Scramble for the Ball: The Hanging Edge
by Tom Gower and Mike Kurtz
Tom: Over the summer, I wrote on a Titans blog about how the Titans got sacks and gave up sacks in 2011. One of the things I did for those series was try to provide an overview of how good the opponent was at various things. In doing that, I noticed something and then did some more digging and gathered better support for an idea that I'd found potentially interesting.
For each of the past ten seasons, there's been more range (greater standard deviation) in offensive Adjusted Sack Rates than there has been in defensive Adjusted Sack Rates. The magnitude of standard deviation has changed, as has the percent by which the offensive standard deviation exceeds the defensive standard deviation (36 percent in 2008 to 97 percent in 2004, average of 63 percent), but it's been the case every year.
I came up with two potential explanations, both straightforward but without an obvious way to distinguish between them:
1) Even beyond accounting for opponent adjustments, sacks have more to do with the offense than with the defense.
2) There's simply more variability in the ability of quarterbacks to avoid getting sacked than there is in the ability of defenses to get sacks.
Have we written about this before? Is this a surprise? Does either one of those explanations sound more plausible? Is there a good way to test which one of them is right? Are there other explanations I'm missing?
Mike: I don't think we have written about this, and honestly it is a bit of a surprise, although I can't tell you why ... I suppose I always just assumed offensive and defensive ASR were zero-sum. But that's really not how they're calculated.
Tom: I thought about this for a little bit once I had my results and started talking about the basic findings. And the more I thought about it, really the less surprised I was. Then again, that sort of thing to me screams "possible cognitive bias."
Mike: On the other hand, "sacks have more to do with the offense than the defense" is a pretty huge leap. Nobody would deny that the offense plays a major role, but considering the premium placed on the pass rush and elite pass rushers, that seems like a counter-intuitive conclusion.
Tom: Well, I think there's inherently more variability in what the offenses have ability to control versus what defenses can do.
Mike: True, but that is why we use ASR, instead of a simple sack rate.
Tom: Yes, but that's more situation and opponent, rather than measuring "runs lots of short passes and frequently makes a checkdown available" versus "is David Carr." I'd say Chan Gailey's offense has a lot to do with why Buffalo had the league's best Adjusted Sack Rate on offense last year.
Mike: True. I suppose, then, we're at a bit of a fork as to what ASR measures. Does it measure the team's ability to avoid sacks (scheme), or the offensive line's ability to pass block (which would theoretically have scheme factored out). I know that I always use it as a rough indicator of an offensive line's pass blocking quality, although generally within the context of fantasy football, where scheme is obviously in play.
Tom: I admit, there are stats of ours I use more than others. This is not one of the ones I use a lot. Instead, I tend to only use it situationally.
Mike: I wonder if there is a way to refine ASR into a "pass blocking skill" stat by comparing sack rates across similar pass lengths rather than lumping all passes together. That might adjust for teams that use quick passes to avoid sacks versus teams with good lines that can afford longer-developing plays
Tom: Maybe. I feel like that might result in skewed ratings for teams that are good at throwing the ball short and struggle throwing the ball downfield.
Mike: Will it, though? Conceptually, a team with a weaker offensive line will give up more sacks on short plays than a team with a stronger line would on the same short plays, and a team that struggles to throw the ball downfield will either simply not throw the ball downfield, or have a larger share of incompletions/interceptions. Not necessarily sacks. Of course, it's difficult to actually winnow out which plays are designed to have longer routes, especially given the way sacks are recorded in the gamebooks.
Tom: This seems like one of the questions you could theoretically make progress toward answering now that there's all-22 footage available. I'd also like to time how long it takes for every pass to come out. Doing some back of the envelope math, I bet you could do it in eight weeks if it was your actual job and you had a good setup. Just give me the budget to chart every team's pass routes on every dropback.
Mike: And a pony?
Tom: Yes. And a pony.
Fantasy Football Update
Tom: My heretofore kind of lousy fantasy team had a great week, with every player save one outperforming their Yahoo! projection. I put up the league's highest score and won in a blowout. Marques Colston had a great game. I picked up Rams defense an hour before Thursday's game (Seattle's DST thankfully wasn't available). Christian Ponder, fill-in for Second Round Auto-drafted QB Matthew Stafford on bye and the injured Jake Locker, put up almost 20 points.
