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» 2017 ALEX: Midseason Report

The latest ALEX update looks at the recent draft class that is struggling, the unusual Chicago strategy, and what's gotten into Alex Smith? We also looked at Tyrod Taylor's declining ALEX, but rising conversion rate that Buffalo just sent to the bench.

24 Mar 2016

2015 Short-Yardage Results

by Scott Kacsmar

For those complaining that offense is too easy in today's NFL, this may be the most telling piece of evidence yet: the last eight seasons (2008-2015) are the top seasons ever in average yards per play. The 5.48 yards per play teams averaged in 2015 set a new high-water mark in league-wide production.

Yet when teams only need a yard or two to extend a drive, we still see conversion rates centering around 61 or 62 percent. Offenses can do better with smarter strategies in these situations. After all, more than two-thirds of plays in the NFL gain yards. But we still see a tendency for teams to treat a situation like third-and-1 like it must be old-school football with big formations, telegraphing that a run is coming straight into a pile of humanity.

Getting cute is usually not the answer either. It was a fourth-and-3 play, so it falls out of our short-yardage range, but you could say for the second year in a row that the most absurd call of the season came in a game against the Patriots -- those Bill Belichick Jedi mind tricks at work again. The Colts went for a fake punt and Griff Whalen, a wide receiver, snapped the ball to Colt Anderson, a safety, with the rest of the team aligned to the right side of the field. Darwinism won out and the Colts were buried for a loss on the play, losing any hope they had left to win that night.

At least they subscribed to "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line" theory here, but never did 3 yards feel so far away.

As far as a qualified short-yardage situation goes, the Steelers' fake field goal in Seattle may take the prize for worst call of the year. On a day when Ben Roethlisberger would pass for 456 yards, Pittsburgh spent the commercial break before the start of the second quarter to draw up this mess on fourth-and-2.

There is nothing like asking backup quarterback Landry Jones to stand 9 yards deep before a throwback pass to tackle Alejandro Villanueva. The only thing this highlight is missing is the Madden-like rotation of the camera after the inevitable interception.

There are some short-yardage situations where it is worth the risk to try a deep pass in hopes of a big gain, but generally speaking, this is one area of the game where the run (especially from quarterbacks) is consistently more effective than the pass.

The following is a look at the short-yardage success of 2015 teams.

Note: All data is for the regular season only and excludes spikes, kneeldowns, intentional safeties, and botched kicks. We are not able to differentiate between plays that have a full yard to go versus inches to go. Plays including offensive penalties that cause the down to be replayed are excluded. This happened twice in 2015. Since the down is repeated, these plays do not officially count as conversion attempts on third or fourth down. Passes include sacks. The only plays studied are on third or fourth down with 1 or 2 yards to go, because these are the most important short-yardage plays that essentially decide if the offensive drive will continue. Most data goes back to 2009.

Third Down

Our first table looks at the summary of plays on third-and-1 and third-and-2 since 2009:

3rd-and-1 Passes 3rd-and-2 Passes
Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
2009 190 112 58.9% 2009 325 176 54.2%
2010 211 122 57.8% 2010 355 187 52.7%
2011 200 114 57.0% 2011 352 169 48.0%
2012 241 126 52.3% 2012 356 186 52.2%
2013 244 121 49.6% 2013 357 174 48.7%
2014 214 127 59.3% 2014 353 196 55.5%
2015 197 122 61.9% 2015 376 191 50.8%
Total 1497 844 56.4% Total 2474 1279 51.7%
3rd-and-1 Quarterback Runs 3rd-and-2 Quarterback Runs
Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
2009 101 88 87.1% 2009 19 13 68.4%
2010 89 67 75.3% 2010 25 17 68.0%
2011 89 75 84.3% 2011 26 19 73.1%
2012 96 79 82.3% 2012 30 19 63.3%
2013 61 51 83.6% 2013 37 22 59.5%
2014 101 74 73.3% 2014 33 18 54.5%
2015 78 67 85.9% 2015 35 27 77.1%
Total 615 501 81.5% Total 205 135 65.9%
3rd-and-1 Runs (non-QB) 3rd-and-2 Runs (non-QB)
Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
2009 516 350 67.8% 2009 173 100 57.8%
2010 446 299 67.0% 2010 171 100 58.5%
2011 429 294 68.5% 2011 148 83 56.1%
2012 447 290 64.9% 2012 150 81 54.0%
2013 459 310 67.5% 2013 128 85 66.4%
2014 468 317 67.7% 2014 128 83 64.8%
2015 454 299 65.9% 2015 140 92 65.7%
Total 3219 2159 67.1% Total 1038 624 60.1%

