Anatomy of a Super Bowl winner: Steelers breakdown at NYT Fifth Down Blog

My breakdown of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense is up over at the New York Times Fifth Down Blog. This should become a weekly thing, so check out the inaugural post.

  • Art

    This is great news Chris – Congratulations! I look forward to the upcoming articles on NYT! I have a small glimmer of hope now for football coverage…the announcers and writers etc I hope will read your articles and start to catch on a little better.


  • Chris (not Brown)

    Chris, in your NYT article, you made a point of saying that even if you knew the name of the Steelers’ SB-winning play, you wouldn’t mention it because it’s not fair to the Steelers. But in other articles, like your Xs and Os breakdown of Steve Spurrier on Dr. Saturday recently, you not only list a number of different play names, but also show diagrams and videos to go with them. I’m not meaning to criticize, just curious why you would treat the Steeler situation differently.

  • Dave

    Congratulations. Fifth Down is IMO pretty lousy, but the addition of you Andy Barall (who until Wednesday was a reader/commentator, that should tell you something about it’s quality) immediately improves the site. I was a little surprised they added you since you were critical of KC Joyner (and rightfully so) when Brian Burke guest blogged.

  • Chris,

    You bring up an interesting point, one that I’ve meant to address for a bit here. The distinction is not a formal one, but it was consciously made. My general rule is to avoid “spilling the beans on anything, whether lexicon or schemes themselves, that a team’s opponent wouldn’t already know or figure out pretty quickly during their normal film study. Moreover, there’s a further exception for what I think of as football “genericisms,” stuff that has become so common or public that I’m not letting anything out of the bag. The Mike Leach/Hal Mumme Airraid is a good example of this. They put out a lot of info, to the point where all of their schemes, play-names, tags, route adjustments, etc. The whole thing is out there on the internet. Spurrier’s system is much the same.

    Now I wouldn’t give away Spurrier’s checks or audible codes or whatever, even if I knew them. But Ralph/Lonnie, Mills, etc are all publicly available, and have been so for a long, long time. On top of that, I don’t think Spurrier uses those names when he audibles, and finally some of the concepts, like “Mills,” have become synonymous with the route combination, just as “smash” means a hitch by an outside receiver and a corner by an inside receiver, or the “NCAA” pass involves a post and a dig or square-in with some kind of underneath control routes. Think of this as the Xerox exception to hiding info: if it is so common as to be non-proprietary (I can say “I’m going to Xerox that” without running afoul of copyright or anything), then it is fair game. In the NFL, lots of teams call their flanker shallow cross play “Z-Drive.” I don’t even know how to begin discussing the play without calling it Z-Drive; it is that common. But if some team had a special name for it, I’d probably leave it out, both because it’d be unfair but also because it wouldn’t do anything to help the reader.

    The same goes for schemes. When I broke down Virginia Tech, with much assistance from Coach Chris Vasseur, I wanted to explain their coverage scheme, front, etc. A lot of that was new to many people, but it was not hidden. Any opponent of VT would see all of it within 10 minutes of watching tape. What I didn’t do — and I won’t be doing as I do a follow-up — is tell you the names of their blitzes or defensive calls. That would just be unfair; a penalty for being good enough to discuss.

    I hope that makes some sense, but I try to use good judgment in all these cases but I do keep concerned with it.

  • Dave

    I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the name of that play eventually came out. I was in a doctor’s office once reading Men’s Vogue and Eli Manning not only gave away the name of the play of the David Tyree catch–76 Union Y Sail–but gave away what each phrase meant, with 76 being the blocking scheme, “Union” a combination route for Burress and Toomer and he also said what the routes for Tyree (who was actually on a dummy route) and Smith were. It’s not uncommon find out the names for great plays in the Super Bowl, whether it be 17 Bob Trey O or 65 Power Toss Trap, or even non-SB plays like Red Right 88 or Sprint Right Option.

  • Chris (not Brown)

    Thanks for the reply. I had a feeling that the answer would lean in the “public domain” sort of direction. But I figured I’d at least keep you on your toes. 🙂

  • drobviousso

    That was a good article. I’m a Steelers fan that thinks Arians should lose his job for 2 reasons not addressed in the article:
    1)His play calling patters are predictable and atrocious. He’s got some great plays, I like his 3 TE sets, I like his bunch sets, but when a viewer at home with no prep work can announce if it’s going to be run, pass, or play action with about 80% accuracy, that’s a problem.

    2)I think the issues with the line have to do with coaching, not physical talent. They get beat with simple twists and stunts. This has been true for both years of the Tomlin/Arians/Zierlein tenure. Someone needs to figure out where the break down is and fix it. Obviously, this was not an issue under Grimm.

    Anyway, to this Steelers fan, this reads like a fair article about what Arians does well.

  • Dave

    Chris, in case you didn’t see, Andy Staples gave a nice link to here yesterday.

  • Floritzel

    I’m very wound up about the big game. We’re in for very good shootout. I’ll choose them Indianapolis Colts in a close one.

  • Steb

    Wow, you must think you’re pretty smart if you’re “guarding” information from other coaches/teams. Do you really think there’s anything that you can figure out as an outsider that teams with access to “all 22” film, who are on the field during games, who break down everything that happens, can’t figure out? Do you think any team would tell a reporter this kind of info but not want them to publish it?

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