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Checkdowns: The Bill Barnwell Show, talking Week 10

Today at ESPN, you can hear me talk about football for 42 minutes before talking about the Jets.


The 2016 Presidential Election

In light of last night’s surprising results, I can’t get too focused on writing an article about football. There will be really good articles written by smart people out there today, but it all starts and ends with the maps. Here was 2012:


And here is 2016, according to the NYT:

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-8-14-03-am [click to continue…]


Adam Steele is back for another guest post. You can view all of Adam’s posts here. Adam is now on Twitter, and you follow him @2mileshigh. As always, we thank him for contributing.

In 2014, Football Perspective ran a pair of crowd sourcing exercises to determine the greatest quarterbacks and running backs of all time. These experiments were a lot of fun and generated a great deal of debate amongst the participants, so I thought it would be worthwhile to give crowd sourcing another shot. NFL quarterbacks are the most discussed and analyzed athletes in America, but we can’t properly debate the merits of the league’s famous signal callers without considering the effects of their supporting casts. As of today, there is no mathematically accurate way to measure the strength of a QB’s teammates and coaches, but there are plenty of people around who possess the football knowledge to make educated guesses. Basically, this is the perfect candidate for crowd sourcing. I want to keep things simple to maximize reader participation, so there are just a handful of guidelines I expect participants to follow:

1) Please rate a QB’s supporting cast based on how they affected his statistical performance, not his win/loss record or ring count. The supporting cast umbrella includes the direct effect of skill position teammates, offense lines, coaches, and system, but also the indirect effect of defense, special teams, ownership, and team culture. You’re free to weigh these components however you see fit. The rating for each supporting cast will account for the quarterback’s entire career, using a 0-100 scale. As a rule of thumb, a 100 rating equates to an all star team, 75 is strong but not dominant, 50 is average, 25 is weak but not terrible, and 0 is equivalent to the 1976 Buccaneers.

2) Ratings should be roughly weighted by playing time. The years in which a QB is the full time starter should count more heavily than seasons where he’s a backup or spot starter. And this almost goes without saying, but supporting casts are best evaluated in the context of their respective eras.

3) You may rate as many supporting casts as you wish. Since I will be compiling the results by hand, it doesn’t matter how you order your list, as long as it’s easy to read. I ask that you refrain from rating the supporting casts of quarterbacks you’re not reasonably familiar with; if you don’t know anything about a QB’s career, don’t guess! Any quarterback with at least 1,500 pass attempts is eligible to be rated, and I’ve provided a list of these quarterbacks here. Feel free to break up your ratings into multiple posts on different days, but just be sure to post with the same username each time so I can properly count the results. I plan on keeping the poll open for one week, but reserve the right to extend the duration if interest from new participants remains high enough.

Have fun!


538: Mid-Season Awards (2016)

Today at 538: my mid-season awards column!

Offensive Player of the Year: David Johnson, RB Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals running back leads the league with 1,112 yards from scrimmage through eight games. He’s averaging over 80 yards rushing and 50 yards receiving per game, which has only been accomplished by four other players in NFL history. But what’s most impressive has been his consistency: Johnson has gained at least 100 yards from scrimmage in every game this year, making him just the 12th player since 1960 to do that in each of his team’s first eight games. Every other player this year has at least three team games in which they failed to gain 100 total yards.4 He’s also averaging 4.5 yards per run and 11.6 yards per reception while scoring eight touchdowns, showing that Johnson’s season hasn’t been fueled only by a heavy workload.

You can read the full article here.

For the 49ers, run defense is more of a suggestion

For the 49ers, run defense is an aspirational thing.

In 2013, the Bears allowed 100-yard rushers in six straight games: those players were Eddie Lacy, Reggie Bush, Ray Rice, Benny Cunningham, Adrian Peterson, and DeMarco Murray. Chicago was the 5th team since 1960 to allow such a streak.

In 2007, the Browns began the season by allowing 100-yard games to Willie Parker, Rudi Johnson, LaMont Jordan, Willis McGahee, Sammy Morris, and Ronnie Brown.

In 2006, the Rams had their own six-game stretch of allowing opposing running backs to hit the century mark: those backs were LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Maurice Morris, DeAngelo Williams, Frank Gore, and Edgerrin James.

In 1998, the Bengals allowed an opposing runner to hit the 100-yard mark in six straight games: Priest Holmes, Kordell Stewart, Eddie George, Napoleon Kaufman, Terrell Davis, and Fred Taylor were the stars there.

The first time, since at least 1960, that a team allowed a player to rush for at least 100 yards in six straight games came in 1979, against the Raiders.  Oakland only allowed six 100-yard rushers all season, but it happened in consecutive weeks  by Paul Hofer, Earl Campbell, the 7th best player named Mike Williams in NFL history, Rob Lytle, Chuck Muncie, and Mike Pruitt.

