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25 Aug 2003

In Focus: NFC South

by Aaron Schatz

This is the fifth of a series of eight articles taking a closer look at every team in the NFL, division by division, using our new statistics such as line yards and DVOA (explained here).  Don't be scared away by all the numbers -- the goal of these IN FOCUS articles is to go through all the numbers and translate the most interesting trends into actual English paragraphs for those allergic to endless tables of stats.  You enjoy the stats separated by team, or just enjoy the insights of each team's commentary.

The format of these articles is explained at the beginning of the one on the AFC East. Remember, offensive numbers are better the more POSITIVE, defensive numbers are better the more NEGATIVE.  Overall total is offense minus defense, so the more positive the better.  Schedule strength is harder the more negative, with the hardest schedule ranked #1 and the easiest ranked #32.  New players on a team are colored blue and players who have left the team are colored red.

Previous articles:
Launch: AFC East (also explains format of IN FOCUS articles)
8/7: NFC East
8/17: AFC West
8/25: NFC West

TEAM
W-L
Total
Rank
Offense DVOA
Rank
Defense OVOA
Rank
Schedule Strength
Rank
TAM
12-4
30.4%
1
1.7%
15
-28.7%
1
3.4%
30
ATL
9-6-1
14.7%
6
8.2%
9
-6.6%
8
1.5%
24
NOR
9-7
3.1%
14
7.2%
10
4.1%
21
-0.9%
10
CAR
7-9
-20.7%
28
-27.6%
31
-7.0%
7
1.1%
22

SHARED OPPONENTS

OUT: AFC North, NFC North
IN: AFC South, NFC East
HURTS: Passing defense (so Tampa goes from invulnerable to nigh-invulnerable) and passing offense
HELPS: Rushing defense, somewhat

ATLANTA FALCONS

Pass
Rank
Rush
Rank
Total
Rank
OFFENSE DVOA
10.2%
9
6.5%
11
8.2%
9
DEFENSE OVOA
-16.4%
5
4.2%
23
-6.6%
8


 

PASSING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Vick, Michael 12.2% 10 450 2824 9.1% 14 46.1 10
QB
Johnson, Doug 22.6% 59 472 1.4% 11.8
RUSHING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Runs
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Vick, Michael 1.4% 15 100 819 2.7% 15 1.7 13
QB
Johnson, Doug -16.8% 18 5 18 -13.0% -1.1
RB
Dunn, Warrick -9.1% 39 230 927 -10.0% 39 -18.6 41
RB
Duckett, T.J. 10.7% 10 130 507 8.5% 14 12.2 13
RB
Christian, Bob (RETIRED) 26.6% 31 119 22.6% 6.8
RB
Jervey, Travis -33.1% 10 17 -34.4% -2.2
WR
Jenkins, MarTay (ARI 02) -36.3% 3 6 -33.4% -1.4
WR
Price, Peerless (BUF 02) -151.5% -13 3 -13 -157.3% -5.9
RECEIVING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
WR
Price, Peerless (BUF 02) 9.8% 23 148 1411 10.2% 23 19.4 16
WR
Finneran, Brian 4.5% 38 102 862 4.8% 37 6.0 36
WR
Gaylor, Trevor -2.8% 56 54 425 -2.0% 54 -1.9 53
WR
Jefferson, Shawn (DET 03) 11.4% 21 49 449 7.4% 30 6.9 33
WR
Jenkins, MarTay (ARI 02) -11.4% 76 43 250 -15.2% 80 -6.1 64
WR
Jackson, Willie* (FA 03) -43.5% 39 199 -45.0% -21.5
WR
McCord, Quentin 41.7% 19 253 44.2% 11.0
TE
Crumpler, Alge 25.2% 3 58 454 21.6% 4 17.5 3
TE
Kelly, Reggie (CIN 03) 7.1% 14 20 162 5.8% 16 2.0 16
TE
Kozlowski, Brian 12.1% 9 59 5.8% 1.4
RB
Dunn, Warrick -0.5% 24 65 377 2.7% 24 -0.3 25
RB
Christian, Bob (RETIRED) -23.8% 24 174 -27.7% -5.2
RB
Duckett, T.J. 19.1% 11 61 6.2% 2.1

*Statistics with Atlanta only

Line Yards
Adjusted
Rank
Not Adjusted
Rank
10+ Yards
Rank
Power
Rank
Offense
3.66
15
3.27
20
17%
21
59%
28
Defense
3.80
26
3.52
23
20%
19
62%
8


