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How To Enjoy NFL Pre-Season Games: Don't Watch The Football

Focusing on individual players or team units instead of following the ball could increase your enjoyment of Sunday's game.


Only two more days until our glorious Cowboys square off against some team from somewhere else. This is what we've been waiting for. Finally some real football involving players wearing the Star.

Except, of course, that it won't be real football. More specifically, it won't be the kind you expect to see during the regular season.

Pre-season games, especially the first and the last games of the pre-season, are essentially extended tryouts for fringe players and rookies in real game situations - and a chance for individual players to get on tape, as Garrett explained in his press conference yesterday:

"At the end of the day, if you're a young football player, there's going to be a tape of you. Not relative to the other cornerbacks, not relative to the other defensive linemen; a tape of your plays. There might be one this day, there may be fifteen this day, there might be 20 this day, none this day and on and on and on. That's your tape. That's your opportunity. That's your calling card. Coaches are going to look at it and evaluate it."

"Sometimes young players get caught up with "how that guy is doing". The focus is on "another guy I'm competing with." What you need to do is focus on yourself, getting better, taking advantage of your opportunities."

We know that the game on Sunday will feature a lot of players who will not be playing for the Cowboys in the regular season. We know that the scoring outcome doesn't matter. We know that pre-season team performance is not predictive of regular season performance in any way, shape, or form. So what's the point of watching a pre-season game, and how can you get any enjoyment from it?

Simple. Don't watch the football.

The TV Networks (and the high ticket prices of NFL games) have conditioned us to watch the football when we watch a transmission of a football game. The cameras follow the football, we get super-slow-motion replays of the ball lazily rotating through the air, we get 17 replays from every conceivable angle to see whether the ball touched the ground before or after it was caught, in short: our eyes track the ball almost automatically.

And that's okay when you watch a normal game, because what happens to the ball is pretty important for the outcome of a game. But if the outcome of the game isn't important, then watching the ball isn't really that important either.

What you want to do instead is focus on individual players and their performance, because that's what this game is all about. Does the linebacker hesitate before taking the first step, is he even moving in the right direction? How good is the running back as a pass protector? Can a wide receiver hold his block downfield, how effective is the corner at jamming a receiver, can the tight end block anybody, how is the line handling stunts?

Focus on an individual player and you'll probably be able to answer most of those questions. Unfortunately, because of our conditioning to watch the pigskin, concentrating on individual players is actually much harder than it sounds (especially if you're keeping one eye on the ball and the other on the BTB open thread), and particularly if you've never tried it before.

Try it though, and I promise that the game will be much more enjoyable and rewarding to watch, regardless of the outcome. Pick a player or a unit, watch them for a couple of snaps or a drive and you'll learn a lot more than you ever could from scoreboard watching. And don't try to divine too much from the pre-season results. Take the naysayers, scaremongers and doom merchants for what Spiro T. Agnew said they are: nattering nabobs of negativity.

On Sunday, don't watch the football. On Monday, you'll be surprised how much you can say about the right tackle's footwork, the running back's blitz pickup and the angles the safety took.

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