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?
19 Jan 2011
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: So, Mike, one of the things Aaron Schatz wrote about in this recent XP is that our statistics are not always perfectly accurate and reflective of the quality of player involved. There are lots of other things that go into statistics for individual players that may make a player look better or worse than their "true" level.
Mike: Le shocque! We should note that Aaron has never claimed that they are perfectly accurate.
Mike: Yeah, sometimes weird things happen. And while Dear Leader is working behind the scenes to figure out all the strange things that lead to results like that, it's an interesting exercise to look at the strangest of the strange, like Young.
Tom: As you might guess, as a Tennessee Titans fan I've spent a lot of time thinking about Vince Young's play this year. I could expound at length, and probably will later in the offseason, but it's been a frustrating year as an analyst looking at his play. All the statistics -- DVOA, passer rating, YPA, ANYPA -- are very high on his performance. I'm much less so.
Mike: His YPA is good, but not fifth-best good. He also has around a 60-percent completion percentage.
Tom: And, of course, the Titans have opted to part ways with him. A large part of that is his performance off the field, but the on-field stuff is an issue as well.
Mike: Could DVOA be seeing the Chris Johnson of quarterbacks?
Tom: I think it's more that the Titans preferred a run-heavy attack that concentrated on downfield passing. And downfield passing, if you complete it at a decent rate and don't throw many interceptions, shows up nicely in the various statistical measures.
Tom: Of course, relatively small variations in the absolute numbers of interceptions and completed deep passes can have a larger effect when you're looking at only 176 passing plays.
Mike: The interesting thing is that DVOA is my go-to stat for players who have fewer attempts.
Tom: Well, it is and it isn't. The third wide receiver phenomenon seems to have about a 50 percent hit rate. (Note: I haven't actually run the numbers on that.)
Tom: Take Austin Collie, who was targeted on roughly 10 percent of Peyton Manning's pass plays, or less than 40 percent of Reggie Wayne's targets. Collie isn't that much better than Wayne to the point where his second-best DVOA and Wayne's 47th are reflective of their respective abilities. (Yes, Collie's target numbers are affected by his injuries.)
Mike: True. Obviously you have to use all your stats in conjunction.
Tom: The college basketball stats analyst Ken Pomeroy, who's been featured on this site before, had a useful post a couple years ago on how to use and not use numbers. That "statistical and visual analysis go together" thing is something we always, always, always have to keep in mind.
Mike: It's at the top of the introduction page, even.
Tom: As Aaron said in that Extra Point post, it gets tedious to write it in every single article, and sometimes we run with straight numbers just to see if they say anything interesting.
Tom: The interesting thing about this year's receivers' table is that we don't get the 52-target guy at the very top. The players with fewer targets who are at the upper end of the DVOA leader board are mostly good players who missed time.
Mike: The other interesting thing about the wide receivers is that a lot of the guys near the top both missed time and played for teams with non-elite offense, like Kenny Britt, who is somehow third in DVOA. So yeah.
Mike: Rashard Mendenhall is surprisingly low on the list (22nd by DYAR, 26th by DVOA) of running backs, considering Pittsburgh has an essentially average rushing offense.
Tom: Well, Mendenhall's DVOA is about the same as it was last year (down from -0.8% to -2.7%).
Mike:: Yes, but the theory this year is that Mendenhall has improved, particularly in his ability to hold on to the ball.
Tom: Well, he has improved in that regard, but not hugely. He went from three fumbles in 242 carries to two in 324. That's twice as many carries between fumbles, but one every 80 carries is not a particularly high rate.
Mike: Not absolutely good, but like you said, twice as many carries between fumbles is still quite nice.
Tom: Of course, the Kansas City disparity in running backs still cracks me up. In 2008, when the Titans had a similar carry split between the mediocre LenDale White and the much better Chris Johnson, they at least used White in the situations where running backs tend to be more successful, and he was still relatively useful.
Mike: I think the theory in vogue of tandem backs with the purpose of keeping your premiere back fresh does have a breaking point. Kansas City may have found it. It's one thing to keep your main guy fresh, but it's only a winner for you if the platoon mate isn't actively hurting your team.
Tom: Well, I'd have to look at the Thomas Jones-Jamaal Charles carry splits to be more confident in that conclusion. With Jones, coaches also tend to be somewhat risk-averse and value highly a veteran's knowing the assignments and showing up every day ready to play. Not to bring up Vince Young again, but there's a certain level of tradeoff between reliability and performance that coaches seem willing to accept. That sort of thing is something we as outside analysts have a hard time seeing.
Mike: Well, it's also different between coaches and teams. Tom Coughlin, for instance, seems to be happy with big performance over reliability, whereas Lovie Smith is all about a steady pace and putting together a large number of small victories. I think the trick in all cases is to find a nice balance. Bill Belichick is good at that, constantly reshaping his offense to get the most out his players. He uses rushing and play action if he has a good back, deep passes if he has a burner, and quick crossing patterns if he has a team of Welkers. That's probably why DVOA has liked the Patriots offenses so much the past few years.
