NFL Bookshelf

Take Your Eye Off the Ball 2.0 by Pat Kirwan

An excellent guide for keen fans how want to know more about the game.

So far this section of the site has only covered books about the Ravens. That’s not the case with this one, though it does have Joe Flacco on the cover so there is a Ravens connection. This is a book for anyone who understands the basics of the game but wants to go deeper. With the new regular season just hours away, it’s an ideal time to start reading it.

The author, Pat Kirwan, has plenty of football experience at all levels of the game. In the NFL he was a scout for the Buccaneers and Cardinals before spending eight years with the Jets, where he ended up as director of player administration. Since then he’s become a media figure and analyst, most recently with his own Real Football Network and eagle-eyed gamers will have spotted him making a cameo in Madden 18. In short, there are few better figures to guide you into the depths of the NFL.

Kirwan begins with an introduction to game charting, the process of noting on paper what’s happening on the field: what personnel is the offense in? what’s the formation? the down and distance? is it a run or a pass? and so on. That’s something that is crucial to understanding the game better and the book’s appendices include sample forms so that you can start charting games yourself. I’d urge everyone to give it a try; I’ve found that doing it really helps me understand how a game is flowing and what the real turning points are.

From there, you’ll get a closer look at each of the position groupings throughout the game – examining what they’re doing in a way that goes beyond what shows up on the highlight real – and at the to-and-fro between opposing coaches. After that there are sections on how the front office operates as well as the scouting process that leads to the draft. Whatever your level of knowledge of the game you will learn plenty from these chapters.

Throughout, there are clear examples from recent games (the book was last updated in 2015 so the examples are a couple of years old now) that many fans will remember. These help to explain how teams have succeeded or failed at handling the particular challenges that Kirwan is highlighting. There are also frequent Q&A boxes where Kirwan answers a specific question.

There are lots of simple little tricks too, such as this one: “If you can’t tell while the players are lined up [whether the play will be a run or a pass], watch the height of the linemen’s helmets after the snap. If the helmets are raising upwards, it’s probably a pass – or a draw, which depends on selling the threat of a pass.”

The remainder of the book looks at key issues such as pain management – taking in the ongoing concussion concerns – and the ever-evolving rulebook, as well as a quick overview of advanced stats and a round-up of insider terminology. There are deeper reads on most of these topics available elsewhere but these chapters serve as a great introduction.

Even if the only thing you take away from this book is a better awareness of offensive sets and defensive fronts and coverages then you will have learned a lot. But there’s so much more here than that. I’d recommend this book to every fan.

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