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Guest Post: Touchdown Pass Vultures

Adam Steele is back for another guest post. And, as always, we thank him for that. You can view all of Adam’s posts here.


 

During the 2014 season, Chase noted that the league-wide touchdown pass rate was the highest it had been since the NFL merger. The final few weeks of the season dragged down the average a little bit, but 2014 still checks in as the most touchdown pass friendly year in NFL history. In response, a few commenters cited the possibility that teams were tallying more TD passes by sacrificing TD runs, which is a logical conclusion considering the very low rate of rushing touchdowns in 2014 (teams averaged 0.74 per game, the lowest since 1999). Today, I’m going to look into this further and see if teams really are inflating their passing TD numbers at the expense of the run.

First, we have to establish a historical baseline, and I did this by looking at every NFL season since 1950.1 In that time frame, teams averaged 2.26 offensive touchdowns per game, with 1.35 of those coming via the pass and 0.91 via the run. Translated into a ratio, offensive touchdowns have historically been 59.6% passing and 40.4% rushing. That 59.6% is the key number here, as it will be the baseline ratio for expected passing touchdowns. Below is a chart containing relevant information for each year since 1950. The “PaTD %” column represents the percentage of offensive touchdowns in a given year that were scored via the pass, and the “Inflation” column compares that year’s passing TD ratio with the historical average of 59.6%.

YearPassTD/GRushTD/GOffTD/GPaTD %Inflation
20141.580.742.3268%14.1%
20131.570.82.3766.2%11.1%
19651.571.012.5760.9%2.2%
19631.540.972.5161.4%3%
19621.531.092.6258.5%-1.9%
19521.511.022.5359.7%0.2%
20121.480.782.2665.4%9.7%
20101.470.782.2565.3%9.6%
19581.471.222.6954.5%-8.5%
19541.471.062.5258.1%-2.5%
20111.460.782.2465.1%9.2%
19871.450.862.3162.9%5.5%
19611.451.052.558.2%-2.4%
19671.450.982.4259.7%0.1%
19691.440.882.3262.1%4.2%
20041.430.812.2463.8%7%
19641.420.992.4158.9%-1.2%
19601.421.032.4557.9%-2.9%
19501.411.332.7451.4%-13.7%
20071.410.752.1665.1%9.2%
19831.40.982.3758.9%-1.2%
19511.391.222.653.3%-10.5%
20091.390.842.2262.3%4.6%
19951.380.82.1863.3%6.2%
19841.370.922.2960%0.7%
19981.370.792.1663.5%6.5%
19681.370.92.2760.4%1.4%
19591.371.12.4755.3%-7.1%
20021.360.92.2560.1%0.9%
19801.350.962.3158.4%-1.9%
19991.340.732.0764.7%8.6%
19851.330.992.3257.4%-3.6%
19661.330.952.2958.3%-2.1%
19811.320.982.357.3%-3.9%
19531.311.172.4952.8%-11.4%
19861.310.92.259.4%-0.4%
19961.30.762.0663.2%6.1%
19941.30.762.0663.2%6%
19891.30.872.1760%0.7%
19971.290.82.0961.6%3.4%
19901.280.842.1360.4%1.4%
20011.280.742.0263.5%6.6%
20001.280.832.1160.6%1.7%
20031.280.832.1160.5%1.5%
19821.270.922.1958.1%-2.5%
20061.270.832.0960.4%1.4%
20081.260.932.1957.6%-3.4%
20051.260.842.159.9%0.5%
19551.251.152.452%-12.7%
19881.240.952.1956.7%-4.8%
19791.21.092.2952.5%-11.9%
19751.191.132.3251.2%-14.1%
19571.181.12.2851.7%-13.3%
19701.170.81.9859.3%-0.5%
19931.150.681.8363%5.7%
19921.150.741.960.8%2%
19911.140.81.9458.8%-1.3%
19561.131.242.3747.5%-20.3%
19721.1112.1152.6%-11.7%
19761.11.062.1651.1%-14.3%
19711.070.911.9853.9%-9.6%
19781.041.012.0650.8%-14.8%
19731.040.911.9553.4%-10.4%
19741.0312.0450.7%-14.8%
19770.990.91.8952.4%-12%

As you can see, 2014 really did feature highly inflated passing TD totals, with 68.0% of offensive touchdowns coming through the air. This trend began in 2010, stabilized for four years, then jumped again significantly last season. The most obvious explanation is that teams are now passing more in general, so it would follow that they would also pass more to score touchdowns. But that’s only part of the story, as the rate of passing touchdowns has far outstripped the rate of overall called passes.

The main culprit appears to be goal line play selection, which has heavily favored the pass in recent seasons. Interestingly, from 1997-2009, there was no trend whatsoever, with passing TD ratios jumping around randomly from season to season. From 1980-1994, passing TD ratios were slightly lower, yet still very random. Even during the dead ball era of the 1970s, when the rules made passing far more difficult than it is today, teams still scored more often with passes than they did with runs. In fact, the famous 1956 season was the only time in the last 65 years where teams scored more rushing touchdowns than passing touchdowns.

