Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

10 Jan 2012

Wild Card Quick Reads

by Vince Verhei

The Denver Broncos' dramatic upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers may have stolen the spotlight, but Tim Tebow was not the league's best quarterback on wild card weekend. That honor goes to Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, which is nothing new - Brees has been by far the league's best passer for weeks now. With the Detroit Lions firmly ground up beneath his shiny gold cleats, Brees now turns his sights west to the San Francisco 49ers, who allowed the fewest points in the NFC this year. Is this the defense that can stop the unstoppable?

Brees' performance against Detroit - 33-of-43 for 466 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and only two sacks - works out to 359 DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement - more info available here). Football Outsiders' game-by-game database goes back to 1992. In that time only one quarterback has posted a better performance, and that game was in the playoffs too: Kurt Warner's 29-of-33, 379-yard, five-touchdown game against Green Bay in the first round of the 2009 playoffs. Brees' numbers may not look historically great, but he gets a big boost in DYAR for playing so well against Detroit, which was one of the league's better pass defenses this year (seventh in yards per pass allowed, fifth in interceptions).

For Brees, though, they were just his latest victim. In the final two months of the regular season, Brees ripped the entire league to shreds, averaging 341 yards per game, completing 72 percent of his passes, with 27 touchdowns, four interceptions, and only five sacks. The Saints went 8-0 in that stretch, including four wins against playoff teams, averaging 35.9 points per game.

Does San Francisco have a chance of stopping this juggernaut? We may be able to find an answer in New Orleans' passing tendencies. At Football Outsiders, we sort passes by distance into four categories: short (within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage), mid (6 to 15 yards downfield), deep (16 to 25 yards), and bomb (26 or more yards). Despite the highlights you've seen showing Saints marching into the end zone with long touchdown passes (and there have been many), New Orleans actually fields one of the shortest-passing attacks in the league. The Saints are third in percentage of short passes, but 21st in rates of mid and deep passes, and dead last percentage of bomb passes.

That tells us what kind of passes Brees likes to throw, but it doesn't tell us which ones he threw well. We can accurately measure Brees' accuracy using success rate. Unlike standard completion percentage, success rate only rewards teams for plays that gain meaningful yardage towards a new set of downs, and also accounts for pass interference penalties. So at which distance does Brees excel? All of the above - the Saints are first or second in success rate in all four distance categories.

San Francisco's defense, meanwhile, is softest against those short passes on which New Orleans relies. The 49ers rank ninth in success rate against bombs; sixth against deep balls; ninth against mid-length passes; and 12th against those critical short routes.

Looks like the 49ers will struggle with covering the Saints' receivers. Can they make up for it by putting Brees on the ground? Not likely. The New Orleans offense ranked third in adjusted sack rate (sacks per pass play, adjusted for down, distance, score, and opponent) this year. San Francisco's defense ranked 22nd in the same category. Big edge for New Orleans here.

By the numbers, it would be a big upset if the San Francisco defense was able to slow down the New Orleans attack. Of course, by the numbers, there was no way Denver should have beaten Pittsburgh on Sunday. And we know how that turned out.

