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POD Book Club: March selection - “Blood, Sweat, and Chalk”

Tim Layden takes us through the never-ending battle between offensive and defensive innovation.

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Indianapolis Colts vs Detroit Lions - November 25, 2004 Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

This month fearless leader Jeremy Reisman has allowed me to make the next selection for our fun book club. Swinging the pendulum away from the technical scouting manual we read last time, my pick for March reaches back to lighter fare that I have pitched on this site before. When I made my suggestion, Jeremy’s first reaction was one of disbelief:

Tim Layden’s Blood, Sweat, and Chalk is one of the most useful and best-written books on football I have ever read. The quality of writing is not surprising, given the author is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. Layden spent an enormous amount of time and travel interviewing coaches, players, and football aficionados to piece together a solid timeline of strategic development in the sport from the Single Wing to present day defensive answers like the Double A-Gap blitz and TCU’s 4-2-5 defense. Here’s what I wrote back in 2016:

Surprisingly, Layden’s Blood, Sweat, and Chalk has been one of the best football books i’ve ever read but not because of any detailed things in the book. The structure of Layden’s book is to trace the history of football through the early run only offenses through the option, the emergence of vertical and horizontal passing attacks, the defensive responses to them, and the responses to the responses, etc. It’s neat to see that kind of overview because it is like a survey paper in any other field of research: it tells you what other stuff you ought to be looking for. Like, if you hadn’t ever heard of run and shoot option/choice routes, you wouldn’t know to look for additional material on them to find out the underlying mechanics of what they do. It’s a nice way to get a wide ranging list of “things to learn more about.” If the Belichick and Billick books are like second or third year course material, the Layden book corresponds to a first year principles book.

The book provides a nice foundation for future installments of our book club, allowing us to fit specific stories or strategies into the back and forth history of the game through the years. It is a great way to get a taste of each of the eras of football, gaining exposure to a variety of topics available to explore down the line.

While it is not super cheap, it can be purchased used for less than seven dollars online. I hope everyone enjoys reading it as much as I know I will for my fourth time through the text. We will be back in April to talk about it, hopefully this time with all the technical difficulties and scheduling issues worked out ahead of time.

If you missed the discussion of our last book, Football Scouting Methods, check out our post here.

DUE DATE: April 22 (5 weeks)

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