Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

21 Nov 2005

MythBusters: Swing to the Right

How much is Shaun Alexander's success due to having Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson on the left side of the line? Doug Farrar of SEAHAWKS.NET went to check and discovered that in 2005, Alexander is actually running better to the right side. As I pointed out to him when he showed me this article, however, my belief that the left side of the Seattle line is hugely important makes some sense given that Seattle was better running left in both 2003 and 2004.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 21 Nov 2005

9 comments, Last at 21 Nov 2005, 3:44pm by Liam


by Matt (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 4:08am

WOW! What a great article! Kudos to Mr. Farrar for an outstanding job. Hes almost as good as that Harper guy i read every week...
Good for you Doug, you do a hell of a job bro!

by Meat Lockyard (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 6:28am

“JimBob Bocephus over at FootballMoron.com�

This is a made-up thing, and a joke, right? I was excited to check that guy out, for a minute there!

by Rob (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 10:47am

Sporting News ran an article this week that although it seems he runs better to the right, he runs better when the play is "designed" to run right, and often he'll cut back to the left, making that statistic misleading. It means the left side is even more important due to their ability to sustain blocks long enough for cutbacks to work, according to The Sporting News.

I don't know whether the above system took cutbacks into account or not, just reporting the other side of the argument.

by Justus (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 12:08pm

He looks at info from Stats, Inc. but then breaks down every play from the 'Hawks last game to see "what is really going on". There are a lot of reasons Alexander could run better to the right. Maybe they're running lots of counters and traps, pulling guards and tackles on every play? Maybe all of the blitzes are coming from the right because that's where opponents think protection is the weakest?

Based on that one game, at least, it sounds like a lot of Alexander's success is due to a good line. Even the right side of the line didn't look like it was making very many mistakes; there were a couple of plays where Alexander cut to the right side because the blocking was better over there.

From glancing through that breakdown of plays I didn't notice any plays that started to the right but then cut back to the left, but I might have missed some and it is possible the game against STL was an anomaly when it came to playcalling.

Hopefully FO's playcharting will help clarify this eventually :)

by dfarrar777 (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 12:36pm

Thanks for the link and the dialogue.

My intent was not to minimize Jones and Hutchinson in any way - I think that Hutch is a potential Hall-of-Famer down the road, and it could be argued that Jones has played his position over the last five seasons as well as any player has played their position in NFL history.

My intent was to stick a pin through two theories - one that the left side was the predominant factor this year. Not to "bust Aaron's chops" in any way - but simply to address a concept I've heard pretty frequently of late.

The second issue I wanted to take on was the opinion of some that without this line, Shaun Alexander would be mediocre at best. As I said in the article, I see Shaun as I used to see Terrell Davis - it's the line to a point, but one can't ignore the amount of production above and beyond the average that you get with a back of Shaun's talents. That was validated, in my mind, after charting the running plays in the Rams game.

Re: #3, I didn't observe a great many plays designed to go right where Shaun would then head left due to protection issues, but I was also surprised at how many four-man fronts St. Louis went with. Seemingly, Shaun had enough time to get to the line without reversing his field...except for one instance in which Pisa Tinoisamoa came through on a delayed blitz in the 3rd quarter and blew up the play before Shaun had a chance to turn. I believe there were two instances in which he started left and turned right due to breakdowns.

As to whether this game was an anamoly in any regard, that's absolutely a point worth debating - and I'll be charting some more Alexander performances through the season to see what the common denominators may be.

Again, I greatly appriate any and all feedback - this is the first time I've worked with this format and I'm eager to work out any inevitable bugs.


by andrew (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 12:59pm

Could it be that his past success on the left side causes defenses to overcompensate run coverage to that side, thus opening the right side?

by andrew (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 1:00pm

Never mind I see the article addresses such things as well, should read the whole thing before posting.

by Dman (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 3:10pm

I think a fairly obvious point that so far everyone seems to have missed is how many runs are to the left versus the right. Since there are so many more plays going left I would imagine the defense would be able to key in on this and defend them better. Thus the few runs that are to the right are more effective because the coverage is weaker there.

by Liam (not verified) :: Mon, 11/21/2005 - 3:44pm

There are a coulpe of reasons that spring to mind when trying to explain this anomaly (assuming that the left side is in fact better).

The first may be covered in Doug's breakdown. Apologies if it is, I haven't had time to read it all:

- Opponents stack players to the weak side. After watching the way Walter Jones bullied Patrick Kerney I wouldn't be surprised if coaches put a little extra help out there.

The other point is something that I've been looking at (subjectively, not statistically) for a few weeks now, and have been reminded about it this week by the Bengals failed 4th down attempt against the Colts:

- Toss plays just don't work all that well (and Seattle seem to use them to the left a lot of the time).

I was going to raise the question/point with Aaron to see if it could be answered in the mailbag, but I thought I'd mention it here too.

Toss plays strike me as a high-risk-high-reward type of play. It seems like a lot of toss plays get stopped way short of a success, but when the blockers can all get out in front of their men you will often see a very large gain - like a screen pass on which the "receiver" gets the ball five yards behind the line of scrimmage.

I hope that this is something that game charting can shed some light on.

Witout getting off-topic too much, I think the play call on the Bengals 4-and-1 attempt (toss left) was terrible. Even if this wasn't the Bengals matching up against the Colts I would think it ill advised.

When you consider that the Colts defense is built around speed rather than power the play call seems even more curious.

I was going to suggest that the Bengals have a very good power running game too, but the FO stats don't seem to suggest that - they have a good success ranking (7th), but a below average power ranking (20th)