Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

28 Oct 2008

Any Given Sunday: Browns over Jaguars

by Ned Macey

In the linked article, I allude to the fact that Maurice Jones-Drew is having a better year than Fred Taylor. Both players struggled on Sunday, so the eight carries Taylor got were not the reason the Jaguars' lost. Still, the difference between two players running behind the same line is so stark that the Jaguars need to consider giving Jones-Drew 80 percent or more of the carries.

Here are their respective DVOAs in their three years in the league:

Year Jones-Drew Taylor
2006 22.0% 11.1%
2007 2.1% 11.1%
2008 7.3% -26.2%

Given Taylor's age, it is fair to ask if this is the end for a player who has been a very good back for a number of years. In addition to the above numbers, Jones-Drew (and Greg Jones) have been very successful catching the ball, while Taylor has struggled. The Jaguars no longer have the margin of error to wait and see if Taylor can turn it on as the season progresses. Jones-Drew needs to be the primary back, not part of a roughly equal time share.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 28 Oct 2008

19 comments, Last at 01 Nov 2008, 6:55pm by Bowl Game Anomaly


by Chuck (not verified) :: Tue, 10/28/2008 - 7:02pm

Read your article on ESPN on this game. WOW! The 2-5 Browns have dug to big a hole, the 3-4 are still in it! WOW! Good luck on your next job!

by compucrazy :: Tue, 10/28/2008 - 8:13pm

What's wrong with that statement? As it stands in the NFL the difference between 3-4 and 2-5 is huge! for the Browns to realistically make the playoffs they can only lose two more games out of 11, and as constructed that will never happen.

As for the Jaguars, well they have a solid QB and a good team that has suffered a few tough losses (other than the Browns, every team they have lost to has five wins or more) and in what appears to be a weak year, they could get in with 9-7. Not saying they will get in, or that they have a good chance at all. I'm just saying the odds of the Jaguars making the playoffs would have to be far higher than the Browns chances.

by Anon. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/28/2008 - 8:27pm

The main problem is that the Browns are actually 3-4. Of course, that negates the entire article. Ned should be fired. He probably didn't watch the game. He clearly hates the Browns. A person has no worth as a football writer, nay, as a human being, if they make any factual error, ESPECIALLY in circumstances where that factual error has a minimal impact on their overall point. I have an AOL account. I am an ESPN commenter.

by Anon. (not verified) :: Tue, 10/28/2008 - 8:28pm

The main problem is that the Browns are actually 3-4. Of course, that negates the entire article. Ned should be fired. He probably didn't watch the game. He clearly hates the Browns. A person has no worth as a football writer, nay, as a human being, if they make any factual error, ESPECIALLY in circumstances where that factual error has a minimal impact on their overall point. I have an AOL account. I am an ESPN commenter.

by The Ninjalectual :: Tue, 10/28/2008 - 8:34pm

Also, 2-5 roughly equals 5-11. 3-4 roughly equals 7-9. That's the difference between being in the playoff picture until week 13 and selecting at pick number 4 in the draft.

Chris Horton for defensive rookie of the year.

by KyleW :: Tue, 10/28/2008 - 8:25pm

Why isn't this weeks AGS looking at STL vs . . . . .

Oh, I see.

by BeGiants (not verified) :: Tue, 10/28/2008 - 11:03pm

The Browns did a great job shutting down Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew as both runners had a long rush of only five yards. Despite the unproductive game, the good thing is that Taylor appears to be fine from the concussion he suffered in Week 6 at Denver. BTW, saw some cool widgets at statbeast.com. Take a look.

by td (not verified) :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 1:08am

It's premature to say that Taylor's struggles indicate that he's washed up. While they should look at finding his eventual replacement, the primary problem for the Jags is that they lost their two starting gaurds in the first game of the season. The offensive line went from being one of the team's biggest strengths to being a weakness. Also, Sunday Shaun Rogers was putting his effort into it. Cleveland is a different team when Rogers is going all-out, just ask the Giants. It was a disappointing loss for the Jaguars. One of the struggling contenders in the AFC figures to turn it around, and with this game followed by the Bengals and Lions, the Jags looked well set-up to be that team. Now it's still wide open.

by theosu (not verified) :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 5:58am

The Browns at 3-4 are at an interesting crossroads. Their schedule is absolutely brutal this season - according to DVOA it's been the fourth toughest thus far and is the fourth toughest going in. However, the next 3 games are all very much winnable (home to Baltimore, home to Denver on Thursday night, Monday nighter in Buffalo). If somehow this team manages to win all 3 of those, a 6-4 Browns team looks mighty interesting, especially considering some of the struggles seen by playoff favorites in the AFC.

