Football For Dummies by Howie Long

Football For Dummies

I’ve been watching football for over 40 years and I still don’t know all the ins and out of the game. I picked up this book to help fill some of those holes. Howie Long has done a good job at explaining the obvious stuff: rules, players, history, etc. And he has also defined some terms, especial about plays,  I’ve never understood.
I’ve listened to game commentators all these years. I’ve only had a vague notion what they were talking about. They never explain these plays, but thanks to “Football For Dummies” I now know what they mean; especially defensive plays. All the excitement is on offense, but recently I’ve learned that defenses win championships. The teams I follow all have great defenses. So if you want to understand the game, the game America loves, I would recommend this book.

355 pages

Amazon Book Preview of “Football For Dummies”

My Favorite Excerpts From The Book

Cover one
In this coverage, shown in Figure 4–4, one deep safety is about 12 to 14 yards deep in the middle of the field, the two cornerbacks (CB) are in press coverage (on the the line of scrimmage opposite the two receivers), and the strong safety (SS) is about 5 yards deep over the tight end. Cover one is usually man-to-man coverage. A running play works best against this type of coverage.

Cover two
This time, both safeties are deep, 12 to 14 yards off the line of scrimmage, as shown in Figure 4–5. The two cornerbacks remain in press coverage, while the two safeties prepare to help the corners on passing plays and come forward on running plays. A deep comeback pass, a crossing route, or a swing pass works well against this type of coverage.

Cover three
This coverage, shown in Figure 4–6, has three defensive backs deep. The free safety remains 12 to 14 yards off the line of scrimmage, and the two cornerbacks move 10 to 12 yards off the line of scrimmage. Cover three is obvious zone coverage. The strong safety is 5 yards off the line of scrimmage, over the tight end. This cover is a stout defense versus the run, but it’s soft against a good passing team. In this cover, a quarterback can throw underneath passes (short passes to beat the linebackers who are positioned underneath the defensive back’s coverage). Staying with faster receivers in this area Is difficult for some linebackers to do.

Cover four
In cover four, what you see is what you get, as shown in Figure 4–7. All four defensive backs are off the line of scrimmage, aligned 10 to 12 yards deep. Some teams call this coverage “Four Across” because the defensive backs are aligned all across the field The cover four is a good pass defense because the secondary players are told to never allow a receiver to get behind them. If offensive team can block the front seven (a combination of defensive linemen and line backers that amounts to seven players), a running play works against this coverage.
pages 71–73

Quarterback Rating
Last but not least you have the NFL quarterback rating formula, also called the passer rating formula. It makes for an unusual math problem. Grab your calculator and follow these steps to figure it out:

  1. Divide completed passes by pass attempts, subtract 0.3, and then divide by 0.2.
  2. Divide passing yards by pass attempts, subtract 3, and then divide by 4.
  3. Divide touchdown passes by pass attempts and then divide by 0.05.
  4. Divide interceptions by pass attempts, subtract that number from 0.095, and divide the remainder by 0.04.

The sum of each step can’t be greater than 2.375 or less than zero. Add the sums of the four steps, multiply that number by 100, and divide by 6. The final number is the quarterback rating, which in Manning’s case is 115.1.
A rating of 100 or above is considered very good; an average rating is in the 80 to 100 range, and anything below 80 is considered a poor quarterback rating.
pages 76

Nickel and dime backs
Some experts try to equate learning the nickel and dime defensive schemes with learning to speak Japanese. Not so! All it’s about is making change, When defensive coaches believe that the offense plans to throw the football, they replace bigger and slower linebackers with defensive backs. By substituting defensive backs for linebackers, defensive coaches ensure that faster players — who are more capable of running with receivers and making an interception — are on the field.

The fifth defensive back to enter the game is called the nickel back, and the sixth defensive back to enter is termed the dime back. The nickel term is easy to explain — five players equal five cents. The dime back position received its name because, in essence, two nickel backs are on the field at once. And, as you well know, two nickels equal a dime. However, each team has its own vernacular for the nickel and dime back positions. For example, the Raiders used to refer to their nickel back as the pirate. Regardless of the name, these players are generally the second-string cornerbacks. In other words, no team has a designated nickel back or dime back job.

The one downside of using a defensive scheme that includes nickel and dime backs is that you weaken your defense against the running game. For instance, many modern offenses opt to run the ball in what appear to be obvious passing situations because they believe that their powerful running backs have a size and strength advantage over the smaller defensive backs after the ball carrier breaks the line of scrimmage. Although defensive backs should be good tacklers, the prerequisite for the position is being able to defend pass receivers and tackle players who are more your size.

Substituting nickel and dime backs is part of a constant chess game played by opposing coaching staffs. Defensive coaches believe they’ve prepared for the occasional run and that these extra defensive backs give the defense more blitzing and coverage flexibility.