But now, for the first time in NFL history, the San Francisco 49ers have allowed a 100-yard rusher in seven straight games. Fozzy Whittaker went 16-100 in week 2, Christine Michael had 20-106 in week 3, Ezekiel Elliott had 23-138 the next week, David Johnson went off for 27-157 in week 5, LeSean McCoy ran roughshod 19-140-3 the following week, and Jacquizz Rodgers had 26-154 last week.

Today? Mark Ingram had 15 carries for 158 yards.  Up next week? A rematch against David Johnson and the Cards.


Week 9, 2016: Gameday Thread

Let’s fire up the gameday thread. Two articles from this week of note in preparation of Sunday Night Football:

  • At 538, is the Broncos pass D better than ever?
  • At 538, are the Raiders penalties part of the reason for the team’s success?

Tonight’s game should be really fun to watch, if nothing else because it’s cool to see both of these teams playing well at the same time. In Elo ratings parlance, 1500 is the rating of an average team. Well, this is the first time since 2003 that both the Raiders and Broncos are above-average in Elo ratings.

That’s crazy, although largely because of Oakland’s below-average play. Just once, in 2011, was Oakland above 1500 and Denver below 1500. The graph below shows the Elo ratings for both teams entering all Raiders/Broncos games since 1960, along with the average rating of the two teams. It includes tonight’s game as the last data point: [click to continue…]


On average, the fumbling team has recovered 56% of all fumbles this year. But that hasn’t been the case with the Giants. New York has fumbled 11 times this year, which means you would expect them to recover 6.2 of those fumbles. But the Giants have 8 lost fumbles this year, which means the team has recovered only 3 of those 11 fumbles, or 3.2 fewer fumbles than expected.

That’s really bad, although not the worst in the league. Carolina has fumbled 7 times, so we would expect the Panthers to have recovered 3.9 of those fumbles. Instead? Carolina is 0-for-7, so the Panthers have recovered 3.9 fewer fumbles than expected.

But the Giants haven’t recovered the ball frequently when their opponent fumbles, either. New York’s opponents have 8 fumbles, so you would expect the Giants to have recovered 3.5 of them (or, stated another way, that their opponents should have recovered 4.5 of them). But Giants opponents have lost just one fumble this year, so New York has recovered 2.5 fewer fumbles than expected in this area of the game, too. Add it up, and that means the Giants have recovered 5.7 fewer fumbles than you would think. And that New York has recovered just 21% of all footballs to hit the ground in their games, regardless of the fumbling team

Here’s the data for all 32 teams through week 8 plus Thursday night. Here’s how to read the Steelers line. Pittsburgh has 9 fumbles of its own, but has only lost 2 fumbles, so the Steelers own fumble recovery percentage is a robust 78%, and Pittsburgh has recovered 2.0 more fumbles than expected. Meanwhile, Steelers opponents have 10 fumbles, and Steelers opponents have lost 5 of them, so the Steelers have recovered 50% of all fumbles here, too.1 This means the Steelers have recovered 0.6 more fumbles than expected of their opponents, and therefore 2.6 more fumbles overall than expected. The final column shows that Pittsburgh has recovered 63.2% of all fumbles in play this year, second most to those always-lucky Browns. [click to continue…]

  1. Note that “Opp FR%” means percentage of opponents fumbles that your team recovers. So Denver, at 72.7%, has recovered a lot of those fumbles. []

538: Is Denver’s Pass Defense Even Better? 

Today at 538: yes, really, Denver’s pass defense is even better this year.

Football studies have generally shown that offenses are more consistent from year to year than defenses, and regression to the mean is always a key part of any analysis for a historically great unit. As a result, we wouldn’t expect Denver’s 2016 pass defense to be anywhere near as good as the 2015 one. And that’s exactly what you see with most of the other teams on the list above.

The other pass defenses on the top 20 list above were, on average, 1.53 net yards per attempt better than average against the pass in their dominant season; however, in their first eight games of the following season, they were just 0.52 NY/A better than average. That’s a sign of how difficult is it for dominant defenses to sustain that level of excellence over a long period. Defensive backs and pass rushers are two of football’s most health-dependent roles, and even one player losing a step or leaving in free agency can sink a unit. But so far this season, the Broncos have been even better that last season, jumping from 1.30 NY/A better than league average to 1.73.

You can read the full article here.


The Washington Redskins have made five Super Bowls in their history:

  • To conclude the 1972 season, with Republican Richard Nixon in office as President of the United States;
  • At the end of the 1982, 1983, and 1987 seasons, with Republican Ronald Reagan as the sitting POTUS;
  • In January 1992, during the final year of Republican George H. W. Bush’s presidency.