The Browns are likely to need all the cushion they can get by the end of November, though, as the last five games go IND, @TEN, @PHI, CIN, @PIT. One of those things is not like the other.

by ryanosu (not verified) :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 11:32am

C'mon Ned... Getting the browns record wrong in the concluding paragraph pretty much negates your entire article.

With your skills at uncovering facts, perhaps you are more suited in for a life in the politcal arena?

by mawbrew :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 12:01pm

If the main point of the article is the headline ('Browns win an aberration'), then I think you can argue that the mistake regarding their record has more than a minimal impact.

As badly as they have played this year, they have won three of their last four (the loss being the very winnable game at Washington). They played very solid defense in this game and were it not for Garrard's terrific scrambles the game would not have been so close.

The curious thing is that the Browns offensive performance in this game (the focus of most of the article) wasn’t really an aberration. That’s how they’ve played all year, and that point total doesn’t seem unrealistic going forward.

The run defense (not mentioned until very late in the article) may have been an aberration due to Jacksonville’s injuries. Of course, two of Cleveland’s top two DLmen are injured and didn’t play either.

by hans (not verified) :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 1:42pm

I have to say this is just not a very good article in regards to the assessment of the Browns. He's spot on about the Jags under use of MJD, but not even getting the team's record right and using that as support for the concluding paragraph and the article in general pretty much invalidates everything. The sooner they correct the article the better, its already drawing pretty bad attention over at ESPN (which yeah no big surprise, but still it looks bad). In fact it really should just be pulled down and scrubbed or re-written.

by Wait, what? (not verified) :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 4:48pm

Some people are really overreacting here. A writer draws some erroneous conclusions based in part on a factual error (the Browns' record) and the entire article is therefore shit? Stop being ridiculous. (Yes, I realize some commenters were being sarcastic.) The bulk of the article is objective, and the part of it that is subjective doesn't make the objective part false. (This raises the question of what kind of QA ESPN does, though. I imagine they don't publish things from contributors without reading them, but perhaps that isn't the case?)

Ned's points, as I see them:

-Cleveland's passing offense is not performing as well as it did last year.
-Jacksonville's pass defense is not particularly good this year.
-The Jags had difficulty running against the Browns, which is more likely due to their O-line woes than to the Browns' run defense.
-Neither team looks likely to make a significant playoff run.

(I believe that the headline means "Browns' offensive play is an aberration compared to their play the rest of the year," rather than "Browns' winning a game is an aberration," but I may be reading too much into it.)

Now, I didn't see this game, and I've only seen the Browns once this season and the Jags not at all. So I'm not going to argue for or against these points; they seem reasonable to me, based on DVOA data and other analysis I've seen. They sure as fuck aren't negated by the fact that Ned wrote off the Browns' playoff chances in a sentence which also had their record wrong. They may be incorrect, but the Browns being 3-4 doesn't make it so.

That said, I think Ned's analysis of problems with the Browns' passing game is not as thorough as it could have been. There was a piece here recently discussing the seriousness of the drops issue with them this year, as well as the effects of the loss of Jurevicius; this article also mentioned that Anderson is actually more accurate than previously, when drops are discounted.

tl;dr- one specific factual error does not demand that an entire article be rewritten, unless the entire article is based on that error. This one isn't. If you disagree with something, citing counterpoints is more conducive to the discussion than jumping on a single sentence and then making ad hominem attacks.

by hans (not verified) :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 7:01pm

The problem is that the cherry picking a few points about the Browns like the pass catching drops and Anderson's poor play (even though as you mention this was somewhat refuted in a recent article you cite) while ignoring missing player personel (two D-lineman out with injury, and Kellen Winslow's suspension), road game, and the at least theory that DVOA underates big play offenses really adds up to shoddy assement.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 8:41pm

I don't see how missing D-linemen hurts the Browns' passing game. Yes, Winslow's absence is significant, so that's something, but how much better have the Browns' played when he has been active? Also, I have never heard a really thorough convincing argument than DVOA underrates big play offenses. It is my impression that generally, big play offenses are either consistent, in which case they rate well in DVOA, or inconsistent, in which case they cannot be counted upon to put up points in every game (and therefore shouldn't be ranked high regardless of the system used).