It was another good year for the quarterbacks. Third-and-2 quarterback runs succeeded more often than we have seen in recent history, but much of that comes from scrambles (19 of 21 worked). The volume of quarterback runs on third-and-1 dipped, but they converted at the highest rate since 2009. Third-and-1 passes had their highest conversion rate in the last seven seasons, topping 60 percent for the first time. We are still in the process of fixing some errors in air yardage data for 2015, so perhaps in a future ALEX topic we can look to see if teams threw shorter, safer passes more on third-and-1 this past season.

As expected, non-quarterback runs on third-and-1 have the smallest variance and work about two-thirds of the time. The surprising part is third-and-2 runs have been successful 65.7 percent of the time over the last three seasons after converting just 56.7 percent of the time from 2009-2012. If this trend should continue, it would just make teams look even sillier for continuing to pass roughly 70 percent of the time in third-and-2 situations.

I looked at the period of 2013-15, excluding scrambles and converting quarterback runs to designed runs. Among the league's 32 teams, only the Eagles (44.2 percent) and Bengals (48.4 percent) have passed on fewer than half of their third-and-2 plays. Even the 30th-ranked Seahawks (59.2 percent) are a hair under 60 percent passing. Yet 24 teams have a better conversion rate when running on third-and-2 versus passing. The best overall conversion rate belongs to Chip Kelly's Eagles (75.0 percent), the most run-heavy offense in the group. Interestingly enough, Kelly is now with the 49ers, ranked first in pass conversion rate and 32nd in run conversion rate. Expect those numbers to flip around this season.

If we did something similar for a very common situation with huge variance such as first-and-10, then we would expect a good mixture of results that better highlight an offense's strength and weakness. When it is third-and-2, the short distance to go is a great equalizing factor, shrinking the talent gap in the process. In tougher situations like third-and-long, you would expect more talented offenses to shine. Not to stick with Philadelphia, but the 2015 Eagles are a great example of this. The Eagles ranked fifth in DVOA on third-and-short, but were 30th on all first downs and 27th in third-and-long situations. In other words, it does not take a genius to manufacture 1 or 2 yards.

It was about nine years ago when I started looking at the third-and-2 conundrum, and I still cannot understand why teams view it so strongly as a passing situation. While the seasons since then have been the pass-happiest in NFL history, even the early 2000s saw the same trend: more passes than runs on third-and-2 despite an inferior conversion rate.

One strategy the offense discards with 2 yards to go is the quarterback sneak, the most effective scrimmage play in football.

QB Sneak on 3rd-and-1 QB Sneak on 4th-and-1
Year Sneaks 1st Downs Conv. Rate Year Sneaks 1st Downs Conv. Rate
2009 83 76 91.6% 2009 47 41 87.2%
2010 75 58 77.3% 2010 38 32 84.2%
2011 64 60 93.8% 2011 25 20 80.0%
2012 60 53 88.3% 2012 25 18 72.0%
2013 35 32 91.4% 2013 24 17 70.8%
2014 61 49 80.3% 2014 30 25 83.3%
2015 56 48 85.7% 2015 23 18 78.3%
Total 434 376 86.6% Total 212 171 80.7%

Since 2009, the sneak has only worked six times in nine attempts on third-and-2. Compare that to third-and-1 where the sneak has a success rate of 86.6 percent. In fact, 70.6 percent of quarterback runs on third-and-1 since 2009 are sneaks.