But here’s what fascinates me the most: Despite the huge increases in total yardage and passing efficiency in recent years, offensive touchdowns have increased very little. In 2014, teams scored only 0.06 more offensive touchdowns than the historical average. In fact, the top 15 seasons for offensive TD production all came before the merger! If the NFL had been playing a 16 game schedule in the ’50s and ’60s, TD pass totals would be very similar to what we see today, and rushing TD totals would be higher.

So how does all this affect touchdown records for various quarterbacks? Since the 16 game schedule began in 1978, there have been 51 teams who scored at least 50 offensive touchdowns in a given season. Of those 51 teams, 33 of them had passing TD ratios above the historical average of 59.6%. In this chart, I list the primary QB, although the numbers represent team totals. The “Adjusted Pass TD” column is calculated by multiplying offensive touchdowns by .596, calculating how many TD passes would have been thrown by sticking with the historical average ratio. The “Change” column represents the difference in adjusted TD passes compared to actual TD passes, basically measuring how many TD pass were vultured from the run game.

YearTeamQBPassTDRushTDOffTDPaTD%Adj PaTDChangeInflation
2013BroncosManning55167177%42-1330%
2007PatriotsBrady50176775%40-1025.2%
1984DolphinsMarino49186773%40-922.7%
2011PackersRodgers51126381%38-1335.8%
2000RamsWarner37266359%381-1.4%
2011SaintsBrees46166274%37-924.5%
2004ColtsManning51106184%36-1540.3%
199849ersYoung41196068%36-514.7%
199449ersYoung37236062%36-13.5%
1981ChargersFouts34266057%362-4.9%
2012PatriotsBrady34255958%351-3.3%
1983RedskinsTheismann29305949%356-17.5%
1998VikingsCunningham41175871%35-618.6%
1998BroncosElway32265855%353-7.4%
2004ChiefsGreen27315847%358-21.9%
2011PatriotsBrady39185768%34-514.8%
2001RamsWarner37205765%34-38.9%
1985ChargersFouts37205765%34-38.9%
2010PatriotsBrady37195666%33-410.9%
1980CowboysWhite30265654%333-10.1%
2006ChargersRivers24325643%339-28.1%
2003ChiefsGreen24325643%339-28.1%
1986DolphinsMarino4695584%33-1340.4%
1999RamsWarner42135576%33-928.1%
2014BroncosManning40155573%33-722%
1991BillsKelly39165571%33-619%
2009SaintsBrees34215562%33-13.7%
199349ersYoung29265553%334-11.5%
1988BengalsEsiason28275551%335-14.6%
2008SaintsBrees34205463%32-25.7%
2005SeahawksHasselbeck25295446%327-22.3%
2012SaintsBrees43105381%32-1136.2%
2014CowboysRomo37165370%32-517.2%
2009VikingsFavre34195364%32-27.7%
198449ersMontana32215360%3201.3%
2004ChargersBrees29245355%323-8.2%
2002ChiefsGreen27265351%325-14.5%
2014PackersRodgers38145273%31-722.6%
1983CowboysWhite31215260%3100%
2014ColtsLuck4295182%30-1238.2%
2013EaglesFoles32195163%30-25.3%
2007ColtsManning32195163%30-25.3%
1985BengalsEsiason31205161%30-12%
1991RedskinsRypien30215159%300-1.3%
199249ersYoung29225157%301-4.6%
2000RaidersGannon28235155%302-7.9%
2011LionsStafford4195082%30-1137.6%
2007CowboysRomo36145072%30-620.8%
2003PackersFavre32185064%30-27.4%
1985DolphinsMarino31195062%30-14%
2009PackersRodgers30205060%3000.7%

I have plenty of thoughts about this chart, but I’m more interested to see what the readers think. Does this analysis change your opinion of any of these great QB seasons?

  1. AFL numbers were not included. []
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Connecticut cornerback Byron Jones made history at the 2015 combine, with an unbelievable broad jump of 147 inches. And the video was every bit as impressive as it sounds. Keep in mind that no other player in combine history has ever even hit the 140 inch mark, giving Jones a full 8″ lead on every other broad jump ever recorded in Indianapolis.

On the other hand, Alvin “Bud” Dupree did something special, too. Remember, the Kentucky outside linebacker weighed in at 269 pounds, and he managed to jump 138 inches. In combine history, no other player over 260 pounds has jumped more than 129 inches; lower the weight to over 250 pounds, and the best mark after Dupree is 131 inches. So the Wildcats edge rusher was really in a class of his own, too.

There were 249 prospects in Indianapolis who performed in the broad jump. I performed a regression analysis using weight and height as my inputs, since both variables were highly significant in predicting the broad jump. Here is the best-fit formula: [click to continue…]

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The GOAT.

The GOAT.

On February 20th, Football Perspective hosted a “Wisdom of Crowds” election with respect to the question: Who is the Greatest Running Back of All Time?™ Well, Football Perspective guest commenter Adam Steele offered to count the ballots, and I’ll chime in with some commentary.

There were 41 ballots entered, with each person ranking his or her top 20 running backs. The scoring system was simple: 20 points for a 1st place vote, 19 for a 2nd place vote, and so on. As it turns out, the race for the top spot was heated, with three players running away from the pack.

This chart is sortable by total points, points per ballot (using 41 as the denominator), GOAT votes, top 5 votes, and top 10 votes. In the interest of statistical significance, a player needed to appear on at least five ballots in order to be ranked in the table below. [click to continue…]

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As a general rule, shorter and heavier guys tend to dominate the bench press. When I looked at this last year, the best-fit formula to predict the number of reps of 225 a prospect could achieve was:

Expected BP = 30.0 – 0.560 * Height + .1275 * Weight

What does that mean? All else being equal, if Prospect A is 7 inches shorter than Prospect B, we would expect Prospect B to produce about 4 more reps than Prospect A. And for every eight pounds of body weight a player has, we would expect one additional rep out of that prospect.

Which brings us to Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley. Standing 6’3 and “only” 246 pounds, Beasley doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a bench pressing machine. But in Indianapolis, he pumped out an incredible 35 reps, tied for the third most at the combine (no other player under 300 pounds had even 33 reps). Given his height and weight, the formula above would project Beasley for 19.4 reps, which means he exceeded expectations by a whopping 15.6 reps. No other player came close to exceeding expectations to such a significant degree.

The table below shows the results of all players who participated in the bench press at the combine.  All data comes courtesy of NFLSavant.com.

[click to continue…]

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One of the biggest headlines from the combine were the jumps from Byron Jones, a cornerback from Connecticut. Most impressive was his broad jump, which was not only 8 inches better than everyone else in Indianapolis, but also 8 inches better than anyone else in combine history. More on his broad jump in a future post, but Jones’ 44.5″ vertical too shabby, either: it was the best since 2009, when Ohio State and eventual Chiefs safety Donald Washington jumped 45 inches (a feat later matched by one other player at this year’s combine).

But Jones didn’t have the most impressive vertical at the combine, because at 199 pounds, there’s an expectation that he would do fairly well in that drill.  Given his weight, we would expect Jones to jump about 35.5 inches, based on the best-fit formula derived here, and defined below:

Expected VJ = 48.34 – 0.0646 * Weight

One way to think of that formula is that for every 15.5 pounds of player weight, the expectation on the vertical is one fewer inch.  So at 230 pounds, the expectation would be 33.5 inches.  Which brings us to Alvin “Bud” Dupree, whom we lauded yesterday for the top performance in the 40-yard dash.  At 269 pounds, he would be expected to jump roughly 31.0 inches.  Instead, the Kentucky edge rusher jumped a whopping 42.0 inches — or 11.0 inches over expectation — making it the best weight-adjusted performance of any player in Indianapolis.

Below are the results of the Vertical Jump for every player at the combine. All data comes courtesy of NFLSavant.com. [click to continue…]

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Bud Dupree Ran The Top Weight-Adjusted 40 At 2015 Combine

Last year, I looked at various data from the NFL combine and tried to put the results from some of the drills in perspective. Let’s do that again with the 40-yard dash, with data courtesy of courtesy of NFLSavant.com.

The best-fit formula to project a 40-yard dash time, given a prospect’s weight, is:

Expected 40 Time = 3.433 + 0.00554 * Weight

Alvin “Bud” Dupree, an outside linebacker from Kentucky, weighed in at 269 pounds at the combine, giving him an expected 40 time of 4.92. But in Indianapolis, he ran the dash in just 4.56 seconds, meaning he exceeded expectations by an incredible 0.36 seconds. That was the top time of 2015, and would have been the second best in 2014 behind only to Jadeveon Clowney.

The full results from the Combine this year, below: [click to continue…]

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Good at catching footballs, in the event his team throws one

Good at catching footballs, in the event his team throws one

The Houston Texans finished 31st in pass attempts in 2014, ahead of only the Seattle Seahawks. The Texans were not exactly the beneficiaries of stellar quarterback play, either: Ryan Fitzpatrick handled 64% of the team’s pass attempts, with Case Keenum, Ryan Mallett, and Tom Savage taking the rest.

As a result, the 1,210 yards DeAndre Hopkins gained in 2014 is a lot better than it sounds. Houston threw for just 3,460 yards last year (excluding sacks), which means Hopkins gained 35% of all Texans receiving yards. Antonio Brown led the NFL with 1,698 receiving yards, but even that was just 34% of all Steelers receiving yards.

The table below shows the top 53 leaders in percentage of team receiving yards: [click to continue…]

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Call For Guest Posts

There’s no more enjoyable community than the Football Perspective community. Football Perspective has always encouraged guest submissions, but it’s worthwhile reminding folks of that every now and again.

If you ever want to submit a guest post, all you need to do is write it and email it to me at chase[at]footballperspective[dotcom]. I don’t need a bio or an explanation for why you should be considered for a guest post: at Football Perspective, content trumps all.

