What do you watch in a football game?

Submitted by WestQuad on August 16th, 2018 at 12:26 PM

I played football for 10 years (through HS), have read a little bit about football and have watched every Michigan football game since 1988, but when I watch a game,  I pretty much derp mentally and just watch where the ball goes and look for a big hit, run or pass.   My only real play calling was knowing that Lloyd would run it a couple of times and then hit a big pass on play action when he got a third down.  

What do you look at during a football game and what does it mean?

Do you note the offensive personnel?  (12, 21, 22, etc.)  What does that mean to you?

Do you recognize the defensive front or defensive back field?  Can you tell what coverage they are in?

Can you tell what blocking patterns the line is using on a play during the play?  (Inside zone, outside zone)

Can you predict the play based on down/distance/score?

What are your typical pre-snap reads and in-play insights?



August 16th, 2018 at 12:33 PM ^

I played a number of years and a few beyond college, I coached an additional 15 from middle school, which is way more challenging than you would imagine when most have no clue how to dress safely, through high school. When I go to UM games, it's a lot about the memory, it's a weekend of entertaining football, and at times, predictive reads from down and distance, calling plays, but I try to avoid reading fronts, defensive packages, offensive schemes, etc...I like to watch the ball move up and down the field and appreciate what goes into it...UM games are more of a relaxing deal than continual overanalyzing everything, I spent enough of that in my youth scouting film, etc...time to enjoy the game with my son who is preparing for college next year


August 16th, 2018 at 12:37 PM ^

Two tools that have helped me watch football more intelligently:

1. The old picture pages feature on the site. Seth's play write-ups are really good, too, and I look forward to them returning.

2. The 10-second rewind on my DVR, which I use a number of times each game to rewatch a play I just saw for things like blocking that I missed on the first play. 

I've heard people who know football better than I say that they watch from the lines out, which makes sense. I try that occasionally, but I'm so personally invested in the outcome of the game (and, as a consequence, each play) that analyzing what is happening in real time is tricky. 


August 16th, 2018 at 12:39 PM ^

I just zone out and watch football!  I don't get into coverages, blocking scheme, etc!  to me it is a social event to hopefully watch the Wolverines kick the other teams ass and I don't really care how they do it!

Pompano Jack

August 16th, 2018 at 12:42 PM ^

First time through I watch the game like a fan.  Second time watching, I look at formations, and play recognition.  I watch a lot of WLB because my son plays that position in HS.  The camera angles on T.V. make it difficult to watch coverage schemes or receivers coming open.  

Perkis-Size Me

August 16th, 2018 at 12:44 PM ^

I don't dive into it that deep. Never played or coached. I can recognize formations and what a team is probably going to do on a given play, mostly because I've watched enough to be able to make an educated guess. But I don't dive much further than that. 

I just try to relax and not think too hard. Football is meant to be entertainment for me, and if I have to think about the game too much (i.e. reviewing pre-snap reads, identifying coverages, blocking patterns), it becomes more of a chore. I can perfectly understand how some would derive entertainment out of looking for those pieces in the game. But that's probably more reserved for those who've actually played or coached the game. 


August 16th, 2018 at 12:44 PM ^

I used to watch the guards and still do depending on the offense being ran. They tell you if it’s run or pass immediately with their action and typically lead you to where the ball is designed to go. The RPO has changed this but it has been pretty useful watching M.  


August 16th, 2018 at 12:52 PM ^

I definitely notice formation and personnel. Coverage is tough presnap, and post snap is off the screen most of the time. I can generally ID power vs OZ And IZ vs Iso, etc, but not always. It usually takes me a re-watch or two to see how each player is doing on a given play. 


August 16th, 2018 at 12:58 PM ^

Generally speaking, I watch the plays as they develop.  I've taken to watching the lines primarily because it tells you what's going to happen, but I'm not typically trying to make calls or reads.  I don't try to get super bogged in minutiae of plays when I'm watching, I don't want to miss the forest for the trees.  


August 16th, 2018 at 1:05 PM ^

The TV angle is going to follow the action, so that is what we are forced to watch.  The analyst will comment on a wide shot following a play, so I'll wait for that.  Other than that, I pay attention to trends, down and distance, etc. Like many, I wait for the UFR for the nuts and bolts.  


August 16th, 2018 at 1:05 PM ^

Like you, I just consume it. Maybe I pay attention to who is on the field and what it may mean, but I don't try to guess plays. Just rooting on my team basically. 


August 16th, 2018 at 1:17 PM ^

Good post and question.

Depends on the venue and atmosphere.  If with people and we're chatting while watching it's tough to get in my normal mode which is dialed in and looking inside out.  Coverages are tough on tv, at least for me, but I like to look at D-line/LB fronts and to an extent  the Offensive personnel, for Michigan at least.