NFL Quarterbacks: 3rd-and-1 Runs Since 2009
Type of run Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
Quarterback sneak 434 376 86.6%
Scramble 46 45 97.8%
Option/zone-read 36 27 75.0%
Quarterback dive 27 24 88.9%
Botched snap 20 1 5.0%
Bootleg 21 17 81.0%
Botched handoff 16 2 12.5%
Sweep 6 4 66.7%
Broken play 5 2 40.0%
Quarterback draw 4 3 75.0%
Total 615 501 81.5%

Note: teams were able to turn two botched handoffs/snaps into first downs in 2015 (thanks, fumble luck). From 2009-2014, only one botched play out of 31 turned into a first down on third-and-short.

We know teams basically ignore the sneak when 2 yards are needed on third or fourth down. Out of 4,090 plays since 2009, only 10 sneaks were executed, and seven worked. It is hard to imagine there have not been dozens of golden opportunities to squeeze in a sneak with 2 yards to go. Believe it or not, out of the 649 sneaks I have charted for this seven-season study, 62.7 percent of them gained at least 2 yards. A good surge is a good surge, and referees can be generous with the spot on these plays.

There will always be drives where the clock is an issue or the goal is loftier than a 2-yard gain, but possession is crucial in the NFL, and it is hard to say most offenses are optimizing their short-yardage success.

Fourth Down

The following table looks at the summary of plays on fourth-and-1 and fourth-and-2 since 2009:

4th-and-1 Passes 4th-and-2 Passes
Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
2009 58 31 53.4% 2009 42 15 35.7%
2010 46 25 54.3% 2010 50 25 50.0%
2011 35 19 54.3% 2011 42 13 31.0%
2012 48 26 54.2% 2012 39 20 51.3%
2013 50 27 54.0% 2013 32 17 53.1%
2014 42 24 57.1% 2014 36 20 55.6%
2015 50 27 54.0% 2015 48 23 47.9%
Total 329 179 54.4% Total 289 133 46.0%
4th-and-1 Quarterback Runs 4th-and-2 Quarterback Runs
Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
2009 54 46 85.2% 2009 1 1 100.0%
2010 44 36 81.8% 2010 1 0 0.0%
2011 30 25 83.3% 2011 4 3 75.0%
2012 34 27 79.4% 2012 5 4 80.0%
2013 32 22 68.8% 2013 3 3 100.0%
2014 36 28 77.8% 2014 3 3 100.0%
2015 34 27 79.4% 2015 3 2 66.7%
Total 264 211 79.9% Total 20 16 80.0%
4th-and-1 Runs (non-QB) 4th-and-2 Runs (non-QB)
Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate Year Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
2009 117 75 64.1% 2009 17 7 41.2%
2010 99 66 66.7% 2010 11 5 45.5%
2011 77 32 41.6% 2011 8 6 75.0%
2012 75 49 65.3% 2012 8 7 87.5%
2013 108 73 67.6% 2013 12 9 75.0%
2014 85 55 64.7% 2014 5 3 60.0%
2015 79 53 67.1% 2015 3 2 66.7%
Total 640 403 63.0% Total 64 39 60.9%

What stood out most here was just how terrible offenses were in the 2011 season, when only 50 percent of fourth-and-short plays worked. In 2011, fourth-and-1 runs (41.6 percent) and fourth-and-2 passes (31.0 percent) just had abysmal success rates that are way out of line with the other years of data. That was the year of the lockout, but it was still a very offensive season overall, so chalk this up to randomness. There were not any particular running backs bringing the fourth-and-1 runs down that year as Baltimore's Ray Rice had the most failures with three stuffs. Denver's Tim Tebow and Tampa Bay's Josh Freeman led the way among passers with three incompletions each on fourth-and-2.

The overall fourth-and-short conversion rate of 61.8 percent in 2015 was the lowest in the last four years, but that is still good evidence that teams should go for it on fourth-and-short more often.