Quarterbacks
Rk
Player
Team
CP/AT
Yds
TD
INT
Total
DYAR
Pass
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
1.
Drew Brees NO
33/43
466
3
0
359
356
4
Brees’ completion rate was 77 percent. That’s good. Even more impressive: He had exactly one "failed completion" on the day, a 2-yard toss to Pierre Thomas on first-and-10. Throw in a couple of sacks and a DPI call, and his success rate was 71 percent, which stretches the limits of believability. He had 21 first downs, including the three touchdowns.
2.
Tim Tebow DEN
10/21
316
2
0
208
188
20
Ten completions in 21 attempts won't win too many playoff games, but when those ten completions average 31.6 yards each, it'll do. In addition to his passing numbers, Tebow also rushed nine times for 51 yards. Nine of those completions and four of those runs gained first downs, including three total touchdowns. Tebow threw four short passes, six at middle distance, five deep, and a whopping seven bombs. On those seven long throws, he went 4-of-6 for 179 yards, and also drew 32 yards on a defensive pass interference call.
3.
Eli Manning NYG
24/32
277
3
0
155
148
6
In the first two quarters of the New York Giants' 24-2 win over Atlanta, Manning went 10-of-13 passing, but gained only 60 yards and three first downs (including a touchdown). Three of those completions lost yards. Manning was also sacked and gave up a safety on an intentional grounding penalty. That worked out to 2 DYAR. And then came the second half: 13-of-18 for 217 yards, eight first downs (including two touchdowns), 146 DYAR.
4.
Matt Stafford DET
28/43
380
3
2
143
149
-6
At the end of the third quarter, Stafford was 20-of-31 for 288 yards with no sacks or interceptions. He had thrown for 15 first downs, including two touchdowns, good for 158 DYAR. And the Lions were behind 24-21. Things quickly got out of hand and Stafford threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions in desperate situations, but he also threw for 92 more yards, another touchdown, and four more first downs.
5.
T.J. Yates HOU
11/20
159
1
0
59
59
0
At halftime, Yates was 6-of-13 for 79 yards and a sack, good for just 16 DYAR, and the Texans were up 17-10 thanks only to a defensive score. In the third quarter, though, he went 4-of-6 for 76 yards (and another sack), with each completion gaining a first down, including a 40-yard touchdown, for 45 DYAR. He had only one pass in the fourth, a 4-yard completion to Andre Johnson. That was -2 DYAR.
6.
Matt Ryan ATL
24/41
199
0
0
0
11
-12
We touched on this in the Audibles thread, but it’s amazing how conservative Atlanta’s game plan was. Only 13 of Ryan’s passes traveled 10 or more yard past the line of scrimmage, and only two of them went more than 20 yards downfield. As a result, only six of his completions gained 10 or more yards, and none gained more than 21.
7.
Ben Roethlisberger PIT
22/40
289
1
1
-39
-44
5
Late in the first quarter, the Steelers had the ball in the red zone, nursing a 3-0 lead. Roethlisberger’s next nine dropbacks resulted in one interception, one sack, six incompletions, and just one completed pass — a 7-yard gain on third-and-10. By the time Roethlisberger threw for another first down, Denver was ahead 20-6. He played better in the second half to force overtime, but it’s largely his fault that a comeback was necessary. He was also sacked four times in his last 11 dropbacks.
8.
Andy Dalton CIN
27/42
257
0
3
-40
-48
9
The Texans defense forced Dalton to check down repeatedly -- he threw 24 short passes (including nine at or behind the line of scrimmage), 11 at middle distance, four deep passes, and four bombs. On those deep and bomb passes, he went 2-of-7 for 36 yards with two interceptions, plus a 52-yard defensive pass interference penalty on a throw to A.J. Green.


Five most valuable running backs
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Arian Foster HOU
153
2
29
0
76
62
14
In 24 carries, Foster was stuffed for no gain or a loss only twice, with 15 runs of at least 4 yards and four carries for 10 or more yards, capped off by a 42-yarder. Including his two scores, he ran for seven first downs on the day. Foster also caught each of the three passes thrown his way for 29 yards and two more first downs, converting on second-and-9 and second-and-10.
2.
Pierre Thomas NO
66
1
55
0
63
28
35
Remarkable production in limited opportunity. In only eight carries, Thomas had gains of 31 and 18 yards, plus a 1-yard touchdown and an 8-yard gain on first down. He also caught each of the six passes thrown his way for 55 yards. Four of those catches gained 10 yards or more, and another gained 8 yards for first down. That’s 14 total plays and 10 total successes.
3.
Darren Sproles NO
51
2
34
0
57
37
20
Slightly less remarkable production in slightly more opportunity. Sproles rushed 10 times for 51 yards, and though he was hit for no gain or a loss three times, he also had two touchdowns and two other first downs. He caught four of the five passes thrown his way for 34 yards, and while only one of those catches led to a first down, all four qualified as successes.
4.
Isaac Redman PIT
121
0
21
0
57
50
7
Redman didn't play like a backup against Denver, running 17 times for 121 yards and seven first downs. First 11 carries: 52 yards, three first downs. Last four carries: 69 yards, four first downs. Redman was stopped for no gain just once all day, and had three runs of ten or more yards, capped off by a 32-yarder on third-and-2. He also caught both of the passes thrown his way for 21 yards, although one of those catches was a 12-yard gain on third-and-26.
5.
Brandon Jacobs NYG
92
0
8
0
26
28
-2
Jacobs' 14 carries led to five first downs, including gains of 34, 15, and 14 yards. He also caught each of the two passes thrown his way for 4 yards each.


