Sports Illustrated Blood, Sweat & Chalk: The Ultimate Football Playbook: How the Great Coaches Built Today's Game Hardcover – Aug 3 2010
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About the Author
Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden, who joined the magazine in March 1994, primarily writes about the NFL, Olympic sports (chiefly track and field in the summer and alpine skiing in the winter) and horse racing, but has written about a wide variety of subjects for the publication and for SI.com. Before coming to Sports Illustrated, Layden spent six years at Newsday, three years at the Albany Times-Union and nine years at the Schenectady Gazette. During his three decades in journalism, Layden has won multiple sportswriting awards, including an Eclipse Award for coverage of thoroughbred horse racing in 1987. Among Layden's most significant work for the magazine are stories detailing the remarkable recovery of injured NFL player Kevin Everett (Dec. 2007), the phenomenon of Big Hits in the NFL (July 2007), the Triple Crown near-misses by Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004) and Big Brown (2008), the tragic career of track star Marion Jones, the subculture of ticket scalping in the pre-Internet world (1997) and during the winter of 1995, the growing problem of gambling by college students. Born and raised in Whitehall, N.Y., Layden graduated in 1978 from Williams College, where he was an English major and a member of the basketball team. He is a runner-turned-cyclist who regularly battles the hills of northern Connecticut, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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All the play diagrams are terrible; rounded, cutesy chalk drawings that are inaccurate, the kind of stuff you see in print advertisements during football season - ten to twelve X's and O's per side, arrows and blocks in all kinds of crazy directions. If you are writing a serious book about innovative developments in football strategy, then it follows that you should have real playbook schematics,i.e., diagrams that are both precise and correctly drawn.
One of the signature plays of the West Coast Offense is "Flanker Drive". Traditionally run out of a two-back set (usually Near), the flanker (or Z) motions tight to the formation before running a "Drive", a crossing pattern at 4-6 yards. The tight end runs an In at 10-12 yards; the halfback runs a Corner at 12 yards; the split end (or X) runs a Streak. The book's diagram illustrates the play out of a singleback set (a rarity for Walsh). There are only 10 players shown because apparently there is no running back. The slot receiver (or Zebra in West Coast terminology) is designated as the flanker(!?); he goes in motion before running a corner pattern. The flanker, designated here as no. 80 (for Jerry Rice) runs the drive, the tight end runs the In, the split end runs the Streak. This play is not a secret, you can find it in any West Coast Offense playbook. For crying out loud, it's been in the Madden videogame for years! And more accurately drawn, I might add.
The chapter consists largely of material cribbed from other sources. No mention of the slant pattern is made, a strange oversight, considering how effective Montana was in throwing it to Rice and Taylor, and how effective they were in yards after the catch. There is the bizarre assertion that Andy Reid brought "zone-blocked power running game"(!) to the WCO, which will come as a surprise to Mike Shanahan, Alex Gibbs, the Denver Broncos and Andy Reid himself.
The chapter on Buddy Ryan and his sons shows the worst depiction of the "46" defense I've ever seen. As far as I remember, the traditional setup featured the D-line covering the guards and center, with Richard Dent in an outside shade over the left tackle. The two outside linebackers, Otis Wilson and Wilbur Marshall were aligned on the line of scrimmage, one shaded inside the tight end, one outside the tight end. Middle linebacker Mike Singletary set up behind the D-line over the strongside B-Gap, while the strong safety aligned over the weakside B-Gap. The book's diagram of the "46" gets everything wrong. The D-line is set up in reverse; yes, the center and guards are covered, but the lone defensive end is set up in the strongside C-gap between the right tackle and tight end. The two outside backers are shown on the weakside, aligned off the line. The Mike backer is over the weakside B-Gap and the strong safety is shown stacked behind the defensive end on the strongside. What the hell?...
I can't comment on the accuracy of every chapter, I'm an avid fan, not a football coach. But these glaring flaws render all the material suspect to me. I wanted to like this book, I really did. Tim Layden's prose is likeable enough but his research is sadly lacking.