I played a bit but never coached so I am no where near others in predicting and seeing everything on the first viewing but I've gotten pretty good at not just watching the snap and where the ball goes but for example ID'ing where flow is going and catch a good block before the ball carrier gets to that area...those types of things.  Again, no expert but if you teach yourself to get away from the ball at all times, that alone can get you seeing things especially if you can start to realize where the ball WILL go and you're already ahead of everything and all you did was miss a handoff.

Winchester Wolverine

August 16th, 2018 at 1:22 PM ^

I laughed at your "derp mentally" comment because I do it too. I have coached middle school ball for 6 years running, and I sometimes use college football Saturdays as inspiration for future game plans and play design. Michigan games, however, are different.

I recognize formations and defensive fronts on most plays, depending on the score or importance of the game (less game drama, more analysis). I can also make an educated guess prior to the play being called, based on the down and distance. Mostly, though, I just watch football.


August 16th, 2018 at 1:28 PM ^

It partially depends on whether I'm at the game or not. My dad has seats in the south endzone about halfway up (I have really come to enjoy that view of the field). It's difficult to tell yardage when the ball is on the other side of the field, but it's nice seeing the width of the field. On TV you're pretty limited to what you can watch based on the camera, so I just end up watching the QB/RB and lines. I generally try not to overthink anything and just enjoy the game. I know I'll get plenty of coverage from people here that know way more about football than me after the game. Sometimes I'll lock in on a player every once in a while like Mo Hurst or Gary. Back when Denard was still here I think everybody kind of locked in on him, but that's pretty normal for the QBs. Overall I just try to enjoy it and not take things too seriously. 

Ghost of Fritz…

August 16th, 2018 at 1:40 PM ^

As much of the field of play as possible...

I prefer to see the entire D alignment pre-snap and during the play, and observe how the entire D reacts to the play, including the receiver routes.

But the TV games these days rarely allow the viewer to see the entire defensive backfield and/or receiver routes, especially during the play.  Seems like producers impose a 'follow the ball up close' style.

I also think baseball broadcasts should offer more full field views on plays where there are base runners and the ball is hit into fair territory.  They should offer this view A LOT MORE on instant replays.  Too much up close and tight camera shots (though that certainly has its place on tag outs, slo-mo replays of pitches, etc.)


August 16th, 2018 at 8:21 PM ^

i wish they would stay wider on the tv shot for the initial play and then they can do the close up shots for the replay and in depth analysis.  and skip the weird camera angles from the center of the field during the play.  they're cool for the after play analysis but i want to see the entire play while its happening.

probably sound a bit get off my lawn-ish about it but i think they have all these cool toys in the production booth and want to use them but half the time they don't help me see the play better and actually show me less of what is going on by using the behind the QB skycam or whatever.


August 16th, 2018 at 1:41 PM ^

My friend and I usually pick players or position groups to watch and then call things out to each other as if we are playing and diagnosing the play. So, I'll take linemen and he'll take receivers/DBs (or vice versa) and we'll watch those groups calling out run, pass, personnel, stunts, pulls, routes, coverage, etc. He and used to play NCAA Football on Xbox, so it comes from that.


August 16th, 2018 at 1:41 PM ^

This is a great topic.

I played O Line through high school, so I love to watch the line.

But to get a feel for the play pre-snap, especially at a game since TV angles can stink, I look at the safeties on D. If there are two high (deep) safeties, look run & watch the line. If there is only one, think pass and watch the QB to see where he's looking.

Guards are keys to see where the ball is going on a run play. Formation can tip it off a little too - if there's a 'power' side (think H back & tight end).

Broken Brilliance

August 16th, 2018 at 2:10 PM ^

As far as my experience, I played tackle football 8th-12th grade and then played fairly competitive 6 on 6 flag through college. (Yes these leagues exist but are mostly equivalent to adult softball). I also play a decent amount of Madden and NCAA on PlayStation.

I watch the formations on both sides presnap. I try to think what I would call if I were a coordinator and think critically about what strategy I feel would work, however if the real coach calls something else that works I root like hell for them. I think back to when I've seen certain plays or coverages in past games. Postgame I reflect on what I watch and look for instant analysis on Twitter or Mgo. The UFRs, gamethreads, and snowflakes always have their merit. 


August 16th, 2018 at 2:10 PM ^

Watching a game live vs. watching on TV are often two different things.  TV camera choices limit what we can see.  What would be awesome is an option to switch between a fulltime fixed endzone view camera, a fixed full field 50 yard view, along with the regular camera feed from the network.


August 16th, 2018 at 2:16 PM ^

I typically scan the formation for sub packages for both the offense and defense for the team I’m rooting for.  I sit in section 12 about halfway up so I end up with a great “coaches view”.  I try to keep an eye on line play, but I often check the receivers’ routes.  I’m not great at picking out specific advanced line schemes, but can pick out basically whether it is zone or power.  