Least valuable running back
Rk
Player
Team
Rush
Yds
Rush
TD
Rec
Yds
Rec
TD
Total
DYAR
Rush
DYAR
Rec
DYAR
1.
Willis McGahee DEN
61
0
0
0
-39
-39
0
McGahee rushed 19 times for 61 yards against Pittsburgh, an average of 3.2 yards apiece. He had as many first downs (two) as fumbles, and was stuffed for no gain or a loss three times. Meanwhile, only six of his carries gained 4 or more yards, and his longest carry of the day gained only 11 yards.


Five most valuable wide receivers and tight ends
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Calvin Johnson DET
12
15
211
17.6
2
109
Johnson had something of a slow start, catching three passes in five targets for 43 yards in the first quarter. He then caught seven passes in a row, for 18, 13, 21, 15, 21, 42, and 9 yards. His next pass fell incomplete, but in his last two plays he made good with catches of 17 and 12 yards. He had ten catches for 10 or more yards. Only one man could match or top that this year: Johnson himself, who had 11 10-yard gains against Green Bay in Week 17. That's 21 10-yard gains in back-to-back weeks. Cowboys receiver Miles Austin only had 21 10-yard catches in his 10 starts this season. In 2011, Calvin Johnson was the best receiver in the game, and he went out on top of his game.
2.
Demaryius Thomas DEN
4
7
204
51.0
1
92
Thomas’ longest three catches went for 51, 58, and 80 yards, and he also drew a 32-yard DPI call. Nobody had four 30-yard pass plays in a single game in the regular season. Only five men had even three 30-yarders in a game. One of them was Thomas himself, against Minnesota in Week 13. The others: San Diego’s Vincent Jackson against Chicago in Week 11; Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne against Carolina in Week 12; New England’s Rob Gronkowski against Washington in Week 14; and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson against Green Bay in Week 17. That's good company.
3.
Marques Colston NO
7
7
120
17.1
0
66
In addition to the numbers listed above, Colston also drew a 23-yard DPI call. Seven of the passes thrown Colston’s way resulted in first downs. The other was caught for a 13-yard gain on second-and-2, but Colston fumbled the ball away at the end of the play. (If he hadn’t fumbled, he still would have finished third this week.)
4.
Devery Henderson NO
2
2
64
32.0
1
46
Henderson’s two plays both came on first down. One was a gain of 23, the other was a 41-yard touchdown.
5.
Robert Meachem NO
4
8
111
27.8
1
37
Yes, literally half of the top backs and receivers of the week played for New Orleans. In related news, Drew Brees is good. Meachem barely made the list — his first six targets resulted in two catches, 14 yards, and one first down. He got two more throws to close out the game though, and made them count. The first was a 56-yard touchdown (on second-and-17, no less), the other a 41-yarder.


Least valuable wide receiver or tight end
Rk
Player
Team
Rec
Att
Yds
Avg
TD
Total
DYAR
1.
Roddy White ATL
5
12
52
10.4
0
-39
In 12 targets, White caught only five passes for 52 yards, and 14 of those yards came on a useless third-and-15 reception. He had only two first downs on the day, a 20-yarder, and a 9-yard catch on third-and-4. White's first five targets resulted in two catches for 8 yards and no first downs. By the time he did anything productive, the Falcons were down eight points in the second half. Things went downhill from there.

Posted by: Vince Verhei on 10 Jan 2012

60 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2012, 5:12pm by LionInAZ

Comments

1
by White Rose Duelist :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:08pm

Something funny with your #5 running back.

