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» Factors: Andre Johnson

One of the NFL's best receivers notched a -2.3% DVOA last year. Does a target-by-target breakdown show he was better than that?

18 Jun 2012

2011 Play-Action, Defense

by Rivers McCown

Last week we looked over the play-action stats on offense, and this week we'll continue over to the other side of the ball. Play-action defense isn't something that's normally thought of as a big determining factor in an NFL game, but playing disciplined football can be the difference between winning and losing.

Last year no team knew that better than the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers finished with the worst defense in the NFL last year by our DVOA numbers, and their 20.5% DVOA on pass plays ranked 29th. However, what if we told you that the Panthers were merely bad when teams didn't fake a handoff against them? Their DVOA allowed on passes without play-action was just 9.1%, which would have been about 21st in the league last season had that been the full story. However, when teams ran play-action against them -- which they did a league-leading 26 percent of the time -- the Panthers defense gave up a league-worst 50.9% DVOA.

As you might imagine, there are a few different ways to cherry pick stats and really bring out the awfulness of the Panthers defense on play-action. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate it though is that John Beck, yes, John Beck, completed four different play-action passes of 20 yards or more on the Carolina back seven. The name that popped up again and again on the receiving end of the punishment was Captain Munnerlyn. Of the 37 play-action passes against the Panthers that went for 15 or more yards, our game charting project had him in coverage for six of them. Hole in Zone led the way with nine, uncovered receivers picked up six, while Chris Gamble was in coverage on four other occasions.

Between 2010 and 2011 there is no correlation between a team's defensive performance against play-action one year and the defensive performance against play-action the next. However, that's because there was just no correlation between pass defense in 2010 and pass defense in 2011 overall. Between 2010 and 2011, the year-to-year correlation of both total pass defense DVOA and play-action pass defense DVOA was -.06. That's a huge historical aberration, however; from 2002-2010, the year-to-year correlation of pass defense DVOA is .33 (which is awful for most science, but fairly reasonable for professional football). For play-action, if we look at 2009-2010, the correlation was .28.

There also isn't much correlation between the rate a team sees play-action against it and how well they play against it, Carolina notwithstanding. The other teams that faced play-action passes more than 22 percent of the time were all over the map in effectiveness. In fact, last year's best team against the play-action pass, Seattle, saw it 22 percent of the time. The common tie between teams that saw relatively little play-action actually appears to be the 3-4 defense. Of the teams in 2010 and 2011 that saw play-action ran against them in 15 percent or fewer of their snaps, eight of the ten were primarily 3-4 or hybrid teams. That includes repeat appearances by the Dolphins, Jets, and Ravens, as well as near-misses (16 percent in 2011) for the Steelers and Packers. The only two of those 10 that ran a 4-3 scheme were the 2010 Giants and Buccaneers. Perhaps the possibility of that extra linebacker in coverage is making a big difference?

Below is the play-action data from 2011 for all teams, in descending order starting with the teams that faced the most play-action. The columns in green represent performance with play-action on actual passes only, with sacks, scrambles, and intentional grounding removed.

