We’ve all done it. Well, not you, but the rest of us have.
We see a play go wrong for an NFL team, and we can see who screwed up. We diagnose the blown assignment or mental lapse and assign blame to the offending player.
And really, unless we were in the huddle, we have no idea if we’re right.
Seattle sports radio personality Danny O’Neil saw Seahawks lineman Justin Britt miss a block against the Vikings last week and tweeted about it.
Yeah, Justin Britt didn't miss a block on third down so much as he ignored the defensive tackle. #Seahawks
— Danny O'Neil (@dannyoneil) December 6, 2015
He later realized he hadn’t known what he was talking about.
“I was absolutely, unequivocally, undeniably wrong,” ONeil wrote in an unusually frank bit of self-reflection on MyNorthwest.com headlined “When it comes to diagnosing an NFL play, observers have limitations.” It turns out, O’Neil wrote, that the unblocked defender wasn’t Britt’s assignment. Someone else was supposed to make that block and didn’t.
This is my 11th season of covering the Seahawks on a daily basis, and I am simply not capable nor qualified to give you a definitive explanation for why a specific play failed. Not only that, I’m suspicious of anyone else who claims expertise in that regard …
There is a whole corner of today’s NFL coverage that speaks with authority on exactly what occurred on a given play, which is undermined by one simple fact: No one outside the team’s coaches and players can say for certain either what a player is asked to do on a specific play or how he is asked to do it. It’s all guesswork. An analyst can say what they think happened, but they don’t know. Not unless a coach or player tells them, and if you’ve ever listened to an NFL coach’s press conference you probably have an idea of just how hard it is to extract information about who goofed up and why.
He makes a great point, and one any observer should keep in mind. We know what we can see. Beyond that, it very quickly gets into guesswork until we get the information we need to create informed analysis.