Film evaluation used to be an insider’s game. Only players and coaches had the resources to see the field with all 22 players, rewinding and rewatching each matchup again and again on every play. Even 20 years ago, ESPN spent only a half hour each week on film study, usually early in the morning on a weekend, with Merril Hoge and Jaws watching the games with a perspective unlike anybody else. Today, film evaluation is more and more part of the fan’s lexicon. All-22 film is available for anyone willing to pay for NFL+. Social media is littered with armchair coordinators, and sometimes no two people can agree on exactly what they’re seeing. Let’s look back at a standard from the past that could guide our film study of the future: the Chuck Noll way.
Sam Toperoff’s 1989 book, “Lost Sundays” gives so much insight into many of Noll’s philosophies. It devotes only 4 paragraphs to film evaluation out of 223 pages, but in those few sentences, Toperoff captures Noll’s process in terms that any budding film junkie can understand. The Noll Method comes directly from then-defensive coordinator Tony Dungy:
The number of pluses divided into the total number of plays gives you the percentage, and Dungy said that’s the grade. “Chuck believes 80% from every player is winning football.”
Back in 1988, Dungy admitted the system wasn’t a perfect science for every position. For instance, he says offensive lineman are simpler to grade than defensive backs. “The assignments of offensive linemen are so specific, the statistic makes some sense. They make the block or they don’t. It’s measurable and it really matters to them.”
But when it came to evaluating the secondary, Dungy was willing to put a big asterisk on his players’ grades. “The system doesn’t really apply to my people, because a guy can make two mistakes, but those mistakes could cost a ball game.”
It sounds like the delivery of the grades was just as much of Dungy’s coaching process as evaluating Xs & Os. “Basically, it’s a teaching decision. Sometimes, I’ll call a guy in. Sometimes, I’ll tell the entire group. It depends on the maturity of the individual, and what the effect is going to be on the team.”
For today’s full-time starters, like the Steelers offensive linemen, they may face 68 snaps a game. Noll’s method would require them to win at least 55 of those snaps. On the flip side, someone like Connor Hayward, who averaged 10 snaps a game in 2022, could only make 2 mistakes. Does this feel like an achievable standard in today’s game? I’m curious to find out in 2023. Film watchers, please consider Noll’s method in your post-game analysis this fall.
Kyle Chrise is the host of “What Yinz Talkin’ Bout.” New episodes debut every Thursday. Check out the latest episode in the player below: