Take one for the team

Football season is upon us, and so are its tried and true clichés

There is so much to love about football’s 24/7 ubiquity on television, but there is one (and only one) downside: the toxic exposure to clichés from the litany of former players and puny communications majors who analyze the game.

I’m not talking about “taking it one game at a time” or “it is what it is,” the crimes against language committed by current players and coaches. They have an ulterior motive for being boring and unoriginal, given that they don’t want anything they say to become a “distraction” (itself a cliché).

I refer instead to the pandemic of insider-sounding phrases and faux-tough descriptions spewed by the football commentariat. Here is a glossary of cutting-edge clichés, broken down by position:

It is very important, of course, to have an elite quarterback, one who can drive the ball with his strong arm and hit receivers outside the numbers or through tiny windows. If the quarterback can’t overpower defenses with his arm, he can still win by being a competent game manager, one who finds holes in the zone, makes good pre-snap reads, and keeps his team out of bad plays. He may also use eye manipulation to throw receivers open, dirty as that sounds. Late in the game, he must be ready at all times to clock the ball. All quarterbacks need to test the defense deep once in awhile, or be mocked as a Checkdown Charlie.

When the quarterback hands it off to the running back, it is critical for said back to be running downhill, despite the fact that all fields are level, or staying north and south, even if he is running into the setting sun. Tap dancing at the line is strictly prohibited. A nose for the goal line certainly helps, as does prowess in pass pro(tection) and being a weapon in the passing game. At all costs, the back must not put the ball on the ground, or he will be standing next to the coach instead of playing.

Wide receivers with a large catching radius are important to a strong passing game. Deep threats, whose speed is a dominant trait, take the top off the defense. That opens the underneath passing game up for the slot receivers, who run precision routes and adjust to the ball when throws go awry. All receivers need to win off the line and be competitive in the air, or it will be next man up.

The Big Uglies on the line need to keep their head on a swivel, deliver a punch at the snap, have good footwork to play in space, and be able to get to the second level and pancake defenders. Don’t grab a handful of jersey, though, or there will be laundry on the field.

Defensive linemen, be they three-techniques, hybrid 3-4 tackles, or wide-nine pass rushers, need to stay in their gaps and keep their motor running, set the edge against the run and get a good push toward the quarterback. Pressure up the middle is imperative, as are edge rushers who can get around the corner. Don’t get put on skates, though—that means the opposing offense is gashing you for big chunks of yardage.

Linebackers and defensive backs are tasked with delivering kill shots and slobber knockers, while maintaining zone discipline and good hip swivel and technique in coverage (hopefully disguised coverage), all while being careful not to get caught up in the wash. Bowing up in the red zone is critical, as is playing fast, whether the defense is in Cover Two or Cover Zero or Man Under. Most important, back seven defenders must not launch at defenseless receivers or lead with the crown of the helmet, or the league’s new concussion protocols will be invoked, and those who deliver a blow will be getting a FedEx package from the league office.

If the coach can use the full 53 while getting a competitive edge in personnel groupings, doesn’t misuse precious timeouts or blow a referee challenge, keep icing the kicker while using strong clock management, and send the proper message to his team, he can make the tournament and go on a deep postseason run. If he wins a Super Bowl, it might be yellow blazer time when he retires.

So long as the team plays them one game at a time, that is—that one never gets old.

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Robert Weintraub is the author of The House That Ruth Built. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and Slate, and a television writer/producer based in Atlanta. Tags: , , , ,