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13 Points > 14 Points, Part IV

Over the last three days, I have been writing about the fact that points scored isn’t linearly correlated with winning percentage.  In fact, there are a few bumps, and it relates to field goals vs. touchdowns.  As we’ve learned:

  • Not only is scoring 13 points better than scoring 14 points, but scoring 9 points is better than 14 points.
  • This works for increments on 7, too: 16 is better than 21, 23 is better than 28, and 30 is better than 35, too.

What I thought was the next natural question: do yards and yards allowed follow a similar pattern?

The graph below shows, in blue, the average number of yards gained for teams based on their points scored (on the X-Axis).  In addition, in orange, I’ve shown the average number of yards allowed.  As before, I put a red dot (on the blue line) for 7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 48, and 56 points.  And wouldn’t you know: there is, in fact, a small dip in yards gained at these levels: teams that score 13 points gain more yards than teams that score 14 points, and that holds true at 20/21, 27/28, 34/35, and 41/42. [click to continue…]

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Two years ago, I set a baseline for what a pre-season projection system should hope to accomplish. The simplest baseline of all would be to project each team to go 8-8. That would require no thought at all: a person could wake up 49 years and eight months from now and project each then-existing team in the NFL (or its successor league) to go .500 in the 2067 season. So any projection system has to beat that, at a minimum. As I wrote two years ago:

If you did that in every season from 1989 to 2014, your model would have been off by, on average, 2.48 wins per team. This is calculated by taking the absolute value of the difference between 0.500 and each team’s actual winning percentage, and multiplying that result by 16. So that should be the absolute floor for any projection model: you have to come closer than that.

Now, let’s flash back to July of this year. The USA Today published its preseason predictions in a rather provocative fashion, particularly with respect to two teams. I see a ton of preseason projections every year and forget them minutes later, so please forgive me if you feel like I am picking on the USA Today here. That is not the intent, and other publications have made more egregious errors but are not at my fingertips. But this publication picked the Patriots to go 16-0 and the Jets to go 1-15, which was rather extreme.

Upon further view of their predictions, many of them are pretty ugly. So I decided to compare those predictions to the “every team in the same” test, or the “8-8” system.

There were six teams the USA Today got really wrong, where an 8-8 projection would be at least 3.0 games closer to being accurate:

The Buffalo Bills are 8-7 (off of 0.500 by 0.5 wins); the USA Today predicted them to go 4-12 (off by 4.5 wins).
The Green Bay Packers are 7-8 (0.500 projection is off by 0.5); the USA Today predicted them to go 12-4 (off by 4.5).
The Los Angeles Rams are 11-4; an 8-8 projection would be off by 3.5 games, but the USA Today had the Rams are 4-12, off by 7.5 games.
The Oakland Raiders are 6-9 (off by 1.5); the USA Today had them at 11-5 (off by 4.5).
The Detroit Lions are 8-7 (off by 0.5); the USA Today had them at 5-11 (off by 3.5).
The Tennessee Titans are 8-7 (off by 0.5); the USA Today had them at 12-4 (off by 3.5).

You might say the loss of Aaron Rodgers shouldn’t be held against them, and that the Rams success caught everyone off guard. Both of those things are true, but we also know that superstars get hurt and surprise teams happen every year. Both of those facts should urge predictors to be more conservative in the aggregate.

The USA Today thought the Titans would be great and the Bills terrible; both are 8-7. And the USA Today had the Raiders at 11-5 and the Lions at 5-11; instead, Detroit has two more wins than Oakland. These, again, are signs that we shouldn’t be too overconfident in our preseason projections (a look at the Giants and the Rams projected wins totals would also work to that effect).

Now, there were also three teams where the USA Today beat the 8-8 system by at least 3 games.

The Indianapolis Colts were projected to go 5-11 by the USA Today; they are 3-12 (USAT off by 1.5, .500 prediction off by 4.5).
The Cleveland Browns were projected to go 4-12; they are 0-15 (USAT off by 3.5, .500 prediction off by 7.5).
The Pittsburgh Steelers were projected to go 12-4; they are 12-3 (USAT off by 0.5, .500 prediction off by 4.5).

In the case of the Colts, Browns, and Bears, predicting them to be bad — but not terrible — was the wise move. (That would have worked with the Jets, too: the 1-15 projection is now off by 4 or 5 wins, giving another win to the 8-8 system). The Steelers were projected to be very good, and that prediction was nailed. The USA Today even wins the Patriots bet as we stand right now (12-3 is closer to 16-0 than 8-8), but a more conservative approach would have been better.

Overall, the USA Today fared worse than the blind 8-8 system. The USA Today projections were closer than the 8-8 system for 13 teams. Meanwhile, the 8-8 system was closer on 15 teams, with four teams (Houston, Kansas City, Jacksonville, New Orleans) currently graded as ties. Take a look: [click to continue…]


This year, teams are 126-51 when outrushing their opponents, for a 0.712 winning percentage. In the abstract, that doesn’t mean much, and I’ll take a historical look at this data tomorrow. But what about teams this year?