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by hans (not verified) :: Wed, 10/29/2008 - 11:56pm

First off. Lets look at the title. "Browns' win over the Jags an aberration". An aberration implies that what was presented was in fact false or a change from the usual in the greater sense. The Browns certainly did win the game and claiming to know what the "usual" expected performance from the Browns is a little spurious considering they own one of the higher variances in DVOA performances in the league (23.6%, 24th in the league). So already we have some concern for the validity of the author's hypothesis.

The D-line is relevant because of this comment from his article, "Unfortunately, while the Browns have Rogers, they do not have more than one of him. Sunday's game was an aberration; previously, Cleveland ranked as the worst defense in the league on defending runs up the middle." How much of the previous performances were impacted by missing two starting D-lineman (in a 3-4 defense no less)? And once again, how much can be drawn from a team that has performed with so much variance within a small sample size of 6 games (not including the aberration game of course).

Third, simply stating a question "Yes Winslow's absence is significant, so that's something, but how much better have the Browns' played when he has been active?", not answering it, and then going on to imply that the answer is not that much, is an empty retort. The logical conclusion is that a team's offense will not perform as well without its best player's available to play. How well has Dallas played without Romo? how well does Philly play without Westbrook? The better the player over the replacement player the larger the impact on the offense. Also, Aaron Schatz himself had raised the issue within the past year (regarding potentially underrating big play offenses) and accepting that the DVOA system is an imperfect one, continually improving, we have to accept the possibility that there is an underrating going on when in fact it tends to do just that (at least until we filter out the "noise").

The problem with your point about consistency is the question of what sample size is being analyzed? If the Browns have a inconsistent offense on a play-by-play basis, then you are correct that they cannot be counted upon to put up points in every game, but if looked at across a full season, there is so much variance there that you'll get games where they blow out opponents and others where they fail to score in double digits, it then comes down to is it better to score 17 points every game of the year, or to have an equal number of games where you score 24 pts and score 10pts in the others.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 10/30/2008 - 12:47pm

is it better to score 17 points every game of the year, or to have an equal number of games where you score 24 pts and score 10pts in the others.

I'd say it depends on your defense. If your defense is good enough that you can hold most opponents to less than 17 points, I'd rather have the 17 points. If your defense is poor, I'd rather have the high variance. But in the latter case, you're still going to lose half your games and miss the playoffs. (In the former case, you'd be terrible with a poor defense but have a real chance of making the playoffs with a good defense.) So yes the high variance is possibly helpful to the Browns in letting them win more games than they would with a consistently ordinary offense, but probably not enough to actually break .500 and contend.

More broadly on the topic of variance, I think the general consensus is that high variance is good for bad teams (because they have the potential for upsets) but bad for contending teams (because they will lose games they should win).

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")

by hans (not verified) :: Thu, 10/30/2008 - 6:38pm

You are right about variance's impact on good vs. bad teams, and Cleveland on the whole has performed in the bottom half of the league, but the sample size of games is too small when the variance is this high to predict with much confidence how good a team is. The point being made by the author is that he is confident that the Browns are bad enough team that they shouldn't have beat the Jags. Well how confident can you be when a team's past performance (the basis of determining how well a team actually is) has been so varied?. I'm calling shenanigens on the guy because of this.

(insert supertroopers joke).

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Sat, 11/01/2008 - 6:55pm

The author didn't say "the Browns shouldn't have beaten the Jags." He said the Browns' win over the Jags does not indicate that they have turned the corner as a team or that they are now a contender. It's not about the past, it's about the future.

(Formerly "The McNabb Bowl Game Anomaly")