I’m perhaps 80% of  the way through this book.

I hadn’t really been too driven to read it, until Jaworski, Cosell, and Plaut mentioned that their chapter on Bill Walsh more or less paralleled a chapter in Blindside. Whoa! An Xs and Os book is going to follow an explanatory chapter in a biography?

Blindside” is a book about Michael Oher, a homeless child in Memphis whose cause is taken up by an affluent white family who end up more or less adopting him. That of course would just be a pretty tale in some church somewhere but for Michael’s totally off the charts physical abilities. He was a physically perfect left tackle, a position that is, short of quarterback, the hardest to fill in modern football, and one of the highest paid positions on the field. Good left tackles can be, as in Jake Long’s case, number 1 draft choices in  the NFL. So this man-child, discovered by the Tuohy family, was, if taken care of properly, likely to become a wealthy man in his own right.

And Michael Lewis, being one of the best writers of our generation, does a terrific job with the story. It has since become a movie, one that my daughter was shown in high school recently.

Michael Lewis’s reputation in the sports and business world was cemented with this book.

Perhaps the best sports book of the decade.

Moneyball” has always been a quicksilver miracle of a book, one so nuanced that much like the OODA loop that this man proposed,

John Boyd is America's 20th century Sun Tzu

it became something of a paradigm for business success. Moneyball’s main point was that certain traits that lead to winning baseball were undervalued, and that Billy Beane, a general manager of the Oakland Athletics, a team with a limited payroll, had become deft at mining sabermetrics experts for ways  to find winning baseball talent that other teams didn’t know was talent. Moneyball, in other words, was a treatise in optimizing how to succeed. In it he did considerable homage to guys like Bill James, a brilliant man whose sharp tongue perhaps cost him at times. And for people like me, who grew up reading Bill James, wide eyed and implementing his formulas on our home computers, something finally of a vindication of trying to think and understand what we do.

The irony, of course, was in the backlash it generated, one that largely came from more traditional  baseball teams. General managers such as Pat Gillick, who by their words could not  have ever read Michael Lewis’s book, ranted long and hard about how this book was written by Billy Beane and was all about on base percentage. Mostly they were expressing their rage at being made to look foolish.

In the paperback edition, in the afterward, the one section of Michael Lewis’s book you absolutely must read, Michael Lewis does the kind of demolition job on his critics that resembles a bomb strike by a section of B-52s. Interesting  then, that one day while driving down the interstate in roughly 2008 or so, I hear Colin Cowherd thundering loudly about Moneyball in an argument that entirely resembled that of Pat Gillick’s. He was aping an argument that had already been crushed by Michael Lewis some 4 years before. Did he ever bother to read the book before talking about it?

Ever since, whenever Colin has mentioned Moneyball, it has been in quiet hushed respectful tones. What he did got back to him, somehow.

Moneyball, much like the idiosyncratic Powerpoint presentations of John Boyd, acquired a power and a life far beyond its original scope. And Michael Lewis, having written something that transcended sports, is now used as a reference source by the likes of Ron Jaworski and Greg Cosell.

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In a previous blog article, we reviewed this book. But in terms of those of us who are 46 wonks, it has a lot more to say in the rich set of interviews provided for the fan. We’re going to explore those comments a little deeper in this second, companion blog article to the first.

The first point to make is that the text in this article is quite good. Jaws accurately describes how the Bears lined up in the 46 on page 161 of the Ballantine hardback. The diagram, however, on page 169 leaves a lot to be desired. Well, it’s simply wrong.

In comparison, we’ll show you the first page in Rex’s book, which is correct.

If you’re using this blog as a 46 reference, this won’t come as a surprise to you, but the mismatch between text and diagram is disorienting. On  this page,  however, is a critical passage.

Let’s be clear though: The 46 could not be an every-down defense. The better NFL offenses could still make big plays if it was used too much, so its risk-versus-reward ratio was deemed too detrimental for Chicago to run it for an entire game. But Buddy dialed it up frequently enough (often 30 to 35 percent and sometimes more) to keep quarterbacks guessing.

The defense, in other words, was one of many in Ryan’s pocket. The point ultimately, Jaws and his interviewees argue, was confusion.

Another critical passage, is the effect of modern spread formations on the effectiveness of the “pure 46”. We’ll quote Doug Plank this time:

The tightly packed eight man fronts from our day just can’t succeed as a base defense against spread formations. Offensive coordinators came to the conclusion fairly quickly that unless they spread defenses out, their quarterbacks were going to get hit again and again. That isn’t acceptable today…

Jeff Fisher’s role – this will be difficult to quote and be accurate, because this book uses the phrase 46 to both mean the defense and the philosophy behind the defense – in the  evolution of  46 style defenses is described in a Brian Billick quote as follows:

Fisher was the first to adapt it to the modern game. He came up with zone concepts that appeared to give the same look as the original 46 – but weren’t – and that created a new set of problems for offenses.

Of the people truest to the principles of the 46, the authors of this book point to the late Jimmy Johnson, the defensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Jaworski is a video nut, and his love of breaking down video is the initial impetus for this deep study of seven football games. If the book were only that, however,  it wouldn’t be the rich stew of information that is finally served to the reader. He relies heavily on interviews, excerpts of which are added throughout the book. In fact the interviews, in my opinion, make this book more than the actual breakdowns, which often are of games that aren’t great theater. His pre and post game analysis is also exhaustive, and those really are the “can’t miss” parts of this book.

Sid Gillman was in many ways Ron’s mentor. So he leads off with Gillman, and then analyzes Gillman’s blowout victory over the Boston Patriots in 1963. It was an exclamation point in the career of Gillman, a sign of his football genius. But it’s not the most interesting game to see broken down, because it’s such a rout. I found this section to be the slowest part of the book.

It recovers nicely in the second section of the book, perhaps the best. It speaks of Bud Carson and his effects on modern defense, analyzing the 1974 victory of Pittsburgh over Oakland in the AFC Championship that year. The game was close, and the interviews were excellent throughout  this section.

The occasional diagram is scattered throughout the book.

The remaining sections touch on Don Coryell and his offensive contributions, Bill Walsh and his offense, and then three defensive wizards: Buddy Ryan, Dick LeBeau and then Bill Belichick. The Buddy Ryan section has interview material good enough I’m going to break it out in a separate blog post. Finally, at the end, Ron and his coauthors talk about what they see as upcoming  trends. They talk about the increasing sophistication of offenses and defenses, the “quickness” with which trends manifest in the modern game, the increasing size and speed of the modern athlete, the degree to which the availability of video changes everything.

Throughout, Ron ties his history into the book, weaving any personal knowledge of the men discussed into the text. That said, this is the book of an older wiser man, rather than an impetuous youth. And so though Ron loves his past, bleeds Eagle green, in some respects it’s more a Kermit green, kinder, nicer, gentler, more gracious.

For a book with such a simple initial focus, the scope of topics discussed is pretty far ranging.  I suspect this book would work better with a companion video, and given  that two coauthors work for NFL films, I wouldn’t be surprised to see something like that eventually appear.

Rating? Not the best general audience book. For an X’s and O’s minded fan, however, this book is a terrific 7 course meal.