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Forsett, praising his Excess Yards

Forsett, praising his Excess Yards

In the comments to the Greatest Running Back of All-Time Post — and reminder, entries are due by midnight Thursday — a debate broke out between sn0mm1s and Jay Beck, among others, about how to value running backs generally, and specifically, the value of long runs.

One idea I’ve had before is that the yards a player gains after picking up a first down are similar to the yards picked up by a returner. For example, when a punt returner gains 10 yards instead of 5, that’s obviously worth 5 additional yards of field position to his team. But it’s not as valuable as 5 yards on 3rd-and-5; the return yards were gained outside of the context of the down-and-distance/series-of-downs nature of the game.

Does this mean that all yards gained after a first down are exactly as valuable as return yards? I’ll leave up that to the reader to decide. But I do think one thing is noncontroversial: Lamar Miller ran for a 97-yard touchdown on 1st-and-10 against the Jets in week 17, the most valuable 10 yards during that run were the first ten. The last 87 yards were slightly less valuable (on a per-yard basis), or akin to the yards a player would gain on a return.

At this point, you might be thinking, “Who cares?” And that’s a very good question: after all, return yards are valuable. And the last 87 yards of Miller’s run were certainly more valuable to Miami than the first 10 yards, even if that may not be true on a per-yard basis.

But I thought it would be interesting to look at all running plays this season, and break them into two categories: yards that came after a first down had already been achieved, and all other rushing yards. So a 10-yard run on 3rd-and-5 has five yards in each bucket; if it was 3rd-and-1, 9 yards get assigned to the “excess yards” bucket, and 1 yard to the “going towards picking up a first down” bucket. [click to continue…]

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Quarterbacks and Passing Milestones

The first 3,000 yard passer came in 1960, when Johnny Unitas reached such feat in the NFL and Jack Kemp and Frank Tripucka did so in the AFL. Joe Namath became the first 4,000-yard passer seven years later, and Dan Marino in 1984 was the first to reach 5,000 yards.

The graph below shows the number of 3,000 yard passers in blue, 4,000-yard passers in red, and 5,000-yard passers in green in each season since 1960.  As you can see — and no doubt already knew — passing productivity is on the rise:

YardPassers [click to continue…]

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Was this the best quarterback of his era?

Was this the best quarterback of his era?

There are a lot of great things about Football Perspective, but my favorite is the caliber of the commenters. The Football Perspective community is a great one, and has been going back to its days at the Pro-Foootball-Reference blog. In the recent Greatest QB of All Time, Wisdom of Crowds post, long-time commenters Kibbles and Brad O. got into a fascinating discussion in the comments about Norm Van Brocklin and Otto Graham.

I’ve decided to reproduce, unedited, their words here. Why? Well, for starters, I found the debate fascinating, but you may not have seen the whole thing buried in the comments. The Van Brocklin/Graham question is a great one, and any historian will enjoy reading their thoughts. I also present their words in an aspirational sense: the Football Perspective commenters are great, but these are the type of respectful, meaningful, and thought-out words that I hope breaks out more often.

I kicked things off by expressing a bit of disappointment that Van Brocklin finished only 25th in the Wisdom of Crowds poll.  He had a star-studded career, is the only quarterback to lead two different NFL teams to a title, and had some outstanding efficiency seasons. [click to continue…]

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Since 1950, there have been only 24 seasons where a team’s rushing leader rushed for more yards than its passing leader gained through the air. The last team to accomplish this feat was the 2009 Titans, when Chris Johnson rushed for 2,006 yards. That year, the Titans split the duties at quarterback, with Vince Young throwing for 1,879 yards and Kerry Collins finishing with 1,225.

Can you guess which team had the largest differential?

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Trivia hint 3 Show


Click 'Show' for the Answer Show
[click to continue…]

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Greatest RB of All Time: Wisdom of Crowds Edition

Two weeks ago, Adam Steele administer a Wisdom of Crowds edition of the GQBOAT debate. Today, Adam has offered to run the same experiment but for running backs.  And we again thank him for that.



Who is the Greatest Running Back of All Time? In recent years, the practice of crowd sourcing has gained momentum in the analytics community, in some cases yielding more accurate results than mathematical models or expert opinions. For the initiated, here’s the gist: Every human being represents a data point of unique information, as all of us have a different array of knowledge and perspective about the world. Therefore, when you aggregate the observations of a group of people, they will collectively possess a greater and more diverse reservoir of knowledge than any single member of the group.

The readers of Football Perspective are an insightful bunch with areas of expertise spanning the entire football spectrum; we are the perfect group for crowd-sourcing these sorts of age-old football questions. And given how successful the last experiment was, there’s no reason not to look at other positions. If you’d like to participate in this experiment, there are just a few guidelines to follow:

1. Create a list of the top 20 running backs of all time, in order, using any criteria you believe to be important. I encourage readers to be bold in your selections – don’t worry about what others may think.

2. Commentary is not necessary, but most definitely welcome. In particular, I’d enjoy seeing a short blurb explaining the criteria you based your selections on.

3. Please compile your rankings BEFORE reading anyone else’s. Crowdsourcing works best when each source is as independent as possible.

4. Please DO NOT use multiple screen names to vote more than once.

The deadline to cast your ballot is midnight on Thursday the 26th, then analyze the results in a follow-up article. A first place vote is worth 20 points, second place 19 points, and so on. Let the process begin!

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An Early Look at 2015 Vegas Win Totals

Like last year, CG Technology (formerly Cantor Gaming) is the first Las Vegas book to release win totals. For your convenience, I have produced them below, and sorted the list by the difference between 2015 Vegas wins and 2014 wins. [click to continue…]

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Guest Post: Remembering Charles Follis

Bryan Frye is back with another fun guest post. Bryan, as you may recall, owns and operates his own great site at nflsgreatest.co.nf, where he focuses on NFL stats and history. You can view all of Bryan’s guest posts at Football Perspective at this link. You can follow him on twitter @LaverneusDingle.


Follis at Wooster High School

Follis at Wooster High School

Fans familiar with the history of the NFL know that Fritz Pollard and Bobby Marshall were the first black NFL players, playing in the league’s inaugural season of 1920.1 However, often lost in history is the story of the first recorded black professional football player: Charles Follis.

Follis’ name rarely comes up because he played well before the inception of the NFL, before Americans had even heard of Jim Thorpe. When Follis first played professionally, Pollard was only ten years old, and Marshall was just a freshman at Minnesota. The year was 1904 – when Teddy Roosevelt was more interested in negotiating treaties between Japan and Russia than he was in saving football – and the twenty-five year old “Black Cyclone” inked a meager deal with the Shelby Blues of the Ohio League. However, Follis was more than a footnote in football history, and his story merits another telling.

Follis was born in Virginia in 1879, the oldest of seven children. His father was a farm laborer, which effectively meant Charles was, too. He worked long hours with his father, developing great strength at a young age.2 It is unclear when the family left Virginia for Wooster, Ohio, but interviews suggest that it was when Follis was still a small child.3

As a junior in high school in 1899, he not only led the effort to establish Wooster High School’s first football team, but he was also subsequently elected team captain by his white teammates. He was the team’s star player as they went undefeated, not allowing a point all season. So great was his impact on Wooster High School that the school’s football stadium was named Follis Field in 1998. His prowess in both football and his best sport, baseball, were so easily recognizable that he was eagerly recruited by the local college. [click to continue…]

  1. For its first two seasons, the NFL was known as the American Professional Football Association, or APFA. It didn’t become the National Football League until 1922. []
  2. This reminds me of the well-known story of Jerry Rice working countless hours with his bricklaying father, catching brick after brick after brick that his father tossed to him. []
  3. From Milt Roberts’ 1975 interview with Follis’ sister-in-law, Florence Follis. []
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Beginning on Friday the 6th, Football Perspective hosted a “Wisdom of Crowds” election with respect to that age old question: Who is the Greatest Quarterback of All Time?™ Well, Football Perspective guest commenter Adam Steele offered to count the ballots and provide a summary. What follows are his words, and the results from the contest.


Two of the greatest  quarterbacks of all time

Two of the greatest quarterbacks of all time

First, I want to offer my sincere appreciation to all the readers who participated in this project, as it wouldn’t have been possible without your contributions. We generated over 300 comments and lots of great discussion. And, as you’re about to see, every vote really did matter.

After tallying 80 ballots, 2,000 votes, and 26,000 ranking points, the difference between first and second place was just eight points. That’s insane. Well, I won’t tease you any longer, so here are the results:

This chart is sortable by total points, points per ballot (using 80 as the denominator), GOAT votes, top 10 votes, and top 25 votes. In the interest of statistical significance, a player needed to appear on at least five ballots in order to be ranked in the table below. [click to continue…]

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Weekend Trivia: Overtime Touchdowns

In 2014, there were five overtime touchdowns: Two of them came from the Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater threw a short pass to Jarius Wright that went for 87 yards against the Jets, while Anthony Barr returned a fumble 27 yards for the winning score against the Bucs. Khiry Robinson also beat Tampa Bay in overtime with an 18-yard touchdown. The final two came from Seattle: Marshawn Lynch rushed for a 6-yarder against the Broncos, and Russell Wilson threw a 35-yarder to Jermaine Kearse to win the NFC Championship against the Packers.

There have been 9 quarterbacks to throw multiple overtime touchdowns, with Wilson being the latest one (he also did so as a rookie against the Bears). Terry Bradshaw is the only quarterback with exactly three such throws, but there is one quarterback to throw four touchdowns in overtime. Can you guess who?

Trivia hint 1 Show


Trivia hint 2 Show


Trivia hint 3 Show


Click 'Show' for the Answer Show

[click to continue…]

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There have been 35 quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for at least 30,000 yards. Given enough time, you could probably guess that Drew Bledsoe, Jim Kelly, and Steve McNair are three of them. All three have something else in common: they were all born on February 14th.

