With the endless popularity of the National Football League, the desire to go behind the scenes and see the teams and players on the sidelines, practice and film rooms is in high demand. Between various programs on the NFL Network and the long-running HBO series Loud knocks, fans are used to getting unseen access that doesn’t appear during game broadcasts. Netflix’s new sports series, Central defender, immerses viewers in the treacherous world of the most prominent and perhaps most difficult position in all of sports. While it’s a pure treat for the die-hard NFL fan’s palate, does the series fully delve into the turmoil and danger of the sport of football?
‘Quarterback’ follows three stars with intriguing stories
Netflix’s latest behind-the-scenes-like documentary series looks at professional golf at Full motionfollows the 2022 NFL season from the perspective of three quarterbacks: Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Kirk Cousins of the Minnesota Vikings, and Marcus Mariota of the Atlanta Falcons. Fortunately for the filmmaking team, each quarterback has a compelling narrative attached to it. Mahomes is a former Super Bowl champion and league MVP trying to stay at the top of his class. Cousins was an underachiever who is fighting his way to league supremacy. Mariota, once a prized commodity as a former Heisman Trophy winner and the No. 2 overall pick, is trying to rebuild his status as a starting quarterback in the league.
While the sport is not scripted, the final scores of the three QBs could not have resulted in a more dynamic exposition of the deeper realities of the NFL. For the second time in his career, Mahomes, just 27 years old, was the regular season MVP, Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP. After a promising regular season with incredible peaks and valleys, Cousins continues to plateau, losing in the first round of the playoffs. Mariota shows signs of a career resurgence, but he eventually gets benched after a stretch of poor performances and then goes AWOL on his team.
While Omaha Productions, founded by NFL Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manningin partnership with the NFL to create this series, Central defender stands out from the pack of football behind-the-scenes examinations. Any casual sports fan is aware of the excruciating effort required to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, with Manning emphasizing the difficulty in the series opener. To flash the public just how strong and resilient their modern-day gladiators are, the NFL is proud to espouse that message. Central defenderhowever, it shows this feeling in the most open and ugly way.
Quarterback subjects open up to the grueling work of playing the position
The damage to the human body from football is an unavoidable topic and all three subjects express such concerns. The series serves as an impassioned counter to many critics’ claim that league officials have gone “too soft” and acted too cavalierly in reducing the physicality of the sport in recent years in an effort to protect the health of star quarterbacks. In Episode 3, “Kings of Pain,” we see Mahomes take part in a grueling three-step training program designed to allow his body to be functional throughout the season and life after football. Through intimate sound bites drawn from game action, Cousins openly expresses the agony after a brutal string of hits in the pocket.
As important as the physical aspect, quarterbacks need to be mentally sharp, and this documentary series allows plenty of attention on that front. The play process for quarterbacks has the complexity of a NASA engineer reading code. Before they can muster all of their skills to make the perfect pass, QBs must first memorize an endless sequence of endless words in the huddle that assign a role to the other 10 players on offense. Cousins, who was featured as a central figure throughout the doc, records the play calls on his phone and listens to the audio while driving. Additionally, we see the Vikings QB use a neurofeedback device intended to stimulate his brain to focus on his phone screen, training himself to be more alert on the field.
In-game audio captures an authentic side of quarterbacks
It’s nothing new for NFL players to “load the mic” or have a recording device attached to them during game day for broadcast purposes. In most cases, the sound bites captured by the players feel programmed — nothing problematic enough to tarnish the league’s image. Netflix excelled in the art of recording the microphone and infusing the documentary subjects with a layer of personality. Through spontaneous reactions to the fast, hectic and volatile nature of football, Patrick Mahomes evolves into a three-dimensional public figure. Since becoming the Chiefs starting QB in 2018, he has been associated with a reputation as a humble and reserved player. He carried himself with a business-like public persona right out of the gate, and that can also be attributed to his talking head interviews throughout the series.
Thanks to in-game audio, Mahomes can be heard displaying a fierce, memorable competitive edge, unafraid of trash talking and boasting about his talent and success. In moments of intensity with the opposing team and excitement about an impressive execution of a play, the QB does not shy away from NSFW declarations. The audio recordings also imply Mahomes’ self-confidence and heavy responsibility to carry the burden of the entire team’s success. Perhaps his most passionate state comes when, after suffering a major ankle sprain in the playoffs against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the QB is desperate to get back on the field despite futile attempts to put weight on his injured ankle. He was almost brought to tears when his coach, Andy Reid, temporarily pulling him from the game so Mahomes can be diagnosed. He pleads his case for staying on the field as if his life depended on it.
Kirk Cousins is an equally reserved figure raised as a personable voice and charismatic leader thanks Central defender. In the show’s attempt to humanize the trio of players, Cousins thrives as the most authentic. He is just as passionate about growing and training his body as he is about throwing punches. When in the pocket he drops back to pass and sits on the sideline, he expresses a range of emotions, from gratitude to doubt and uncertainty. His analytical sharings with coaches and teammates are a fascinating window into the sport. Marcus Mariota certainly gets the least amount of coverage, but his aurora of a humble former star is at least healthy.
As transparent as possible Central defender imagines itself to be, the series tends to fall into shallow traps. Too often, the documentary plays like a hagiographic infomercial about the glory of being a professional quarterback. The streak is reckless in crediting a team’s success and failure solely on the shoulders of the quarterback. If a viewer didn’t know better, the series would let them forget the fact that there are 52 other players on a football team. Mahomes’ historic success never alludes to the help of mastermind and offensive line coach Andy Reid. Cousins routinely piles up impressive stats, but the series fails to shine a light on his teammate, Justin Jeffersonarguably the best wide receiver in football.
This, in addition to the show’s heavy reliance on game recaps to fill the time, goes away Central defender in an uncanny valley that feels like you’re being pulled behind the curtain to see the unvarnished truth, but in reality, what you’re watching is NFL-sanctioned. The narrow scope of following the journey of three different players who share a common goal makes the series intimate, but limits it from addressing the broader issues surrounding player safety on a league-level level. Quarterbacks’ painstaking efforts to protect their own well-being are not fully scrutinized when looking at the league’s liability.
Despite its flaws, Central defender is trying to open three famous athletes through weakness. They are aware of the discourse surrounding their name, including the Cincinnati Bengals and the quarterback Joe Burrow having Mahomes’ number, and Cousins’ playoff woes and his inability to shine in prime time. By sacrificing a critical eye to the league, Central defender it shows that even the best athletes, those who play the most prominent position of the most physically and mentally taxing sport, have to deal with their humanity, first and foremost.
The first season of Central defender is now available to stream on Netflix.