The book does give some fair biographical information on some of the coaches who pioneered or re-discovered some of the formations and plays in football history. Some of the personal connections are explored, such as Bill Walsh's connection to Paul Brown. But the descriptions of the formation's and philosophies of the various offenses and defenses are cursory at best. Usually a single play is diagrammed from each formation.... the signature play I suppose. But I wanted to know more about the other plays run from each formation and how the opposing defense (or offense) is kept off-balance.
I also wanted to know more about the blocking assignments from the various formations. For example, I noticed from watching Florida's games the last few years that on almost every play the offensive lineman never fire out of their blocks and attempt to drive their defender backwards on running plays. Rather, they would get into a pass-blocking stance without forming a pocket. They would remain at the line of scrimmage and attempt to cut off the defender in front of them whichever way he wanted to go. It is almost a zone-blocking scheme without the movement. Then the QB makes the decision to run, pitch or throw depending on what the defenders do. It really appears to be quite a different blocking scheme for the offensive line and I was really hoping to get a better explanation of what their thinking was. But it was not to be. The spread offense was made to sound almost the same as the run and shoot. But I believe the spread is vastly different in many ways.
If you've watched pre-game shows or listened closely to analysts such as Ron Jaworski or Chris Collinsworth you won't learn anything new from this book. T
Author Tim Layden, Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated, has laid out a reasonably well organized set of chapters that goes into the innovations in football strategy that have made the game what it is today.
He starts out back in days of Pop Warner and the Single Wing formation. Back in the rough and tumble days when football was about big men smashing into each other and running the ball, Pop Warner came up with a formation that maximized deception and utilized the full talents of three running backs (with the quarterback essentially handling ball and either handing off or running). He then walks through all the variations of this basic attack in both college and professional football that defined the game for decades.
As we get into the modern era there is an excellent chapter on the late Don "Air" Coryell and his passing attack that really is the progenitor of many of the pass happy offenses in today's NFL. Of course Coryell's strategy was attacking deep with his platoon of great receivers and Hall of Fame Quarterback Dan Fouts. Coryell's offense was the origin of some utterly failed and passé schemes like the run and shoot offense. But it's also the foundation for very successful offenses such as Sam Wyche's no huddle offense that took the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl, the K-Gun Offense with Jim Kelly and the Buffalo Bills riding their pass oriented offense to four consecutive trips to the big dance, and The Greatest Show on Turf highlighting the offense of Mike Martz and quarterback Kurt Warner, culminating in a Super Bowl win.
Bill Walsh's "West Coast Offense" featuring the short passing game and receivers that can run after the catch is, of course, the other great offensive scheme that dominates the NFL's passing schemes today. Layden has a very nice chapter on how Walsh's scheme evolved and its importance in today's NFL.
Thankfully, Layden doesn't forget the defense. From the zone blitz, the cover two (made famous by Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay), and Buddy Ryan's 46 defense that focuses on attacking the quarterback, to the late Jim Johnson's Double A Gap blitz, he lays it all out with clear prose. He tells how and why the schemes came about, and gives us a glimpse into the personalities of the coaches who created them.
There are several excellent aspects to this book. First the author describes the X's and O's and why various formations or schemes evolved the way they did in a prose that is easily understandable to the avid football fan. He also places each scheme within the context of the history and rules of the game that made the formations or schemes more than passing fads but foundations that can be seen in today's game. And finally, he allows the personalities of some of the great football minds to come forth in the book, so it's not just dry chalk talk.
The only drawback to the book is it does not fully explain how changes in the rules are really what have made offensive football today more about the pass than the run by limiting what defenses are allowed to do to stop it. While rule changes are mentioned, and certainly rule changes often spur innovation in the game, these changes are not given enough "credit" for how the game has evolved.
Despite these drawbacks this is a great football book for football fans. It is not a book for the very casual fan, but it clearly is not intended to be. It's impossible to go into all the chapters in one review, suffice it to say there is much more here for the football fan to absorb.