If we drop the cut-off to 16,000 yards, we jump to 130 quarterbacks but get to include David Garrard, another Valentine’s Day baby. But wait, there’s more: If we drop the threshold to 3,500 passing yards, we get to include Patrick Ramsey and Anthony Wright. Those guys may not impress you, but consider that only 322 players have thrown for 3,500 yards. That means dozens of days have zero quarterbacks with 3,500 yards, so slotting in Ramsey and Wright as QB5 and QB6 on your birthday dream team is pretty damn good.

By now, regular readers will have picked up on the fact that this post is a blatant ripoff of Doug’s original post back in 2008, which I updated two years ago. In terms of total career passing yards through the entire history of the league, today has an enormous lead on the second-best birthday, March 24, which consists entirely of Peyton Manning, Aaron Brooks, and Scott Brunner.  Put simply, passing yardage is for lovers, with maybe an exception or two for a certain linebacker or running back.

If you’re looking to give birth to an NFL quarterback, let me give you a word of comfort: one need not be so precise with their delivery dates. That’s because tomorrow, February 15th, is another outstanding day for quarterbacks, ranking in the top five for passing yards. It’s the birthday of Football Perspective love icon John Hadl, a (perhaps) one-day-Hall-of-Famer in Ken Anderson, and former Raider Marc Wilson. So my parenting advice to you is to circle May 14 and May 15 on your calendars, to give yourself a little wiggle room.

Oh, and happy 22nd birthday to one man who is most certainly not a lover of quarterbacks: Jadeveon Clowney.

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2014 Fumble Recovery Data

There are few statistics more random in all of sports than fumble recoveries. When a football is on the ground, it’s not the case that better teams are more likely to fall on the ball than bad teams: in the NFL, recovering fumbles is nearly all luck and little skill. This is a fact widely accepted by all statisticians, and I also ran a study which confirmed such intuition just last year.

The 49ers fumbled 18 times in 2014; San Francisco also forced 18 fumbles. When the 49ers fumbled, they managed to recover (or have the ball go harmlessly out of bounds) just six fumbles; when they forced a fumble, they… also only recovered just six times! So of the 36 times the ball hit the ground, San Francisco recovered 12 times, and lost it 24 times. [click to continue…]

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Brown was number one in 2014

Brown was number one in 2014

On Monday, I noted that Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown led the NFL in True Receiving Yards for the second straight season. He also, by the slimmest of margins, your leader in Adjusted Catch Yards per Attempt, too.

On October 1st, I looked at the leaders in Adjusted Catch Yards per Team Pass Attempt; at the time, Jordy Nelson had a big lead on the rest of the NFL, although Brown was in second place. You can read the fine details of the system in that post, but the short version is:

  • Begin with each player’s number of receiving yards. Add 9 yards for every first down gained, other than first downs that resulted in touchdowns, to which we add 20 yards. For Brown, this gives him 2,624 Adjusted Catch Yards (1,698 receiving yards, 87 first downs, 13 touchdowns).
  • Divide that number by the number of team pass attempts, including sacks, by that player’s offense. Pittsburgh recorded 645 dropbacks in 2014, which means Brown averaged 4.07 ACY/TmAtt. Jordy Nelson (1519/71/13) had 2,301 Adjusted Catch Yards and the Packers had 566 team pass attempts. That translates to .. 4.07 ACY/TmAtt, too. But go to three decimal places, and Brown (4.068 to 4.065) becomes your winner.
  • I have also included a column for Adjusted Catch Yards per Estimated Team Dropback; here, we use the same formula, but multiply the numerator by 16, and the denominator by the number of games played by the receiver. Let’s use Odell Beckham as an example. The Giants wide receiver finished with 1,959 ACY (1305/58/12) and New York had 637 dropbacks, giving Beckham 3.08 ACY/TmAtt. But if we adjust for the fact that Beckham missed four games, he gets credited with 4.10 ACY/EstTmAtt, which is the highest rate in the NFL.

The table below shows the top 50 receivers in ACY/TmAtt: [click to continue…]

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Additional Thoughts on Turnover Rates

On Sunday, I looked at turnover rates for every year in the NFL since the merger. Today, I want to re-examine turnover data but in a different light. In 2014, the average team committed 23.7 turnovers. As you might suspect, there’s a strong relationship between turnovers and winning percentage, with a correlation coefficient of -0.56. This says nothing about causation, of course, and the causal arrow does in fact run in both directions (committed fewer turnovers leads to more wins, and winning in games leads to fewer turnovers).

Here’s another way to think about the relationship between winning percentage and turnovers. The Patriots were responsible for 4.7% of all wins this year and committed 13 turnovers; as a result, when calculating a weighted league average turnover total, I made New England’s 13 turnovers worth 4.7% of that total. Meanwhile, the Buccaneers and their 33 turnovers were only worth 0.8% of the weighted league average turnover total, since Tampa Bay was responsible for just 0.8% of all wins.

Using this methodology, the weighted league average turnover total in the NFL was 22.5 per team, or 95% of the unweighted league average. I used that same methodology to calculate the percentage of “weighted league average turnover total” to “unweighted league average turnover total” for each year since 1960. In the graph below, the blue line represents the NFL ratio, while the red line represents the AFL ratio. [click to continue…]

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In 2013, eight teams hired new head coaches.  Three teams tapped rising offensive coordinators – Mike McCoy, Bruce Arians,1 Rob Chudzinski – while four other hires were head coaches with offensive backgrounds (Andy Reid, Doug Marrone, Chip Kelly, and Marc Trestman).  That means just one head coaching hire came from a defensive background: Gus Bradley in Jacksonville.

Given the current era where the rules are slanted towards the offense, one can understand how teams might be inclined to look towards offensive coaches when selecting a head coach. Consider that scoring is about 60% of the game, which could make owners and general managers break ties in favor of offensive candidates. Then, remember that the pool of teams looking for a new head coach: teams that struggled the prior year. And since offense is so important, that usually means a team that had a bad offense. It’s a bit of an oversimplification, but it’s easy to imagine the average team looking for a head coach as one that just went 5-11 with a bad offense and is looking to turn things around with a new, sexy offensive hire.

There was something else you may recall from 2013: the lack of minority hires. At the end of the 2012 season, there were 15 job openings for general managers and head coaches; none went to a minority candidate. The hiring process for GMs is much more opaque than it is for head coaches, but there was one main explanation given for the fact that all 8 head coaching hires were white: black coaches are disproportionately defensive coaches, and the league was shifting towards offense when it came to coaching hires because of the reasons stated above. [click to continue…]

  1. Who, of course, was also coming off an award-winning season as interim head coach of the Colts. []
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Brown was number one in 2014

Brown was number one in 2014

You may recall that in 2013, Antonio Brown led the NFL in True Receiving Yards, which felt controversial at the time. Remember, Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon were the runaway choices by the Associated Press as the top receivers in the NFL; in addition, A.J. Green also received more votes, and Demaryius Thomas finished with as many votes as Brown.

Well, Brown has done it again, but I doubt it will surprise many people this time around. Brown led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards, and received 49 of 50 first-team All-Pro votes. Regular readers are familiar with the concept of True Receiving Yards, but let’s walk through the system using Brown and Dez Bryant, who jumps from 8th in receiving yards to 4th in True Receiving Yards. [click to continue…]

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The Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX, and whatever your thoughts on the end of the game, there’s no doubt that New England was one of the top teams in the NFL in 2014. But it’s not quite so easy to identify why, at least when looking at the traditional per-play metrics. New England ranked 17th in Net Yards per Pass Attempt and 16th in Net Yards per Pass Attempt allowed, hardly the stuff of Super Bowl champions. The Patriots didn’t stand out as particularly excellent as a rushing offense or a rushing defense, either.

But those passing statistics belie the fact that the Patriots did, in fact, have a great offense this year. Part of the issue was the slow start and a meaningless week 17 game. Beginning in week 5, and excluding the week 17 game, New England scored 487 points, a 34.8 points per game average. That matches what the team did in 2012, when the Patriots had a historically lethal offense. And it’s not too far off from even the heights reached by the ’07 team.

The Patriots passing attack ranked 5th in TD rate, 3rd in INT rate, and 4th in sack rate; as a result, they jump from 17th to 6th when moving from NY/A to ANY/A. But the Patriots were even better at pure scoring.1 That’s been a trend for the team: during the Tom Brady era, New England has fared better in points scored than it has in ANY/A, and fared better in ANY/A than the team has in NY/A. And New England has generally been improving in all three statistics, too.

There is one area where the 2014 Patriots stand out as special. New England had just 13 turnovers all season: 9 Brady interceptions, three Brady fumbles, and one Brandon LaFell fumble. That is tied for the third best ever, although that sounds better than it is. The record for turnovers per game is 10 turnovers per 16 games, a feat accomplished by the 2010 Patriots and then the 2011 49ers. In 2014, the Packers also committed just 13 turnovers, and the Seahawks had just 14. As you might suspect, yes, this does mean that turnover rates have declined significantly in recent history. Take a look at the following graph, which depicts turnovers per 16 games for the average NFL team since 1970.  The purple line shows all turnovers; the blue and red lines are for interceptions and fumbles lost, respectively. [click to continue…]

  1. While New England moves at a fast pace, they actually ranked 3rd in points per drive and 4th in overall points, because the Broncos had even more drives than New England. []
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How many Super Bowls should the Patriots have won?

Since 2001, New England had made the playoffs twelve times, reaching the Super Bowl, incredibly, in half of those seasons. The Patriots have won the Super bowl four times over this fourteen-year span, which made me wonder: how many Super Bowls *should* the Patriots have won?

This could be measured in a few ways. We could look at say, the team’s pre-season odds of winning it all each year. I don’t have that historical data, but we can be sure that New England significantly overachieved by that measure. We could also look at the team’s Super Bowl chances at the start of each post-season. For example, at the end of the regular season, Bovada had the Patriots at 3/1 to win the Super Bowl. That would imply a 25% chance of winning it all, although after adjusting for the vigorish, the Patriots’ true odds would have been 21.8%. I don’t have historical data of this sort, although I am sure one could use a combination of SRS and home-field advantage to come up with something similar. Hey, if you have ideas, present them in the comments.