Tom: How very timely. My fantasy team thanks you for bringing up that team.
Tom: Aaron Rodgers not only had a great real game this weekend, but also a great fantasy game.
Mike: Woe be unto us, who do not have Rodgers.
Tom: The beneficiary was Sean, who also had double-digit totals from Shonn Greene, Braylon Edwards, Mason Crosby, and Ravens defense. He's up to 163 points and has six players remaining. Ben Muth is next, with only 95 points, and he's down to just LaDainian Tomlinson.
Mike: So, in other words, we all lose.
Mike: I would have no problem with this result.
Dave: (Me neither.)
Tom: No, I figured you wouldn't. My team is also a lesson in the downside of the "putting all your eggs in one basket" strategy. My six Patriots are all done, and I'm down to Matt Forte with 61 points. You also have 61, but you have three players left. And Tim is currently in the rear, but he also has three players left.
Mike: Go me.
Tom: Personally, I'm just hoping to beat half of the Best of the Rest teams, but that's a tall order based on the current standings.
Mike: How are the Best of the Rest doing?
Tom: The top two best of the rest teams are doing great. Nevic has 146 points with six players remaining, and our friend Mr. Dembsky has 144, though with only two players left. There are 12 Best of the Rest teams with at least 100 points. A big reason has been the quarterback play. I reached for Tom Brady early, hoping he'd give me a lot of points. He had 20, which was nice, but that's a far cry from the 52 I'd have received from Matt Hasselbeck. That's between the last two weeks. Jay Cutler also put up 37 this week.
Mike: Ah. Yes, the problem with having your pick of the quarterbacks remaining is that if you screw up, it's much more noticeable. I chose about as poorly as I could have.
Mike: I certainly could have, in that he was available and I don't actually suffer a bizarre illness that keeps me from picking Matt Cassel. Of course, I also don't have the kind of illness that would lead one to pick Mr. Cassel, either.
|FO Playoff Divisional Round Results|
|Mike||Matt Ryan||7||Ray Rice||15||LeSean McCoy||7||Marques Colston||6||Anquan Boldin||12||Johnny Knox||4||Heath Miller||9||Matt Bryant||3||Bears||-2||61|
|Tom||Tom Brady||20||Matt Forte||13||Pierre Thomas||0||Roddy White||11||Deion Branch||11||Brandon Tate||0||Rob Gronkowski||3||Shayne Graham||7||Patriots||-4||61|
|Dave||Ben Roethlisberger||18||Michael Turner||9||Joseph Addai||6||Greg Jennings||10||Wes Welker||5||Hines Ward||8||Jacob Tamme||4||Adam Vinatieri||14||Falcons||-2||72|
|Sean||Aaron Rodgers||56||Jamaal Charles||13||Shonn Greene||20||Reggie Wayne||0||Santonio Holmes||12||Braylon Edwards||17||Dustin Keller||5||Mason Crosby||16||Ravens||24||163|
|Tim||Peyton Manning||15||Rashard Mendenhall||15||Reggie Bush||4||Mike Wallace||2||DeSean Jackson||4||Blair White||5||Brent Celek||2||David Akers||4||Steelers||8||59|
|Ben||Drew Brees||28||BenJarvus Green-Ellis||5||LaDainian Tomlinson||31||Dwayne Bowe||0||Pierre Garcon||17||Jeremy Maclin||7||Tony Gonzalez||0||Garrett Hartley||12||Saints||-5||95|
Mike: So, there is a new trend of great regional beers. Some micro-, some not. Keystone is not one of these.
Tom: Oh, senior year of college. I lived in a house with a couple other guys, one of whom had lived there the year before. We had a can of Keystone Light in the fridge. It was the "pet beer." Nobody ever drank it. Nobody ever thought about drinking it.
Mike: My family has a long tradition of drinking Iron City, and they look down on Keystone, so this is a very low bar.
Tom: Yes, but that's why this commercial is so fitting. So perfect, even. It's an incredibly bad beer, and so you'd think it would probably have an incredibly bad commercial. And it does.
Mike: It is true that these commercials give us exactly what we'd expect. However, that isn't helpful when what we expect is being lit on fire, and then cut into pieces, and then having those pieces kicked around in the dirt, and then burning the dirt.
Tom: Isn't dirt sort of what they use for firebreaks?
Mike: This commercial would find a way.
Tom: Even better, it's a national ad campaign. These are well-produced commercials, not something a local company threw together. This sort of camp is absolutely intentional.
Mike: I don't know if that makes it any better.
Tom: I can't decide which of these commercials I like better, though.
Tom: Probably the stuck in a tree one. And I said "better." It's a comparative word, not an absolute one.