 

LEFT
MIDDLE
RIGHT
Line Yards
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Offense
23%
3.81
13
51%
3.66
12
26%
3.51
20
Defense
18%
4.07
28
65%
3.69
23
18%
3.92
24

Other important additions: SS Cory Hall (CIN), RCB Tyrone Williams (GNB), LB Twan Russell (MIA), LB Keith Newman (BUF), S Bryan Scott (R2)

Other important losses: FB Bob Christian (RETIRED), MLB Mike Simoneau (PHI), CB Ashley Ambrose (NOR)

THE DOUG JOHNSON EXPERIENCE

Michael Vick, the most exciting player in the NFL, not to mention the greatest player in Madden video game history, is out for at least four games.  How screwed are the Falcons?  Not as much as you think.

Doug Johnson had a higher DVOA than Vick in 2002, +22.6%*.  He clobbered the New York Giants.  His other main performance came against Tampa Bay's obscenely good pass defense, and he still had 150 yards in only two-thirds of a game.  I'm not saying Doug Johnson is as good as Vick.  This is only 59 passes we're talking about.  Who knows, maybe the Giants were just having a bad week.  Johnson is no Vick with his legs, and he doesn't have the potential for astonishing performances.  But if our stats are correct, the Falcons are in a lot less trouble than people think -- and Steve Spurrier managed to collect all the ex-Gator backup quarterbacks last year except the one who's actually good.

It has been noted elsewhere, so we'll also mention this: Johnson doesn't exactly get the tough part of the schedule.  The Falcons start the year at Dallas, home vs. Washington, home vs. Tampa, at Carolina, and home vs. Minnesota.  There are four below-average teams there, and at least the Tampa game is at home.  Week 6 brings Monday Night Football in St. Louis, the perfect stage for Vick's return to what will probably be either a 4-1 or 3-2 team.

MICHAEL VICK, AVERAGE RUNNER?

(This section was originally a discussion of why our numbers rated Michael Vick as average value running the ball. Later changes in our methods solved the issue, which was related to fumbles, and so this section is cut for space due to database limits.)

ATTACK THE WEAK POINT: WARREN SAPP?

The Atlanta and Tampa Bay rush defenses shared an interesting tendency in 2003.  Opponents ran up the middle on these two teams more often than any other team in the NFL.  Of every six runs against the Falcons or Bucs, four went up the middle, one to the left, and one to the right.

Was this because offenses knew where to attack the deficiencies of the Falcon and Buc defenses?  Well, no... Atlanta's rush defense ranked low in adjusted line yards in every direction, while Tampa's rush defense strength was on runs to the left, not up the middle.

Was this because of the shared opponents that the NFC South teams played?  You might think so, except that New Orleans' rush defense was near the bottom of the league when it came to runs up the middle:

Run Defense % Runs Left Rank % Runs Middle Rank % Runs Right Rank
Atlanta 18% 31 65% 2 18% 28
Carolina 24% 17 50% 23 26% 8
New Orleans 24% 15 48% 29 28% 5
Tampa Bay 16% 32 66% 1 18% 27

It will be interesting to see if these tendencies remain in 2003, because frankly they make no sense.  Why would a team deliberately run more at Warren Sapp?

OTHER NOTES

With some teams, tracking line yards with multiple backs shows the ability of the offensive linemen.  With Atlanta, it very clearly shows the strengths of the two backs.  Despite both running up the middle half the time and equally to left and right the other half the time, Duckett and Dunn had very different tendencies:

adjusted line yards Left Middle Right
T.J. Duckett 3.63 4.20 3.91
W. Dunn 3.89 3.24 3.40

Hey fantasy players!  25% of Atlanta passes in the red zone went to Alge Crumpler.  The only two tight ends that were a larger part of their teams' red zone offenses were Tony Gonzalez and Jeremy Shockey.

Every single Atlanta receiver except for Brian Kozlowski caught more passes on the left side of the field than the right side of the field.  Atlanta threw 46% of its passes to the left, more than any other team in the NFL.  This is because Vick is better to the left, correct?

No, of course not, he's better to the right even though he throws more to the left.  Vick's passing DVOA was +68% to the right, +21% to the middle, and +18% to the left.  I thought this might be related to the fact Vick is a lefty, but non-lefties like Kurt Warner, Chad Pennington, and Tom Brady were also much better throwing right than left.

