With Alabama holding serve as the nation's top team, Brian Fremeau explains how good play-by-play teams can still struggle drive-by-drive -- and vice versa.
14 Oct 2003
by Aaron Schatz
OK, I know, everyone wants to know how the heck the VOA (Value Over Average) system has the Jets ranked #12. Hey, I want to know how the heck the VOA system has the Jets ranked #12. (What's the VOA system? Read here.)
Don't the Jets have the worst offense in the AFC with only 15 points per game? How on earth could they be ranked in the top ten in offensive DVOA (or Defense-adjusted Value Over Average)?
Here are some explanations for the Jets situation.
1) The easiest explanation doesn't really explain anything, but it is the most important. IT IS STILL EARLY. After only five games, all it takes is one amazing performance to skew the numbers. The Jets had that performance against Buffalo this week.
2) Perhaps the opponent adjustments, which move the Jets offense from a 3.9% VOA to 8.9% DVOA, are too strong. Well, the opponent adjustment that moves the Jets offense up comes entirely from games against Miami and Dallas. Those are two pretty good defenses. The other three teams have basically no effect. If Buffalo's Week 1 thrashing of the Pats is proven to be a fluke, as the season moves forward, the Jets will begin to get penalized for that game... but of course they'll probably begin to get adjusted upwards for the game against New England.
3) You'll note that a lot of the Jets total rating comes from special teams. On one hand, you might think I am counting special teams too strongly, but then how would you explain Carolina's success?
OK, now let's really get to the heart of the matter.
4) The Jets have turned the ball over only four times, tied with Seattle and Tampa for lowest among league offenses.
5) John Hollander over at Basketball Prospectus has a statistic called Pace Factor. In the NBA, different teams play in different ways. A team like Sacramento might actually have a better defense than a team like Miami, but they give up more points because they are playing faster. They score more points as well.
Well, the same idea can apply to football. The Jets have run only 270 offensive plays, the lowest total in the league by far. They have run 319 defensive plays -- not the lowest in the league, but also pretty low. For some reason, Jets games involve a lot of time running out the clock or screwing around between plays, and less actual football. The Jets are the Miami Heat of football -- and just as boring to watch! The flipside team is actually across town, as the Giants have had the most plays per game in the league. A table is at the bottom of the page.
So, fewer plays means fewer yards and points for both the Jets and their opponents. The Jet defense, which is pretty bad, has given up only 16 points a game -- the sixth lowest number in the league.
6) So, if the Jets are giving up fewer points than most teams, and scoring fewer points than most teams, why on earth does Football Outsiders say the Jets have a GOOD offense and a BAD defense? Well, remember what I said here about field position being fluid. Sometimes, a good offense doesn't mean that you score points. Sometimes, a good offense means that you give the other offense the ball in bad field position.
That's what is happening with the Jets. While they aren't scoring a lot of points, they are forcing other teams to run a high number of offensive plays on their side of the field.
On average, 12% of offensive plays start between the offense's own goal line and its 20-yard line. Against the Jets, that number is 16%.
On average, 41% of offensive plays start between the offense's own goal line and its 40-yard line. Against the Jets, that number is 48%.
7) There's another reason why the Jets don't score, or give up, as many points as you would otherwise expect. The Jets offense is horrible in the red zone, and their defense is great in the red zone. On offense, the Jets have a -52.6% VOA in the red zone; only Baltimore is worse. On defense, the Jets have a -26.8% VOA in the red zone (and remember, negative defense is better because you are preventing points); that's the eighth-best red zone VOA in the league.
So, in general, here's how Jets games have worked this year. The special teams consistently give the Jets good field position and Jet opponents poor field position. The offense marches down the field without turning the ball over. Failing to score in the red zone, the Jets give the other team the ball back in horrible field position. That team then marches back up the field... and fails to score in the red zone. Rinse, repeat.
I don't really think that the Jets are the best team in the AFC East. The Pats and Dolphins both had super-fluky Week 1 debacles, which will have less effect on the VOA ratings as the season moves forward. On top of that, the Jets aren't going to have another game as dominant as they did this week. But they might be better than we thought.
Here's that pace factor chart through Week 6. The numbers represent the average number of plays per game, not counting special teams, penalties, and kneels.