games from the privacy of their own homes. In 1979, ESPN was launched, bringing 24 hour sports access to anyone with cable. In the early 90s, the World Wide Web was born, bringing you all here today. Since that original mechanical representation, is there any doubt that each breakthrough of information has brought with it better analysis? From seeing a reenactment to hearing a play-by-play to seeing a game to seeing highlights reels to whatever it is the internet has done, there’s absolutely no comparison from each one to the next in the amount of analysis that you can do. But in the end, what is it that we’re seeing?
The product is still the same
Since the beginning of the sport, fans have always been able to simply go watch the game. Is there really a difference between all-22 and what you see when you go to a game and sit high up in the stands? You tell me:
Seriously, it’s not as if we’re giving nuclear secrets to the USSR. We’re allowing fans to see from home the view that they can see at the game. That’s it. We’re giving them a more zoomed-out view of the TV broadcast. Is this really such a fundamental difference that it will inspire completely unfounded criticism of players and coaches?
They were being judged anyway
Let’s not pretend fans and media were all like, “Well, we don’t have enough information, so we can’t make an informed opinion.” You think lack of game tape ever stopped Skip Bayless from mouthing trash? Do you think uninformed morons will be born out of all-22? They already exist. This game tape will allow intelligent people to make intelligent observations and make that analysis widely available. And like I said, they were being judged anyway:
There are exceptions and limitations with regards to positions such as wide receiver and defensive backs, where our grading is limited by what the television broadcasters show. Unfortunately, we will continue to be at their mercy until we are able to gain access to coach’s game film.
PFF still graded with just broadcast views. Fans on talk radio still gave opinions despite just seeing the TV broadcast. And I think it’s safe to assume that there are TV personalities that form their opinions based more on what everyone else is saying rather than actually using the information at hand. The judgement of these people won’t go away. It never has. But maybe this all-22 access will lend a little more credibility to the opinions of those that take the time to use that information.
The world hasn’t ended yet
Week 1 has come and gone. There has been intelligent analysis of both the good and the bad plays. And you know what? No one has been fired. No one has been unfairly criticized (well, not by those that watched the tape). No apocalypse. Really, it’s just business as usual, but the good writers now have better resources.