Atlanta had a major problem stopping passes in the red zone.  Atlanta's pass defense allowed +93% VOA in the red zone, compared to -28% VOA the rest of the time.  No other team came close to being that bad against red zone passes; Buffalo was second-worst at +47% VOA.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

Pass
Rank
Rush
Rank
Total
Rank
OFFENSE DVOA
-35.0%
31
-19.8%
31
-27.6%
31
DEFENSE OVOA
-13.0%
6
0.2%
17
-7.0%
7


 

PASSING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Peete, Rodney -16.6% 35 410 2559 -20.1% 38 -59.5 44
QB
Fasani, Randy (FA 03) -7303% 50 112 -156.7% -28.7
QB
Weinke, Chris -74.8% 45 197 -82.4% -27.9
QB
Delhomme, Jake (NOR 02) 52.4% 11 107 49.3% 5.0
RUSHING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Runs
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Fasani, Randy (FA 03) -7.8% 20 17 96 -6.3% 20 -1.6 18
QB
Peete, Rodney -98.6% 9 29 -98.7% -10.1
QB
Weinke, Chris 30.5% 3 16 42.7% 0.7
RB
Smith, Lamar (GNB 03) -11.9% 42 210 731 -15.8% 43 -19.4 43
RB
Davis, Stephen (WAS 02) -6.1% 35 207 819 -8.0% 35 -11.8 35
RB
Brown, Dee -30.5% 50 101 370 -33.4% 50 -25.2 46
RB
Goings, Nick -23.8% 49 188 -28.6% -8.6
RECEIVING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
WR
Muhammad, Muhsin 0.7% 48 108 863 3.2% 40 1.1 47
WR
Smith, Steve 1.5% 46 97 881 2.5% 43 2.0 44
WR
Proehl, Ricky (STL 02) 7.9% 30 70 516 6.0% 36 6.8 34
WR
Dyson, Kevin (TEN 02) -17.2% 83 69 479 -16.6% 83 -15.7 83
WR
Byrd, Isaac -27.1% 31 201 -24.2% -11.3
WR
Hankton, Karl 18.2% 17 146 14.6% 4.2
TE
Walls, Wesley (GNB 03) -1.2% 23 36 248 -3.2% 26 -0.5 22
TE
Mangum, Kris -10.9% 36 29 181 -14.6% 37 -3.9 32
TE
Wiggins, Jermaine* -5.9% 10 58 -21.3% -0.6
RB
Brown, Dee -40.3% 48 33 86 -43.5% 48 -12.4 45
RB
Davis, Stephen (WAS 02) -3.4% 30 33 142 -13.6% 41 -1.0 26
RB
Hoover, Brad -26.2% 47 30 187 -25.1% 45 -8.2 41
RB
Goings, Nick -33.2% 29 91 -27.8% -8.8
RB
Smith, Lamar (GNB 03) -27.2% 26 167 -28.3% -6.7

*Statistics with Carolina only

Line Yards
Adjusted
Rank
Not Adjusted
Rank
10+ Yards
Rank
Power
Rank
Offense
3.41
29
3.13
29
13%
27
63%
23
Defense
3.27
3
2.95
3
10%
2
79%
25


 

LEFT
MIDDLE
RIGHT
Line Yards
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Offense
24%
3.78
16
56%
3.50
21
21%
2.74
31
Defense
24%
3.47
6
50%
3.10
3
26%
3.41
10

Other important additions: RT Jordan Gross (R1), LG Doug Brzezinski (PHI), LB Greg Favors (BUF), TE Mike Seidman (R3)

Other important losses: DT Sean Gilbert (FA)

PAGING DENNIS KUCINICH

Rodney Peete was the most left-oriented passer in the league, with a +45% DVOA throwing left, a +29% DVOA throwing up the middle, but a --27% DVOA throwing right.  So if Peete throws much better to the left, in which direction do you think he threw most of his passes?

Yes, to the right, of course.  Peete threw 40% of his passes to the right, 29% up the middle, and 31% to the left.  This is, of course, the mirror image of Michael Vick and the Atlanta passing game, which threw more to the left even though Vick is better throwing right.

Neither Chris Weinke nor Randy Fasani had the same tendency for more success throwing to the right in their limited time as Panther quarterbacks.

You'll notice from the offensive line yards that Carolina's running game was also better going to the left.  Peete may have thrown more in his weaker direction, but the Carolina running game was one of the few that knew which direction to run.  They were horrid running right -- so they ran in that direction less than most teams in the NFL.

OTHER NOTES

Stephen Davis' line yards in 2003 will be a good test of which is more important, line or back.  He goes from Washington, the best team in the league at running right in 2002, to Carolina, the second-worst team in the league at running right in 2002.  It should be noted, however, that Davis' numbers are pretty much balanced between left and right in 2002 (4.16 left, 3.57 middle, 4.02 right).  Most of Washington's strength running right came with Kenny Watson carrying the ball.

Carolina's rush defense was very good -- but not quite as good as it looked.  Based on line yards, they faced the easiest schedule of offensive lines in the NFL.  Then again, only Jacksonville allowed fewer yards on runs of more than 10 yards.

The Carolina pass defense allowed +4% VOA in the first quarter, and then improved to -27% VOA the other three quarters.

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Pass
Rank
Rush
Rank
Total
Rank
OFFENSE DVOA
6.4%
13
8.2%
8
7.2%
10
DEFENSE OVOA
1.2%
17
8.1%
28
4.1%
21


 

PASSING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Brooks, Aaron 4.4% 17 564 3399 -5.7% 26 20.8 17
QB
Delhomme, Jake (CAR 03) 52.4% 11 107 49.3% 5.0
RUSHING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Runs
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Brooks, Aaron -0.9% 16 49 267 -0.3% 16 -0.6 16
RB
McAllister, Deuce 0.9% 23 326 1381 -6.6% 34 2.2 23
RB
Fenderson, James 1.4% 13 65 20.0% 0.2
RB
Keaton, Curtis -69.5% 12 19 -70.9% -6.3
RECEIVING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
WR
Horn, Joe 21.3% 9 150 1327 18.2% 12 41.2 4
WR
Pathon, Jerome -3.9% 61 80 601 -6.9% 64 -3.7 58
WR
Stallworth, Donte' 18.8% 11 69 598 15.9% 15 16.2 22
WR
Reed, Jake -8.4% 68 47 360 -10.9% 76 -4.7 60
WR
Lewis, Michael -45.6% 19 200 -47.6% -9.9
TE
Ernie Conwell (STL 02) 17.3% 7 48 422 16.4% 8 10.3 6
TE
Williams, Boo -33.2% 47 31 143 -29.9% 47 -14.1 43
TE
Sloan, David -22.4% 43 25 127 -24.7% 43 -7.5 37
RB
McAllister, Deuce -7.1% 36 74 401 -8.0% 36 -5.3 39


 

Line Yards
Adjusted
Rank
Not Adjusted
Rank
10+ Yards
Rank
Power
Rank
Offense
3.64
16
3.23
25
22%
4
88%
1
Defense
3.67
15
3.36
14
21%
23
70%
15


 

LEFT
MIDDLE
RIGHT
Line Yards
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Offense
20%
3.49
25
55%
3.35
25
24%
4.42
2
Defense
24%
3.43
5
48%
3.77
25
28%
3.69
18

Other important additions: S Tebucky Jones (NWE), LT Wayne Gandy (PIT), MLB Orlando Ruff (SDG), OLB Derrick Rogers (MIA), CB Ashley Ambrose (ATL), DT Johnathan Sullivan (R1), OT Jon Stinchcomb (R2), P Mitch Berger (STL)

Other important losses: LT Kyle Turley (STL), RCB Ken Irvin (MIN), SS Sammy Knight (MIA), OLB Charlie Clemons (HOU), P Toby Gowin (DAL)

THE QUIRKY NEW ORLEANS PASS DEFENSE

New Orleans had a pass defense that was about league average in VOA.  But they had some really weird tendencies.

In the first quarter of games, New Orleans allowed an amazing -56% VOA.  That means that for 15 minutes, they were Tampa Bay.  The rest of the time, they were average or below average, allowing +7% VOA in the second quarter, +24% VOA in the third quarter, and then -3% VOA in the fourth quarter.

The Saints were one of the five best teams in the NFL at preventing passes to the tight end.  Opponent passing VOA was -11% to the tight end, but +25% to other positions (not counting sacks and passes with no intended receiver).

If VOA is to be believed, the Saints have a huge hole in RCB Fred Thomas, who plays on the left side of the offense.  The Saints allowed -5% VOA on passes to the right, -20% VOA on passes to the middle -- and a horrid +52% VOA on passes to the left.