The 10-1 Eagles rank 2nd in rushing yards and 1st in rushing yards allowed, thanks to a dominant run defense and an offense that is usually playing with the lead. The Eagles have outrushed their opponents in 9 straight games, but in week 1 the Eagles beat Washington despite being outrushed 64-58, and in week 2, the Eagles lost to the Chiefs and were outrushed 112-107. The table below shows how often each team has outrushed its opponents this year: [click to continue…]

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One of the very first trivia questions posted at Football Perspective was about the first quarterback to lose 100 games as a starter. You might have thought that the answer was Archie Manning (35-101-3 career record), but he only had the worst record of all-time; he wasn’t the first to get to 100 losses (answer in the original post). (Actually, that post now appears to have been wrong. At some point since 2012, PFR has updated the career record of Norm Snead from 52-99-7 to 52-100-7. The extra start came in 1965, specifically this game against the Browns; five years ago, PFR had King Hill starting that game; now it had Snead — who went 0/1 — as the starter.

Well, last night, Archie’s son set another record. With the Giants loss to the Redskins on Thanksgiving, Eli Manning became the first quarterback in NFL history to lose 100 starts with a single team. The table below shows all quarterbacks with at least 70 losses with one team, through November 24, 2017: [click to continue…]


Every year, I look at the least-conforming games in the NFL. What do I mean by least-conforming? Well, let’s use the Titans trip to Jacksonville in week 2 this season as an example. Tennessee has an SRS of -5.1 this year, while the Jaguars have an SRS of +9.3. Given that the game was in Jacksonville, we would expect the Titans to lose by 17.4 points, assuming 3 points for the home team. In reality, the Titans won by 21 points, a swing of 38.4 points! That was the “weirdest” game of the year.

The Titans were also in the second least-conforming game of the season. Facing a Deshaun Watson Texans team, the Titans traveled to Houston and lost by a whopping 43 points. The Texans — thanks in part, of course, to several non-Watson games — have an SRS of -0.4. So at home against Tennessee, we would have expected the aveage Texans team to win b 7.8 points, not 43 points. That difference of 35.2 was one of just three games where the difference between the actual result and expected result exceeded 30 points. [click to continue…]


Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein has been outstanding this year. Consider:

  • He is 4/4 on kicks from 50+ yards this year. Kickers have made 72% of field goal attempts from that range this season, so the average kicker would have made 2.9 such field goals. As a result, Zuerlein has made 1.1 more 50+ yard kicks than the average kicker.
  • He is 9/9 on kicks from 40-49 yards. Kickers have made 79% of kicks from that range this season, so the average kicker would have made 7.1 of those 9 attempts. Therefore, he made 1.9 more field goals than an average kicker from that range.
  • He is 9/10 on kicks from 30-39 yards. Kickers have made 84% of such kicks this year, so an average kicker would have made 8.4 of his 9 attempts. As a result, Zuerlein has made 0.6 more field goals fro 30-39 yards than the average kicker.
  • From 0-19 yards he was 1/1, and from 20-29 yards, he is 5/5. All kickers have made all attempts form under 20 yards, so he gets no credit for that. And kickers have made 99% of kicks from 20-29 this season, so he gets credit for being .1 field goals made above average here.
  • Kickers have made 94.5% of extra points this year, while the Rams star is 31 of 31. Since the average kicker would have made 29.3 of 31 kicks, it means Zuerlein has made 1.7 more extra points than the average kicker.

Add it up, and Zuerlein has made 3.7 more field goals than the average kicker — worth 11.2 points — and 1.7 more extra points. That translates to 13.0 points above average, the most of any kicker in the NFL. In fact, other than Kansas City’s Harrison Butker, Zuerlein has added twice as much value as all other kickers this year. [click to continue…]


Let’s get to the week 9 Game scripts! Yes, these are a week late: my apologies, as well, other topics wound up being covered last week.

The biggest stories of week 9 were the blowout wins by Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. The Rams and Saints followed that up with another pair of blowout wins in week 10, while the Eagles were on bye. But before turning to week 10, let’s review some of the biggest outliers from week nine.

In week 9, the Jets and Panthers were very run-heavy. Lest you forget, the Jets beat the Bills on Thursday night in week 9, and while quarterback Josh McCown did have 5 carries, the running backs combined for 36 carries, while McCown had just 21 attempts. The Jets blew out Buffalo, but consider that the Lions had a similar Game Script and passes on 50% of plays.

Carolina beat Atlanta in a close game where the Panthers trailed for most of the first half. Still, behind Cam Newton and his 9 carries, Carolina wound up passing just 25 times while running 38 times! That’s really run-heavy.

The full Game Scripts data below: [click to continue…]


Yards per Play Statistics Through Eight Weeks

Through eight weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 7-1. But it’s the Jacksonville Jaguars who have arguably been the most impressive team in the league this year on a per-play basis.

Jacksonville is averaging 6.42 net yards per pass play this year, which is simply passing yards (net of sack yards lost) divided by pass attempts (including sacks). That ranks 15th in the NFL, but more impressively, the Jaguars are allowing just 4.22 net yards per pass to opposing passers, easily the best rate in the NFL. Jacksonville also has a very weird rushing split: the Jaguars rank 1st in yards per carry (4.97) but last in yards per carry allowed (5.16).

The Eagles are much more balanced, though not necessarily more impressive: Philadelphia ranks 10th in NY/A, 15th in YPC, 14th in NY/A allowed, and 12th in YPC allowed. ((One reason the Eagles are 7-1: the team ranks 2nd in red zone percentage and 1st in goal-to-go percentage, which means Philadelphia has been able to convert those yards into points. The Eagles defense ranks 15th in both categories).

The table below shows the per play yardage statistics on both pass and rushing plays for each team’s offense and defense this year. It also shows the raw yardage margin per game. Finally, I calculated a grade for each team that places twice as much weight on the passing game as the rushing game. The grade column is simply (NY/A – Opp NY/A) *2 + (YPC – Opp YPC). As you can see, Jacksonville tops that category, in large part because of the team’s pass defense: [click to continue…]


Two guys who were pretty good at picking up first downs.

On Monday, I provided some initial thoughts on the relative values of completion and passing first down percentage. Yesterday, I looked at the difference between the 1972 and 2017 Jets when it came to those two metrics, along with a breakdown of every team’s passing performance so far in 2017.

Since passing first down percentage — which is simply the number of passing first downs a team gained divided by their pass attempts (including sacks) — is so important, I wanted to present a list of the top teams in NFL history using this metric. My data on first downs goes back to 1950, and since then, the top three teams all have something in common: Peyton Manning. The 2004 Colts picked up a first down on a whopping 44% of passing plays, the most in league history. That team is followed by the 2013 Broncos and the 2006 Colts, and the 2016 Falcons and 1984 Dolphins round out the top five. Here’s how to read the table below, which shows the top 200 passing offenses by this metric. The 2004 Colts completed 67% of their passes, had a sack rate of 2.6%, and 67.4% of their completed passes went for first downs. The final column is what the table is sorted by: the percentage of pass plays that went for a first down.

The table below shows the top 200 teams by this metric: by defaut, it only lists the top 20, but the table is fully sortable and searchable. [click to continue…]


I like trivia, and Chris Brown asked me a good question on twitter yesterday:

The game Brown was referencing was the Patriots performance against the Saints in week 2 of the 2017 season. Here was the receiving breakdown on the New England side:

Player Tm Pass Yd Rec Yd
Rob Gronkowski NWE 0 116
James White NWE 0 85
Chris Hogan NWE 0 78
Phillip Dorsett NWE 0 68
Rex Burkhead NWE 0 41
Brandin Cooks NWE 0 37
Dion Lewis NWE 0 11
James Develin NWE 0 6
Jacob Hollister NWE 0 5
Tom Brady NWE 447 0

Brady threw for 183 yards to his wide receivers (Hogan, Dorsett, and Cooks), 143 yards to running backs (White, Burkhead, Lewis, Develin) and 121 yards to his tight ends (Gronkowski and Hollister). So that means Brady threw for 400+ passing yards with just 40% of his passing yards coming from his wide receivers. [click to continue…]


Week 1 Game Scripts (2017): Ravens Flip The Script

Two different Ravens running backs had more carries than Flacco had attempts in week one.

Last season, no team was more pass-happy than the Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco and the Ravens led the NFL in pass attempts along with both pass ratio and pass identity. Flacco threw at least 30 passes in every game last year. The Ravens threw 50 passes in a game they won 38-6 in a remarkable display of the team’s pass-only identity.

Well, in week 1 of the 2017 season, the Ravens threw just 18 times and on only 29.5% of all plays, both of which were league-lows. Terrance West and Javorius Allen combined for 40 carries, and while both players were on the team last year, clearly something has changed in Baltimore. The Jaguars and Bills also stood out as very run-heavy in week 1: Jacksonville spent the fourth pick on Leonard Fournette, so that makes a lot of sense, while the Bills are always run-heavy in the Tyrod Taylor/LeSean McCoy era.

On the Game Scripts notes: the Rams led the way with the best Game Script of week 1, courtesy of a blowout win over the Colts. And just two teams won with negative Game Scripts in the opening slate of games: the Chiefs and Lions both won by double digits, but were the only two teams to pull off fourth quarter comebacks. [click to continue…]


Sometimes, the headlines speak for themselves. After last night — the Chargers lost when the potential game-tying field goal was blocked in the final second — Los Angeles nee San Diego has now lost 18 of its last 23 games decided by 8 or fewer points.

