View Full Version : IndyStar: Computerized scouting more sophisticated than ever

10-29-2004, 02:22 AM
Really interesting stuff....


Digital dissection
Computers and sophisticated software analyze X's and O's in high-tech NFL

By Phil Richards
October 29, 2004

You want data? Diron Reynolds has data.

At a glance, he can tell you what an Indianapolis Colts opponent has done over its past four games in any combination of down and distance. He has the same information based upon field position, be it plus (opponents' territory) or minus (Colts end of the field). He can provide the breakdown on pass attempts and completions from anywhere on the field to any of seven eligible receivers, from the "Y" (tight end) to the "Z" (slot receiver) and the "F" (fullback).

Reynolds has strong-side right and strong-side left running plays and which hole they hit, even numbers left of center, odd numbers right. It's all charted. An opponent's top-10 runs and top-10 passes? No problem. Right there, broken down in overall, short-yardage, long-yardage and goal-line situations, sorted and organized in neat columns with succinct, if often esoteric, terminology.

It is an enormous, intimidating amount of information. It is a drop in the ocean. It is one page in a weekly scouting report that regularly runs to 300 pages.

"We have anything, everything," said Reynolds, the Colts' defensive quality control coach. "All the formations, all the personnel, red zone, passing game, short-yardage, goal-line, blitzes, two-minute.

"You're trying to steal a play or two. That's what all this comes down to: trying to steal a play, maybe the big play in the game. 'All right, they're in this position; they throw this kind of pass. I'm going to cheat. I'm going to sit on it.' "

Welcome to today's NFL, where what you don't know probably will hurt you.

The Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs, who will meet Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, and each of the league's other 30 teams employ powerful computers with sophisticated software and advanced digital video systems. They turn mountains of raw data into mountains of organized data.

"Sometimes I think you can overdo it," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "You have to have an idea of what you really want and what is really important to you."

Modern era

Colts president Bill Polian can remember the days a scout would come into the office, push back the brim of his hat, put his boots up on the desk, spit in the can, and with a handwritten list of player prospects announce, "Can't play, can't play, can't play, can't play."

Scouts and gut feelings still play crucial roles, but one of the first things Polian did after he was hired in late 1997 was implement a massive upgrade of the Colts' computer system.

"We were pretty far behind when we got here," he said.

Polian listed four areas in which the Colts benefit from advances in computer and digital video applications:

Game analysis. Preparation of the coaches and team for the next opponent.

Self-scouting. Analyzing and grading the play of the Colts' offense, defense and special teams and the performance of each player.

Pro scouting. Maintaining a film library and a data base that grades and places a dollar value on each player.

College scouting and draft preparation. Works essentially the same as the pro scouting system but rates players by draft round or as free-agent prospects rather than by salary values.

Polian and his football operations staff input height, weight, 40-yard dash times and a range of statistics and performance/injury history into player profiles. They are not highlight films, but video-playing biographies of professional and collegiate players.

"Take linebackers and draft preparation. The computer can give you all the linebackers by all the criteria we measure," Polian said "I might say, 'Let's look at these guys by number of lifts at 225 (pounds).' Or Tony can say, 'I really want the fastest guy; print out the fastest guy.'

"Well, in the old days, we'd be up till 4 in the morning sorting that out and writing it down on the yellow pad. Now we punch a button and out it comes."

Detail work

Reynolds and his counterpart, offensive quality control coach Pete Metzelaars, punch a lot of buttons. They spend part of every day going through opponents' game films, inputting each snap according to formation and personnel groups -- base, nickel, 3-4, 4-3, two-tight end, three-wide receiver, one-back, two-backs, no-backs, coverages, blitzes, etc. The computer sorts the data by down and distance, motion and shifts, what hashmark and the like.

Metzelaars and Reynolds compile each opponent's past four games, then turn it over to video coordinator Marty Heckscher.

Heckscher and his staff produce a vast range of breakouts called "cut-ups." They are Beta cassette tapes that might contain first-down or goal-line plays or almost any other situational possibility. Most are done routinely, week after week, but a coach can request virtually anything.

Dungy might want every play on which Chiefs running back Priest Holmes touches the football. Or he might want every snap Holmes is on the field. It's available, sideline and end-zone views, with a smattering of keyboard strokes consuming only a few seconds.

Late in the week, after absorbing the available masses of data and studying the miles of tape, an idea might surface, the form of a tendency might begin to emerge.

"I'll say to Marty, 'Hey, I want to see a tape on this; just a couple of plays because I've got a theory,' " Dungy said. "Sometimes it holds up, sometimes it doesn't, but you can get to it and figure it out."

Combine the efforts of the scouting staff, the computer programs and the video cut-ups and you have the stuff of the game plan, and the means to convey it.

Player usage

Defensive end Dwight Freeney wants to know more than the opponent's offensive plays and tendencies. He wants to know the left tackle's pass sets, his steps and how he uses his hands. There are corollaries for quarterback Peyton Manning and the offense.

"It helps me coming to the line of scrimmage, knowing what to expect," said Colts center Jeff Saturday, who makes the line's blocking calls. "It gives me a frame of reference, same as Peyton."

An offense may or may not move on a given Sunday, but technology is perpetually advancing. A half-dozen NFL teams have computerized their playbooks; they are on compact discs.

The Colts are not among them because Polian and Dungy share security concerns, but already their players are being given cut-ups on DVD. They can watch them on their laptops, at home, on team flights, in their hotel rooms.

Many don't even have VCRs any more.

Manning has a video room in his home. He looks forward to being able to tap into the Colts' system from home and produce his own cut-ups. It could happen as soon as next year.

"The players coming in today are computer-literate," said Polian, who is studying a variety of complicated and expensive upgrades. "That's just how they live their lives."

Sundays remain the province of blocking, tackling, execution, but life has changed in the NFL. Star wars are here.

10-29-2004, 02:27 AM
They are Beta cassette tapes that might contain first-down or goal-line plays

The Beta-Colts are doomed!!! :thumb: