Evaluating Goal-to-Go Strategy with Expected Points
Guest column by Spencer Harrison, Sports Info Solutions
Those coaches who are really good at knowing what to call in a given situation contend for Super Bowl titles (so long as they have the talent that can execute their wishes). Those who aren't good in that area may frequently be riding the coaching carousel. With that in mind, it is possible to ascertain what the most successful play calls for a given situation are using Expected Points Added (EPA) as the tool for evaluation.
As an example, here are looks at the most effective routes and run schemes in goal-to-go situations.
How often have you seen a quarterback throwing a fade into the end zone with his team close to the goal line, sailing the ball over or off the receiver's outstretched arms as he jumps to try to make the play?
Dating to 2016, the fade (combining both traditional and back-shoulder varieties) is the second-most-targeted route type in goal-to-go situations. However, EPA suggests that this is one of the most inefficient throws a quarterback can make in these situations.
Over the past three seasons, there have been 14 route types (as classified by Sports Info Solutions Video Scouts) to garner at least 50 targets in goal-to-go situations. Of those route types, six average a positive EPA per target. The routes that do well tend to be shorter and more lateral with higher completion percentages. Drags work best in this situation, followed by throws into the flat.
|Goal-To-Go Target Types, 2016-2018|
|Best Performing Target Types||Worst Performing Target Types|
Curl, corner, whip, seam, and fade routes all result in a negative EPA per target, with fades typically costing a team the most. Fade routes in goal-to-go situations are completed just 29 percent of the time, so they very frequently result in a loss of down or worse.
SIS's Total Points model, which takes granular charting data and determines how much each player on the field contributed to the play, can also be applied and analyzed across these situations to show who the best and worst performers are.
For example, the most effective goal-to-go quarterbacks in Total Points on pass attempts (including sacks) in 2018 were Patrick Mahomes (11) and Drew Brees (10). That's expected, but the least effective ones may surprise -- Mitchell Trubisky (-14 Total Points), Tom Brady (-12), and Deshaun Watson (-12).
There is a similar disconnect in goal-to-go situations between the most frequently used run schemes and the highest average EPA run schemes.
Among schemes with at least 30 plays, inside and outside zone runs have been called most frequently since 2016, with inside zone runs accounting for more than 40 percent of all runs in goal-to-go situations.
The most successful runs tend to be those by quarterbacks, including scrambles, though those plays (which aren't called by an offensive coordinator) put the most important player on the field at greater risk. As a result, those plays have been removed from the table below.
When the ball is put into the running back's hands, the most effective run schemes in goal-to-go situations tend to involve pulls, with power, trap, pitch, and sweep all performing well.
|Goal-To-Go Rush Types, 2016-2018|
|Best Performing Rush Types||Worst Performing Rush Types|
|Zone Read Handoff||98||0.08||47%||Counter||56||-0.06||41%|
One fear with pull scheme runs might be the possibility of a defender shooting the gap and blowing up the play for a loss. However, the rate at which those runs cost a team at least one expected point is in line with most other runs, while outside runs like stretch and lead plays tend to get blown up slightly more frequently than others.
Inside zone is essentially neutral from an EPA perspective, but actually produces a positive outcome more often than some of the schemes that fall above it in average EPA per play.
Our next article on the subject will look at another situational strategy -- what works and doesn't work on third-and-long.
Sports Info Solutions, based just outside Allentown, Pennsylvania, sells football analytics to teams and media. Sign up for a free week-long trial of their NFL or College Football data hub today at www.SISDataHub.com.