Query Results Table
Poin Poin Poin
Rk Tm Year Date
Time Opp Week G# Day Result OT PF PA PD
1 SDG 2017 2017-09-11 10:20 @ DEN 1 1 Mon L 21-24 21 24 -3
2 SDG 2016 2016-12-24 1:00 @ CLE 16 15 Sat L 17-20 17 20 -3
3 SDG 2016 2016-12-18 4:25 OAK 15 14 Sun L 16-19 16 19 -3
4 SDG 2016 2016-12-04 4:25 TAM 13 12 Sun L 21-28 21 28 -7
5 SDG 2016 2016-11-27 1:00 @ HOU 12 11 Sun W 21-13 21 13 8
6 SDG 2016 2016-11-13 4:05 MIA 10 10 Sun L 24-31 24 31 -7
7 SDG 2016 2016-11-06 4:25 TEN 9 9 Sun W 43-35 43 35 8
8 SDG 2016 2016-10-30 4:05 @ DEN 8 8 Sun L 19-27 19 27 -8
9 SDG 2016 2016-10-23 4:05 @ ATL 7 7 Sun W 33-30 OT 33 30 3
10 SDG 2016 2016-10-13 8:25 DEN 6 6 Thu W 21-13 21 13 8
11 SDG 2016 2016-10-09 4:25 @ OAK 5 5 Sun L 31-34 31 34 -3
12 SDG 2016 2016-10-02 4:25 NOR 4 4 Sun L 34-35 34 35 -1
13 SDG 2016 2016-09-25 4:25 @ IND 3 3 Sun L 22-26 22 26 -4
14 SDG 2016 2016-09-11 1:05 @ KAN 1 1 Sun L 27-33 OT 27 33 -6
15 SDG 2015 2016-01-03 4:25 @ DEN 17 16 Sun L 20-27 20 27 -7
16 SDG 2015 2015-12-24 8:26 @ OAK 16 15 Thu L 20-23 OT 20 23 -3
17 SDG 2015 2015-12-13 1:03 @ KAN 14 13 Sun L 3-10 3 10 -7
18 SDG 2015 2015-11-29 1:03 @ JAX 12 11 Sun W 31-25 31 25 6
19 SDG 2015 2015-11-09 8:30 CHI 9 9 Mon L 19-22 19 22 -3
20 SDG 2015 2015-11-01 1:02 @ BAL 8 8 Sun L 26-29 26 29 -3
21 SDG 2015 2015-10-25 4:05 OAK 7 7 Sun L 29-37 29 37 -8
22 SDG 2015 2015-10-18 4:25 @ GNB 6 6 Sun L 20-27 20 27 -7
23 SDG 2015 2015-10-12 8:30 PIT 5 5 Mon L 20-24 20 24 -4

For his career, Philip Rivers has a 54-26 record in games decided by more than 8 points, and a 43-54 record in games decided by 8 or fewer points. Read differently, Rivers has lost 28 *more* times in close games than in non-close games. That is (for now) tied with Rich Gannon for the largest spread ever. [click to continue…]


Sacks Are Coming From Lighter Players

In 1994, the “average” sack came from a player that weighted 266 pounds. Wait, what do you mean by average sack? Well, if you look at all 937 sacks in 1994, and identify the weight of the sacker on each sack, you can calculate the weight of the average sack in each season. John Randle was 290 pounds, and he had 13.5 sacks that year, so he gets 13.5 times as much weight a player with one sack. The graph below shows the weight of the player producing an average sack in each year since 1982. As you can see, it peaked in the mid-’90s, and has declined slightly since.

However, players in general are getting heavier, including in the front seven. The graph below shows the average weight of a player in the front 7 — weighted by the number of starts by such a player — for each year since 1982. That data is in orange; the blue line showing the average sack weight is still included in the chart for reference.
[click to continue…]


In 1998, Randall Cunningham may have been the best quarterback in football.  Cunningham was 35.4 years old as of September 1st of that season. If it wasn’t Cunningham, it was probably Vinny Testaverde (34.8 years old as of 9/1/98), or  Steve Young (36.9), or Chris Chandler (32.9), or John Elway (38.2).  Troy Aikman (31.8) and Doug Flutie (35.9) also had great seasons, three other quarterbacks — Dan Marino (37.0),  Steve Beuerlein (33.5), and Rich Gannon (32.7) — finished in the top 20 in passing yards.

That means 10 of the top 20 quarterbacks in passing yards in 1998 were 31.8 years old or older as of September 1st of that year.    Thirteen years later, things were very different, as 8 of the top 16 passers in 2011 by passing yards were under 28 years old as of September 1st, with four being under 25: Cam Newton (22.3), Matthew Stafford (23.6), Josh Freeman (23.6), Andy Dalton (23.8), Mark Sanchez (24.8), Matt Ryan (26.3), Joe Flacco (26.6), and Aaron Rodgers (27.7).