Figure 10–4 shows a common nickel/dime alignment that has a good success rate against the pass, especially when offenses are stuck in third-and–20 situations. This alignment enables teams to use many different defensive looks, which help to confuse the quarterback. But this scheme is poor against the run, so the defense has to remain alert to the possibility that the offense will fake a pass and run the ball instead.
pages 174,5

Cover two (and Tampa two)
The cover two defense was devised to stop the West Coast offense, which relies on short passing routes and running backs coming out of the backfield to catch passes (for more about the West Coast offense, see Chapter 8). When running backs as well as tight ends and receivers all catch passes, how can the defense cover so many receivers?

The answer is the Cover two, a 4–3 zone defense. Rather than cover receivers man to man, the defensive side of the field is divided into zones, with each zone the responsibility of a safety, cornerback, or linebacker. The deep part of the field (the area starting about 15 yards from the line of scrimmage) is divided into two large zones, each of which is the responsibility of a safety. (The cover two gets its name from these two large zones.) The safeties guard against receivers running downfield to catch long passes. Meanwhile, the area between the line of scrimmage and the deep part of the field is divided into five small zones, each of which is the responsibility of a cornerback or linebacker. The idea is to stop the short pass, or if a receiver succeeds in catching a short pass, to keep him from gaining more than a few yards. If a receiver breaks a tackle and gets downfield, one of the two safeties for which the defense is named is supposed to stop the receiver from breaking off a long gain. The cover two defense requires talented linemen who can pressure the quarterback into throwing the ball before receivers can break into the open areas between zones.

The Cover two, designed to stop short passes, is susceptible to a strong running attack. What’s more, the area in the middle of the field beyond 10 or 15 yards from the line of scrimmage is vulnerable because it falls between the two major zones. A speedy receiver who slips into this area and catches a pass can torch a team playing the cover two defense.

To protect the middle of the field, the Tampa two, a variation on the cover two, was invented. In the Tampa two, the middle linebacker drops back into the defensive secondary to protect against the pass, as shown in Figure 11–10. The Tampa two gets its name from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who used this defense starting in the mid–1990s under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. Running the Tampa two defense requires a stellar middle linebacker, somebody like Derrick Brooks, who played for the Buccaneers. Brooks had the speed to drop back and cover receivers as well as the strength and stamina to guard against runs up the middle. Most middle linebackers aren’t blessed with that combination of speed and strength.

NDSU Tampa Two Defense

The NDSU ‘Bison’ run the Tampa-Two Defense , a modified 4-3 defense with Middle Linebacker #49 Nick DeLuca playing deeper than normal and the safeties moving outside to cover the receivers.

Figure 11–10 (photo by Vic Teigen)
In the Tampa two, a variation of the cover two, the middle linebacker (LB) drops back into pass coverage.
pages 201,2

Picking the best seats
The really good seats in every stadium are near the 50-yard line, 25 rows up, where you can scan the entire field. But those great seats usually belong to longtime season ticket holders. If you aren’t a longtime season ticket holder or lucky enough to have an official sideline credential, the end zone can be a good place to watch a game.

The best seat in the house, from my perspective, is in the end zone about 20 rows up. Of course, you need good binoculars. I like to see plays developing and watch the line play on both sides of the ball, and the end zone offers the best vantage point to see this action.

Sitting in the end zone, you can focus on a matchup of two linemen, like a defensive end battling an offensive tackle, and watch how they attack each other. Whoever wins this battle is going to win the war (the game). These individual battles can teach you a lot about football, even when the play or ball is going in the opposite direction. For a team to win, its players need to win these individual battles.

I love to watch a game from the sidelines. It’s too bad more fans don’t have that same opportunity at least once in their lives. Standing on the sidelines, you see firsthand the speed of the players and the ferocity of their hits. The contact occurs — and the overall game is played — at such a high speed. The players move like bullet trains plowing through a cornfield. – Howie Says

Wherever you sit, make sure you buy a program or check your local newspaper or team website for team depth charts and numbered rosters — these rosters are the only way to identify the many players on the field. A depth chart lists the starting lineups for both teams by their positions on offense and defense. It also lists the punter, placekicker, snapper for punts and kicks, and kickoff and punt return specialists. The reserves are listed alongside the starters on the depth chart, so when a player is injured, you can figure out who will replace him.
pages 247,8

[I found this comment interesting, because I’ve come to this same conclusion.. the best seats are in the end zone. Although they stink when the ball is on the other end of the field, they make up for it when the ball is on your goal line. And with the new big screen video displays even the other end isn’t that bad. Whereas on the 50-yard-line, nothing ever happens. –Craig]


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I do a little web design work and support a couple web sites and blogs. My primary focus is lighting and energy consulting where I use a number of computer tools to help my customer find ways of saving money and improving their work environment. See my web site for more information:
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