Reducing Fumbles

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2004-05-14 Print this article Print

The feedback comes from a digital video system developed by Pinnacle Systems. Betacam SX cameras get shots of plays and the scoreboard, which displays the score, time, down, and distance needed for a first down. The film is converted to digits. The resulting files are kept on EMC Clarion storage systems.

The files are supplemented by game data such as completed passes, tackles and interceptions. These come mainly from the league office, which disseminates standardized reports, available to all teams, that include lineups, scoring breakdown and play-by-play. The Packers put the NFLs information, along with coaches interpretation of each play, into an Oracle database.

The video images and player stats are married in the Pinnacle system, which then allows coaches to call up video from the Clarion systems and sort by situations—third down and long, first-down plays, running plays, screen passes and the like—and by players who are involved with a play and logged in the team database by jersey number. Coaches can also get "cutups," or video compilations of, say, gimmick plays, based on a simple data query such as onside kicks in the first quarter, and add voiceovers if they choose to identify a trend such as "No. 65, puts his left foot back on passing plays."

Packer running back Ahman Greens performance last year provides a good example of how the process of stats, systems and feedback sessions works in Green Bay. Green, one of the top backs in the league, fumbled the ball seven times in the first nine games last year.

In his case, the team queried plays in its database by his No. 30 jersey over the last two years. A compilation of plays involving Green took minutes, instead of days—which is what it took three years ago when team staff had to sort through piles of tapes.

Coaches reviewed the compilation of plays and determined that Green fumbled when his elbow wasnt horizontal to the ground as he was hit. When he cradled the ball with his elbow in a horizontal position, Green didnt fumble.

Using that business intelligence, the coaches could point out elbow positioning to Green, who made a mental note and made the adjustment. Green only fumbled once (he recovered it) during the teams last seven games.

"We cant take technology and make a bad player good, but we can take a great athlete, educate him and show him how to reach peak performance," says Mike Eayrs, the teams director of research and development, who joined the coaching staff three seasons ago. "We try to find out what the winners do better with performance teamwise and individually."

Eayrs is a former college football coach who was the research and development director for the Minnesota Vikings—which played in the NFC championship game in 1998 and 2000—before joining The Pack in March 2001. His job, a new position created under current head coach and general manager Mike Sherman, was to formalize the teams statistical management processes. Since Eayrs has been with the team, the Packers have been in the playoffs the last three seasons and have gone 34-14 over that time, second in wins only to the Philadelphia Eagles.

As on any team, improving the performance of one player can increase the likelihood of the entire teams success. When Green regained his grip on the ball, the team went on a tear, going 6-1 at the end of last season.

One of Green Bays team goals is not to give the other team the ball. Over the last four seasons, according to Eayrs, a team without any turnovers won 78% of the time. With one turnover, the probability of a team winning falls to 64%. Whether a team can win the game with two turnovers is a coin flip. Why? The offense averages 11.9 possessions in an NFL game. If your defense takes the ball from the oppositions offense, youve won one-twelfth of the game. The primary turnover measurement is the differential between takeaways and giveaways. For 2003, Green Bay broke even on the differential, and the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots were plus-17.

The Patriots are another NFL team using the system, as are the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. Including Green Bay, four of those six teams made the playoffs and Jacksonville compiled three of its five wins in the last five games.

However, according to Bob White, NFL account manager for Pinnacle Systems and a former lineman for the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay is among the most advanced when it comes to using the systems latest features such as integrated game statistics and archiving with smart acquisition technology (SAT), a storage format that saves space and allows for mobile editing so game data can be quickly disseminated to coaches and players.

Next Page: Sense of urgency.

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.

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