Thursday, September 04, 2008

Football - Grading Games

Paul Johnson's recent press conference gave some interesting insight into how players are graded based on game film.

The staff breaks down film of every single player in every single play in every single game. They give each player two grades on every play - an effort grade and a technique grade. Johnson said every guy doesn't have the same ability, but everyone can control how hard they play. For example, BeBe Thomas couldn't control if Johnson called a pass play, but he could give full effort, and he did. He never sulked about not getting the ball because he was focused on helping the team win. He basically said BeBe is going to get his chances. He talked about how hard Daryl Richard worked all game long. Michael Johnson worked hard but got gassed from being on too many special teams plays, so they're going to cut him back and focus on his D-Line work.

For "effort" grades, if a player doesn't hustle the entire play, he gets an "effort", which means he basically gave up on the play before it was over. Most of these seem to boil down to players deciding that they are too far away from the play to make a difference, so they stop working before the whistle. For example, if a QB completes a pass and doesn't immediately start chasing after the ball, that's an "effort". Johnson tells his players that they are going to have to go downfield to the ball for the next play anyhow, so why get down there and hustle during the play? If there's a fumble or a guy cuts back across the field for some reason and you could have been there had you kept running, it could mean the difference between winning and losing. Johnson highlighted the Greg Smith fumble (the play was later ruled down by contact), where Jax St had 8 guys around the lose ball, and we only had four. "Where were our guys?", he asked.

Johnson said that in the spring scrimmage there were 170 "efforts", which was way too many. He said the team cut that number down significantly last week, but it was still not good enough. Here are some comments from the press conference:

"Guys are going to do what you make them do - that's the bottomline. My daughter does what I tell her to do. That's the bottom-line. It's expectation level. My goal is that after a year, or whenever, it's just second nature. You don't have to talk about it. That's just the way everbody plays, because they know if they don't, they're going to get pointed out on the film, and everybody's going to look at them and say - man you ain't playin' very well".............. "Everybody thinks they're playing hard. Nobody intentionally says - I'm going to take this play off. I think it's a taught deal."............. "If you play with great effort, you give yourself a chance. It doesn't guarantee a win, but you give yourself a chance."........... "I don't care how good you are - if you don't play with effort, you're not going to be consistently good".........

On offense, they review "efforts", missed assignments and defenders cut to the ground. Said that at Navy they would sometimes have 100 defenders cut, but last game against Jax St, we probably only had about 50. Not to Johnson's standards yet.

On defense, "efforts", missed assignments, missed tackles and big plays are tracked. Said that generally if the big plays weren't more than missed assignments and missed tackles, then you didn't play that good on defense. Last week there were more missed assignments and missed tackles than big plays, so our defensive effort last week was "just ok". Said it wasn't bad, just not the standard he expects based on the talent of the guys on the defense.

Interestingly, Johnson said BC might be one of the toughest teams in this league. Not real complicated with what they do. You have to beat them though, because they don't usually beat themselves. PJ on the key to this weeks game - "The onus this week is going to be on those guys upfront (O-Line). They better get their tail in gear, and they know it. Because if they get physically slapped around, then we're going to have a hard time."

While I am not sure about the grading systems used under Chan Gailey, we do know that "efforts" were not emphasized with the religious zeal that we see with Paul Johnson. What Johnson is seeking certainly is not 2nd nature yet for most of these guys. Blocking downfield was important, but was never stressed the way it now by every single guy on the team. In the end, guys are being held accountable based on the CSI-like breakdown of gamefilm.

I like it..... a lot. So far there just never seems to be much mystery around why some guys play and some don't. You follow the system and make plays and you'll play. I have never felt so strongly that the best players are on the field as I do now.