2011 Play-Action Pass Statistics, Defense
Defense PA% Yds/Play
with PA
DVOA
with PA
Yds/Pass with PA
(Actual passes only)
DVOA with PA
(Actual passes only)
Yds/Play
no PA
DVOA
no PA
Yds/Play
Dif.
DVOA
Dif.
CAR 26% 9.2 50.9% 9.2 49.6% 7.2 9.1% 2.0 41.8%
IND 24% 6.9 4.7% 7.0 4.1% 6.9 23.5% 0.0 -18.8%
CLE 22% 6.7 19.2% 6.9 17.5% 5.9 0.8% 0.8 18.5%
STL 22% 7.5 9.4% 7.8 9.1% 6.2 3.6% 1.3 5.8%
SEA 22% 6.0 -26.0% 6.1 -29.0% 6.3 4.2% -0.2 -30.2%
CHI 21% 6.7 -5.5% 6.6 -7.5% 6.1 -5.5% 0.5 0.0%
JAC 21% 7.5 6.2% 7.6 2.1% 6.0 -7.8% 1.5 14.0%
TEN 20% 8.1 22.3% 8.1 19.5% 5.5 5.0% 2.6 17.3%
ATL 20% 8.4 -5.4% 8.5 -5.1% 6.0 0.9% 2.4 -6.3%
CIN 20% 7.9 33.4% 7.9 34.1% 5.5 -0.8% 2.3 34.1%
SD 20% 8.3 23.8% 8.6 26.2% 6.9 22.7% 1.4 1.1%
Defense PA% Yds/Play
with PA
DVOA
with PA
Yds/Pass with PA
(Actual passes only)
DVOA with PA
(Actual passes only)
Yds/Play
no PA
DVOA
no PA
Yds/Play
Dif.
DVOA
Dif.
BUF 20% 8.5 31.4% 8.1 28.8% 6.9 7.2% 1.6 24.3%
KC 19% 6.8 18.0% 6.8 18.5% 6.7 -3.8% 0.0 21.8%
SF 19% 9.2 10.5% 9.3 8.8% 5.4 -10.5% 3.8 20.9%
MIN 19% 8.2 40.9% 8.2 41.1% 6.7 19.2% 1.5 21.7%
NO 19% 6.5 17.9% 6.5 15.4% 6.3 18.0% 0.2 -0.1%
NYG 19% 8.1 17.7% 8.3 16.0% 6.1 7.1% 2.0 10.6%
TB 18% 8.9 15.5% 9.0 17.4% 7.4 23.8% 1.5 -8.3%
ARI 18% 7.3 16.4% 7.2 14.7% 5.9 2.8% 1.4 13.5%
NE 18% 8.5 27.7% 8.6 31.0% 7.2 18.9% 1.3 8.8%
DET 18% 6.6 -1.1% 6.8 0.4% 6.1 -11.3% 0.6 10.2%
HOU 17% 5.7 -21.6% 5.6 -25.0% 5.4 -1.3% 0.3 -20.3%
Defense PA% Yds/Play
with PA
DVOA
with PA
Yds/Pass with PA
(Actual passes only)
DVOA with PA
(Actual passes only)
Yds/Play
no PA
DVOA
no PA
Yds/Play
Dif.
DVOA
Dif.
WAS 17% 6.9 6.1% 7.1 5.2% 6.7 6.0% 0.2 0.1%
DEN 17% 8.2 44.4% 8.2 44.6% 6.2 5.6% 2.0 38.9%
PHI 17% 7.6 14.6% 7.6 14.6% 5.8 -5.8% 1.8 20.5%
DAL 17% 8.0 7.7% 8.1 9.2% 6.5 9.0% 1.5 -1.3%
OAK 16% 7.1 3.2% 6.9 -2.9% 6.6 15.2% 0.5 -12.0%
GB 16% 9.1 27.7% 9.2 26.5% 6.8 7.9% 2.3 19.7%
NYJ 16% 6.7 9.4% 6.7 7.1% 5.9 -19.0% 0.8 28.5%
MIA 15% 6.9 -4.2% 7.0 -6.6% 6.3 2.7% 0.6 -6.9%
PIT 15% 5.7 9.6% 5.5 4.3% 4.9 -14.0% 0.8 23.6%
BAL 13% 6.4 -9.5% 6.5 -13.6% 5.3 -18.9% 1.1 9.4%
NFL 19% 7.5 13.3% 7.6 12.2% 6.2 3.5% 1.3 9.8%

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 18 Jun 2012

18 comments, Last at 21 Jun 2012, 10:30pm by LionInAZ

Comments

1
by trill :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 12:06pm

An unedjucated guess about why 3-4 teams saw less play-action: protection schemes. PA passes take longer to set up and are riskier from a protection standpoint than dropback passes. If the QB isn't totally sure where that 4th or 5th rusher is coming from, he's gonna be more likely to check out of the play-action call into something safer.

