Wednesday, as always, marks the restarting of the football portion of the week. The players are back in the building and the team is getting ready for Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles. This means things like meetings, film study, and, of course, practice. At some point after this afternoon’s practice, I’ll post my thoughts on what I’ve seen and — if today is like most other days — someone will ask why, if the team looks so good in practice, they’ve looked so very drab in the games. I haven’t yet been able to answer this question to my own satisfaction, let alone yours, but at least I can take comfort in knowing it’s not just me.
Clinton Portis‘s radio appearance yesterday on ESPN980 wasn’t nearly as provocative as last week’s, but there was one answer that I found particularly interesting. Toward the end of the segment, Brian Mitchell asked Portis exactly why a quality practice might not translate to the game. Here’s his answer.
- “You know, when you have those good weeks of practice, when you go out and practice, it’s calls. You go over the calls and the scheme, you see the blitz looks you’re gonna get and you go over the chips you’re gonna make. Then you go on the field and you execute it, it looks great and you feel good about it.
“But when you step on that field with the live bullets, then it’s on. You’ve got a guy leaning on your leg and another guy jumping and trying to dropkick you and everything else going on, things change. Balls get tipped, balls get batted, receivers get pressed at the line, running backs get hit … so, a lot of things change at full speed.
“Once you’re going full speed, all of a sudden you’ve got — you know, the scout team’s not trying to make plays [in practice]. The scout team is giving the looks for what the opposing team’s gonna do, and they’ve got to look at the cards and figure out, okay, this is what they’re trying to do.
“When you go out there in the week and you play that team, they know what they’re doing, and it’s not always the look that you thought you was getting or what you prepared for in this line so I don’t always work out for what you planned.”
Just to clarify his reference to “cards” there: say the scout team offense is in. Their job is to portray the opponent’s offense, so before each play they gather in a huddle facing one of the coaches, who literally holds up a card illustrating a play that the upcoming opponent has run. The card shows what the scout team is supposed to run, including where each player lines up, any pre-snap motion or shifts or anything like that. They study the card for a few seconds, about the length of an ordinary huddle, and then line up and replicate the look and the play for the first-team defense.
Anyhow, it was a major relief for me that I’m not the only who thinks practice is going well, and I’m not the only one who is perplexed when the team looks so different in the game.
In fact, Coach Zorn also expressed similar sentiments last week, buried in an answer about how he might change his preparation for the Bengals game.
After addressing the direct question, he noted, “We’ve had a couple really good weeks of practice. So if I had to say that I was worried because we didn’t have a very good practice — I haven’t been able to say that, truthfully. I’m just surprised we have lost the games we’ve lost, because in practice the guys are working hard, I’m not begging for effort or anything like that.”
So if you read my practice update later, and you wonder why the team you see on Sundays doesn’t look like what I’ve described … just know that you’re not alone.