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Much Ado About All 22

Jun 18, 2012, 3:56 PM EDT

NFL.com has an interesting new feature that will allow you study film the way the coaches do.

Football junkies received an early Christmas present last week when NFL.com announced coaches film would be part of the Season Plus package on the site’s Game Rewind program in 2012.

For the low price of $69.99, any writer, fan, or student of the game can access the “All-22″ view of every play from every game for this upcoming season, which differs from broadcasts in that it reveals what every player on the field is doing at all times. You’ve no doubt seen All-22 footage dissected on TV before, and as the term coaches film implies, it’s what teams use to study their own performance and gameplan for opponents.

Not to make the controversy out to be bigger than it is, as there’s a good chance you hadn’t even heard the news, let alone the bluster of a few, but there was a surprising amount of backlash to the NFL’s latest offering. In providing fans an unprecedented level of access, the concern is second-guessing of players and coaches will increase dramatically as self-proclaimed experts become more certain of their knowledge.

Frankly, I don’t see how we could fit any more second-guessing into our culture of watching sports.

Second-guessing is already happening at every level of discourse. Sports writers, whether they’re high-profile or on blogs such as ours, are natured to second-guess what we see. Sports talk radio is nothing but a lot of second-guessing, and entire shows on ESPN are based on debating — or second-guessing — national stories across multiple sports. And fans, the people who buy tickets and merchandise, are the ultimate second-guessers, and are all too eager to demonstrate their second-guessing right in the midst of the action with a chorus of boos.

Furthermore, we’re supposed to believe the tsunami waves of second-guessing as Joe Shmoe targets specific play calls or player mistakes will place additional pressure on the men on the field. I was at Lincoln Financial Field the night half the stadium chanted “Fire Andy,” then filed out the gates in a mass exodus that left me wondering if they would ever come back. It’s hard to imagine Andy Reid being more scrutinized, his relationship with the fans more strained than they are, yet he’s still here. It’s in the front office’s best interests to block the noise to an extent, and make sound decisions for the future of the franchise, not entirely off of outside reaction.

The idea second guessing will grow is obviously nonsense, but more specifically, some are worried football hobbyists will mistake their obsession for unmistakeable knowledge. I’m sure that will be the case for a sub-set of Game Rewind subscribers, but the only way that’s any different from present day is their rationale. People already tend to lend more credence to their own opinions in the first place — now it will be that, and a smug, “I watched the tape.”

Building on the alleged problem, critics of the feature contend that watching the All-22 feed will not make you a smarter football fan. You have the coaches tape, but you still won’t know what the play call was, what each player’s assignment was, where the quarterback’s progressions were, etc. In essence, you’ll have a bunch of untrained head coaches trying to decipher that which they cannot possibly understand.

This is where the divide really breaks down. That nothing gleaned from the All-22 look could be accurate without more information and some NFL experience is simply false. I’m not saying watching coaches film automatically transforms the viewer into an expert, but you have the chance to observe parts of the game you simply cannot during a traditional broadcast. Arguing outsiders could never understand what they are seeing is the same as arguing we never understand any of what we see on Sundays, and that’s insulting.

While I think the only real controversy here is the bait-and-switch pricing NFL.com pulled last Friday, quickly raising the price $10 shortly after announcing the availability, ultimately it won’t matter in 2012, as the NFL won’t be removing a feature that’s generated a buzz in a service that had none at all prior. Whether All-22 film remains in future years remains to be seen, but I have a feeling the only change we’ll see in the immediate future is an escalating price as more and more hardcore fans and industry types flock to access this cool service.

>> Game Rewind [NFL.com]