2
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 12:40pm

Some of this seems to be division-driven, too, and a result of schedule-driven offensive style as much as it is based on the defense itself. In other words, the 3-4 thing may be a red-herring.

Only Cincinnati runs PA frequently in the AFC North. Only the Jets run it frequently in the AFC East. How much of this is defense and how much is offense?

I will point out that neither the Bears nor Lions run it much, despite a 4-3 heavy defensive schedule.

11
by dbt :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 10:19pm

Martz can't claim to have invented the play action pass, so the Bears didn't run it much. I would expect to see more of it this year.

3
by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:15pm

Got to love that consistent Bears defense, exactly the same if you use PA or not.

8
by Eddo :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 2:41pm

Yep, and it makes sense when you consider the Bears' strengths: good LB, lineman that play the run and the pass well, very disciplined.

4
by Ferguson1015 :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:28pm

I was curious about the order of the DVOA Difference and thought I would share:

Defense PA% Yds/Play DVOA Yds/Pass with PA DVOA with PA Yds/Play DVOA Yds/Play DVOA
with PA with PA (Actual passes only) (Actual passes only) no PA no PA Dif. Dif.
SEA 22% 6 -26.00% 6.1 -29.00% 6.3 4.20% -0.2 -30.20%
HOU 17% 5.7 -21.60% 5.6 -25.00% 5.4 -1.30% 0.3 -20.30%
IND 24% 6.9 4.70% 7 4.10% 6.9 23.50% 0 -18.80%
OAK 16% 7.1 3.20% 6.9 -2.90% 6.6 15.20% 0.5 -12.00%
TB 18% 8.9 15.50% 9 17.40% 7.4 23.80% 1.5 -8.30%
MIA 15% 6.9 -4.20% 7 -6.60% 6.3 2.70% 0.6 -6.90%
ATL 20% 8.4 -5.40% 8.5 -5.10% 6 0.90% 2.4 -6.30%
DAL 17% 8 7.70% 8.1 9.20% 6.5 9.00% 1.5 -1.30%
NO 19% 6.5 17.90% 6.5 15.40% 6.3 18.00% 0.2 -0.10%
CHI 21% 6.7 -5.50% 6.6 -7.50% 6.1 -5.50% 0.5 0.00%
WAS 17% 6.9 6.10% 7.1 5.20% 6.7 6.00% 0.2 0.10%
SD 20% 8.3 23.80% 8.6 26.20% 6.9 22.70% 1.4 1.10%
STL 22% 7.5 9.40% 7.8 9.10% 6.2 3.60% 1.3 5.80%
NE 18% 8.5 27.70% 8.6 31.00% 7.2 18.90% 1.3 8.80%
BAL 13% 6.4 -9.50% 6.5 -13.60% 5.3 -18.90% 1.1 9.40%
NFL 19% 7.5 13.30% 7.6 12.20% 6.2 3.50% 1.3 9.80%
DET 18% 6.6 -1.10% 6.8 0.40% 6.1 -11.30% 0.6 10.20%
NYG 19% 8.1 17.70% 8.3 16.00% 6.1 7.10% 2 10.60%
ARI 18% 7.3 16.40% 7.2 14.70% 5.9 2.80% 1.4 13.50%
JAC 21% 7.5 6.20% 7.6 2.10% 6 -7.80% 1.5 14.00%
TEN 20% 8.1 22.30% 8.1 19.50% 5.5 5.00% 2.6 17.30%
CLE 22% 6.7 19.20% 6.9 17.50% 5.9 0.80% 0.8 18.50%
GB 16% 9.1 27.70% 9.2 26.50% 6.8 7.90% 2.3 19.70%
PHI 17% 7.6 14.60% 7.6 14.60% 5.8 -5.80% 1.8 20.50%
SF 19% 9.2 10.50% 9.3 8.80% 5.4 -10.50% 3.8 20.90%
MIN 19% 8.2 40.90% 8.2 41.10% 6.7 19.20% 1.5 21.70%
KC 19% 6.8 18.00% 6.8 18.50% 6.7 -3.80% 0 21.80%
PIT 15% 5.7 9.60% 5.5 4.30% 4.9 -14.00% 0.8 23.60%
BUF 20% 8.5 31.40% 8.1 28.80% 6.9 7.20% 1.6 24.30%
NYJ 16% 6.7 9.40% 6.7 7.10% 5.9 -19.00% 0.8 28.50%
CIN 20% 7.9 33.40% 7.9 34.10% 5.5 -0.80% 2.3 34.10%
DEN 17% 8.2 44.40% 8.2 44.60% 6.2 5.60% 2 38.90%
CAR 26% 9.2 50.90% 9.2 49.60% 7.2 9.10% 2 41.80%