Mike: In my competitive league, I had the opposite experience. Robert Griffin's injury certainly did not help, but Roddy White (6.8 points) and Jimmy Graham (0.4!) putting up borderline loser-league performances didn't help. I suppose Graham was also hurt, but still on the field for mastermindering reasons. Still, lowest score in the league last week, and a rather embarrassing defeat. After winning the league last year, I am now 0-5. Things were better in the other league, largely because, again, of Robert Griffin's injury! Fantasy football giveth, fantasy football taketh away.
Tom: Indeed it does.
Mike: Sick of putting up with Philip Rivers, I have raided the waiver wire for Andy Dalton. My team is still very strong with a core of Dalton, Victor Cruz, Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles and Graham (non-injured version), but my WR2 and WR3 slots need help. Jeremy Maclin should shape up, but I'm getting impatient and I ended up starting Greg Little due to byes. Not pretty. I have clawed my way back to third place and am waiting for the main stretch of the season, which I think will reward a pretty talented roster. At least more than the early action has.
Tom: I kept wondering if Little would do something this year. Unfortunately, that "something" may be "lead the league in drops."
Mike: Dream big!
Loser League Update
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Quarterback: Yo Gabba Bla – wait, Gabbert wasn't our top loser? Le shocque! Gabbert's Gabbertesque 1 point was nothing compared to Matt Cassel's mighty -1.
Running Back: I am Chris Johnson, pro of all pros: look upon my 0 points, ye mighty, and despair!
Wide Receiver: Seeing Donald Jones on this list isn't a tremendous surprise, but being paired with Mike Thomas and Mike Wallace is both surprising and adds some alliterative appeal to the squad's 1 point each.
Kicker: Mason Crosby may not be an elite kicker, but he is an extremely valuable fantasy kicker, based on the quality of offense he works with. All the offense in the world doesn't help, however, when you miss two field goals in one game. Three extra points puts Crosby at -1 points and the top of the loser league charts.
KEEP CHOPPING WOOD: Willis McGahee had been having a surprisingly strong season for a 30-something running back who was never that great. That is, until the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Patriots, when he dropped an easy first down on fourth-and-1 and then fumbled in the red zone. As he tweeted after the game, "Man enough to admit I messed The game up... Put it on my shoulders I can handle it."
MIKE MARTZ AWARD: Marvin Lewis's decision to kick an extra point down 17-12 at the start of the fourth quarter was dubious enough in its own right. His decision to attempt a 41-yard field goal with three minutes left to play merely doubled down on his conservatism to the detriment of his team's fate.
Matt:As I try to fill the roster spots vacated by Cedric Benson and Ryan Matthews this week I have a few questions....
LaRod Stephens-Howling - Will he be Law-Firm Lite or Off-Brand Tire Company? ESPN seems to think he's now the man in Arizona, but what about Powell?
Green versus Starks - probably too late to add Alex Green in most leagues now, but I'm thinking Starks could wind up the starter in GB by week 7. Whose cusine will reign supreme?
Jermichael or Jermaine - I'm feeling indecisive about Jermichael Finley. I am officially done with drafting him, but is it to the point where I should be dropping him? I like Jermaine Gresham to fill in for him, but this irrational fear of Finley only being productive when he's not on my roster is keeping me from pulling the trigger a la Keanu Reeves in Point Break.
Tom: On LSH, I would guess they'll do a committee with Powell as the first among equals. If you can add one Cardinals back, it probably should be him. I like Alex Green as a player, have since he was in college. I don't think Starks will be starting soon if they're looking for the better runner. I get your aggravation with Finley, but he has the same number of catches and touchdowns as Gresham and is in my view has more upside. If you're just in this for fun and it makes you happy, you can drop Finley and go with Gresham, but I'd keep Finley.
Mike: I think it's too early to say exactly what Arizona plans to do with its running backs, because I don't think Arizona's coaching staff yet knows what it wants to do with its running backs. That's nothing new with the team, although the difference is now they seem to have some actual talent they may end up squandering. Starks will start and get the lion's share of the carries starting sometime around Week 9, so I think you're right, there. It's just going to take a while for the situation to settle down. I disagree with Tom about Finley's upside; I think they're fairly equivalent players at this point. If Finley is aggravating you that much, go with Gresham, and find someone who is willing to take a bit of a flier on Finley's upside to nab a solid RB2/WR2.
