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?
18 Nov 2011
by Bill Connelly
A few weeks ago in this space, we looked at aspects of teams' personalities: things like offensive and defensive standard deviation (which teams are consistent, which are all over the place), which teams were building (or losing) momentum, and which teams tended to play up or down to their level of competition. (Note: I updated the Covariance list last week.)
Today, we'll continue down that line. At this point, readers should be relatively familiar with the way we try to evaluate teams here, but the pursuit of personality is ongoing.
We are all familiar with the concept of run-pass ratios, but there is quite a bit of context involved with just looking at "Team A runs the ball 48 percent of the time." Using a measure like Adj. Run Percentage allows us to look at not only who runs or passes a lot, but who intends to run and pass (but may see their opportunities limited by circumstance).
The premise is pretty simple: look at teams' run percentages on both standard downs and passing downs, then "adjust" the overall number to see where teams' intentions would lie if everybody ran the same number of plays on standard downs and passing downs.
If you have a terrible offense that can't stay out of passing downs, you're probably going to attempt a lot of passes whether you want to or not. The goal of "Adj. Run%" is to get a glimpse at what teams intend to do, not just what teams are required by circumstance to do.
The teams at the top and bottom of the Adj. Run Percentage list shouldn't be too surprising. NEWS FLASH: Army, Navy, Georgia Tech and Air Force run a lot! And get this: Hawaii, Arizona, SMU and Texas Tech throw the ball quite a bit!
What is interesting is that using the Adj. Run Percentage process -- separating percentages out between standard downs and passing downs -- can tell us who has consistent approaches and who tends to experience a shift in mindset from standard downs to passing downs.
Playing It Safe
Some teams tend to wing the ball around quite a bit on standard downs but grow much more conservative on passing downs.
USC (105th in Run Percentage on Standard Downs, 43rd on Passing Downs).
Georgia (55th on Standard Downs, seventh on Passing Downs).
Alabama (56th on Standard Downs, 14th on Passing Downs).
California (81st on Standard Downs, 46th on Passing Downs).
Teams with this approach almost end up with artificially inflated passing numbers; they are going to throw the ball rather efficiently, but they do not necessarily trust their passing game to make a play when they need it.
Damn The Torpedoes
On the other hand, some teams go from all-run to all-pass.
Nevada (15th on Standard Downs, 103rd on Passing Downs).
Texas (10th on Standard Downs, 65th on Passing Downs).
Texas A&M (64th on Standard Downs, 110th on Passing Downs).
Boston College (25th on Standard Downs, 69th on Passing Downs).
Nevada redshirt freshman Cody Fajardo is a potential member of the 2,000/1,000 club (quarterbacks who pass for at least 2,000 yards and rush for at least 1,000), and his passing numbers are more impressive considering they have disproportionately come on passing downs. He is completing 70 percent of his passes and averaging 8.8 yards per pass despite the fact that he is almost always passing on passing downs. Boston College quarterback Chase Rettig, meanwhile, can almost be forgiven for his shoddy numbers (53 percent completion rate, 6.1 yards per pass). Almost.
We learn interesting things looking at Defensive Run-Pass Ratios too.
No One Fears Your Blitz
Some teams are forced to defend the run quite a bit on standard downs, but once they leverage teams into passing downs, opponents have no fear in staying aggressive and throwing the ball.
Nebraska (11th in Def. Run Percentage on Standard Downs, 111th on Passing Downs).
Virginia Tech (52nd on Standard Downs, 118th on Passing Downs).
N.C. State (47th on Standard Downs, 103rd on Passing Downs).
Iowa State (15th on Standard Downs, 63rd on Passing Downs).
Nebraska has racked up a disturbingly low number of tackles for loss this season. Despite the fact that their secondary is still pretty good, opponents do not have much fear in terms of trying to move the chains on second- or third-and-long. This was not the case a couple of years ago, when Ndamukong Suh was wreaking havoc.