Mike: That's the joke.
Tom: I just made a barking noise like a sea lion laughing. If we were doing this in person, you'd have heard me. And probably smacked me, not that I'd blame you for doing so.
Mike: That's ... OK, then. Moving on.
Tom: The bride one kind of bothers me. We don't know why she ran into the store. Did she run away from her bridesmaids and friends? Did she lose her cell phone? Did the groom run away? Was she kidnapped and escape? She could have been calling the police, and Keith Stone just decides that because he's smooth (obviously), he has the right to hang up the phone on her.
Mike: Keith Stone is better than the police due to aforementioned smoothness. There is no situation in which she would not benefit from calling his smoothness.
Tom: Obviously. That's why he's hanging out in a convenience store.
Mike: Heck, even if she was just complaining of pain in her arches due to her wedding pumps, Keith is a licensed podiatrist. He also buys and sells feet.
Tom: So you're telling me Rex Ryan and Keith Stone are really just alter egos of the same person?
Tom will be benched for the first section of the next segment --ed.
Tom: I read Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde last fall. It's a very boring book, because the whole point is that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, even though they don't look alike. And, now, of course, approximately everybody who reads it knows that they are indeed the same person. I just felt like mentioning that since I got us on the subject of alter egos.
Mike: Knowing is half the battle?
Tom: And knowledge is power.
Mike: Also, why is he chewing on his rifle? I mean, who is dumb enough to aim a firearm at his own head?
Tom: That's not actually a rifle. I'm not sure what it is, but despite a barrel-looking thing, I'm pretty sure it's not a rifle.
Mike: Oh wow, it's not. I'm sorry, I gave Keith more cool points than he deserved.
Tom: I think it might be a giant stick of beef jerky.
Mike: How do you have jerky that is rigid enough to ... he ... what ... I can't talk about this commercial anymore. It makes me too sad.
Tom: Fine, let's talk about the second commercial, and its ridiculous extension ladder. Or the two guys in the background at various points seemingly engrossed in conversation, not even trying to look up at Kiki in the tree.
Mike: Random conversation, just hanging out on the sidewalk in front of what we assume is the old lady's house. I suppose they had random extras on hire and figured they'd get their money's worth?
Tom: Hm, I guess. Maybe they're the guys who actually owned the ladder, and their everlasting fame from being in the commercial was the price for borrowing it.
Mike: That is a solid guess. We should also note that they did not follow proper safety protocol: There was nobody spotting the ladder. Smooth, perhaps, but not safe!
Tom: I didn't notice that at first. You're right.
Mike: I'm not sure how carrying someone down a ladder is smooth, but I'm willing to go at least that far.
Tom: Maybe that's related to why Keith Stone (and Keystone) is smooth, but obviously not rich. Actually, it now bothers me that our two bystanders go in and out of the background when they should be there the whole time.
Mike: It is weird, though, because there's no indication that he gets the girl. This is a beer commercial. It's supposed to show that if you just drink the beer, you will get the women, but he just kind of carries her down, brushes a lock of her hair and then walks away.
Tom: Instead, he gets the thanks of the old lady.
Mike: So Keystone Light is the gentleman's drink? Should Keith be wearing Todd's GILF T-shirt?
Tom: This sort of thing was nicely subverted in the recent Heineken commercial, where Guy asks Grandma and not Attractive Girl to dance.
Mike: That is actually an excellent commercial. There's no actual real-world application, but it's a commercial, so who cares?
Tom: I could come up with a vaguely scurrilous story about why Mr. Stone does that, but I'm not sure it's worth the effort.
Mike: Much like both of these commercials, it really is not.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: The Ravens have spent a little money trying to upgrade their receiving corps. They signed Derrick Mason after the Titans cut him in 2005, and he's been fairly productive for them in the past. They signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh as a free agent in the offseason. They also traded for Anquan Boldin this offseason. What did they get out of their pricey targets on Saturday? Four catches on 13 targets, a big pass interference penalty, and two key drops late in the game, one by Boldin in the end zone and the other by Houshmandzadeh on fourth down. Back to the drawing board for GM Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Baltimore brain trust.
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: The Pittsburgh Steelers may have won this weekend, but Mike Tomlin got to show off his affection for blowing challenges early in the game and decided several times it would be wise to squib kick against what our numbers show was a very average kickoff return team.
COLBERT AWARD: Your Scramble writer wishes the Auburn-Oregon BCS Championship Game had been this week, so we could have awarded it to that game for the general boldness displayed by both teams rather than picking a winner from this more humdrum NFL week. Alas. The boldest call in the NFL this week was the Patriots' failed fake punt in the second quarter, so credit goes to Bill Belichick, no matter how angry he looked at his team after the failed execution and no matter whether or not he actually called it or merely didn't tell his team not to call it.
52 comments, Last at 23 Jan 2011, 9:14pm by Sid