This piece is ostensibly an explanation of the greatness of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. But better than it's a history of football strategy over the past twenty years. A quick excerpt:
The history of football is essentially the history of ideas meeting talent meeting a moment. Decades of strategic tug-of-war preceded Reed's and Polamalu's careers, and they arrived at a point in the game's development when their skills were particularly needed. Their versatility in defending both pass and run plays allowed NFL defenses to claim victory in one of these strategic battles. Reed and Polamalu have had the good fortune of playing for excellent coaches, but they're also both so talented that they have bent coaches' schemes to their strengths and ruined opponents' carefully designed game plans. This is the beauty of watching these future Hall of Famers play: In every interception, in every tackle for loss, in every big hit and big return, football history is not only made, but also extended. Their brilliance on the field will continue to inspire the film room schemers to innovate, and football history will continue to be pushed by the twin forces of ideas and athleticism.
I've never figured out why the networks don't do more around football strategy. They flick at it, and the color guys allude to it, but they don't really bang on it. Maybe it makes for boring television. But my earliest sense that football was an intellectual game, I think, actually came from television in the form of John Madden. Maybe I'm remembering that wrong, it was the 80s. But I think Madden and Steve Sabol really made me see the game as something more than a bunch of fat dudes running into each other.