Either We All Fear Your Blitz, Or You Are Far Too Predictable With It
On the other end of the spectrum, some teams face an inordinate amount of rushes -- draw plays and otherwise -- on passing downs.
Arizona (84th on Standard Downs, sixth on Passing Downs).
Michigan State (68th on Standard Downs, 17th on Passing Downs).
West Virginia (90th on Standard Downs, 41st on Passing Downs).
Texas A&M (117th on Standard Downs, 71st on Passing Downs).
Hey, get this: Big 12 teams run at a fast pace!
Below are all FBS teams ranked in order of Adj. Pace. This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.
Six of the Big 12's ten teams rank in the Top 11, which, if you've watched any Big 12 game this season, should not come as a surprise. The ACC, meanwhile, is the anti-Big 12, with five teams in the bottom nine.
(One could probably suggest that A&M slow down. If they could shrink a game down by about 20 plays, then opponents would have less time to make up double-digit second-half deficits.)
Here is a peek at the fastest and slowest teams in terms of Adj. Pace. Full list, obviously, at the link above.
Actually, we'll pass on this piece this week. I think we've covered most of the oddities at some point recently. (Though if Southern Miss is still in the top 25 after laying an enormous egg against lowly UAB last night, then that will deserve the "What The...?" treatment.)
TCU (14 spots, from 31st to 17th). The Horned Frogs have slowly but surely become the TCU of old this season. They struggled to deal with some personnel changes -- more than I expected -- but wow, did the offense look great against an admittedly banged-up Boise State team. Or, they could be receiving a bit of an artificial bump simply because the Boise State defense they faced on Saturday is not the Boise State defense that racked up some great numbers over the season's first two months.
BYU (13 spots, from 59th to 46th). BYU dominated Idaho, as a top-60 team should do, but they were particularly efficient in putting the game out of reach, despite the injury to quarterback Riley Nelson.
Arkansas (11 spots, from 23rd to 12th). A week after I had to address why the Hogs were ranked so low, they looked so tremendous against Tennessee that they made a nice jump. We'll see if Knile Davis' rumored return gives them a further boost against LSU (though that still makes me wary).
South Florida (10 spots, from 40th to 30th). The Bulls suddenly looked like the team many thought might contend for the Big East title in their clinical destruction of Syracuse last week. Unfortunately, USF began conference play 0-4 before actually deciding to look like that.
Others: Michigan (25th to 16th), Vanderbilt (62nd to 53rd), UL-Lafayette (90th to 81st), Miami-Ohio (91st to 82nd).
Tennessee (15 spots, from 41st to 56th). Wow, did they look bad against Arkansas.
Auburn (14 spots, from 48th to 62nd). Wow, did they look bad against Georgia
Texas Tech (12 spots, from 68th to 80th). Wow, did they look horrible against Oklahoma State.
Washington (11 spots, from 49th to 60th). The Huskies didn't look quite as bad as these other teams in their loss to USC, but they didn't exactly look good.
Others: Idaho (99th to 110th), Marshall (84th to 94th), Kentucky (88th to 97th), Toledo (29th to 38th), Texas (11th to 20th).
It could be an interesting week in the Big East. Then again, when isn't it an interesting week in a conference where six of eight teams are within a game of first place?
Louisville over Connecticut (Spread: UConn -1 | F/+ Projection: Louisville by 0.9).
Rutgers over Cincinnati (Spread: Cincy -3 | F/+ Projection: Rutgers by 5.7).
South Florida over Miami (Spread: Miami -1 | F/+ Projection: USF by 3.2).
I'm going to go with the hour or so on late Saturday afternoon when both the TCU-Boise State and Kansas State-Texas A&M games were coming down to the wire. Kansas State was coming back from ten down to tie while Boise State was driving to attempt a (failed) game-winning field goal. This has been the worst sports year of all-time, I'm pretty sure, from the scandals, to the worse scandals, to the lockouts, to the arrests, to the tragedies, but for an hour and change, there was nothing but adrenaline and exciting football.
2 comments, Last at 20 Nov 2011, 9:36am by Dales