While the sample size of fourth-down plays is much smaller than that on third-down, it is interesting to see how consistent the conversion rate has been for fourth-and-1 passes; typically right around 54 percent.

Here's the summary of all quarterback runs on fourth-and-1 since 2009:

NFL Quarterbacks: 4th-and-1 Runs Since 2009
Type of run Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
Quarterback sneak 212 171 80.7%
Bootleg 14 13 92.9%
Scramble 12 12 100.0%
Quarterback dive 8 7 87.5%
Sweep 5 3 60.0%
Option/zone read 4 3 75.0%
Botched snap 4 0 0.0%
Botched handoff 3 0 0.0%
Quarterback draw 1 1 100.0%
Broken play 1 1 100.0%
Total 264 211 79.9%

Quarterbacks had a solid 2015, picking up 27 first downs in 34 attempts, but that includes two botched handoffs that get credited to the quarterback. From 2009-2014, there was only one such play on fourth-and-1.

Finally, here is the seven-year summary of each short-yardage play type:

Short-Yardage Summary (2009-2015)
Type Plays 1st Downs Conv. Rate
Quarterback sneak 656 554 84.5%
Quarterback run (all) 1,104 863 78.2%
Run (non-QB) 4,961 3,225 65.0%
Pass 4,589 2,435 53.1%
Total 10,654 6,523 61.2%

Quarterback Effectiveness

When you look at these quarterback conversion rates since 2000 (minimum 20 attempts, active players in bold), it's impossible not to see that overall quarterback talent has little to no impact on short-yardage rushing success:

NFL Quarterbacks: Short-Yardage Runs Since 2000 (Minimum 20 Carries)
Quarterback Runs 1st Downs Conv. Rate Quarterback Runs 1st Downs Conv. Rate
Chad Pennington 33 31 93.9% Matt Hasselbeck 39 32 82.1%
Tom Brady 113 105 92.9% Andrew Luck 22 18 81.8%
David Garrard 65 60 92.3% Ben Roethlisberger 55 44 80.0%
Kyle Boller 21 19 90.5% Steve McNair 49 39 79.6%
Josh Freeman 36 32 88.9% Andy Dalton 42 33 78.6%
Jay Fiedler 34 30 88.2% Matt Cassel 27 21 77.8%
Drew Brees 51 45 88.2% Michael Vick 62 48 77.4%
Ryan Fitzpatrick 47 41 87.2% Joe Flacco 53 41 77.4%
Aaron Brooks 44 38 86.4% Daunte Culpepper 73 55 75.3%
Matt Ryan 36 31 86.1% Jay Cutler 26 19 73.1%
Jeff Garcia 42 36 85.7% Mark Sanchez 25 18 72.0%
Brian Griese 27 23 85.2% Matt Schaub 35 25 71.4%
Carson Palmer 40 34 85.0% Kordell Stewart 35 25 71.4%
David Carr 33 28 84.8% J.P. Losman 21 15 71.4%
Donovan McNabb 58 49 84.5% Jason Campbell 24 17 70.8%
Aaron Rodgers 32 27 84.4% Mark Brunell 20 14 70.0%
Brad Johnson 25 21 84.0% Quincy Carter 20 14 70.0%
Cam Newton 87 73 83.9% Jon Kitna 23 16 69.6%
Drew Bledsoe 31 26 83.9% Josh McCown 25 16 64.0%
Jake Plummer 31 26 83.9% Jake Delhomme 23 14 60.9%
Alex Smith 30 25 83.3% Russell Wilson 25 15 60.0%
Philip Rivers 34 28 82.4% TOTAL 1674 1367 81.7%

Tom Brady added to his unprecedented volume by going 9-of-10 on quarterback sneaks in 2015, though it was the second season in a row he was stopped on one. He had a streak from 2005 to 2012 where he was not stopped even one time. Of all teams, the Colts actually were the one defense to stop him.

