Oddly enough despite being a passionate NFL fan, I probably won’t watch the game either. My problem is that I start to care about the NFL draft on Monday and I go strong all through the off-season and keep it up until about week 15 of the NFL season before I burn out. By the time the Super Bowl week hits, I can’t handle anymore football which means I only pay a passing interest in the game itself unless Denver is in it. In other words, I’ll be back caring about football on Monday.
As a Denver Broncos fan, this makes me nervous
But Pettine isn’t too worried about the missed blocks. He’s more concerned with his strategy for the September 11 season opener against the Indianapolis Colts. After the drills, Pettine heads to his office, plops down at his PC, and fires up the game analysis software that connects him to the Ravens’ massive database of NFL and team practice footage. Within seconds, he has access to 6 terabytes of hi-res video – every single minute of pro football since the start of the 2003 season. What’s more, most of the plays – some 120,000 in all – are annotated with statistics and keywords, making the archives easy to search.
“Let’s say I wanted all the times on third down that a play involved Marvin Harrison,” says Pettine, referring to the All-Pro Indianapolis wide receiver. “Let me sort that by down and carrier.” Up pop several columns of stats, breaking down dozens of relevant plays. Double-clicking on any one pulls up corresponding video in a smaller window. But Pettine doesn’t have to watch the clips – the details are already onscreen. “The data will tell me if he caught it, if it was thrown to him, and if it was incomplete. And I can sort further within that.”
The software is just one of the more than $2 million worth of innovative coaching tools implemented by Brian Billick, who was hired as head coach in 1999 when the team was among the worst in the NFL. Billick has something most of his peers lack: an appreciation for technology. He believes that 0s and 1s are as useful to game prep as Xs and Os. “When I got here, some of my coordinators didn’t even know how to turn on a computer,” Billick says. “But you let these guys loose, and it’s incredible what they’ll generate.”
Billick’s Ravens apply more sophisticated geekery to the game than any other team: 25 coaching stations with plasma screens, a high-speed internal network, a multimedia conference room for each player position, and a tricked-out A/V room that anchors the entire operation. The system works. The Ravens have made the playoffs three times in six seasons, including a Super Bowl victory in 2001. Billick & Co. have turned a once-floundering franchise into a perennial contender.
Baltimore’s game prep begins like any NFL team’s, with statistics and Betamax tapes. The stats, provided by the league, are a play-by-play account of what happened during each matchup the previous weekend. The tapes, also supplied by the NFL, show the gameplay from two perspectives: offense and defense. Ravens IT staff digitize and catalog the videotapes, then marry the footage to the game stats, attaching to each play some basic details – field position, current score, time remaining – that can be sorted and filtered.
Most teams stop there, but the Ravens go further. The coaches annotate the plays, allowing them to search by situation. For example, before the September 18 game against the Tennessee Titans, Pettine will review and label each of the Titans’ recent offensive plays. He’ll enter keywords and numbers into a spreadsheet, describing the formation, players’ field positions, whether it was a run or a pass, and more. So if Pettine’s looking for how often quarterback Steve McNair passed for a touchdown while in a “tiger” formation outside the 20-yard line, he can find it in an instant.