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, Technology, and Next Gen Stats in the NFL-Part 1 Zebra Technology, Part 1On Sunday, I had a chance to meet with the people behind the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Zebra Technologies. I learned a number of things, not the least of which is that I am ready for this technology to be put into even wider use throughout the league.At its simplest level, Zebra uses small RFID devices to track things. They track a lot of things. The company has a presence in shipping and logistics, in medicine, and now in sports. They keep track of players on the field and the ball in the air. They actually keep track of the referees, too. They obviously produce a wealth of data from all of their tracking, and that data has the potential to change the game even more than it already has.Obviously, there are diehards who like to talk about the human element of the game. There are fans who feel that using RFID chips instead of human judgment somehow takes the passion out of football. I have a couple of responses to this, but the first one is one that the casual fan is simply going to have to take my word on–John Pollard, the VP of Business Development for Zebra, is not going to take the passion out of anything. This is a man who loves his football.What they doBefore explaining Zebra’s contributions to football in any greater detail, I have to admit to a certain sense of amusement over the name. I associate “zebras” with the refs in football, and this last week of football demonstrated–once again–that the refs are not exactly perfect when it comes to making accurate and precise calls. There is a big difference between Gene Steratore’s use of an index card to determine a first down in a Cowboy-Raiders game and what I saw in action on Sunday.The company has twenty-two sensors in place around the stadium, and they have chips inside shoulder pads for every player (with a third chip to track linemen who might drop their shoulders down when lining up) and in the balls. They track the refs, too http://www.authenticschicagobe…..cks-jersey
, which means that Zebra tracks the zebras (sorry, I couldn’t help it). As a result, they can tell how fast Jordan Howard runs when he hits a hole and they can determine the closing speed of a linebacker trying to cut him off.The operation includes three people in a booth–or a catwalk, or wherever the stadium finds to host them–checking each other’s work and tracking not just what happens on the field but also checking in with the NFL head office regarding how plays are classified. At any given time, they know who is on the field and they also know the players’ directions and speeds.It’s important to note that their RFID technology is not the only option available to the game of football. Some systems use optics, like the way tennis determines if a ball hits a line or not, and others use GPS. Pollard explained to me, however, that optics are hard to use in football because of the number of bodies piling up next to each other and that GPS has a lag built in that isn’t suffered by the RFID system that relies on the receivers in the same stadium, instead of relying on satellites that are a bit farther away, to say the least.What they do for teamsPollard demonstrated the difference between his data and what most fans used to have access to using a reference Bears fan should appreciate. He pointed out that it didn’t matter what 40-yard-dash time Dick Butkus might have had, his sideline-to-sideline speed when closing on another player was terrifying in his era. What Zebra’s technology does is quantify that closing speed and then put it into context with the rest of the league.One thing that might surprise the casual fan is how much information they have that is not used. With transmitters sending a signal more than ten times a second, they told me that they can tell me the speed of a pass and even the rotations on the ball in the air–basically, they literally know how well a quarterback is ‘spinning’ it. The rifling of a pass by Mahomes, Trubisky, or Watson could—in theory-be compared. However, not all of this information gets released.For the entire league, there are agreements in place on who gets what information, and some information is collected as a byproduct of the system without anyone ever seeing it. Obviously Mitchell Trubisky Jersey
, some in the game are worried about distributing information on throwing speed or even player speed, afraid it’s going to have negative impacts on the players. At one point, teams only received their own information, so they would get tracking data from half of the game but not from the players lined up on the other side. Now, teams are seeing more information, and they are being more cautious about sharing what they are learning from that information.However, individual teams also have deals with Zebra, and those teams are getting a lot more information. Derek Kenar (their senior operations manager) pointed out that they can track a player coming back from injury and determine if he’s getting back up to speed or not. There are interesting implications, too, for teams that track practices and for pregame warm-ups.For example, if a player likes to warm up by throwing a few balls and running around the field, most people probably don’t think anything of it. However, if a receiver likes to take laps before the first whistle blows, and if he runs as much before the game as he does during the first quarter of football, should coaches be concerned when his speed slows after the half? How much tread is he wearing off his tires, so to speak? When practice gets involved, if one player throws the ball fifty or sixty times before practice even begins, then there’s a chance that player is wearing himself out ahead of schedule.If a player is getting older, how much of a dip in acceleration is concerning? For that matter Authentic Leonard Floyd Jersey
