05 Mar 2012
Is the Gregg Williams bounty scandal reflected in the stats? The answer is "maybe a little, but probably not."
We went back and looked at the number of violent penalties earned by each of Gregg Williams' defenses since he was the head coach in Buffalo. When we say "violent penalties," we're talking about Unnecessary Roughness, Unsportsmanlike Conduct, and Roughing the Passer. We only looked at penalties on defense, taking out penalties on offense or special teams, because we specifically wanted to look to see if there was a Williams effect. Our numbers are regular season only.
Over the last two seasons, the Saints certainly have been flagged for roughness more than most other teams. In 2010-2011, they earned 15 Unnecessary Roughness penalties on defense, plus eight Roughing the Passer penalties. (There were no Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalties, but those are pretty rare overall.) The average team in this two-year span earned 7.7 Unnecessary Roughness penalties and 6.0 Roughing the Passer penalties. The Saints were in the top five for Unnecessary Roughness both seasons.
However, they weren't the only team with a lot of roughness penalties. If we include special teams, the Denver Broncos actually led (or tied for the lead) in Unnecessary Roughness in both seasons, with 13 in 2010 and 11 in 2011, even though they had completely different coaching staffs each year. If we look at defense only, the Broncos still had 15 Unnecessary Roughness penalties in the two-year span, same as New Orleans.
When we first ran the numbers for 2010 and 2011, we thought, wow, that's actually some pretty strong statistical evidence that the bounty system did lead to more dangerous on-field hits. When we ran the numbers for the other years, however, that evidence became a lot weaker. From 2001-2009, no Gregg Williams defense had more than four Unnecessary Roughness penalties in a single season, or more than five Roughing the Passer penalties. Here's a table going back to his days as head coach in Buffalo:
Of course, this isn't evidence that Williams didn't have a bounty system in place in New Orleans. But if Williams has installed a bounty system on his defenses for years, as reports seem to indicate, it doesn't seem to have led to quite as many rough and illegal hits on the field as you might expect. Or, at least, not as many rough hits that were flagged as illegal.
62 comments, Last at 12 Mar 2012, 9:26am by Michael LaRocca
Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?