Sorry about how messy it is, I don't know how to format it to make it look better. Suffice it to say that the top is the best, and the bottom is the worst.

5
by chemical burn :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:48pm

Another positive data point for the Eagles 2012 season - they were terrible against the PA and a pretty good pass defense without it. In 2011, their defense started to improve wildly as the year went along and they could make up for their lack of an off-season/new d-coordinator/new starters issues, but their biggest problem on defense was the inexperience of their extremely young and raw LB's (and even safeties.) There's good reason to think those guys won't be as easily fooled as they gain more NFL level experience and the team's PA vs. non-PA numbers will not be as far apart...

6
by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 1:54pm

I think new linebackers is going help the most. I mean sure the guys from last year might not be as comically bad as they were, but I wouldn't expect them to ever be above replacement level.

7
by chemical burn :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 2:09pm

Well, they've said to going to start 2 of the 3 same LB's from last year, unless the rookie comes on like wildfire (which apparently he is.) And by the end of the season, they were no longer comically bad - as I've pointed out repeatedly, the Eagles were 12th in DVOA, if you just take the latter, better half of their year into account, they had developed into a Top5 defense.

Folks also tend to forget how inexperienced their safeties were last year: 2 second year guys, one of whom who was a 7th rounder. Coleman in particular has made huge leaps and I think in 2012 he'll be competing for a Pro Bowl spot - plus, his biggest weakness was over-reacting to PA! Nate Allen had better make the jump to "competent" or he's going to find his way to the bench quickly in 2012 and then possibly for the rest of his career. Anyway, last year 4 of their back 7 starters were 2 year men or younger and 1 was a 3rd year guy. Experience (and an off-season for team cohesion) will only improve their game...

9
by tuluse :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 2:52pm

"Experience (and an off-season for team cohesion) will only improve their game..."

This isn't strictly true. I've seen a number of Bears prospects simply stay the same or even get worse. Like every cornerback Angelo drafted outside of Tillman and Vasher.

Also, the Seahawks game was week 13, at that point the linebackers will still comically bad. It doesn't surprise me that the Eagles built a good defense around them because they've been building around bad linebackers for a decade now, but that doesn't make the linebackers good.

14
by chemical burn :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 1:03pm

I disagree totally about the Seahawks game: the most egregious player on their defense who along with Young double-handedly gave the game away was Jason Babin. It was the single worst defensive performance I've seen by an Eagle's player since Mike McMahon and Matt McCoy were playing. Also, on the famous debacle rushing TD, it was Babin who missed the first tackle, Trent Cole (sadly) the second, Jamar Chaney gets a good shot at him but gets blocked off of the tackle by the LT (which would happen to every LB in the league) and Nate Allen playing so timid that he doesn't even take a shot at Lynch. The LB is the only player who comes close to making a legit/non-embarrassing play. The LB's were not nearly as bad in that game as the CB's (both Samuel and Asomugha) who ran away from tackles, Babin or Nate Allen. But picking their 2nd worst late-season effort will make them look bad, I suppose.