Standard scoring except 0.5 point per reception
RB R Bush
Bench Torrey Smith
Proposal: Ridley, Martin, Colston for LeSean McCoy.
What do you think?
Mike: I really dislike this trade for the poster. Reggie Bush is by no means a guaranteed thing.
Tom: Well, no, but McCoy is an upgrade over Ridley.
Mike: And he's giving up a lot of quality depth in exchange for a player on a team whose coach, when going into panic mode, forgets he has a running back. He also plays with a quarterback that is getting to the point where defenses aren't taking him seriously. Actually, that's unfair, he forgets he has a running back in normal mode, also.
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Tom: Yes, and sometimes he remembers. The reason I oppose this trade is Ridley's drawback is that he just won't be a good start some weeks. That means if you own him you can really benefit from sitting him those games. You have good depth. You are not one of those owners who really needs an upgrade over Ridley.
Mike: Especially when you're already comfortably in first place.
Tom: As we told the guy last week with Matt Ryan and RG3, it's a common temptation to want to take advantage of your bench depth, but it's not always the best move.
Mike: Avoid the urge for mastermindering!
Kimble: Thanks to injuries, byes, a 16-team league, huge benches, and the 14th spot in waiver claims, I am forced to start any four of these players in my PPR league:
I'm leaning toward the asterisked players, but should I worry about starting multiple Titans and/or Dolphins? (Those are the four highest-scoring players for the season so far. AccuScore would start CJ2H and all the TEs.) How hurt would the Giants' other WRs have to be before I started Randle -- and if so, who should sit?
Tom: Beautiful. Mike, you may have a different opinion on things, but I have no object in principle to starting multiple players from the same team. If Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden are both out again, then I think that is enough to make Randle a good play. He was only in on half the snaps last week, but put up 14 PPR points. Yes, it’s Cleveland, but still. Chris Johnson’s value hasn’t gotten the PPR boost I was expecting as of late, but with Javon Ringer out with a knee injury, he should have more value than he did last week. Depending on the Giants wideout injury situation, I would go ahead and start the four players you marked, but if the Giants are still beset by injuries, I would go with Randle over Fasano.
Mike: I have absolutely no problem starting multiple players from the same team, so long as that team is not Tennessee or Miami. I think the Giants are getting healthier starting this week (there is some scuttlebutt that Nicks will be playing on Sunday, even if it is a limited role), so Randle doesn't have much value to my mind. Honestly, I think you're playing a bit of a crapshoot with these players, but you don't have better options. Go with the guys you highlighted.
Lock of the Week
Tom: Your weekly reminder: all lines are courtesy of Bovada and were accurate as of time of writing. All picks are made without referring to FO’s Premium picks for the week. Sorry, Mike.
Tom: You picked the Packers.
Mike: How did that happen.
Tom: They looked great for a half. Then they didn't.
Mike: I'm starting to get the feeling that the Packers are just Not Very Good. Well, that's unfair. Not Nearly So Good As We Thought isn't very snappy, however.
Tom: I watched the game for most of the first half, then switched away because it wasn't that interesting. Meanwhile, the Rams were kind enough to beat the Seahawks, so we are now both 2-2.
Mike: Part of the problem at this point is that I don't really trust any team. And neither does the book! There are no games with a line greater than +/-6.
Tom: Ahem, Atlanta -9 versus Oakland.
Mike: Oh. OK, there is one. Still!
Tom: Remember how we wrote that column a couple weeks ago about these great teams with mediocre records? The world has been somewhat restored to its axis, but there are still some really good teams with mediocre results so far.
Mike: Yes, although some of those teams are coming dangerously close to "actually not as good as originally believed," which is a problem if you are, say, a Steelers fan. I'm still not sold on the Patriots, either, but I like them enough this week against a talented-but-overmatched Seattle defense. New England Patriots -4 at Seattle Seahawks.
Tom: Well, I don't believe in the Lions. At all. For a 3-2 team, the Eagles are surrounded by an awful lot of doom and gloom. I believe some of it, in that Michael Vick is not a consistent week-to-week player. But I've watched the Lions play what they allege is pass defense. The Titans were able to throw the ball successfully against them. The Titans! Philadelphia Eagles -5 vs. Detroit Lions is my lock of the week.
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