If you want to pass against New Orleans, do it on first down.  If you want to run against New Orleans, do it on third down:

VOA vs. pass VOA vs. run
1st Down +13% -23%
2nd Down -14% -1%
3rd Down -25% +41%

OTHER NOTES

The Saints were the second-best team in the NFL running to the right.  No, that isn't the clinically insane Kyle Turley, who will play right tackle in St. Louis but was on the left in New Orleans.  The underappreciated linemen here are right tackle Spencer Folau and right guard LeCharles Bentley.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS

Pass
Rank
Rush
Rank
Total
Rank
OFFENSE DVOA
13.0%
6
-12.0%
28
1.7%
15
DEFENSE OVOA
-55.4%
1
4.7%
24
-28.7%
1


 

PASSING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Johnson, Brad 18.5% 6 470 2764 16.6% 7 78.8 6
QB
Johnson, Rob (WAS 03) -12.7% 31 106 477 -25.9% 41 -11.3 27
QB
King, Shaun -58.3% 28 105 -65.7% -10.0
RUSHING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Runs
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
QB
Johnson, Rob (WAS 03) -5.4% 18 14 73 -5.4% 19 -0.9 17
QB
Johnson, Brad -6.3% 9 34 -8.3% -0.9
QB
King, Shaun -9.6% 4 25 -6.5% -0.5
RB
Pittman, Michael -3.5% 33 204 718 -9.5% 38 -5.6 32
RB
Alstott, Mike 8.7% 12 146 548 -1.5% 26 10.6 14
RB
Jones, Thomas (ARI 02) -25.4% 48 138 511 -26.8% 48 -32.4 49
RB
Stecker, Aaron 54.2% 28 174 38.6% 8.4
RB
Kirby, Terry (OAK 02) -25.2% 16 51 -37.8% -2.8
WR
Williams, Karl -120.4% 3 -4 -122.5% -5.9
RECEIVING
PLAYER
DVOA
Rank
Passes
Yards
VOA
Rank
DV+
Rank
WR
Johnson, Keyshawn 5.2% 36 142 1225 6.4% 32 10.0 30
WR
McCardell, Keenan -10.6% 72 101 676 -10.3% 73 -14.1 79
WR
Jurevicius, Joe 28.9% 7 52 423 26.4% 7 18.7 18
WR
Williams, Karl 21.5% 11 77 27.2% 2.9
TE
Dilger, Ken -2.3% 24 48 329 1.4% 20 -1.6 26
TE
Dudley, Rickey -2.8% 26 26 192 -0.3% 23 -1.0 24
TE
Yoder, Todd -11.1% 5 26 -22.3% -0.7
RB
Pittman, Michael 2.4% 23 86 477 -0.3% 26 1.9 22
RB
Alstott, Mike -0.6% 25 48 242 -4.1% 30 -0.3 24
RB
Jones, Thomas (ARI 02) -19.8% 42 30 113 -23.7% 44 -5.3 38
RB
Stecker, Aaron -8.4% 16 69 -12.8% -1.1


 

Line Yards
Adjusted
Rank
Not Adjusted
Rank
10+ Yards
Rank
Power
Rank
Offense
3.51
22
3.15
27
17%
13
67%
21
Defense
3.48
12
3.32
11
17%
15
96%
32


 

LEFT
MIDDLE
RIGHT
Line Yards
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Carries
Line Yards
Rank
Offense
22%
3.93
12
57%
3.07
29
21%
4.24
5
Defense
16%
3.11
1
66%
3.46
15
18%
3.91
23

Other important additions: OLB Dwayne Rudd (CLE), OL Jason Whittle (NYG), QB Chris Simms (R3)

Other important losses: OLB Al Singleton (DAL), FS Dexter Jackson (ARI), C Jeff Christy (FA)

WHERE QUARTERBACKS GO TO DIE

How amazing was the 2002 Bucs' defense? Start with the astonishing -93% VOA against passers on first down.  The distance between Tampa Bay and the second-best passing defense on first down (Atlanta, -34.5% VOA) was the same as the distance between Atlanta and the 30th-best passing defense on first down (Chicago, +24% VOA).

The Bucs were good, but human, on second down, with -15% VOA.  They were the best team in the league on third down with -56% VOA, though Philly was very close.