Cam Newton is starting to rack up the volume too, and had a fantastic 2015 where he was 17-of-18 on short-yardage runs, only stopped by the Jaguars on a sneak in Week 1. He was 15-of-18 in 2014. Whereas almost every Brady run is a sneak, only 26 of Newton's 87 plays are sneaks. He has run that trademarked quarterback dive (also known as power) 32 times, with 25 successes.

Ryan Fitzpatrick's passing stats may leave something to be desired, but he was 9-of-9 on short-yardage runs last season. He is as likely as any quarterback in the league to hurry to the line for a quick sneak.

Matt Ryan was more nimble than usual last season, converting 6-of-7 short-yardage runs with a botched handoff being his only failure. He scrambled successfully four times, including a notable juke of Thomas Davis in Week 16.

Russell Wilson is an interesting name to bring up the rear, because he is one of the most effective running quarterbacks overall, but that has not translated to short-yardage success. Part of that is he is much better scrambling than on designed runs, and scrambles only account for five of his 25 short-yardage plays. He has also been dinged by two botched handoffs and a botched snap, which obviously hurts his percentage. Still, he is just 5-of-8 on the sneak, so that might be one area where his lack of size (and the weakness of Seattle's interior line) do the Seahawks no favors.

Matthew Stafford still does not have enough attempts to qualify yet, but he is 17-of-17 on short-yardage runs in his career (converting all 12 sneaks). Maybe he should run more instead of Detroit being so dependent on his arm in these situations.

2015 Results

Finally, we close with a look at the short-yardage results for 2015 offenses and defenses. For the sake of sample sizes, I combined both downs and distances together for an average of 47 plays per team. For offenses, the pass ratio (Pass%) includes scrambles as passes. Teams are ranked by conversion rate (best to worst).

2015 Offense: Short-Yardage Plays
Rk Team Plays 1st Downs Pct. Yds/Play Rk DVOA Rk Pass% Rk
1 PHI 50 41 82.0% 4.9 15 33.1% 5 34.0% 29
2 NO 43 34 79.1% 6.9 3 45.0% 2 34.9% 26
3 CLE 52 37 71.2% 7.0 2 44.9% 3 69.2% 1
4 SEA 52 37 71.2% 4.9 14 12.4% 11 36.5% 24
5 CAR 48 34 70.8% 5.0 13 30.2% 6 31.3% 32
6 ATL 54 38 70.4% 3.5 24 2.5% 15 55.6% 7
7 HOU 43 30 69.8% 5.8 8 22.7% 8 48.8% 12
8 MIN 31 21 67.7% 7.2 1 52.5% 1 48.4% 13
9 CHI 47 31 66.0% 6.4 6 34.0% 4 44.7% 19
10 SF 44 29 65.9% 5.5 10 5.6% 13 61.4% 4
11 OAK 44 29 65.9% 3.7 23 5.4% 14 45.5% 18
12 NE 55 36 65.5% 4.1 21 9.7% 12 41.8% 22
13 DET 52 34 65.4% 5.1 12 1.7% 16 67.3% 2
14 SD 51 33 64.7% 2.9 28 -23.6% 30 43.1% 21
15 WAS 50 32 64.0% 4.1 19 -7.5% 23 50.0% 11
16 KC 41 26 63.4% 4.7 16 1.3% 17 34.1% 27
Rk Team Plays 1st Downs Pct. Yds/Play Rk DVOA Rk Pass% Rk
17 TB 43 27 62.8% 6.5 5 -2.1% 19 46.5% 14
18 ARI 48 30 62.5% 5.6 9 21.4% 9 54.2% 8
19 IND 56 34 60.7% 2.3 30 -9.4% 24 53.6% 9
20 CIN 53 32 60.4% 6.5 4 29.2% 7 34.0% 30
21 NYJ 50 30 60.0% 3.9 22 -6.6% 22 46.0% 16
22 DAL 37 22 59.5% 4.1 20 -0.1% 18 35.1% 25
23 BUF 44 26 59.1% 3.0 27 -6.3% 21 34.1% 28
24 JAC 35 20 57.1% 3.4 26 -21.5% 28 45.7% 17
25 PIT 49 27 55.1% 6.1 7 15.1% 10 61.2% 5
26 STL 28 15 53.6% 2.3 31 -10.4% 25 32.1% 31
27 NYG 58 31 53.4% 4.4 18 -14.1% 27 56.9% 6
28 MIA 36 19 52.8% 4.6 17 -23.0% 29 44.4% 20
29 BAL 65 34 52.3% 3.4 25 -3.5% 20 46.2% 15
30 DEN 43 22 51.2% 5.5 11 -13.7% 26 51.2% 10
31 GB 52 24 46.2% 2.4 29 -32.7% 31 38.5% 23
32 TEN 43 17 39.5% 1.8 32 -42.3% 32 62.8% 3