, if there is no dip in acceleration, and it can be shown numerically, does that prolong a player’s career?Another example of one of the implications deals with what staff does for a team. We’ve heard all season long about how open the Chiefs’ wide receivers are getting. Determining how many defenders are within a yard or two of each open receiver used to be a subject for intense film review, hand-counting, and trial-and-error. Now, it can be found with a few clicks on a computer screen. This doesn’t mean that there is less work for the staffers, but it does mean that instead of gathering that data the work can now be doing something with it.Teams that embrace the analytical approach are obviously out in the forefront of working with Zebra. The Lions, the Rams, the Cowboys, and the Eagles are all clients of their practice system. Zebra does not have a deal in place with the Bears, even though they are headquartered in Lincolnshire, and the Beloved have another contract through the end of the year. Still, it’s probably only a matter of time before more teams partner up with this company.Zebra vs Zebra?Go back to Gene Steratore and his Index Card of Destiny. When the technology exists to figure out exactly how far ball advanced down to the tenth of a second, or when a program can tell officials exactly how many players really were on the field at the time of a snap without relying on human judgment, then the game changes. There are hundreds of things that currently rely on human discretion, and while Pollard and Kenar didn’t bring it up, I found myself thinking about what happens when the genie gets just a little bit more out of the bottle and that number can be cut in half.Speaking only for myself, I’d rather have a millimeter-precise program tell me where the ball was if my choice is either the program or the same people who called the Browns-Raiders game. The NFL is, probably wisely Youth Pat O’Donnell Jersey
, keeping this technology carefully regulated. Fans of almost any sport have their stories of times that visual replay clearly indicated the call on the field (or on the court, or whatever) was wrong, and over time that forced the professional leagues to adapt and to incorporate the new technology.I am sure that there is recorded data somewhere that would validate a number of controversial referee decisions, and I am equally sure that there is data that would be embarrassing to the officials at a game. For me, I just want the game to be called as fairly and as consistently as possible. That sounds like something that can be made better with this technology, but I know some will disagree.Like I said at the opening, I am ready for us to have a richer picture of the game, and more accurate information about what really happens on the field. Next up, I want to share some of what Next Gen Stats is already telling us about the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears. The Bears finally gave me another 4-bagger of a Rush Report. I was starting to think that this job was going to get really boring without Khalil Mack to spice things up! Facing the lowly Bills can do wonders for your defense, however, as the Bears showed on Sunday. The pressure seemed to come from all directions, although technically, 3 of the 4 came from the left tackle. Vic Fangio continues to be judicious with his blitz calls, but I must say, when he does dial up a blitz, it is generally effective. This week was no exception as there was yet another sack recorded by a member of the secondary, but it might not be what you’re thinking. This was a fun one, so without further adieu, I present to you the latest Rush Report!Week 9 vs the BillsSack 1 – Third quarter 4:04 (2nd & 6) – Isiah IrvingThis sack ends up going to Isiah Irving but there is a huge assist here from Danny Trevathan.The first sack of the game comes on a blitz http://www.bearsauthorizedshop…..ler-jersey
, with the Bears rushing 5. Irving eventually beats a poorly attempted cut-block and delivers the blind side blow, but watch Trevathan. He starts rushing the B-gap—between the left guard and left tackle—once the center is fully committed to nose tackle Nick Williams, Trevathan loops around to the A-gap—between the center and right guard—but the center is late making the switch. Trevathan has Nathan Peterman dead to rights before Peterman turns into Irving. I am going to split this sack due to a great play by Trevathan that made this all possible. Sack 2 – Fourth quarter 13:07 (2nd & 14) – Adrian AmosThe next sack ends up being the second career sack for Adrian Amos. Although in truth, this play was 99.9% made by Akiem Hicks. If Hicks wasn’t held a little bit here, that sack ends up in his back pocket. As it stands, Hicks was able to grab Peterman’s arm but just couldn’t hold on while being blocked. Amos is playing contain once his coverage responsibility stays in to block. Amos simply cleans the play up. I definitely give Amos props for making the play, but this one goes down as a SINO (Sack in Name Only). Sack 3 – Fourth quarter 12:23 (3rd & 15) – Aaron LynchThe third sack was setup by the blitz we saw on Irving’s sack. Trevathan loops around Hicks this time but the Bills block it well. Peterman is bouncing in the pocket as he sees the blitz in front of him and takes off as Aaron Lynch comes free. This is a very good individual effort from Lynch. He sets up the left tackle with a fake inside swim move, then counters to an outside swim. This is a really cool move and one that I wish he would teach to the rest of the players on the team. Unfortunately, Lynch was flagged for Unsportsmanlike Conduct, which gave the Bills new life on this drive. Although he actually helps himself with the lewd hip thrusts since there was also a penalty on Prince Amukamara which, had it been accepted, would have wiped away the sack. Sack 4 – Fourth quarter 2:00 (4th & 16) – Roy Robertson-HarrisThere’s really not much to say on this. RRH has a tight end who basically whiffs and he has a free run at the quarterback. Again, not taking anything away from a player making a play, but this was a sack for whoever was lined up at this spot. This is about as bad of an attempt at pass blocking as you will ever see. Pressure of the WeekSecond quarter 11:055 (2nd & 12) – Leonard Floyd and Aaron LynchWhile not a traditional pressure, Floyd and Lynch were playing a 2-man game with Peterson here. Lynch beats the left tackle, which forces Peterman to his right. Floyd takes on the tight end chip and then has a contain/rush responsibility. As Peterman is setting his feet to throw, Floyd jumps and gets his hands in his face which forces the throw wide of the target. Just after letting the ball go, Lynch drills him in the back for his efforts. This is a prime example of how the pass rush can affect a play without a sack. Here’s how I have the individual* Rush Report after week 9.Khalil Mack – 4Team Sacks – 3Akiem Hicks – 2Roquan Smith – 2SINO – 2Roy Robertson-Harris – 2.5Aaron Lynch – 2.5Bryce Callahan – 1.5Danny Trevathan – 1.5Eddie Goldman – 1Sherrick McManis – 1Bilal Nichols – 0.5Isiah Irving – 0.5*These numbers do not reflect a players official statistics.