I calculated the average age of quarterbacks in the NFL for each season since 1950, using the methodology described here. The short version: calculate what percentage of league-wide passing yards was produced by each player, calculate that player’s age as of September 1st of that season, and that calculate the league-wide age of all passers, weighted by their percentage of league passing yards. The results below: [click to continue…]


Inexperienced Receiving Games

The 2008 Giants were very experienced; the 2009 Giants were not.

In ’08, New York had Amani Toomer and Plaxico Burress as the team’s starting receivers; Toomer retired after the year, while Burress shot himself in a nightclub late in the ’08 season and missed all of the ’09 and ’10 seasons.

The top 7 receivers on the ’09 Giants were the other Steve Smith (24 years old in ’09), Mario Manningham (23), Hakeem Nicks (21), Kevin Boss (25), Ahmad Bradshaw (23), Domenik Hixon (25), and Brandon Jacobs (27). Entering the 2009 season, Smith had 637 career receiving yards, Manningham had 26, Nicks had 0, Boss had 502, Bradshaw had 54, Hixon had 601, and Jacobs had 359.  Derek Hagan, who finished 8th on the ’09 Giants with 101 receiving yards, was the most accomplished receiver entering the year by virtue of his 645 career receiving yards entering 2009.

On a weighted average, that means the 2009 Giants receiving group entered the year with just 318 career receiving yards (by reference, the 2008 Giants were at 2,608). What do I mean by weighted average? Well, Smith had 28.7% of the 2009 Giants receiving yards, and he had 637 career receiving yards prior to 2009; therefore, his 637 receives 28.7% of the team weight. On the other hand, Manningham and Nicks had, together, 38% of the Giants receiving yards in 2009, and they had, together, just 26 career receiving yards entering 2009. The table below shows the full calculation, with the result equaling a weighted average of 318 career receiving yards. [click to continue…]



Jerry Rice was really, really good for many, many reasons.  Here’s one: he led his teams in receiving yards a whopping 15 times in his career.  In 1985, Roger Craig led the 49ers in receiving yards during Rice’s rookie season. Then, from ’86 to ’96, Rice led San Francisco in receiving yards every season.  In 1997, Rice tore his ACL and was limited to just two games; as a result, Terrell Owens led the team in receiving.  In ’98 and ’99, though, it was Rice again who led the 49ers in receiving yards, before a 27-year-old Owens outgained a 38-year-old Rice on the ’00 49ers.

In 2001, Rice was in Oakland, and a 35-year-old Tim Brown beat Rice by 26 receiving yards (1165-1139) to lead the Raiders in receiving. But in 2002 and 2003, Rice — at 40 and 41 years of age — led Oakland in receiving. So from 1986 to 2003, Rice led his team in receiving yards in 15 of 18 seasons, with the exceptions being due to a torn ACL, losing out to a future Hall of Famer 11 years his junior, and losing out to a Hall of Famer 4 years his junior by 26 yards. That’s why he’s the greatest of all time.

But Henry Ellard was pretty darn good, too. Ellard played for 16 seasons in the NFL, and other than his rookie season and his final two seasons, he led his team in receiving yards every other year of his career.   During the prime years of Jim Everett’s career — 1988 to 1990 — Ellard ranked 1st, 1st, and 2nd in the league in receiving yards per game.  But he still led the Rams in receiving yards the other years, too, finishing as the leader receiver on Los Angeles each year from ’84 to ’93.  When Ellard joined the Redskins in ’94, he eclipsed the 1,000 yards mark and led Washington in receiving in ’94, ’95, and ’96.  In the process, Ellard became the first and only player to lead his team in receiving yards in 13 straight seasons. [click to continue…]


Brown continues to dominate the NFL.

Antonio Brown averaged “only” 12.1 yards per reception last year, although his great reception, receiving yards, and receiving touchdown totals earned him a third straight first-team All-Pro selection. If Brown wasn’t so good and just 28 years old, you might look at that average and think Brown was on the decline or at least was becoming less of a big play threat.

But that’s not really true: with 22 receptions (in 15 games) of at least 20+ yards, Brown had the third most big plays of any receiver last year, and 21% of his catches went for at least 20 yards. What really hurt Brown’s average was that he also caught a ton of short passes: he had 57 receptions of 10 or fewer yards. Kelvin Benjamin caught 63 passes for 941 yards last year, a 14.9 yards per reception average. But while that sounds good, Benjamin only caught 10 passes — or 16% of his total — for 20+ yards. How did Benjamin average nearly three more yards per catch than Brown? You probably already figured this one out: just 20 of his receptions (32%) went for 10 or fewer yards. Either Benjamin wasn’t running short routes or he wasn’t catching passes on those routes. If it’s the latter, it’s a bad thing; if it’s the former, well, it’s also a bad thing (relative to Brown, at least) that all he was doing was running long routes and Brown still caught more long balls than him!

