Studying Film Properly Can Pay Huge Dividends


In the NFL, everybody is the best of the best.

Clay Matthews’ obsession with film study helped him earn an invitation to the 2011 NFL Pro Bowl. (Image – ICON Sports)

What separates the best from the average players (unless you’re a superstar with ridiculously special talent) are the intangibles.

Related: Bet You Didn’t Know NFL Scouts Look for Some of this Stuff…


One of the most important intangibles, is being wiser than your opponent.

Other than preparing mentally before games the right way, I think that the best way to get that done is to learn the basics of effective football film study.

Here are some things to look out for when studying film.

Related: The Truth About Mental Preparation for Football – With Dr. Rob Bell


Focus on your position-specific opponent.  When you’re studying film of opponents, you should be focusing on the players you’ll be personally competing against.

For example, if you’re a cornerback, your focus should be on the quarterback and the wide receivers.

You shouldn’t be watching film like a casual spectator, you’re watching to develop an advantage that will make your job easier on game day.

Related: How to Gain Confidence in Football


Watch for player-specific, pre-snap givaways.  In college, we (the defensive backs) would try to disguise our coverages to make it look like we were playing quarters (our Cover 5) every play, pre-snap.

But when I recently looked at some of my old game film, I noticed that my body language pre-snap gave away the disguise.

How?  Well when we were really playing cover 2, I was always on my heels, getting ready to backpedal back to 12 yards depth to get ready for the snap.

I wonder if our opposition ever noticed that…  Anyways…


Watch your opponent’s favorite moves.  Knowing your competition’s favorite moves and tricks can help you not only anticipate them, but it can also help you prepare for how to deal with those moves too.

For example, let’s say you’re an offensive tackle.  Does the defensive end that you’re going to be facing this week tend to do a swim move more often than any other move?

If so, get some practice during the week blocking against the swim move.

If you’re prepared to handle your opponents favorite move, that could make the difference between you making a play, and giving up one.


Watch for tendencies. It’s likely that your coordinator or position coach already provides you with tendencies for different down and distance situations for your opposition.

Watching film can provide the edge you need to make more plays on game day.

If not, why not take notes and observe the tendencies for yourself?

When it’s second-and-short, for example, what plays do they tend to run more often than others?  If there’s an assortment of plays that they run in certain situations, what pre-snap keys are there that you can use to accurately predict which one they’re going to run?


Who’s your block threat?  If you’re a defensive player, it’s to your advantage that you recognize keys that tip you off to who’s going to be blocking you.

This is critical, because if you can correctly anticipate who’s going to be blocking you, that’s half the battle, if you think about it.

What do I mean?  Well, as a former defensive back, I can honestly tell you that I would take-on a running back blocker completely different than a pulling guard.


Use your scouting report wisely. Focus on the plays that your coaches have uncovered as high tendency plays in certain situations.

For example, if a team tends to run the ball 70% of the time on first downs, watch the film to get an idea of where you need to be aligned to be in position to make a play.

Also, if a team runs a specific play often, you obviously want to be as prepared as possible to stop that play.

Or let’s say you’re on offense, and the other team runs Cover 2 most of the time.  Well which plays are best against cover 2?

Look at the technique of the safeties.  How good are they at getting off the hashes and making plays on the ball?  Which safety has the best and/or worst ball skills?

What do you normally look for when you watch film?  What might I have missed in this post?  Leave a comment!

Catch me on Twitter!  @alvingrier

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