4
by Dean :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:19pm

Eh, they're interchangable. Thunder, lightning, close enough.

22
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:52pm

Oops. The name was wrong, but the data was correct. It's been fixed.

2
by anymouse (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:17pm

As a Saints fan, it's nice to know that Drew Brees is pretty good.

3
by John Courage :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:18pm

Is Calvin Johnson's performance historically great for a receiver in the playoffs? It sure seemed like it watching the game.

5
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:33pm

Most receiving yards in a playoff debut in NFL history.
One of 7 200+ receiving games in the playoffs since 1960.

7
by John Courage :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:47pm

Yeah, I know the raw numbers phenomenal, I meant how does he rank in all-time receiving DYAR (in playoffs)?

I was surprised his DYAR isn't higher. I know he had a couple shorter passes that didn't pick up first downs, but I think most of his catches were successful and picked up a first down. With another TD and many successful plays rather than a couple huge plays, I thought he'd be miles ahead of Thomas. I guess Johnson gets dinged for playing a fairly weak pass defense while Thomas played PIT.

What was most impressive to me is that NO really focused on him and still couldn't stop him. Maybe we need a double/triple-covered-and-still-makes-the-play-YAR. He's been doing that all year, I guess.

11
by Travis :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:26pm

As of the 2008 playoffs, the top three WR playoff performances 1995-2008 in DYAR were:

1. Reggie Wayne vs. DEN, 2004: 137

2. Steve Smith vs. CHI, 2005: 116

3. Larry Fitzgerald vs. PHI, 2008: 103

Johnson's would rank third, but I'm not sure if the DYAR formula has changed since then.

My guess is that Anthony Carter vs. SF in 1987 (10 catches, 227 yards, 12 targets, 1 run for 30 yards) and Jerry Rice vs. CIN in Super Bowl XXIII (11 catches, 215 yards, 14 targets), both against better pass defenses, would also rank above Johnson's game. Maybe Cliff Branch vs. PIT in 1974 too, given mid-70's football and opponent adjustments.

21
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:46pm

Raymond Berry vs. NYG in 1958 (12 catches, 187 yards, 1 TD)?
http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/195812280nyg.htm

27
by Travis :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 3:25pm

Maybe, but 16 targets (play-by-play), and teams averaged a higher yards per attempt against the 1958 Giants (who were about league average) than they did against the 1974 Steelers (4.32, ridiculous even for 1974), 1987 49ers, or 1988 Bengals.

6
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:39pm

Do sacks come out of a QB's running DYAR or his passing DYAR?

23
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:54pm

Theoretically, passing, although there have been a few occurrences this year where a quarterback was credited with multiple runs of -5 yards in a game. Sometimes stuff like that gets fixed on video review after the season.

30
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:48pm

I was curious about Brees' superior rushing DYAR versus Stafford.

Brees had 1 attempt for 1 yard for a 1st down, three kneels which don't count, and two sacks allowed with a lost fumble.

Stafford had 2 attempts from the 1, for 1 yard and 1 TD, with no sacks allowed.

35
by Eddo :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 6:09pm

It's been discussed a bit in the past that a replacement-level QB is expected to score on a given rush from the one-yard line. Therefore, Stafford's unsuccessful rush from the one is more negative than his touchdown is positive, relative to replacement level.

36
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 6:41pm

Yup. Brees' rush, a 2-yard gain on fourth-and-1, was worth 3.6 DYAR.

Stafford's 1-yard touchdown on third down was worth 5.9 DYAR, but the zero-yard gain on the previous play was worth -11.8.

Matt Ryan's two fourth-down stuffs were worth -5.3 each. The difference between those and Stafford's stuff is that Stafford's came at the goal-line, so the reward for success (and the punishment for failure) is much greater.

46
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 2:21am

This is why I was curious about the fumble, which traditionally isn't a passing stat.

47
by Vince Verhei :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 2:48am

Ah. In that case, it depends. Fumbles on runs count in rushing DYAR. Fumbles on sacks count as passing DYAR.

