Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

01 Nov 2007

ESPN Numbers Crunching: Week 9

Here's more of the new ESPN column featuring FO tidbits for every game on the schedule. This week, find out two very strange things that Jacksonville and New Orleans have in common, experience the wonder of left end runs by (and against) the Redskins, and learn why the Game of the Century may end up a lot like last year's AFC Championship -- Pats early, Colts late.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 01 Nov 2007

23 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2007, 1:50pm by Catfish


by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 7:24pm

Are quarter-by-quarter splits predictive, or are they essentially random?

by Israel (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 7:24pm

Seems that the Chargers are disguised as Lions and the Vikings as Bears.

by register_allocation (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 7:29pm

Chargers @ Vikings write up has the wrong team pictures!

by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 7:55pm

I have to believe that the Patriots' second half defensive DVOA so far is pretty irrelevant. They've played about a quarter of serious second half football all season (against Dallas).

by gerry (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 8:21pm

#2 huh?

by NY expat (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 9:23pm

re: 5 -- apparently, the wrong team icons were used earlier, but it's been fixed -- probably an ESPN thing.

I appreciate the article, though I think that, if it's not too much trouble, it would be nice to explain some of the statements. For example, it's nice to know that the Steelers are great on 2nd down, especially 2nd and long, but why is that so? This is especially so since they're apparently weak on 3rd and long. Are they particularly good against certain types of plays or in certain defensive alignments or against certain offensive alignments? I could imagine maybe screens being run more on 2nd and long and 4 receiver sets on 3rd and long, so good LB's and weak nickel and dime backs could explain it, but I'm just guessing.
In the big picture, I imagine that with all this (well-deserved) exposure, you want to convince readers of ESPN, FoxSports, AOL, etc. that you guys know your stuff, so they should come check out the site. Pointing out key players (other than the stars), advantageous matchups, etc. all help demonstrate that. If you only mention DVOA, ALY and company, it's easier for people who haven't heard of you before to dismiss the analysis. Of course, it takes time to dig into all the whys of the numbers, and I've enjoyed the digging that is done. It's just a suggestion.

by db (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 9:51pm

1 - Without context, quarterly stats are meaningless. The Pats, just as an example, have pulled Brady in the 4th and played second and third team players at other positions with regularity late in games. That effects the stats for both offense and defence.

by Spoilt Victorian Child (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2007 - 10:22pm

The first week in which the Eagles haven't been favored.

What a depressing season.

by thedmg (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 2:41am

For clarification, Von Hutchins is no longer a corner, he was converted to free safety this year for the Texans. So, he doesn't lead all CBs in run tackles. Of course, the fact that he is a former CB and not really the greatest run defender, combined with being a free safety makes the 10.7 yards down field figure make at least a little more sense.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 8:53am

Re 7:
Except that DVOA adjusts for situation. Even though the Pats are pulling players they're performing worse than other teams that have those giant leads and also presumably pull their players.

by vanya (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 11:24am

they’re performing worse than other teams that have those giant leads and also presumably pull their players

Oh, so they're not running up the score then.

by Thinker (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 11:27am


Accuscore favors the Patriots QB and the Colts WRs. I would have expected a toggle on both of those.

So the Patriots are statistically much stronger earlier on both offense and defense. Are they really good enough to "pile on" while gearing down, or are they punching themselves out and then holding on? I am begging: PLEASE refrain from long discourse (or diatribes) on the attitudes or morals associated with this question, the team/coach/players, or others' responses. I am just wondering if there is any way to objectivelly tell the difference.

Enjoy the big game. I'm predicting that the winner will lose the rematch in the playoffs to the eventual SB champ. I'm guessing the Colts outright this weekend, but it is a pick-em even though the score may well be lopsided, say 10-17 points.

by White Rose Duelist (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 1:07pm


Not here too, please.

by Starshatterer (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 1:59pm

Re: (#7, #10, #11 )--

I don't know if that's the case. IIRC, the "garbage time" adjustment comes fairly late in the fourth.

I suspect that a great deal of the Patriots' second-half defensive falloff comes from swiching to a prevent (as they did against Miami, in particular), rather than substitutions. DVOA likes long drives with lots of successful plays (and therefore dislikes a defense which gives them up), and the prevent is all about trading space for time.

by nat (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 2:45pm

"Are they really good enough to “pile on� while gearing down, or are they punching themselves out and then holding on?"

