Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

12 Oct 2007

ESPN: Vick's Departure Leaves Cutback Lanes Clogged

Hey, remember when I said that FO material was going to start appearing on one more website this year? Here you go, the first article in our new relationship with ESPN.com. Eventually this should be two articles per week, one general and one focusing on Monday Night Football. Yes, this means I am writing for FOX, AOL, and ESPN simultaneously. Crazy, huh?

FO readers should know this is a quick-and-dirty, imperfect study. Pointing out that it is quick, dirty, and imperfect is probably not necessary. Yes, I know nobody considered Shaun King a "running" quarterback, but he had a lot of rushing yardage, like Cade McNown. For those curious, here are the 16 teams referenced in the piece:

PIT 83-84 - C.Stoudt to USFL, RB drop .10 yd/car
TB 86-87* S.Young traded, RB drop .28 yd/car
DAL 88-89 S.Pelleur replaced, RB drop .57 yd/car
ARI 90-91 T.Rosenbach injured, RB drop .70 yd/car
DET 90-91 R.Peete injured, RB drop .65 yd/car
PHI 90-91 R.Cunningham injured, RB drop .70 yd/car
PHI 92-93 R.Cunningham injured, RB drop .48 yd/car
CIN 99-2000 J.Blake not re-signed, RB drop .22 yd/car
CHI 00-01 C.McNown traded, RB ADD .25 yd/car
TB 00-01 S.King replaced, RB drop .73 yd/car
PIT 01-02 K.Stewart replaced, RB drop .73 yd/car
ATL 02-03 M.Vick injured, RB ADD .57 yd/car
SF 02-03 J.Garcia not re-signed, RB drop 1.06 yd/car
CHI 03-04 K.Stewart replaced (in mid-03), RB drop .27 yd/car
MIN 04-05 D.Culpepper injured, RB drop .97 yd/car
ATL 06-07 M.Vick suspended, RB drop .73 yd/car
* (Only counting non-strike games in 1987.)

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 12 Oct 2007

36 comments, Last at 15 Oct 2007, 8:47pm by Vince Verhei


by SideshowTootie (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 7:23pm

Congrats on the gig

by John Morgan (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 7:33pm

I'm glad to see FO blowing up, you guys deserve it. I owe a huge debt of gratitude not only to your insightful analysis and groundbreaking research, but your exemplar of how to take esoteric concepts and turn them into something meaningful and entertaining to the average fan.

by Len\\\'s Grandfather (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 7:48pm

There's no question in my mind that Vick's absence has contributed to the decline of the Falcons' running game, but I think the bigger culprit is the complete ineffectiveness of Dunn, who should be busy preparing to have a fork stuck in him. Norwood is averaging almost a full yard per carry more, with 3.9 DPAR and 11.2% DVOA, compared to -0.4 DPAR and -13.7% DVOA for Done (oops, I meant Dunn).

by Gerry (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 7:50pm

Holy crap! An article that mentions the Giants without cutting on them!

I kid, because I love. I love me some Football Prospectus and the weekly FO content.

I hope you don't ever run out of ideas, Aaron. Good stuff here.

by Matt (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 7:56pm

Aaron - Cliff Stoudt a running QB? As in running for his life? I was just a lad of 11 in 1983, so I guess I've forgotten. I'll have to go read the article.

4 - I said "I kid because I love" in another thread here earlier today. What are the odds?

(Wait -- I guess the odds are pretty good if you saw my comment and just decided to "borrow" the phrase. (Just joking, of course. I kid because I . . . well, never mind.))

by Gerry (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 7:57pm

Thinking about the ramifications of this, wouldn't it then follow that running quarterbacks are undervalues in DPAR?

Let's say a team has a running QB whose DPAR is whatever. That QB leaves and is replaced by... a replacement level QB. The team should lose that amount of points (assuming a perfectly average opponent). This suggests they would lose more than that if the replacement QB is not also a running QB.


by Richie (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 8:01pm

Why the heck does Dunn have twice as many carries as Norwood? 4.2 ypc gets him only 7 carries per game?

by billsfan (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 8:02pm

Doesn't this make you "Football Insiders" now?

by Xian (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 8:31pm

#8, Not until they have every single over-hyped player on speed dial, like PK.