8
by The Voice (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 12:53pm

Looks to me that the Steelers' defensive game plan worked. How were they to know Tebow would have a day like that? I would bet given the chance, they'd devise a similar plan again.

10
by Bernie (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:24pm

Looks to me, like the Steelers Defense had a complete lack of respect for Tebow's ability to throw the ball. They were arrogant enought to think they could stack the box all day, and defend the pass with what was left over. Well, I guess he showed that even an average QB can get the job done if you leave his receivers wide open.

i think the real heroes in that game were the Denver O-line. That rushing TD that Tebow had in the first half, he wasn't even touched until he reached the goal line....his 3 o linemen in front carved a massive hole, all the way to the endzone, and he just followed them in.

12
by BJR :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:37pm

As much as they didn't respect Tebow's ability to pass, they overestimated Ike Taylor's ability to cover DeMaryius Thomas one-on-one.

40
by Jerry :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 7:46pm

Taylor actually had a terrific year, and even Sunday he was a willing tackler when necessary. I'll just quote his postgame tweets:

First off congrats too tebow and the broncos

Second I apologize for playing the worst game at the wrong time apologize to my teammates steelernation and family. Luv y'all to def
8 Jan

13
by MJK :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:41pm

Looks to me like the Steelers Defense had a complete lack of safety play. I think it was less arrogance and more Polamalu being overly aggressive and continuously out of position, and Clark's backup looking like a guy that doesn't see the field all that much.

Of course, the gameplan could have bene to stuff the safeties in the box and that could be the arrogance you mention, but to my cursory watching of the game, it looked like the safeties were out of position deep or not on the same page as the CB's at least as often as they were in the box trying to stop the run.

15
by The Voice (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:55pm

Considering that they pretty much eliminated the Denver running game (maybe other than that Tebow TD run) I would have to assume the plan was to make Tebow beat them through the air. Even the lack of pressure on him seems to me to be the result of not flushing him out of the pocket, but making him win as a conventional QB.

No QB can have that kind of day without help from the defense, and I assume the Steelers are not incompetent when it comes to putting together a plan. From the results and the game I watched, it seemed to me they were delibrately trying to make TT win as a pocket passer, and that's probably not a bad plan to have, all in all. It didn't work yesterday, but if LeBeau had a chance to scheme for a rematch, I wonder if he wouldn't put together a very similar plan.

26
by DGL :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 3:05pm

"Well, I guess he showed that even an average QB can get the job done if you leave his receivers wide open."

I could say something about blind squirrels and occasional acorns, referencing the stats in the AGS that show that Tebow has been below-average on bombs and the Steelers' D has been above-average on defending bombs all season. But I think the bigger issue was that Mundy doesn't have the same rapport with Troy that Clark does, so Troy's freelancing left the Steelers' deep secondary wide-open where Clark us usually there to cover for it.

14
by tuluse :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:46pm

I think letting receivers get open deep while not pressuring the quarterback is a scheme that rarely works.

9
by Will Allen :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 1:23pm

I'm too lazy to look it up; anyone know offhand how much the Saints' passing is better at home versus the road? How about the 49ers pass defense?

The Saints pass block extremely well on a consistent basis, which is why in some ways I think their offense is better than the Packers'.

17
by jimm (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:15pm

I don't have DVOA numbers but while passing yards were similar (2615 home, 2732 road)...they scored only 218 on the road vs 329 at home.

Regular Season
Home
8-0, 329-143,
Road
5-3, 218-196

Road schedule was not exactly murderers row - Minn, Tenn, Atl, StL, TB, Car, Jack, GB

18
by tuluse :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:19pm

Drew Brees's adjusted yards per attempt

Home: 9.78
Away: 7.93

So he's merely very good away, while otherworldly at home.

