The anatomy of a big play

The anatomy of a big play - student project

Cover photo copyright beefy_n1 , used under a CC Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 license.


The story

Most NFL plays last no more than 8 seconds. The game tape focuses on just a couple of individuals, but each play has 22 individual stories (and individual battles).

I want to take one iconic play and break inside each of those individual stories - reads, missed assignments, blocks, misdirection, route-running.

I also want to set those stories in context. What impact did the play have on the game? What did it mean for the season? Which players ended up going to the Pro Bowl or the free agency junk pile?

I'm not committed yet to how to show this, but I suspect I'm going to want to model the entire play in 3D. Whether that's a realistic aim for my skills is another question!



Once I've picked a play, I'm going to need:

  • Basic facts and figures to model the field accurately
  • Player-by-player timeline breakdown of the play - alignments, routes, blocks, etc. ; all with accurate timing so I can model it
  • Player context - stats, bios etc.
  • Team context for the season - why did they need to win?
  • Team context for the game - why was this play crucial?
  • Analysis - what did commentators say at the time, and afterwards?
  • Colour - what did players say afterwards?


Gathering the data

I've picked a likely play: No. 1 in's top 100 plays of 2012 was the Colts' overtime TD against the Titans. Here is the play. Now I need to source the All-22 film of the play and start mapping it all out.

Wow. It seems there's a Sketchup model of LP FIeld (where the game was played). Handy!


 And Mixamo has some useful-looking 3D characters some of which (including football players) are free.

Sport being sport, there are a lot of stats online. A partial list of sources for those that are interested (some free, some you'd have to pay for):






All of which are really useful for background stats, but clearly none of them have the detailed movements of each player (although PFF do tell you who was on the field for each play).

I've downloaded the video, so now I guess I'll have to start going frame-by-frame and charting. Good thing it's only 7 seconds!