29 Sep 2003
by Michael David Smith
Every NFL fan I know loves statistics -- even the ones who don't play fantasy football. It's just so fun to see which quarterback completes the highest percentage of his passes, or which running back averages the most yards per carry. But as helpful as statistics are (I even read a study once that said schoolchildren who have an interest in sports statistics do better on math tests), the NFL is woefully lacking in giving its fans the statistics they need.
Here are six statistics that the NFL could easily give its fans, but for some reason chooses not to. Adding these stats to the official league record books would take very little effort but could provide invaluable insight to those of us who obsess about such things.
PLAYING TIME: Why can't the league give us a roster of every NFL team that includes how many plays each player was on the field? Every team rotates its linemen, but I'd love to know which linemen play the most. If Carolina's Kris Jenkins averages 60 plays a game, and Buffalo's Pat Williams averages 40, Jenkins should get recognition for that. The league has this number. It is used to give bonuses to certain players under the collective bargaining agreement. So why doesn't the league make this information public?
INDIVIDUAL PENALTIES: The referee announces the jersey number every time a player commits an infraction, so why don't the statisticians keep track of it? I'd love to know which cornerback has the most pass interference penalties, or which offensive lineman was called for the most holds. If a starting left tackle goes a full season without a false start, that's an accomplishment that should be celebrated, but fans never know when that happens. The NBA includes personal fouls in every box score. The NFL should follow suit.
DROPS: Think about how important a statistic the error is in baseball: A batter who reaches base on an error justifiably doesn't get credit for a hit, and a pitcher who gives up a run on an error justifiably doesn't have it count against his earned run average. So if baseball scorekeepers can keep track of dropped balls, why can't the same happen in football? If Terrell Owens and Jeremy Shockey rank among the league leaders in drops (which I suspect they would), they might keep their mouths shut a bit more. Marvin Harrison set an NFL record last year with 143 catches, but how many times did a Peyton Manning pass slip between his hands? Knowing that could give us a better understanding not only of Harrison's skills, but also of Manning's. Instead of the NFL's current passer rating system, we could have a new statistic, earned passer rating, that would count dropped passes as completions. Likewise, we could get a better idea of the skills of defensive backs if we knew how many interceptions they dropped, and dropped interceptions could count against a quarterback's earned passer rating. Of course, unlike penalties and playing time, a drop would be a subjective judgment. But it would be no more subjective than errors in baseball.
SACKS ALLOWED: A subjective judgment again, but it isn't too hard when watching a game to determine which offensive player missed a block that allowed a sack. Keeping this as an official stat would help the average fan quantify offensive line play. Sacks allowed is already an official NFL team statistic, and it should be an individual stat as well. Some sacks, of course, are the fault of the quarterback, and sometimes it's impossible to assign blame to any one person, but for most sacks the official statistics should identify not only which player made the tackle, but which player should have been blocking the player who made the tackle.
RECEIVING YARDS ALLOWED: This statistic would measure the play of defensive backs, with lower numbers being better. Right now the only official stat the NFL has for defensive backs is interceptions, but relying on that number to determine which corners and safeties are the league's best is a bad idea because opposing offenses avoid throwing toward the best defensive backs. So a cornerback who leads the league in interceptions often isn't even the best cornerback on his own team; he's simply benefiting from opposing offenses throwing in his direction. The best way to measure a pass defense is how many passing yards it allows, so why can't we turn that into an individual statistic as well? Admittedly, this idea has some problems. A statistician can't always tell whose responsibility a certain receiver was, and a cornerback will benefit tremendously from having good pass rushers on his team. But even if this number is rough, it would be valuable to anyone who wants to get an idea of the relative merits of different defensive backs.
BLOCKED KICKS: Can you believe the NFL doesn't record something as simple as blocked kicks as an individual statistic? Neither can I. Get with it, NFL. You already record blocks in each individual punter's statistics. Now you need to record them for the guys who make the blocks as well.
These statistics would be simple to keep, easy for fans to understand, and fun for bar patrons to argue about. What is the NFL waiting for?