Do you want to try to reask your question? Pile on, gear down, punch out, and hold on don't lend themselves to objective answers. It's not even clear to me what you mean to ask.

"Are they good enough to succeed while trying less, or are they trying less and still having success?"

You can't mean to ask that, but what do you mean?

by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 2:56pm

1 -

I would respond with:

Not necessarily predictive...but illustrative.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 3:00pm

Re: 6

Aaron could probably go into detail on every player on every team, but that'd kinda defeat the purpose of the column. It's supposed to be just quick little nuggets of information to keep your eye on during the games (at least that's how I take it).

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 4:50pm

"Except that DVOA adjusts for situation. Even though the Pats are pulling players they’re performing worse than other teams that have those giant leads and also presumably pull their players."

What other teams that have those giant leads? They're being compared against teams with large leads. That doesn't mean those comparisons are valid. Until FO tells us where the cutoffs are for each bucket (and they wont), its very likely that the patriots with a 35 point lead and 25 minutes left are being compared to teams with 14 point leads and 25 minutes left, when the situations aren't really analagous.

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 6:02pm

Its interesting that you have the colts recievers ranked higher than the Pats.

The patriots have WR's ranked #1, #12, #17 (DPAR)

Indy has WR ranked
#10, #14, (way down)

Or, DVOA wise
Moss: 56.2
Stallworth: 44.6
Welker: 13.0

Wayne: 22.5
Clark: 25.4
Harrison: 9.3

by Thinker (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 6:32pm


Nat, I was trying to be very careful not to stir up the bees in the finger pointing crap. I will risk more definitive language, but if it blows up in our faces you get to share half the blame....

Maybe it will be safer if we come at it from the other direction: Statistically, the NE offense and defense has been less dominant later in games (DVOA, points, YPC, sacks, Passing % against, etc). Were Buffalo, Dallas, Miami, etc. getting stronger as the game wore on, finding chinks in the NE defensive armor and slowing TB and company down? Were those teams getting back onto their feet albeit too little too late, or were the Patriots being deliberate?

Further, how might we tell the difference objectively?

by nat (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 11:32pm

OK. To put the question another way, is there a way to objectively distinguish an intentional drop in DVOA versus one that is imposed on a team by its opponent?

Can you use the actual success achieved? No. That would be to assume the thing you are trying to prove.

Can you use the play calling? Not really. Short of kneeldowns, no kind of play indicates "not trying" by itself. Otherwise pass-happy teams have run highly successful drives that consisted almost entirely of runs up the middle. Other teams use passing attacks for ball control, with no easy way to distinguish "intentionally advancing slowly" from "noone was open deep".

Could you use personnel? If a team puts in a very inexperienced tight end, with just 9 career receptions, what does that mean? (Answer - you'd better cover Mike Vrabel!) We all "know" that Matt Cassel's entry into the game means "garbage time", but that's not objective, and similar logic won't work for the Vikings (perhaps).

DVOA assumes your team's intentions are (1) keep the ball, (2) get a first down, (3) improve your field position, (4) score. But because it assumes so much, it is a poor instrument to measure what a team intends.

So, No, you cannot objectively determine that a team is not trying to play well.

by nat (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2007 - 11:55pm

But my own opinion is that three factors applied, especially in the Miani game.

(1) Miami did play better and the Patriots play worse in the second half. (i.e. unintentional change in DVOA)

(2) The Patriots did substitute in weaker players when they considered the game decided - and took them out when those players gave up points faster than expected.
(i.e. intentional change in DVOA)

(3) The Patriots put a high value on something that DVOA doesn't value at all: burning the clock. (i.e. other-intentional change in DVOA)

For one 10 minute stretch, the Patriots seemed thrilled with letting the Dolphins keep the ball, advance down the field, and score (although they did not actually score in this case), just so long as they took a long time to do it. It was clearly a choice of strategy, just as it was Miami's choice to accept what the defense gave.

That drive must have looked bad to DVOA. But it was not a case of Miami dominating, nor a case of New England playing bad football.

It was a weird test of wills. Miami was trying to force the Pats to a riskier defense, or at least a riskier offense. With a little help from Matt Cassel, they got their wish. Sadly for them, "risky" for the Patriots still led to a touchdown.

So: yes, the Patriots do have stretches where they do not play at their best. But, no, don't take their average second half DVOA drop at full value.

by Catfish (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2007 - 1:50pm

Re: 19

Are you referring to the rankings in the "intel report"? I don't think those are done by FO.