The graph below shows the top 100 wide receivers and tight ends in receiving yards last season, sorted by number of 20+ yard receptions. In addition, I have included the percent of their receptions that went for 20+ yards, the number of receptions that went for 10 or fewer yards, and that percent as well.
[click to continue…]


We know that Amari Cooper is a better receiver than Kenny Stills, but who is the better big play threat? Or, more specifically, who was the better big play threat last year?

To answer this question, most people would focus on one metric: yards per reception. Most people are wrong. [click to continue…]


Gray Ink For Percentage of Team Receiving

On Thursday, I presented a new way to look at wide receivers, focusing on both how the receiver dominated his teammates (i.e., by getting a large share of the pie) and how much his offense dominated the league (i.e., how much better/worse than average his team’s passing attack was).

Since I presented the full dataset covering the years from 1970 to 2016, I thought we might as well use that information in other ways. For example, let’s say you typed Steve Largent into the search box on that post.  You would see that Largent was a monster when it came to dominating his teammates: in 1978, he was responsible for 33.6% of the Seahawks Adjusted Catch Yards, which ranked 3rd in the league.  In five years — 1980, 1981, 1983, 1986, and 1987 — he ranked 4th in the NFL in percentage of team ACY.  In ’85, he ranked 5th, and in ’79 and ’84, he ranked 6th.  That’s remarkable:

If you calculate his gray ink – which means giving him 10 points for a 1st place finish, 9 for a 2nd place finish, and so on, he had 59 points of gray ink in this category.  Remember, % of Team ACY is simply a measure of what percentage of the pie each receiver was able to devour, and % of Team ACY Rk shows where they rank in the league in a given season.  I would never use this as the only way to rank a receiver (more on this in a second), but it is an interesting way. Why?

Receiving production is based on a lot of things outside of a wide receiver’s control — for example, how good his quarterback is, or how often his team passes.  But this isolates that by only comparing how the receiver fared compared to his teammates.  That’s why I like to use this as a check against other metrics.  Below shows the leaders in gray ink in this category since 1970.  Largent, as you can see, ranks 2nd because you always know who is going to rank 1st: [click to continue…]


I spent some time discussing Gary Clark’s 1991 season yesterday. It was really impressive in two notable respects: he accounted for a huge percentage of his team’s production, and his team’s production was easily the best in the league.

What was even more impressive? What Gene Washington did in 1970. That year, the 49ers had a phenomenal passing attack: San Francisco averaged 7.6 ANY/A, while no other team was above 6.0. John Brodie was the AP MVP because of his great passing numbers, but what was arguably more impressive is what Washington did that year. Playing for the best passing offense in football1, Washington caught 23% of the team’s passes, 37% of the 49ers receiving yards, and 48% of San Francisco’s receiving touchdowns.

If you calculate Adjusted Catch Yards with a 5-yard bonus on receptions and a 20-yard bonus on touchdowns, Washington had 1,605 ACY out of the 49ers 4,620 total team ACY, or 35%. That’s even higher than what Clark did on the ’91 Redskins (33%). On the other hand, WR1s tended to get slightly more attention on 1970 offenses than on 1971 offenses. So here’s what I did:

1) Calculate the ACY for each receiver on each team since 1970. For Clark in ’91, this was 1,890.

2) Calculate the percentage of team ACY for each receiving season since 1970. For Clark, this was 33%; for Washington, it was 35%.

3) Calculate the average percentage of team ACY for the top N receivers in the league each season, with N being equal to the number of teams in the NFL. For 1970, this was 29%; for 1991, it was 27%.

4) Calculate each receiver’s percent over average; for both Clark and Washington, this means +6%.

5) Calculate each receiver’s team RANY/A for each year. Clark’s Redskins were at +3.14, while Washington’s 49ers were at +3.45.

6) Plot those seasons in the graph below. [click to continue…]

  1. And along with the ’66 Packers, the only offenses to average at least 7.50 ANY/A from 1961 to 1975. []

Anyone who has spent any time studying football analytics knows one truth: teams are not aggressive enough on fourth down. For example, in situation-neutral contexts, it’s always advisable to go for it on 4th-and-1. The value of possession has become increasingly important in the modern game, where offenses are so adept at gaining yards and scoring points, and the likelihood of conversion is so high that the trade-off of 40-50 yards of field position for a chance to keep possession is almost always worth it. Possession, after all, is worth about 4 points: if having 1st-and-10 at the 50 yard line is worth 2 points, then being on defense in that situation is worth -2, making the swing between having the ball and not having the ball worth 4 points.