Man I love that we are talking football again!


August 16th, 2018 at 2:19 PM ^

I'm usually pretty drunk and end up screaming at the TV a lot while the dog hides from me, so I'm not really sure 'what' I watch . . . .

If I had to guess ... the OL/QB right after the snap (can usually tell if it is a run or pass) then I look to see if the LBs/CBs/Safety's are blitzing and if we have enough blockers .... then I look to see where the RB is heading and/or where the QB is looking as he drops back .... by then the play is unfolding and  I start yelling random drunken shit 


August 16th, 2018 at 2:28 PM ^

First thing I note is personnel and formation/defensive alignment (mostly looking for coverage or maybe a strange package up front). Then immediately post snap I’m watching the lines - OL for run (and if so, what the guards do) and DL for sheer sexiness. Then, obviously I’m just watching the run or pass play out. 


I try to watch again on Sunday for a more analytical breakdown, but on Saturdays I just pickup on a few things pre-snap and immediately post-snap and enjoy the rest.


August 16th, 2018 at 2:34 PM ^

I always keep an eye on my favorite players. (Bush, Gary, Winovich, Hudson) because 90% of the time they blow someone's ass up.  I usually bow my head and pray when the offense has the ball, so not much to see there. Not too bad though because the D is usually back on the field quickly.


August 16th, 2018 at 2:41 PM ^

Typically my progression goes:

  1. Check down/distance
  2. See who checked in/out of the game
  3. Worry about how we're about to mess this up based on steps (1) and (2)
  4. Watch the overall alignments and whether or not the QB is looking for something in the defense pre-snap (if he is you can often predict "kill" calls and passes)
  5. Assume the worst while the ball is snapped and then allow my eyes to flow where the play is about to go - i.e. to the edge if it's a sweep, and then to the players who are supposed to be blocking/defending the sweep
  6. Overreact
  7. Drink


August 16th, 2018 at 2:44 PM ^

Yes, to most of your questions if possible but I am not too technical ... just enough to enjoy the "chess match" that is football.  Watching a game in person is way more enjoyable from a technical standpoint ... you can actually see the offensive position groups come off the sidelines and also the defensive adjustments to the new personnel.  TV doesn't adequately give a spectator the field of vision necessary to take in all of the developing play dynamics prior to the snap.  So if I am watching it on TV, it is a bit frustrating to not be "more involved" with the actual play and feel its full development. But I don't live close enough to be a season ticketholder, so I have to suffer the season listening to shit announcers and watching follow-the-QB camera coverage.  Sometimes I turn off the audio as that allows for a less distracted watch, but TV is still not like being there in person.


August 16th, 2018 at 2:45 PM ^

Live - I keep it simple, I watch any motioning TE/RBs and then the ball once play starts. I miss too much when I try to watch the line or the defense.

On rewatches, knowing what''s going to happen, I'll try to break down plays and see if I can see the deeper problems (missed reach blocks, bad positioning, etc)


August 16th, 2018 at 2:46 PM ^

I watch it all but the most important thing to watch in my opinion who is getting push off and winning in the trenches.  That is usually who wins.


August 16th, 2018 at 2:48 PM ^

I watch the ball but also see a fair amount of peripheral stuff that sometimes drives me crazy, such as when there is an obvious penalty and it is not called.

Hold This L

August 16th, 2018 at 2:53 PM ^

I just watch a lot of football. Watch a lot of breakdowns on various social media sites. Want to learn about it as much as I can. There’s a lot of nuances that as a person who never played, I don’t understand and probably never will.

That being said, I usually look at the defense. I’ve always loved an aggressive defense. As much as it pains me to say, it started with narduzzi dominating most teams Sparty would play. I saw how he called his defense and immediately wanted that. Mattison made me want to pull my hair out with his DBs playing 8 yards off and every qb throwing quick passes for 9-15 yards. It frustrated me with teryl Austin as well. 


August 16th, 2018 at 3:29 PM ^

My first focus is Michigan, whether on defense or offense. After that, I focus to the strength of the field to see how they utilize it or try to counter it. Then, down and distance. I try not to over analyze as I enjoy the excitement and flow of the game

Damn, I can’t wait !!



August 16th, 2018 at 3:43 PM ^

Early in the game I am watching the LOS. Can Team A block Team B and vice versa, because none of the other shit they are trying to do is going to matter if that is a bloodbath. As the game wears on I go into management mode thinking. IE down and distance, situational football, etc. 


August 16th, 2018 at 4:12 PM ^

I used to just watch everything like you said you do. As I've gotten older I tend to watch line play on either side of the ball more than anything else. I do pay attention to the formations but not as much as line play. We all know the game starts and ends up front. I have always enjoyed watching the secondary play. Corner will always be my favorite position on the field.