But the Seahawks did the exact same thing to the Bears, for a blow-out loss to the Bears a couple weeks later and I don't think anyone would argue the Bears LB's stink just because they got beat by the exact same team exploting the middle of the field. Sure they somewhat addressed Lynch (aside from his two TD's), but at the expense of getting beaten in the underneath game by Tavaris freakin' Jackson and Zach Miller.

12
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 5:36am

Of course, the new starter at linebacker was the vocal leader of the #2 play action defense. Ryans may have lost a step, but there's no questioning his smarts.

15
by chemical burn :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 1:10pm

I've barely watched the Texans play, so I know next to nothing about Ryans aside from the fact that media love him in Philly. He's already a fan favorite and hasn't played a single down and he's being treated like the undisputed leader of the team in a way that's, quite frankly, shocking. I agree that having a smart veteran presence will only help Chanay and Kendricks (the rookie.) I am happy, though, that he seems to have been one of a number of talented Texans players let go in the off-season for reasons not exclusively related to their play, after mildly under-performing in his injury-recovery season in a new system not suited to his style of play. I think the Eagles got a steal because other teams were scared off by his price-tag and the Texans disinterest in retaining him.

16
by Mr Shush :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 5:08am

Ryans the player is a slightly unknown quantity at this point - it's hard to say how much of his downturn was injury, and how much of that will come back with more time since it happened, how much was not being a fit for the scheme, and how much if any was down to generalised age, wear and tear. Given that he's only 28, I don't think it's impossible he's capable of returning to his early career level, though I wouldn't be confident of it either. If that happens, he's a massive steal. Regardless, Ryans the man, the on-field leader and the locker room presence is pretty much impossible to knock.

And sure, there are obvious reasons he's worth more to the Eagles than the Texans, most notably scheme, presence or absence on the roster of Brian Cushing, and each team's wider cap situation. Despite not being an ideal fit, he absolutely would be starting in Houston if keeping him hadn't been too expensive.

17
by chemical burn :: Wed, 06/20/2012 - 2:17pm

Good hear the "locker room leader" hype seems to be true. The Eagles definitely lacked any leadership on defense last year - they had 5 really young, wildly unproven guys starting in the 3 LB's and 2 safeties, 3 unruly/not team-oriented personalities in Babin, Samuel and Jenkins... and then well-known super-quiet guys in Patterson and Cole (two of their better players and two of the more veteran/battled-tested guys, exactly who you'd need to step up but it's just not in their personalities.) Also, there were all of those stories about how everybody hated Asomugha because he's an intellectual and a hipster, including that notorious piece about him being "uppity." A guy like Ryan seems like a good fit for a roster that more or less looks the same... only with another wave of rookies playing major roles. A guy to say "go here and do this and now is when we need to be intense and here's the plan" vocally seems pretty valuable...

10
by JasonK :: Mon, 06/18/2012 - 3:28pm

Interesting, but I suspect that a lot of the illustrations here are a function of personnel packages rather than of the inclusion of a PA fake in the offensive playcall. That is, non-PA passing is predominantly out of 3+ WR personnel and against nickel/dime defenses, while PA passing will predominantly be out of more base-set offensive personnel (3 RBs+TEs) and against 4-DB defensive personnel.

The teams that did better against non-PA passing seem to be the teams that either, 1) had a dangerous pass rush (relative to their overall defensive effectiveness), which is most often a factor on 3rd&long-type situations when PA is rare, or 2) had more talented personnel on the field when they walked off a LB in favor of their 5th DB.

I wonder if this could be cross-pollinated with the formation information to give numbers on base-set offensive passing effectiveness with and without play-action.

13
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 06/19/2012 - 5:39am

Texans would certainly support this: great linebackers, highly dubious DB depth.

18
by LionInAZ :: Thu, 06/21/2012 - 10:30pm

Ditto with respect to the Lions.

I was surprised the Lions did as well as listed in DVOA against play action, because every time I looked Amari Spievey seemed to be sucked in by a play fake for a long pass behind him.