Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

02 Sep 2005

Defenders Insist Ugly Stats Not a True Sign

I think this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune brings up something that people often forget when discussing preseason results. Yes, the Chargers defense seems to be struggling in the preseason, but there is no game planning. Nobody schemes the opposing quarterback, nobody studies film tendencies, they just throw guys out there and run vanilla strategies to see how they look on the field. I think this is a big reason why the Patriots, for example, tend to struggle in the preseason -- a lot of their success is based on strategy and execution, not being bigger and faster than the other guys.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 02 Sep 2005

15 comments, Last at 03 Sep 2005, 10:37pm by Pat


by B (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 11:32am

On the other hand, the Chargers defense are facing plain vanilla offenses in the preseason as well

by MDS (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 11:41am

And what has to be horrifying to all Lions fans is that Mooch said the game against the Rams was the one game they were going to gameplan for.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 12:43pm


That's kindof my opinion as well. There are very likely cases where the coaching will make a huge difference, but I think it tends to wash out in the preseason.

Interestingly, though, the Patriots are one of the very few teams that got killed in the preseason and yet still beat the team in the regular season. I think they're the only team to be beaten (in the first half) by 20+ points and still beat the team in the regular season.

So maybe preseason is actually a measure of how important coaches are...

by Fiver (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 12:52pm

The pre-season games mean less than nothing, if that's possible, yet your local newspaper columnist still needs to fill x inches of column space every week. The results are predictable: artificial QB controversies, hand-wringing over whichever unit didn't practice...sorry "play" well, and so forth.

by Ryan Mc (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 12:54pm

I guess what one wants to look at is things like missed tackles, pass rushers not getting anywhere near the QB. That kind of thing. Problems like these aren't likely to disappear when the season starts and game-planning begins.
The article does mention that the Chargers first team defense has generated a decent number of sacks, so maybe this is a good omen for the regular season.

by Countertorque (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 1:28pm

Re4: You can't just blame this on the media. As a fan, I'm starving for some NFL action and the preseason is all I have to watch. I understand that none of it counts and that people may be out of position and veterans may not be trying too hard. But, I can see my team getting shredded just the same. It's hard not to get a little nervous.

I mean, if my QB doesn't look any better in the preseason than Kyle Boller looks in the preseason, it's hard to convince myself that my QB is suddenly going to get a lot better in another week.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 1:44pm

The pre-season games mean less than nothing, if that’s possible

I'm sorry, but that doesn't appear to be true. If you beat a team in the preseason, you tend to beat them in the regular season as well. Preseason games appear to be about as predictive as the normal season.

by TomC (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 3:09pm

Pat: I hope you don't have any plans for the next week to 10 days, because FO readers are expecting odds and/or point spreads for every possible regular season game based on your preseason analysis.

I personally am taking out a second mortgage to finance my Pat-based wagering.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 3:59pm

Ha! There are a total of something like 6 common games this year from preseason, and only two of the preseason results could even remotely be viewed as predictive.

I don't think you'll win money betting on New England over the Saints, for instance.

The other two are Arizona over Dallas, and the 49ers over the Titans.

And according to the numbers, 2/3 of those teams will beat their opponent. 1/3 will lose. I don't think New England will lose. So that means either Arizona will lose, or the 49ers will lose.

As you can see, those predictions are, well, pathetic.

I'm not trying to claim you can predict football at all. You can't. At least, I can't. Definitely not from the preseason. But heck, you can't predict the regular season with accuracy from the regular season itself!

Let's just remind everyone, that in 2003, the Patriots lost to the Bills 31-0. They then beat them 31-0. That's a sixty-two point difference (and it's the huge outlier for the past 3 years, incidentally).

All I'm saying is that you shouldn't discount preseason games - collectively - any more than you discount regular season games, collectively.

by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 4:22pm

In about 1990, Gaston Green had a preseason game where he rushed for about 200 yards. I got all excited, and drafted him highly in my fantasy football league. He sucked that year. Ever since then, I have pledged to not put much weight on preseason when drafting my fantasy football team.

by KL (not verified) :: Fri, 09/02/2005 - 5:33pm

I remember many people had Eric Zeier in the Pro Bowl off of some success in the preseason only to see him go on and have little success ever.

by Ruben (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 3:44am

In about 1990, Gaston Green had a preseason game where he rushed for about 200 yards.

In 1990 I was 10 years old...holy crow...

by gabe (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 9:31am


You call yourself Pat and I hope it has nothing to do with the Pats. You seem confused. The Patriots lost to the Bills 31-0 in the first regular season game of that year, not in preseason. You are correct about them returning the favor.

by C (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 6:08pm

Gabe, please reread Pat's comments. The line just before the sentence you are taking him to task about:

But heck, you can’t predict the regular season with accuracy from the regular season itself!

Emphasis in original.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sat, 09/03/2005 - 10:37pm

Gracias, C. You're exactly right. The point of that was that if someone tried to predict the point spread of the second Buffalo game from the first one, they would've been totally, completely, and utterly wrong.

But that doesn't mean the first Buffalo game "didn't count": it was just a fluctuation. A large fluctuation, but a fluctuation. Any given Sunday, and all that.

Now, you can feel free to explain why NE lost on that day. And you can also explain why any team lost to another team in the preseason. There are always extenuating circumstances. But all I'm trying to say is that "it doesn't matter, it's the preseason" is not a valid criticism of the validity of a game.