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Caught on tape: Film guru uses video to break down hot NFL topics

Almost everyone seems to have a strong opinion on the probable return of Brett Favre, the sanity of Chad Ochocinco and other hot topics around the league. But how many of those opinions are based on film work?

I'm talking about the coaches tape used across the league on a daily basis to evaluate team and individual performances. There is nowhere to hide on the end-zone camera portion of the coaches tape if you are an offensive lineman, for example. The film doesn't lie and every player is exactly what they show themselves to be on that tape, week in and week out.

Most so-called experts and pundits, let alone casual fans, don't have access to the coaches tape and therefore have a more difficult time making truly informed opinions. That's not a problem for NFL Films Senior Producer Greg Cosell. He'sthe executive producer of the State Farm NFL Matchup Show, which airs Sunday mornings on ESPN during the season. He has been at NFL Films for 30 years, watching tape with guys like Ron Jaworski and Merrill Hoge, the current analysts for NFL Matchup, for 15 seasons. I called Cosell recently to see how some of my opinions mesh with those he has formed while watching tape. Here's what he had to say:

How much does Brett Favre have left?

"I watched every throw Brett made in 2008 again over the last couple of months and what was noticeable to me was that, unlike when he was younger, he really struggles to throw the ball to the outside. He is still very effective in the middle of the field, but he can't snap off the throws that are outside the hashes like he used to. It is clear he has some limitations on the perimeter."

Was there a noticeable difference in Favre's arm strength in the last five games with his shoulder or was it primarily decision making?

"I think, actually, you have to go back to when they played Cincinnati in Week 6 and he got hit hard when he threw a ball and you could see him favoring it. I think that's actually when it started.

"As with any injury, it is impossible to decipher from the film when it is bothering him and when it isn't. But from that point it consistently looked like he wasn't snapping it off with the torque we are used to seeing. It was clear that he hurt himself then. He had some good games after that, but there were some staple Favre throws that he was struggling with.

"For example, he threw a seam post in the Kansas City game [Week 8] to Dustin Keller and the ball just died on him. It was still a completion but Keller had to slow up and it should have been a touchdown. Now I don't how he felt, I can just tell you what I see."

How do you evaluate the Vikings current QBs, Sage Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson?

"Rosenfels is an inconsistent decision maker who has a slightly above average arm. I think he is inconsistent as a timing and anticipation thrower. I also think he moves too quickly in the pocket, meaning he flushes too early too often. Ultimately he would have to be managed to some extent.

"Jackson has a bazooka arm but he still has a tendency to play too fast and rushes his movements. When I say too fast it is because it looks like he still struggles to process what he sees at times, and the playoff game against the Eagles was evidence of that."

So who do you think is the best QB for the Vikings if you had to base it on 2008 film alone?

"I think Favre would still be an upgrade, but not a significant one. You can try to manage your quarterback and do certain things, but you really can't hide your quarterback in the NFL and have success. He has to make stick throws in critical situations."

How about the rookies: Who do you favor in the Matthew Stafford vs. Mark Sanchez debate?

"Stafford. He is a 'wow' thrower, which doesn't automatically mean you are going to be a great NFL quarterback, but that is a nice talent level to start with. He has shown the ability to throw with timing and anticipation. His offensive line at Georgia was poor and he showed the ability to make throws with bodies around him. He certainly needs some technique work with his footwork but that is correctable.

"As far as Sanchez is concerned, I like that he plays at a quick tempo but not fast. He has really good feet. But I get really uncomfortable when I keep hearing that a quarterback has 'it' and that is the focus of the discussion surrounding that player. If people are talking about the 'it' factor, they aren't discussing what he actually does on the field.

"Ultimately, I think Sanchez will be a fine NFL quarterback, but I thought Stafford was far and away the best quarterback available."

Is Chad Ochocinco just a parody of himself at this point or can he still play?

"I still think he demonstrates outstanding lateral agility and explosiveness. Now again, on film, I can't gauge his concentration and focus, but he certainly still has the physical ability."

The Niners are a trendy pick in the NFC West. What do you see from presumptive starting quarterback Shaun Hill?

"He has limitations throwing the football. When your quarterback is limited physically, that will eventually show up. If you want to play that guy, you need a very complete offense and a defense that keeps games close so that you can afford to stay on schedule from a down and distance standpoint. You have to understand with Shaun Hill it is going to be difficult to convert long-yardage situations."

What are the newest trends that you see on film heading into the 2009 season?

"[I see] coaches developing schemes that get defenders free to the QB, but with only rushing four guys and still having seven in coverage. It is almost a zone 'exchange' as opposed to a zone 'blitz' because you are still only bringing four. Dick Lebeau (Steelers) and Rex Ryan (Jets) are really the best at developing these schemes to get immediate pressure on the quarterback without sacrificing anything in coverage.

"The other thing is that the Tampa 2 defense has been fading a bit because you really need to get pressure from your front four and that isn't always easy. But we may see more Tampa 2 on defense to stop the Wildcat. It was designed by Bud Carson when he was in college to stop the option because you essentially have a nine-man front since the corners are your run support players on the perimeter."

How much of an advantage do some teams in the league have schematically over others?

"I am a big believer that coaching plays a significant role in wins and losses in the NFL. Talent-wise, teams are not that different. Outside of the quarterback position, it very often comes down to coaching, which is primarily playing to your strengths and minimizing your limitations. Some organizations are better than others at utilizing their players and really diagnosing what makes the other team successful. Bill Belichick is really good at that. He has a great feel for the strengths of his own players and taking away the one or two things that the other team does well."

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