Summer Notes on Watching a Football Game

These days, I am first and foremost a fan. I watch football for personal enjoyment and therefore tend to follow the ball like everyone else, particularly so if attending a game in person. However, I make it a point to not focus so narrowly on the ball that I miss nearby action.

In essence, I watch a football game like most of us drive a car. While we pay close attention to the cars in front of us, and to oncoming traffic, we also see (though in less detail) cars adjacent to us - and those entering our path from the side. We process all this information in milliseconds and, with experience, subconsciously anticipate what is about to happen - to be prepared to take appropriate action.

Similarly, at the start of each play, I usually have the quarterback in the center of my vision with the offensive line and running backs (though in less detail) also included. For the first two or three steps after the snap, I'm not only seeing what the quarterback is doing with the ball but also tracking the action of the running backs and watching whether or not there is any leakage along the offensive line.

Just like driving a car, this allows me to anticipate the type of play (run, pass, bootleg, etc.) and the point of attack (left, center, right, down field) - while still watching the ball. I occasionally deviate from this approach during live action and almost always for replays.

Variations for Live Action:

If an offensive lineman makes an obviously great block at the line of scrimmage, or if a defensive lineman or linebacker makes a great tackle for a loss, I will occasionally make that player (instead of the quarterback) the center of my attention on the next play.

I do this to get an idea of whether the player is really that good or if the opposing player is that bad.

Variations for Replays:

Whenever there's a replay, here's what I usually do:

If it's covering a penalty:

My focus is on the legitimacy of the penalty. For example, if the penalty is for either offensive or defensive offsides, I'll narrow my attention to the neutral zone (between the two lines) and watch for the first movement. If the penalty is for pass interference, a personal foul, roughing the passer or kicker, etc., I'll try to hone in on either the offender or the victim (depending on which one is shown throughout the play).

For very successful and very bad plays (from Cal's perspective):

  1. Say Cal rips off a 20-yard gain over left tackle. When the replay begins, I've got the entire left side of the offensive line plus the right guard in my field of vision. For the first half-second of the replay, I'm once again looking for any leakage by our blockers. Then I immediately focus on our offensive line and their defensive line at the point of attack to see who won that battle. As the running back goes through the hole, I broaden my view slightly to include the running back and any nearby linebackers or defensive backs to see why they were unable to tackle the runner while he was making the gain.

  2. Or say the opponent makes a good left-side gain against Cal's defense. When the replay begins, I have our three defensive linemen to the right plus the middle linebacker and right side outside linebacker in view. By the time the opponent's running back hits the hole, I can see which of our three right side defensive linemen were blocked, which ones achieved at least a stalemate, and whether or not the middle linebacker and outside linebackers were blocked or took themselves out of the play by misreading it or by attempting a blitz.

The goal during replays is to first determine what I want to learn about the play - and make that the center of my attention - while still keeping an eye on nearby action that is within my field of vision.

As an aside, a few years ago I began to get a little discouraged about my ability to see what was happening in a game. I realized I was comparing my perceptions against a TV color commentator who would immediately announce the name and number of the defensive back and the receiver, the pattern run, the defensive technique used, and which defensive lineman was applying pressure to the quarterback.

That seemed like a lot of information to keep up with. My confidence was restored, however, when I realized that no one person could see all that! These analysts have spotters watching various aspects of the game - and who in turn feed the analyst with multiple observations.

So if you're having difficulty widening your attention to see more than just the ball, don't despair. Just remember that at one time you too were a lousy driver - with a similar kind of perception problem - that with practice and experience you were able to overcome.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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In essence, I watch a football game like most of us drive a car. While we pay close attention to the cars in front of us, and to oncoming traffic, we also see (though in less detail) cars adjacent to us - and those entering our path from the side. We process all this information in milliseconds and, with experience, subconsciously anticipate what is about to happen - to be prepared to take appropriate action.

Similarly, at the start of each play, I usually have the quarterback in the center of my vision with the offensive line and running backs (though in less detail) also included. For the first two or three steps after the snap, I'm not only seeing what the quarterback is doing with the ball but also tracking the action of the running backs and watching whether or not there is any leakage along the offensive line.

Just like driving a car, this allows me to anticipate the type of play (run, pass, bootleg, etc.) and the point of attack (left, center, right, down field) - while still watching the ball. I occasionally deviate from this approach during live action and almost always for replays.

Variations for Live Action:

If an offensive lineman makes an obviously great block at the line of scrimmage, or if a defensive lineman or linebacker makes a great tackle for a loss, I will occasionally make that player (instead of the quarterback) the center of my attention on the next play.

I do this to get an idea of whether the player is really that good or if the opposing player is that bad.

Variations for Replays:

Whenever there's a replay, here's what I usually do:

If it's covering a penalty:

My focus is on the legitimacy of the penalty. For example, if the penalty is for either offensive or defensive offsides, I'll narrow my attention to the neutral zone (between the two lines) and watch for the first movement. If the penalty is for pass interference, a personal foul, roughing the passer or kicker, etc., I'll try to hone in on either the offender or the victim (depending on which one is shown throughout the play).

For very successful and very bad plays (from Cal's perspective):

  1. Say Cal rips off a 20-yard gain over left tackle. When the replay begins, I've got the entire left side of the offensive line plus the right guard in my field of vision. For the first half-second of the replay, I'm once again looking for any leakage by our blockers. Then I immediately focus on our offensive line and their defensive line at the point of attack to see who won that battle. As the running back goes through the hole, I broaden my view slightly to include the running back and any nearby linebackers or defensive backs to see why they were unable to tackle the runner while he was making the gain.

  2. Or say the opponent makes a good left-side gain against Cal's defense. When the replay begins, I have our three defensive linemen to the right plus the middle linebacker and right side outside linebacker in view. By the time the opponent's running back hits the hole, I can see which of our three right side defensive linemen were blocked, which ones achieved at least a stalemate, and whether or not the middle linebacker and outside linebackers were blocked or took themselves out of the play by misreading it or by attempting a blitz.

The goal during replays is to first determine what I want to learn about the play - and make that the center of my attention - while still keeping an eye on nearby action that is within my field of vision.

As an aside, a few years ago I began to get a little discouraged about my ability to see what was happening in a game. I realized I was comparing my perceptions against a TV color commentator who would immediately announce the name and number of the defensive back and the receiver, the pattern run, the defensive technique used, and which defensive lineman was applying pressure to the quarterback.

That seemed like a lot of information to keep up with. My confidence was restored, however, when I realized that no one person could see all that! These analysts have spotters watching various aspects of the game - and who in turn feed the analyst with multiple observations.

So if you're having difficulty widening your attention to see more than just the ball, don't despair. Just remember that at one time you too were a lousy driver - with a similar kind of perception problem - that with practice and experience you were able to overcome.


©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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