Seattle and Philadelphia are the only offenses to rank in the top five in conversion rate in both 2014 and 2015. New retiree Marshawn Lynch was 9-of-14 on plays where he was the ballcarrier or target, so it's not like he was the driving force behind Seattle's 2015 success. However, DeMarco Murray was 15-of-15 on short-yardage runs for Philadelphia, so the Titans will hope he can improve their horrific short-yardage offense that ranked 32nd in conversion rate, yards per play, and DVOA a season ago.

Denver easily had the best short-yardage offense in 2014, but really fell off in 2015. Both quarterbacks and running backs struggled, though C.J. Anderson was the most effective of those players, and so far he is the only one of the four returning to Denver in 2016.

No offense took more risks in short yardage than Pittsburgh, which we detailed throughout the season in Ben Roethlisberger's ALEX. Pittsburgh ranks 15 spots higher in DVOA than it does in conversion rate. Roethlisberger did well to convert 16-of-23 plays, but the problems were more with Le'veon Bell (only 1-of-4 on runs), Michael Vick (1-of-6), and that absolutely ridiculous fake field goal from the introduction.

Here are the defenses.

2015 Defense: Short-Yardage Plays
Rk Team Plays 1st Downs Pct. Yds/Play Rk DVOA Rk
1 KC 45 21 46.7% 3.7 10 -35.0% 2
2 STL 56 29 51.8% 3.9 12 -33.5% 3
3 NYJ 60 32 53.3% 4.9 23 -14.8% 7
4 SEA 37 20 54.1% 2.6 1 -37.7% 1
5 MIN 54 30 55.6% 3.0 3 -32.8% 4
6 OAK 62 35 56.5% 4.2 13 -12.4% 8
7 WAS 48 28 58.3% 6.2 28 7.7% 18
8 GB 41 24 58.5% 3.6 7 8.5% 19
9 BUF 46 27 58.7% 4.5 18 -2.6% 13
10 CIN 51 30 58.8% 3.8 11 -9.4% 11
11 HOU 34 20 58.8% 3.1 4 -9.7% 10
12 CLE 61 36 59.0% 4.6 19 -8.7% 12
13 TEN 54 32 59.3% 3.3 5 -17.8% 5
14 DAL 51 31 60.8% 3.6 9 -15.1% 6
15 ARI 49 30 61.2% 5.6 27 0.7% 15
16 BAL 39 24 61.5% 7.7 31 23.8% 30
Rk Team Plays 1st Downs Pct. Yds/Play Rk DVOA Rk
17 ATL 47 29 61.7% 3.4 6 -11.3% 9
18 NE 37 23 62.2% 4.2 14 11.3% 23
19 IND 43 27 62.8% 4.7 21 19.9% 27
20 CHI 35 22 62.9% 3.6 8 -1.7% 14
21 PIT 57 36 63.2% 4.6 20 10.4% 22
22 JAC 40 26 65.0% 4.7 22 15.3% 25
23 MIA 43 28 65.1% 2.7 2 5.8% 17
24 DEN 32 21 65.6% 4.2 15 8.8% 20
25 SD 35 23 65.7% 5.4 25 4.5% 16
26 SF 65 45 69.2% 4.4 17 14.5% 24
27 CAR 43 30 69.8% 5.4 26 21.7% 28
28 DET 41 29 70.7% 8.8 32 22.0% 29
29 TB 44 32 72.7% 4.4 16 9.7% 21
30 NO 41 30 73.2% 6.2 29 35.3% 31
31 PHI 51 39 76.5% 5.2 24 17.5% 26
32 NYG 55 43 78.2% 6.9 30 40.4% 32