So are NFL teams becoming smarter when it comes to 4th down decision making? I looked at all 4th-and-1 plays since 1994 that (i) came in the first three quarters, (ii) with the offense between the 40s, and (iii) with the team on offense either leading or trailing by no more than 10 points. From 1994 to 2004, teams went for it on these 4th-and-1 situations about 28% of the time. Then, from ’05 to 2014, teams went for it 35% of the time. But over the last two years, offenses have stayed on the field for these fourth downs over 40% of the time both years. Take a look: [click to continue…]


Leaders in Percentage of Team Targets

On Friday, I wrote about Rob Moore’s 1997 season, when he set the still-standing record for targets in a year. Moore had 208 targets, but as alluded to in that post, he did not set the record for percentage of team targets in a season, which is simply targets divided by team pass attempts (excluding sacks).

That honor belongs to Brandon Marshall, who was targeted on 40% of all passes for the 2012 Bears, and wound up with a post-1978 record 46% of the Bears receiving yards that year.  Remarkably, Marshall saw over 30% of his team’s targets on three different teams, and saw 29% of a fourth franchise’s targets in a season (2015 Jets). The table below shows all players since 1992 with at least 30% (okay, 29.5%) of their team’s targets in a season:

[click to continue…]


Not Rob Moore

If you find yourself talking about Rob Moore in the summer of 2017, it’s probably for one of four reasons.

1) You are a diehard Jets or Cardinals fan choosing to reminisce about Boomer Esiason and the halcyon days of the ’90s.

2) You just finished watching Jerry Maguire. That movie, which was released in December 1996, saw Cuba Gooding Jr. play the role of Rod Tidwell. Gooding’s character wore 85 and played wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, just like Moore (who even had a bit role in the movie, playing himself).

3) You are researching the best players in Supplemental Draft history, and Moore’s name came up. A star at Syracuse, Moore graduated early (back when it was still unusual for undergraduates to enter the draft), and therefore elected to enter the Supplemental Draft. The move cost the Jets the 8th pick in the 1991 Draft, which the Eagles used on Tennessee offensive lineman Antone Davis. Moore was the much better player.

4) You were wondering which player in the last 25 years (and, perhaps, for much longer) saw the most targets in a single season in NFL history. After some searching, you found out that the answer was Rob Moore, with 208 targets for the 1997 Cardinals.

Wait, what? Of all the players in the last 25 years, Rob Moore is the single-season leader in targets? The single-season leaders in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns are Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson, and Randy Moss, respectively. The most targets (since 1992) that Jerry Rice ever saw was 176, and that was in 1995, when he gained 1848 receiving yards while playing for a 49ers team that threw 644 passes, the 2nd most in the NFL. So how did — just two years later — Rob Moore see 32 more targets than Rice in ’95? [click to continue…]


Guest Post: Passing Volume vs. Passing Efficiency

Today’s guest post comes from Ben Baldwin, a contributor for Field Gulls and Bryan’s site, http://thegridfe.com. You can find more of Ben’s work here or on Twitter @guga31bb. What follows are Ben’s words.

Arguing on the internet

A common argument on the internet (e.g. Twitter, where I spent too much time) is that the efficiency of players like Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson in their rookie seasons (and subsequent seasons, for Wilson) was not impressive because they were not asked to throw the ball as much. Once they are asked to throw more often, the argument goes, we can expect their efficiency to fall off. Here is one of many, many examples:

Do quarterbacks really look good because they throw less? [click to continue…]


Receiving TD Concentration Index (By Passer)

Gronk Smash

On Monday, I looked at the concentration index scores for a number of quarterbacks based on the number of touchdowns thrown to each receiver (more details on the formula available there and here). Today, the reverse: how diverse (or not diverse) were receivers with respect to the number of quarterbacks from whom they caught TDs?

Marques Colston, for example, caught 100% of his touchdowns from Drew BreesRob Gronkowski has caught all but one of his touchdowns from Tom Brady. And Mark Clayton caught 94% of his touchdowns from Dan Marino.

At the bottom of the list are two of the most underrated receivers by modern fans.   Both were superstars in college and very high draft picks, but “disappointed” in the pros.  That’s probably because they were stuck with a revolving door of bad quarterbacks.

Joey Galloway caught 77 career touchdowns and was the 8th pick in the ’95 Draft, but he is chronically underrated due to the bad quarterback play he experienced. He only had double digit touchdowns with one quarterback: an in-his-40s Warren Moon.  His top four quarterbacks were responsible for only 51% of his career touchdowns!  Galloway played with a lot of quarterbacks, and most of them were below-average.

The other receiver with a concentration index of less than 11% was former number one overall pick Irving Fryar.  Regular readers may recall that Fryar is the odd duck who set his career high in receiving yards at age 35 while playing with Bobby Hoying!  Fryar has over 3,000 yards with three franchises, a very rare feat.  He spent his 20s with the terrible Patriots back when that was a thing, and he led New England in receiving yards in ’90, ’91, and ’92, then led the Dolphins in receiving yards in ’93, ’94, and ’95, and then led the Eagles in receiving yards in ’96 and ’97!  It’s pretty impressive to lead your team in receiving yards for eight straight seasons, but it’s really impressive to do it for three different franchises. [click to continue…]


Bell had a lot of valuable yards last year.