16
by Bjorn Nittmo (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:09pm

Re Roddy White, "...and 14 of those yards came on a useless third-and-15 reception." -- that 14-yarder was hardly useless, as it set up Matt Ryan getting stuffed for the 2nd time on a 4th down QB sneak. In fact, the Giants probably ended up benefitting from an overly generous spot after the reception, turning what should have been a 4th-and-long-1 into 4th-and-inches, and probably turning 3 points into 0. My long-winded point here is that White's catch certainly wasn't useless even though it got less than what was needed on 3rd down (and even if his offense was so awful in short yardage), as it greatly improved his team's chances of scoring points on the drive, which happened with the Falcons down only by 8.

19
by SFC B (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:38pm

How does DVOA account for failing to convert 3rd down, but then the team attempts to convert 4th down? My understanding is that DVOA doesn't consider a 3rd down play a success unless it converts, but it seems to me that a play which gets a team close enough to attempt a reasonably-convertable 4th down is some sort of success. Every 3rd down followed by an attempted 4th won't be a "success", but if a team gains 18 yards on 3rd and 20, then attempts 4th down that 3rd down was, to me, a success.

20
by tuluse :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:41pm

Remember it doesn't really matter if a play is successful or not. Just if it's more successful than the average play.

24
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 2:59pm

"Useless" was too strong a word, for all the reasons that have been pointed out here. White got -0.7 DYAR on that play. On an incompletion, he would have had -5.0 DYAR. He didn't get the first down, but he did pick up 14 yards of real estate to set up the ensuing punt/field goal/fourth-down try.

We don't consider what happens AFTER a play, but we do acknowledge that 14 yards is a lot better than zero, even if it's still not a "success."

31
by RichC (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:50pm

So White got -.7 DYAR on 3rd and 15, on a 14 yard reception.

That doesn't make any sense to me. Thats basically saying that a replacement level player would have got 14.7 yards on that play. Which means an average player converts on 3rd and 15 most of the time, which just isn't true.

34
by tuluse :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:54pm

Actually that says a replacement player converts most of the time, an average player must be expected to get like 20 yards.

38
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 6:57pm

Remember that the Y in DYAR does not mean literal yardage. It's an expression of value that includes first downs, touchdowns, and turnovers, expressed as yards of field position. Suppose White had gained 16 yards and a first down on that play instead of 14. That's only two more literal yards, but his DYAR in that case would have shot up to 8.3, thanks to a bonus for picking up the first down.

On third downs with 13-to-15 yards to go this season, the success rate for wide receivers was 28 percent, with an average of 8.8 yards per play. However, when plays WERE successful, they tended to be huge plays, averaging 23.5 yards per catch, with a bonus for first downs and touchdowns on top of that. The big value of those conversions pushes the overall average value up, making White's play a very slight negative.

39
by tuluse :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 7:34pm

Thanks for the explanation.

I'm not sure I like how the stats work out in this case. It seems to me that 14 yards on 3rd and 15 is above replacement level in my mind.

Since White beat the average of 8.8 yards, he should be above 0 DVOA no?

42
by Vince Verhei :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 8:10pm

No, because while he got more than the average YARDS, he got less than the average VALUE. He probably beat the MEDIAN value, but he could have done a lot better.

48
by RichC (not verified) :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 10:20am

Agree. This metric makes even less sense than I thought it did.

50
by Eddo :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 11:32am

EDIT: Removed, replied to wrong comment.

51
by Eddo :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 12:04pm

The "Y" confuses everybody. When it was DPAR, it was more abstract, and therefore didn't raise these "you think a replacement QB would have -25 yards?!?!" questions.

EDIT: I googled a bit, and it looks like DYAR:DPAR ~= 11:1. So Roddy White's -0.7 DYAR on the play would be the equivalent of -0.064 DPAR. Had he gotten two more yards, per Vince's example, his 8.3 DYAR would have been the equivalent of 0.75 DPAR.

I think that's a bit more intuitive. Compared to a replacement receiver's average production on 3rd-and-fifteen, White's play cost Atlanta -0.064 points. That's barely anything. Converting a first down would have been worth 0.75 points, which is quite good for a single, non-TD play, it would seem.

52
by tuluse :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 2:25pm

It's not the abstraction that I'm struggling with, it's the negative value associated with what looks like an average play. Getting a lot of yards but not quite converting a 3rd and long seems like it should be a slight positive to me.