The Bucs got better the closer the opponent came to the goal line:

DEEP (own goal to own 20): -58% VOA
BACK (own 20 to 40): -33% VOA
MID (own 40 to TAM 40): -61% VOA
FRONT (TAM 40 to TAM 20): -105% VOA
RED (TAM 20 to TAM goal): -94% VOA

Tampa's pass defense was even better than usual (-73% VOA) in close games, when neither team led by more than a touchdown.

Tampa's pass defense got better the later the game went:

Q1: -19% VOA
Q2: -51% VOA
Q3: -63% VOA
Q4: -88% VOA
OT: -48% VOA

THE ACHILLES HEEL

Yes, the Tampa defense has one.  Look at the line yards table above, for the defense.  Believe it or not, the Bucs rank last in the NFL when it comes to preventing first downs in POWER situations.

24 times in 2002, Tampa faced a POWER situation, third or fourth down with one or two yards to go.  Only once did they prevent the offense from getting a first down or touchdown: Week 15, against Detroit and the immortal Aveion Cason.  Tampa blew 96% of POWER situations.  The league average was 69%.  The team ranked #31, Pittsburgh, allowed success on 82% of POWER plays, meaning that they were closer to league average than they were to Tampa.

And, I mean, this was some bad stuff.  Down by 10 against division rival New Orleans in week 1, they allowed Deuce McAllister eight yards on a crucial third quarter 3rd-and-2.  Winning by six against St. Louis in week 3, they let Lamar Gordon go left end for a 21-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-1.  In week 6, they let Jamal White get 15 yards on a 3rd-and-1 draw and then, on the next Cleveland possession, they let White get 5 yards on another 3rd-and-1 draw.

So, on those rare times that your favorite team actually manages to get eight or nine yards against the Bucs, and it comes down to a third-and-short, turn to your friends and say, "I'll bet you five dollars Tampa gives up the first down here."  Then think of the Football Outsiders when you drink the beer you buy with that five dollars.

MIKE ALSTOTT AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF DVOA

I spent a lot of time this offseason fiddling with the VOA system, playing with ideas and trying different variables.  The shifts in Mike Alstott's number tell the story of how VOA was developed.

At the beginning, I had to decide what variables to use in my quest to compare each play with the league average for a given situation.  I started by setting up league average values for running plays based on three variables: down, score gap, and field position.  After I realized that quarterback scrambles and receiver reverses were very different than regular running plays, the league averages were split into RB/FB, QB/P/K, and WR/TE.

At this point, I ran my first set of V+ and VOA numbers.  Mike Alstott's VOA at this point was 5.7%.

Looking at the rankings at this point, I realized that running backs that specialized in short carries, particularly on the goal line, were ranked very high.  It took me a couple of days until I realized that I needed to normalize by yards-to-go for each play.  It's easier to get the one yard needed for a "success point" on Third-and-1 than to get the nine yards needed for a "success point" on Second-and-15.  So I created a series of adjustments based on yards needed, also based on down and field position.

Re-running the numbers at this point, Mike Alstott's VOA dropped to --1.5%.  Taking into account his high number of short-yardage carries, Alstott was now a below-average back.  (Other backs I expected to drop, like Moe Williams and Stacey Mack, stayed high because they are more versatile than the conventional wisdom holds.)

There was one more change needed, the addition of defensive adjustments, based on how each team defended the run with a lead or behind and left, middle, or right.  As I discovered, the NFC South was a very difficult division for running backs, especially those that run up the middle most of the time.  Mike Alstott's value -- now DVOA, to note the adjustment for opponents -- rose back up to 8.7%.  This is the best approximation of his value to the Bucs in 2002 -- until we goof around with the system some more after we get some 2003 data.

OTHER NOTES

Look up at the Atlanta section for comments on the way Tampa's opponents liked to run up the middle against the Bucs.

This won't be a shock: Mike Alstott runs up the middle 68% of the time, one of the highest numbers for an individual NFL player.  Michael Pittman runs up the middle only 51% of the time.  And yet, both backs are better to the right.

adjusted line yards Left Middle Right 
M. Alstott 3.74 3.28 4.71
M. Pittman 3.85 2.79 4.13

Tampa used their first overall selection in 2000 on right guard Cosey Coleman and their first overall selection in 2001 on right tackle Kenyatta Walker.  Looks like pretty good drafting.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 25 Aug 2003

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