Also, congrats on more exposure, FO!

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 9:29pm

I wonder what the Dallas rushing stats last year would look at if you compare when they had Bledsoe under Center and when they switched to Romo.

by B (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 9:33pm

6: I'd say that's accurate, but you also need to factor in that running QBs get injured at a higher rate.

by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 10:12pm

The fact that the RBs gain ypc when the running QB returns is pretty strong evidence in favor, but one thing is that you'd really need to show that every team doesn't lose YPC for the RB when their quarterback gets replaced, regardless of whether or not the QB is a running QB or not.

I'd imagine that at least to some degree that might be true - the incoming QB rarely comes out on fire.

The drop for running QBs is likely larger, but it'd be nice to know what happens in the general case when a QB is replaced.

by Dennis (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 11:18pm

I agree with Pat - we need to see what the control group looks like as well to see if the effect is because of losing running QBs in particular or any QB in general.

And congrats on the new gig.

by Penrose 10,000 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 11:52pm

Along with the novel statistics, Aaron and the other writers here also consistently provide good writing. How many other sports news authors actually develop arguments and then support them with evidence? How many have an articulate sense of humor?

And speaking of evidence, it's too bad you couldn't post that list from above on ESPN anywhere. The article didn't completely sell me on the concept, but reading the data for myself was a lot more convincing.

by Penrose 10,000 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/12/2007 - 11:54pm

Good point, Pat. Is that the sort of thing we could look up on our own in the premium DVOA database?

by MC2 (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 4:37am

#12: I would imagine your hypothesis would be correct. After all, whenever a team is starting a new QB, you almost always see their opponents put an extra man in the box, to force the new guy to prove that he can beat them through the air.

Incidentally, I think this phenomenon, along with the lack of film available for scouting purposes, is one reason why backup QBs often tend to do well their first couple of starts, before "coming back to earth", once the league figures out how to defend them and makes the appropriate adjustments.

by Drew R (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 6:27am

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by Stuart (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 7:33am

It was off-putting to see actual, data-driven analysis on ESPN. Where's the hyperbolic, cliche-ridden drivel I'm used to. Not a bad quick and dirty study...you should expand on it for PFP 08.

by Sebastian the Ibis (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 1:42pm

Now that everyone is coming to realize that you guys are the best source of intelligent football writing.

Can I buy a stake in FO before the Google takeover?

by Kalyan (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 1:47pm

sorry for being a little harsh ... but did you realize that there was not a single comment on ESPN on this article while all other article like that of Chadia, Clayton draw huge responses.

That makes me believe that the drudgery of the mainstream media is not the fault of the media houses alone and the fans (for not being able to recognize and appreciate good content) should take some heat as well

by TomC (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 1:59pm

I would like to be the first to point out that this is a quick-and-dirty, imperfect study.

by ElwayFan (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 2:02pm

I can understand the premise, and I'm sure there is some truth to it. But I really don't know if I agree with this article. Don't you think that Atlanta's changes in their offensive blocking scheme are a bigger reason for the struggles of the Running Backs? Zone blocking has always been heavily cut-back oriented. It's more likely that those lanes are no longer open because the Atlanta lineman are trying to execute a traditional power blocking scheme which isn't what has made them a productive running team year after year.

Incidentally, it should also be no surprise that the individual Running Back's numbers drop so much. Remember how Denver replaces their backs every year with unkown ones and seemingly has the same production, while the previous backs often dissapear into obscurity? It is similar with Atlanta too I would think. Most people thought Warrick Dunn's career was over years ago, but zone blocking teams require different things from their running, and Dunn excelled in that scheme. I think here, other factors might be ignored. A lot of team's production on running can change rather dramatically when they change their scheme, and if you look at recent zone blocking teams you have abundant examples. Most likely that factor plays a bigger role.

by langsty (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 3:41pm

here's a secret, dogg; atlanta's run blocking was bad last year too. dunn isn't the same player he used to be but i can't count the number of times i've seen dude get pounded behind the line by DEFENSIVE LINEMEN. vick (and norwood to a degree) WAS the running game last year.

by Brian (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 6:39pm

Quick and dirty or not, Pat made a good point I'd like to second (or third I guess).