For the second year in a row, the Chiefs allowed the lowest conversion rate, but their DVOA was nearly twice as good as it was in 2014 (-18.6%). Seattle had the top DVOA thanks to allowing a miniscule 2.6 yards per play. The biggest disconnect comes with Baltimore, which ranked 16th in conversion rate but 30th in DVOA due to allowing some big plays.

The Giants managed to beat out the Saints for the worst short-yardage defense. You don't need a six-man committee to see that problem, but a huge spending spree in free agency may not be the solution either.

Denver and Carolina were the best defenses in 2015, but both look pretty pedestrian here. Then again, the Patriots were dead last in 2014 in short-yardage defense, but we know how that season ended. You just need to make the big stops, such as Denver's interception on New England's two-point conversion attempt at the end of the AFC Championship Game.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 24 Mar 2016

18 comments, Last at 08 Aug 2016, 9:06am by sirish

Comments

1
by Will Allen :: Thu, 03/24/2016 - 5:50pm

The Vikings, with very likely one of the worst 5 o-lines in the league, a mediocre at best receiving corps, and a 2nd year qb still finding his way, ranked number 1 by DVOA in short yardage.

Yes, "running backs are fungible" has some real validity, but there are still very large exceptions.

15
by andrew :: Sun, 03/27/2016 - 2:03pm

They also had the fewest 3rd and 1 situations in the league as well.

16
by Will Allen :: Mon, 03/28/2016 - 9:45am

Well, 2nd fewest. Offenses with bad lines, receivers, and inexperienced qbs tend to be in 3rd and long, not 3rd and short.

2
by eagle97a :: Thu, 03/24/2016 - 9:04pm

@Scott does the qb table include TDs converted at the goal line during short 3rd and 4th downs?

6
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 1:06pm

Yes, TDs are first downs.

3
by Raiderfan :: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 7:26am

No PM? That long a career and he did not have at least 20 attempts?

4
by nat :: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 10:22am

He did. The year cutoff excludes him - maybe not intentionally.

Manning has 24 short yardage runs (1-2 yards to go, third or fourth down). It's not clear from the data how many of those were scrambles or busted plays instead of designed runs. (Source: PFR play finder) After excluding those, he might not break twenty over his career.

He has a 70.8% success rate, which isn't very good. As Scott kinda said, your skill at short yardage runs is no predictor of how good you are at other QB skills - and the other way around. Anyway, his low success rate certainly explains why he didn't try these very often.

7
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 1:11pm

I have Manning at 14/18 since 2000. Had a botched snap play with Denver. Was notably stopped on a sneak at the 1-yard line in that 2008 Browns game, and there was that weird 6-yard loss when Shawne Merriman got him on fourth down in the 2005 game when Indy was 13-0. Eli also rarely ever runs on these, and Tony Romo is another surprising name to be absent.

5
by MJK :: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 11:40am

It's interesting that the 3rd and short numbers are different than the 4th and short numbers. I would expect these to be nearly identical. Both teams have exactly the same goals in each of these two situations...the stakes are just higher on 4th and short.

I can only think of three reasons why they would be different. First, there are a limited number of 3rd in short plays in situations where a team knows it's going for it on 4th and short if the 3rd down conversion fails...so they are inclined to try "riskier" plays on the 3rd down attempt. The second possibility is that, because the stakes are higher on 4th down, coaches call "safer" plays and are less likely to "get cute". The third possibility is that, because a team can punt after a failed 3rd down but not after a failed 4th down, a QB is more likely to "hurl one up for grabs" down the field on 4th down.

Note, however, that except in the case of QB runs, the 3rd and short plays are more successful, so if either of first two effects are in play, coaches are actually working against their intent. The "safer" plays are less likely to succeed, or the "riskier" plays are more likely to.

