Cris Collinsworth liked Pro Football Focus so much he bought the company. Forgive me for dredging up a Victor Kiam tagline from his old Remington razors commercials before his notorious debacle as the Patriots owner. It’s just that the slogan applies perfectly to the relationship between Collinsworth, the color analyst on NBC’s ratings-dominating “Sunday Night Football” broadcasts, and PFF, which provides a rich reservoir of performance data on NFL games, particularly when it comes to assessing and valuing players’ individual performances.
Collinsworth, who with the Patriots-Chiefs opener on Thursday will begin his ninth season alongside Al Michaels on the superb “Sunday Night Football” broadcast, has his own version of situation football in the broadcast booth — he wants to be as prepared as well as he can possibly be for any situation that arises in a game. “You know the old college professor who tells you it’s good to keep up with the work on a day-to-day basis? That’s kind of how I look at it rather than trying to cram it all in,’’ said Collinsworth, who said he puts in 12-14 hours per day of preparation each week during the season.
Collinsworth is an ex-player, having spent eight seasons as a receiver with the Cincinnati Bengals. But he does not lean on that ex-player crutch of relying on in-my-day anecdotes to get him through the broadcast. He doesn’t demand that the audience trust him just because he’s played the game. Collinsworth has a quest to be informed, to devour data that enhances his knowledge, then to share that full knowledge with the audience. There’s a reason he has 16 Sports Emmy awards.
He acknowledged it took him a couple of months to fully trust Pro Football Focus, but once he was sold, that’s when he decided to buy. He’s not the only one. He said 30 NFL franchises pay to utilize its information. He did not identify the two teams that do not.
“I am sort of the same Doubting Thomas I am when a new team comes on, a new coach comes on. It’s always, ‘who are these guys, what is this?’ I was the same way,’’ he said. “But the more you’re doing it and the more you’re seeing that what they’re telling you is what the coaches are telling you, you start to have faith in it more and more and more, and you’ve got to go confirm it with your own film study.
“I mean, I don’t think a coach is ever going to make a draft pick based strictly on what we tell them to do. We’re going to give them some recommendations, then they’ll watch it on film. It’s just an added enhancement to what the teams are already doing.”
He said PFF’s greatest value to him — beyond being a business investment — is how much it aids his preparation, especially since his schedule got even tighter when NBC added Thursday night games last season.
“The starting point was the most important thing to me in terms of preparation,’’ he said. “How far advanced could I be to start the process? It used to be back in the day I’d start by reading newspaper articles and reading up on these guys on both teams. Then I’d watch the film. I’m trying to get some baseline of knowledge because even if I’ve done a Patriots game in Week 3 and we get them again in Week 6, well, a lot happens. And you’ve got to get caught up.
“And so what those guys at [Pro Football Focus] have done for me is basically give me until Wednesday. Because what I used to do on Monday and Tuesday is basically handed to me in a package. Background information, data, how they’ve done in every single game, breakdowns, evaluations, strengths and weaknesses. It’s bought me a few days is what it’s done.”
It also aids him during the game. PFF has 15-20 analysts watching individual players and matchups during a game, which allows for instantaneous data-based assessments of specific performances.
“With the system we have established now we can do live grading,’’ he said. “During halftime and at the end of the game — and any time I want it, really — I go back and study what they’re evaluations are. ‘Hey, the left guard has been dominant in this game.’ And so on. I get a kick out of it. I’m taking all of the eyeballs on that game that I can possibly have. I don’t want to miss anything. Someone is having a good game, someone is having a bad game, I want all of the opportunities to find that out that I can.”
But Collinsworth is also fascinated about what the information can’t quantify, particularly in regard to a certain Patriots quarterback. Only two quarterbacks in history — Brett Favre in 2009 and Warren Moon in 1997 — have thrown 25 or more touchdown passes in a season at age 40 or older. Only four quarterbacks beyond their 40th birthday have thrown 11 or more touchdown passes in a season.
Yet here is Brady, entering his age-40 season, still playing at an elite level and offering no indication he intends to call it a career anytime soon. How is he doing this?
“He takes it so seriously, the way he trains, the way he eats,’’ said Collinsworth. “What’s more remarkable is what he does not physically but mentally. He didn’t want to walk away last year. I don’t think anyone anticipated that he would, but you’re talking about a walkoff, drop-the-mic kind of ending there with the comeback in the Super Bowl. And all he was doing after the game was talking about the first half and how it wasn’t one of his best games because he didn’t play well early.
“That was one of the great miracles in sports we’ve ever seen and the competitive nature of the guy, he’ll never quit. I don’t think he will ever quit football. Eventually somebody is going to say, ‘All right Tom, you’re not allowed to come to the office anymore. You’re not on our team anymore and we can’t find anybody to trade for you. Nobody wants you, and it’s over.’ He just loves it so much and he’s so competitive and he loves the competition so much that I think he’ll be cut one day.
“Maybe it’s age 67, but I think he’ll play until nobody wants him. Which I think is a really great statement about him. One of our biggest stars is also one of our most competitive guys and it’s the reason they’ve been so successful.”