53
by Eddo :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 2:41pm

If I'm interpreting Vince's comments correctly, the issue is that the plays that do convert have such high values (I'm assuming that a flat-out conversion has a lot of value, plus any plays that produce more value, all the way up to a touchdown) that they drag the mean upward. So it very well could be that a typical third-and-fifteen play (i.e the median value) is indeed lower than what White's catch achieved; however, when compared to the mean, it comes out as negative.

54
by Vince Verhei :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 3:12pm

Honestly, it's only a very slight negative. It is funny to me that we're arguing over a few decimal points. It's just that those decimal points happen to fall around 0.0.

55
by nat :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 3:37pm

It seems like we're running up against the classic third-down problem for DVOA. Intuitively, we think that getting 14 yards on 3rd-and-15 doesn't show much less skill than getting 16 yards. But it gets a lot less success, and therefore much less DYAR.

DVOA starts from a measure of "success" because it's assumed that the amount of success on a play is roughly proportional to the amount of skill on the play - over large enough sample sizes. On third down that proportionality isn't there to the same degree as on first and second down.

This may be the reason that third down DVOAs tend to regress towards the other downs rather than the other way around. A lot of the variation in third-down DVOA isn't due to repeatable skill. A lot of third down DVOA is noise rather than signal.

25
by Joseph :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 3:03pm

Maybe I should put this comment in the DVOA thread--but here's food for thought for SF fans: on 3rd down against the Lions, the Saints were 7-11--PLUS 3-3 on 4th down. What about that other 3rd down, you say? Oh, yeah--that was the kneel-down at the end of the game. On the year, the Saints were 41% on 3rd and long, and, iirc, 56% on 3rd down overall.
If you want to know why the Saints offense is so successful, I would say that those 3rd down #'s are a pretty big reason why.

32
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:51pm

You mean their other 4th down?

57
by Joseph :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 4:58pm

Yeah-that too. I had wrongly assumed that the Saints' last kneel-down came on 3rd down, not 4th, simply because the clock kept running when it technically should have stopped.
I wonder though--since Schwartz didn't mention anything, if he told the refs to just keep the clock running, because they were going to end the game by kneeling also. IMO, class by both coaches--Payton could have had the Saints score a very needless and classless TD, so in response Schwartz doesn't call the Lions last TO nor make a big deal about a clock error.

44
by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 1:47am

Just for the sake of perspective... the Lions were 7-10 on 3rd down also. And they didn't get a 1st down off a 4th down sneak when the QB pulled the ball backward over the 1st down line.

58
by Joseph :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 5:02pm

Don't get me wrong--the Lions played great on offense outside of Stafford's 2 INT's. CJ is the best WR in the game right now, IMO--although if somebody argued for Fitz or Andre Johnson, they could make some good points too. My comment was mainly directed at 49er fans. Lions fans are going to be able to talk smack for the next 5 years at least with that offense.

60
by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Thu, 01/12/2012 - 5:12pm

It's true that the Saints had an outstanding 3rd down conversion percentage all year. I hope the Lions can get closer to playing like that next year.

59
by greybeard :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 7:59pm

I am 49ers fan and I did not know Saints offense is good at 3rd downs. Thanks for pointing that out. That kind of information is hard to find.

28
by ScottyB (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 3:30pm

I don't think ATL neccesarily had a conservative game plan- they just couldn't protect the qb, leading to a bunch of short throws. I'd give the credit to the Giants' D on this one.

29
by commissionerleaf :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:19pm

Pittsburgh's game plan was pretty terrible. Tebow has demonstrated time and again this year that he is inaccurate all over the field, but that he has the arm strength to get the ball to receivers downfield, even while not in the pocket. Pittsburgh countered by giving him one on one downfield and taking away the underneath routes and running game. Result: 30 yards per completion.

