Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Myth of the 3rd Preseason Game

Every season we as fans get geared up for the 3rd preseason game. We have been lead to believe that the 3rd game is a dress rehearsal for the regular season. The 3rd game is when the coaches gameplan like this is a regular season game and we as fans get a true feel for how our team will stack up come the regular season.

It’s time that this myth gets debunked.

Do the majority of the starters get more time in the 3rd preseason game get more time than in any other preseason game, sure. Do teams actually set up a scout team to mimic some of the things the other team does, probably. Do the coaches put in specific packages to attack the other teams weaknesses and hide their own, most of the time, no.

Dan Reeves was on Sirius NFL radio this afternoon discussing this very same topic. He brought up specific examples of what they would do going into a 3rd preseason game. Was his team going up against another team that ran a 3-4 front, then they would look at that in practice. But that sort of thing was the extent of the extra preparation that was made.

His co-host, Jim Miller, brought up a couple examples of how during his playing days that they would call certain protections based on the other teams tendencies as they came into the 3rd game. But that was as far as they went. They didn’t plan to attack a corner who was week, or had a specific tendency.

This is a basic truth of the NFL that has been overlooked for years. Why is hard to say. Personally I feel that it is due to the fans desire to actually get some feedback on their team, it has been since December or January since most of us have seen a meaningful snap for our team. Finally our starters will be on the field for the majority of the game, we want them to succeed, and we want some sort of insight into how our team will perform in September.

Oh, and the rantings of Dennis Green and his “They are who we thought they were” breakdown. Lets not dwell too long on the rantings of a man who had clearly lost it in assigning our value on one game.

Keep these truths in mind when you watch your team play a preseason game:

- The defense is vanilla; few teams show their more exotic schemes in the preseason. If they do show an exotic blitz, front or coverage, there is as good a chance that they are trying to put something on film that future opponents have to plan for, as they are actually planning to make that a regular part of their offense.

- The offense is basic. The team is not looking at the tendencies of a DE who takes himself out of a play by getting to far up field, and exploiting it. That double reverse they ran, well there is a good chance that is a red herring for a future opposing DC to spend time game planning against.

- The coaches talk before the game about things they want to see, and would like the other team to try. You don’t play preseason games against other teams in you division, chances are if you want to work on your 2-minute drill, the other team wants to work on its prevent D. Everyone has lots to work on, there is no rule against working together to make both teams better.

- What game planning that is done is more geared towards what a team needs to work on, rather than finding holes in the other teams game. When you hear that the Raiders put in a specific package for the Arizona game, chances are that package was set up as a generic package with little or no regard put into the Cardinals team. It is more of a walkthrough for the players on the Raiders letting them know, this is how many plays, packages and protections we put in during a typical week.

Now I do know that there occasions and teams that do put more stock into the 3rd preseason game. There have been instances of teams putting together an opponent specific game plan for the 3rd preseason game. But this is the exception rather than the rule. Teams with 1st year head coaches sometimes due this in an attempt to get the players to buy into a system. With success they can go to the team and let them know, if you buy in this in the kind of result you can expect.

But as I said when the preseason started, nothing can be gained by looking at the wins and losses in the preseason. What you can do is look at individual players and their fundamentals, Johnny Free Agent RB who is ripping up the league for over 100 yards rushing per game right now, will probably find himself on the bench in two weeks. Steve Spurrier’s fun and gun offense looked like it was going to take the league by storm after 4 preseason games. 16 regular season games later Spurrier went back to college with his tail between his legs.

Enjoy the preseason for what it is, glorifies practice. Putting more stock in it than that is foolish, just ask the Colts, their record is something like 3-13 since Dungy took over as HC, I think they have been doing alright once the real bullets start flying.

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