Instead, I used the same methodology I used a couple of weeks ago to determine the randomness of each post-season. Remember, a point spread can be converted into an expected winning percentage using the following formula in Excel (if you put the point spread in cell L2): [click to continue…]

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[Update: You can view the results from our 80 ballots here.]

Regular guest contributor Adam Steele has offered to administer a Wisdom of Crowds edition of the GQBOAT debate. And we thank him for that.


Who is the Greatest Quarterback of All Time? This is a fun question to debate because there is no absolute right answer. In recent years, the practice of crowdsourcing has gained momentum in the analytics community, in some cases yielding more accurate results than mathematical models or expert opinions. For the uninitiated, here’s the gist: Every human being represents a data point of unique information, as all of us have a different array of knowledge and perspective about the world. Therefore, when you aggregate the observations of a group of people, they will collectively possess a greater and more diverse reservoir of knowledge than any single member of the group.

The readers of Football Perspective are an insightful bunch with areas of expertise spanning the entire football spectrum; we are the perfect group for crowdsourcing an age old football question. If you’d like to participate in this experiment, there are just a few guidelines to follow:

1. Create a list of the top 25 quarterbacks of all time, in order, using any criteria you believe to be important. I encourage readers to be bold in your selections – don’t worry about what others may think.

2. Commentary is not necessary, but most definitely welcome. In particular, I’d enjoy seeing a short blurb explaining the criteria you based your selections on.

3. Please compile your rankings BEFORE reading anyone else’s. Crowdsourcing works best when each source is as independent as possible.

4. Please DO NOT use multiple screen names to vote more than once.

I’ll give readers a week or so to cast their ballots, then analyze the results in a follow-up article. A first place vote is worth 25 points, second place 24 points, and so on. Let the process begin!

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Super Bowl XLIX, and Thoughts on ANY/A

Let’s get something out of the way.

In the final minute of the game, the Seahawks had an 88% of winning Super Bowl XLIX. To make grandiose statements about the Patriots passing attack and football analytics based on New England winning the Super Bowl would be silly given the way the game ended.

Okay, whew.  But I do want to talk about the Patriots offense, and more specifically, ANY/A.  As regular readers know, Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt is calculated as follows:

(Gross Passing Yards + 20*PassTDs – 45*INTs -SkYdsLost) / (Pass Attempts + Sacks)

ANY/A correlates very well with winning, and it’s my favorite basic metric of passing play.  But ANY/A, based around yards per attempt, is not perfect.  And I think SB XLIX provides a good example of that.  Tom Brady finished the day with 320 net passing yards, 4 TDs, and 2 INTs on 51 dropbacks, which translates to an ANY/A of 6.08.  Russell Wilson had 234 net passing yards, 2 TDs, and 1 very fateful INT on his 24 dropbacks; that translates to an ANY/A of 9.54. [click to continue…]

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This week at the New York Times, a look at the most heartbreaking losses in Super Bowl history.

The Seattle Seahawks were a yard from history. Trailing by 4 points in the final minute of Sunday’s Super Bowl, Seattle had the ball, on second down, at the Patriots’ 1-yard line. According to the website Advanced Football Analytics, that gave the Seahawks an 88 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.

With a win, Seattle would have become just the ninth team in the Super Bowl era to repeat as champion, and the first since the 2003-4 Patriots. The defense, which had allowed the fewest points in the N.F.L. in each of the last three seasons, would have strengthened its argument to be considered the greatest in football history.

But it was not to be. Brandon Browner jammed Jermaine Kearse at the line, and Malcolm Butler shot in front of Ricardo Lockette to make a game-changing interception. For Patriots fans, it was a play to remember forever. For Seahawks fans, it was one they wish they could forget.

But where does Super Bowl XLIX rank among the most painful Super Bowl losses in history?

You can read the full article here.

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Yes, Malcolm Butler sealed the win for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.  But if not for a great play by Brandon Browner, Butler never would have had a chance to be the hero.

With less than a minute remaining in the Super Bowl on Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks lined up in a three-wide-receiver set at the 1-yard line. To the right of quarterback Russell Wilson, Ricardo Lockette stood nearly directly behind another wide receiver, Jermaine Kearse, a yard back and on Kearse’s outside shoulder — an alignment commonly used on pick plays.

New England Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner stood across the line of scrimmage from Kearse, a couple of yards in front of Malcolm Butler, who was tasked with guarding Lockette.

For Seattle, the concept was simple. Kearse would run what is known as a clear-out route: With Browner and Butler aligned so close together (in response to the way the Seahawks’ receivers were set), Kearse’s job was to make Browner backpedal. That would block Butler from cutting across the field to cover Lockette, who was to run a slant to the inside.

You can read the full article here.

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Open Thread: Post Your Super Bowl XLIX Reactions Here

I’m sure many of you have reactions to the crazy Patriots/Seahawks Super Bowl. Fire away!

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