Against a Tim Tebow offense, I would play Cover 2 all day long, giving the linebackers free rein to jump routes and bite on play action, because so what if he gets twelve yards over the middle? He'll miss the next one anyway. What you can't allow is fifty yard passes that enable inconsistency. Polamalu may basically be a run support safety at this point in his career, but Tebow isn't Eli Manning or Aaron Rodgers on deep balls. A warm body waiting for the pass to be thrown is pretty much enough.

Drives will stall out, and the more pass attempts racked up, the more interceptions you will get from any inaccurate quarterback. Pittsburgh came in with a terrible game plan and stuck to it even when it was not working.

Things I Know:
(1) The Patriots will not make the same mistake.
(2) If the Pittsburgh Steelers need safeties in the box to stop the run, they aren't going deep in the playoffs anyway.
(3) If the Pittsburgh Steelers are scared of a running game led by Willis McGahee (2011), they aren't going deep in the playoffs anyway.
(4) Denver is a three touchdown dog to any team with an elite passing attack. Pittsburgh is not that team.
(5) Tim Tebow has a shelf life of about half a season next year unless he gets more accurate in a hurry.

33
by The Voice (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 5:53pm

Personally, I think the Steelers game plan was predicated upon the idea that Ben was hurting and they might not score that many points, so they had to rely on a high risk high reward scheme. Given how poor he was in the first half, I'd say that was a justifiable idea.

41
by Jerry :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 7:54pm

Haven't I been reading here all year that defenses playing soft zones was what allowed Tebow to lead the Broncos to their comebacks? The idea of making Tebow beat you through the air seems like the right one (see McGahee's ranking above); when Timmy completes those passes, you congratulate him and heal up for next season.

43
by SFC B (not verified) :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 12:33am

There should be a place on the "playing defense against the Denver Tebows" spectrum between "really soft zone prevent" and "10 men in the box on every play". That a Dick LeBeau defense didn't figure out a way to get two safeties in coverage, or identify someone, anyone, who could cover Thomas makes me think that things are much worse in Pittsburgh than they appeared.

49
by DGL :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 11:01am

I've conjectured elsewhere that at least some of what went into LeBeau's scheme was the fact that Pittsburgh was playing on the road at altitude with a thin defense (that got thinner as the game went on - by the fourth play of the second quarter, the Steelers had only three active defensive linemen), and an expectation that trying to play the typical Steelers bend-but-don't-break defense would have resulted in a D that was totally gassed and unable to stop anyone by the fourth quarter. Combine with an expectation that the Steelers wouldn't be able to put up enough points to be up by, say, 21 points by the fourth quarter, and it's not unreasonable for the Steelers to risk a "shootout" with Denver in that situation.

Didn't work, but I think it's more of a transient problem.

56
by KarlK (not verified) :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 3:53pm

Agreed. The other key point, about playing against Tebow, is counter-intuitive. You don't want sacks, necessarily, and you keep blitzes to a minimum, if you do any at all (and if you do, ALWAYS from his blind side so he has too move right, which he is poor at doing).

Instead your defensive lineman should be straight on rushers, maintain contain above all else, and just methodically make the pocket smaller. You want Tebow to stand in. You should probably also play Spy with a linebacker just in case he bolts. Corners should NEVER allow receivers inside positioning -- Tebow is just hideously bad at throwing balls to sideline while in the pocket, and better at throwing downfield. Take that away from him.

You might even always have the strong side linebacker drop into coverage on most every play, so you are always assured that at least one backer won't bite on play action.

The Cover 2 gets a lot of crap as an obsolete defenses, but if you have agile linebackers who can drop into coverage it can be very effective. Teams will move the ball on you, but sooner or later they will fail to gain yardage and you will get the ball back. It's absolutely the right system to employ against a weak passer, and there's none weaker than Tebow.

37
by KB (not verified) :: Tue, 01/10/2012 - 6:48pm

If only Roddy White and his teammates were as good as Roddy White likes to point out.

45
by LionInAZ (not verified) :: Wed, 01/11/2012 - 1:52am

I'd be interested to know how much of a difference it made when Starks was replaced during the game. My impression was that Roethlisberger had more time to work with on passes after Starks was benched. Or it might have been because of halftiime pain injections.