And even if the third option was real, it would only explain the drop in passing success.

Interesting...

8
by Alex51 :: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 1:20pm

I think part of the difference is that, while teams always go for it on 3rd down, most teams only go for it on 4th down if they need to. And you only need to go for it on 4th down if you're already losing. Which means you're probably not a very good team (or at least, not as good as your opponent).

So, we're comparing 3rd down plays by all teams to 4th down plays by inferior teams. Given that, you'd expect the conversion rates to be somewhat lower on 4th down.

Really, this kind of problem is why I'm deeply skeptical about this article's conclusions. For instance, typically, QBs only sneak the ball if the defensive alignment makes it an easy conversion. So, you're comparing plays when the defense leaves too many people away from the middle of the line of scrimmage to plays when they don't. Of course the conversion rate is higher on sneaks. It'd be weird if it weren't.

Without separating plays out by games situation, score, relative talent level, etc., I don't know if there's all that much to be gained by looking at these aggregate statistics. And even then, without looking at the game tape and analyzing the actual alignment of the players on the field, it'd be hard to know if you're making an apples to apples comparison between plays.

9
by Scott Kacsmar :: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 1:47pm

Well, for starters I would expect some slightly different results on fourth down versus third down. I think MJK's reasoning sums it up. The stakes are higher and the level of risk taking is going to be different.

Fourth-and-short is different than other fourth downs. 42% of the teams going for it on fourth-and-short were tied or leading in 2015. 90% of teams going for it on fourth-and-3+ were trailing.

I've watched all 650+ of those sneaks and I don't see any overbearing trend whatsoever. Some teams hurry up and snap it, some take their time. Some take advantage of the space left in the middle, while some just plow through two DT's. I think the single biggest factor is that it's just a 1-yard conversion and the QB, so many of them being tall, is in such an advantageous spot to get that yard, not to mention being able to control the snap and when he makes his lunge. That's why it is such a hard play to stop. Handing the ball off to a guy that's 5-7 yards behind the marker just doesn't make as much sense if you really want the conversion.

13
by TheSportistician :: Sat, 03/26/2016 - 11:23am

I agree. This is one of the pitfalls of relying on historical data alone. The results may be correlative and not causal.

Still, I thought the article did a good job of not drawing the conclusion that QB runs were better and going with the safer one (passing in short yardage is popular yet less successful.

Absolutely a phenomenal resource and great respect for the amount of work that went into compiling this.

10
by Karl Cuba :: Fri, 03/25/2016 - 10:37pm

The niners' results are strange.

11
by ammek :: Sat, 03/26/2016 - 8:48am

Worth highlighting how effective Drew Brees was at short yardage passing in 2015: no turnovers and only one incompletion in 14 attempts (and that lone incompletion was right at the end of a game where the Saints trailed by three scores). On third-and-short, he was perfect: 10 of 10, all converted, including a deep touchdown pass.

Meanwhile, the Packers have been poor at this several times during the McCarthy era. I'd like to blame the play selection, as they often seem to call slow-moving stretch runs to the outside which get blown up with frightening regularity, but Washington under Jay Gruden runs similar plays and is much better at converting them. Still, the Packers are supposed to have a strong interior line, yet it's amazing how often their short-yardage plays get stuffed because of a blown block by the tight end or h-back.

12
by TheSportistician :: Sat, 03/26/2016 - 11:14am

Any speculation on the anomaly in 2011 for non-QB run on 4th and 1 (41.6%)? All the other rates hover around 65%, the chance of that is 0.1% by randomness alone. Read/see more at http://sportistician.blogspot.com/2016/03/short-yardage-conversion-rates... . I suppose this could be easily explained by the lockout, as offenses wouldn't have had the time to develop as chemistry/cohesiveness where that may not matter as much for defense.

14
by tuluse :: Sat, 03/26/2016 - 1:05pm

If it was due to offensive line cohesiveness you'd expect a dip in 3rd and 1 conversion rates as well.

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