When a starting passer is hurt, it is very likely his offense will tilt its balance towards running rather than passing. Opposing defenses are as aware of this as anyone, and would alter their balance to towards stopping the run.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 7:28pm

To play devil's advocate, what happens to the NE or Indy running YPC when Brady or Manning are out? (and I don't mean mop-up duty)

I would guess that if either were to be sidelined by some unforseen indictment for six weeks, that over that time, the rushing YPC would plummet. (That's how valuable they are, especially PM, to the running game. A good audible gets the RB his first yard beyond the LOS because the D is in the wrong set.)

So who is more valuable to the running game, a QB with global command of the O and audibles, or a running QB?

I'll take the former for $1,000, Alex.

by MRH (not verified) :: Sat, 10/13/2007 - 10:45pm

Good starting point for an in-depth study that includes running back aging and coaching changes as well as changing from running rb to non-running rb. And one other fact: for 11 out of 16 of those teams, their pass ypa dropped in the second year, anverage of 0.49 ypa.

It might be that in general, the quarterbacking as a whole was worse, both in its passing and running components, and that affected the run game as well.

I think you mean SF 03-04 above. And my ypa for TB 86-87 includes the stike games - TB's ypa change was one of the increases though, snd very small 0.23. Source: pfr

by Josh (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2007 - 1:05am

the site you're writing for has a pro-world domination bias.

by airtommy (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2007 - 2:06am

To add to ElwayFan's point, the Falcons didn't just change from zone blocking to man blocking. They also changed from Alex Gibbs' unorthodox and controversial cut-blocking technique to a standard technique. Nevertheless, it's an interesting statistical analysis, and I believe it has validity.

On the flipside, notice how the Falcons receivers are suddenly catching the football now that they have a quarterback who possesses accuracy and timing? The football is delivered when and where it should be, putting the receivers in a better rhythm.

by Bobman (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2007 - 2:20am

#27 I picked that up also. It is SOOOO darn unfair! I plan to boycott or move to another world.

by mmm... sacrilicious (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2007 - 12:49pm

#28: Roddy White has to be thanking the Virginia cops right now. Who would have thought that Joey Jo-Jo could represent a dramatic upgrade at QB? Maybe he knew what he was doing when he signed in the ATL.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2007 - 2:09pm

So is this relationship the reason for the theft of "Confessions of a Football Junkie" by ESPN?

Good article, though.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2007 - 2:13pm

7: Probably the same reason that Chester Taylor got more carries than Mewelde Moore last season.

by ernie cohen (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2007 - 8:40pm

re: 5

Believe it or not, in 1983, Cliff Stoudt rushed for 479 yards (182 for the rest of his carreer). He was replaced by Mark Malone, who had similar career rushing statistics but rushed for only 42 yards in 1984. (Though Malone was a much better runner in principle, he suffered a knee injury early in his career and was never really a running threat again.)

by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Mon, 10/15/2007 - 2:08pm

I think the whole "changing to powerblocking when you have tiny little lineman who specialize in zone blocking" is having much more of an effect than the loss of Vick is.

The one thing the falcons did well was run block, and Petrino changed that.

I think thats a clear sign of a bad coach: Trying to force a scheme when you don't have the players for it.

by langsty (not verified) :: Mon, 10/15/2007 - 3:53pm

I actually agree with your broader point about Petrino trying to force a scheme with wildly unsuitable players - Weiner, Forney and McClure are all solid players within a certain scheme, but they're not drive-blocking maulers. But you aren't acknowledging the fact that the run blocking was bad LAST YEAR too, when it was still the zone blocking scheme. Trust me, it's Vick.

by Vincent Verhei :: Mon, 10/15/2007 - 8:47pm

"I think thats a clear sign of a bad coach: Trying to force a scheme when you don’t have the players for it."

I think you're thinking of the FORMER Atlanta coaching staff.