When NFL Network first launched, they once had a segment with Jim Fassell, the former head coach of the New York Giants. In the segment, he shows a standard offensive formation, with two tight ends, two wide receivers, a fullback and running back. He then shows the defensive formation and explains what each offensive player is supposed to do based on how the defense lines up. If a defensive cornerback plays a shallow zone (say in a standard Tampa 2 offense) the wide receiver goes long. But if a linebacker is playing man coverage on the tight end, then the wide receiver switches and runs a different route. He went through about a dozen different permutations and I came away with a new respect for the intelligence required by the players. (Unfortunately I was unable to find a clip online). We have a tendency to think about athletes, especially football players, as “dumb jocks”, but when you break down plays like Coach Fassell did in this example, it highlights how smart they have to be – and how quickly they need to react.

If you want to improve your football intelligence, you need to be reading Chris B. Brown. He has a special ability to write about football, its different concepts, and the history and evolution of play calling in an easy to understand manner. Mr. Brown writes about both college and profesional football on his blog at SmartFootball.com. He also links from there to his longer form pieces he writes for ESPN’s Grantland.

Additionally, he has written a book, suprisingly called, The Essential Smart Football. Available at Amazon, the Kindle edition is only $2.99, and I highly recommend it. Each chapter is dedicated to a concept, and here are just a few examples:

  • The 3-3-5 Defense: A Story of Innovation (and Desperation)
  • How Rex Ryan created the new look New England Patriots offense
  • Dick Lebeau, Dom Capers, and the Evolution of Defense
  • Football and Decision Making
  • The Constraint Theory of Offense
  • Gary Kubiak, Alex Gibbs, and the Greatest Run Play in Modern Football

Each chapter is easily digestible, and the book is easy to pick up and set down. Mr. Brown writes in an easy to understand way, and even football fans who don’t know the difference between the I-formation and trip rights can pick this up and learn something.

It’s a $3 well spent and his blog and writing on Grantland is something I come back to again and again.