All yards gained on special teams are done outside of the context of the series (down and distance) environment that defines most games. A kickoff return from to the 30 or to the 40 represents a difference of 10 yards, but those 10 yards are not as valuable as the difference between a gain of 5 yards and 15 yards on 3rd-and-10. The former are, quite literally, special teams yards. They don’t provide any value in gaining any additional first downs, or keeping a drive alive. This is why we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about all-purpose yardage leaders, or the difference between a kickoff returner who averages 28.0 yards per return or 24.0. Special teams yards, while obviously valuable, are — just as obviously — the least valuable yards possible.

On a 3rd-and-10, a 15-yard pass provides a significant amount of value by providing a first down. But let’s get a bit more precise: the first 10 of those yards were really valuable. The last 5? Well, those were special teams yards. The difference between gaining 10 yards and gaining 15 yards on 3rd-and-10 isn’t that significant: well, it’s about as significant as returning a kickoff for 30 yards or 35 yards. Those last 5 yards don’t help a team move the chains. [click to continue…]


Two years ago, I wrote this post titled “Take Away His X Best Carries and He’s Average.” The idea was simple: Suppose you sort each running back’s carries in descending order by yards gained. How many carries would we need to take away from him to drop his production to at or below average?

Browns running back Isaiah Crowell ranked 9th in yards per carry last year, with an impressive 4.81 average gain. But that number may be a bit misleading, to the extent it made you think that Crowell was consistently churning out big gains. Crowell was responsible for the longest run of the season last year, an 85-yard run in week 2 against the Ravens. And, for what it’s worth, it was one of the easiest long runs you’ll ever see:

In the last game of the year, Crowell had a more impressive 67-yard run against the Steelers. But here’s the thing: outside of those two runs, Crowell averaged just 4.08 yards per carry on his other 196 carries.

There were 42 running backs last year who had at least 100 rush attempts; those players averaged 4.19 yards per carry last year. So if you remove Crowell’s two best carries, he falls below that average.

An impressive Powell movement

On the other hand, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell averaged 4.86 yards per carry last year, and his six best runs went for 44, 38, 33, 26, 25, and 24 yards. Remove those, and Bell still averaged 4.23 yards per carry, which means you need to remove his seven best runs to drop him below average.

Jets running back Bilal Powell was the star of this metric.  He averaged 5.51 yards per carry last year, but he was a consistent producer of big gains.  He had 12 runs of 13+ yards, and you need to remove all 12 to bring Powell below average.  Remove those 12 carries and his average finally dips to 4.16 yards per carry.

Below are the 19 running backs to exceed that 4.19 yards per carry average last year, and the fewest number of carries you would need to remove to bring their production below average: [click to continue…]


2016 AV-Adjusted Team Age: Overall

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we looked at the average age for each team’s offense and defense in 2016. Today, let’s look at the overall picture (ignoring special teams). By that measure, the Jaguars, Browns, Rams, Bucs, and Texans have the five youngest teams in the NFL. Take a look: [click to continue…]


2016 AV-Adjusted Team Age: Defense

Being young isn’t by itself a virtue: the Browns ranked in the bottom 5 in points allowed, yards allowed, net yards per attempt allowed, net yards per rush allowed, turnovers forced, and first downs allowed. But Cleveland was, by far, the youngest defense in the NFL last season.

Yesterday, we looked at the age-adjusted offenses from 2016. Today we do the same for defenses, and the Browns were the youngest group in the league last year, with an average age of just 25.2 years. [click to continue…]

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2016 AV-Adjusted Team Age: Offense

After each of of the last five years, I’ve presented the AV-adjusted age of each roster in the NFL. Measuring team age in the NFL is tricky. You don’t want to calculate the average age of a 53-man roster and call that the “team age” because the age of a team’s starters is much more relevant than the age of a team’s reserves. The average age of a team’s starting lineup isn’t perfect, either. The age of the quarterback and key offensive and defensive players should count for more than the age of a less relevant starter. Ideally, you want to calculate a team’s average age by placing greater weight on the team’s most relevant players.

My solution has been to use the Approximate Value numbers from Pro-Football-Reference.com, and to calculate age using each player’s precise age as of September 1 of the year in question.  Today, we will look at offenses; tomorrow, we will crunch these same numbers for team defenses. The table below shows the average AV-adjusted age of each offense, along with its total number of points of AV. Last year, the Rams, Jaguars, and Titans were the three youngest offenses. Each of those three are still in the top five this year, joined by the Bucs at #1 and the Seahawks at #4. [click to continue…]

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