During the Super Bowl era, Washington has gone 272-180-3 while a Republican is in office. That translates to a .601 winning percentage, the best of any team.

But the Redskins have been a lot worse with a Democrat in office. In fact, Washington has a lowly 150-201-5, a 0.428 winning percentage that is the fourth worst of any team during the Super Bowl era. Washington’s best years came under Reagan, Bush, Ford, and Nixon, while the franchise’s worst years have been under Obama, Clinton, and LBJ.  Take a look: [click to continue…]


Today at 538:

So far this season, 45 players have been flagged for at least five offensive penalties, and six of those players are Raiders: backup lineman Vadal Alexander (8), followed by Penn (7), center Rodney Hudson (6), guard Gabe Jackson (6), WR Michael Crabtree (5) and guard Kelechi Osemele (5). In total, Raiders offensive linemen have been flagged for 33 penalties, nine more than any other offensive line in the league.

That’s a lot of penalties, but what that analysis is missing is what’s happening on all the plays that don’t result in a penalty — especially if those plays include ones where the refs don’t throw a flag because they’ve already thrown so many. And Oakland’s offensive line is doing really, really well on those plays. No team has spent more 2016 salary cap dollars on its offensive line than the Raiders, and it’s paid off: Oakland has been sacked on just 2.7 percent of all pass plays this season, the lowest rate in the NFL. And Oakland’s top three running backs — Latavius Murray, DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard — aren’t highly-regarded and weren’t drafted with premium picks, but they have rushed 156 times for 763 yards and 6 touchdowns, averaging 4.9 yards per attempt. The Oakland line is getting things done.

You can read the full article here.

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Three victorious teams stood out in week eight as pass-heavy:

  • New England blew out the Bills, and led 41-17 until the final minute of the game. But despite a Game Script of +13.0, that didn’t stop the Patriots from throwing on over 60% of all plays. Tom Brady has deservedly received a lot of press this week, but the ratio against Buffalo was also a sign of an emerging problem: the running game hasn’t been very good. LeGarrette Blount had 18 carries for 43 yards, and New England’s running game has been inconsistent all year. Of course, that could just lead to more Brady throws, which may not be such a bad thing.
  • For Oakland, Derek Carr had 59 pass attempts (and just two sacks) in a monster game against the Bucs. The Raiders running backs had some success, but this was a competitive game throughout. That’s a sign, tho, that the Raiders want to put the ball in the hands of Carr and Michael Crabtree (16 targets) and Amari Cooper (15 targets).
  • The Chiefs rolled against the Colts, but even though Alex Smith went down, Kansas City stayed pass happy under Nick Foles. Kansas City passed more than you would expect from a team with a +8.0 Game Script, but that also may be a sign that the Colts pass defense is so bad that teams will pass on it regardless of situation.

Below are the Week 8 Game Scripts numbers. [click to continue…]


The most dominant win of week 9 came from…. Tulsa? Entering the week, Memphis was 5-2, with only road losses against ranked teams in Memphis and Navy. Memphis ranked 38th in the SRS last week, and was a 6-point favorite at home against Tulsa. But the Golden Hurricane broke open the game in the second half, scoring the final 24 points en route to a 59-30 victory. Running back James Flanders had 33 carries for 249 yards and 5 touchdowns, including scores of 52 and 48 yards.

In slightly more relevant week 9 news, there was some B12 on B12 crime this weekend, as the last two remaining teams in the conference went down.  Oklahoma State had the 2nd best SRS performance of the week, winning by 17 against previously unbeaten West Virginia. Texas was a bit less impressive, but still had the third best B12 performance of the week in a 35-34 home victory against Baylor.

But perhaps the most notable performance of the week came from Auburn, as the Tigers went on the road and scored 13 fourth quarter points to beat Ole Miss in Oxford, 40-29.  Auburn now seems like a legitimate candidate to beat Alabama, or at least give the Tide a competitive game in the Iron Bowl.

Below are the single-game SRS results from this weekend. As always, thanks to Peter R. Wolfe for providing the game scores. [click to continue…]

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Week 8, 2016: Gameday Thread

It’s time to fire up the gameday thread for another week.


Most Plays Without Scoring a Touchdown

One of my favorite boxscores comes from a Steelers-Texans game in 2002. The Jets played at 4:15 that day, and I was living in Pennsylvania at the time, so I got to watch that game in its entirety. And the game was baffling on every level.

The expansion Texans had just three first downs the entire game. Three! David Carr completed 3 of 10 passes for 33 yards, with all three going to tight end Billy Miller. He was sacked four times, so Houston had 10 net passing yards on 14 dropbacks.

The Texans weren’t much better on the ground, running 26 times for 37 yards. That’s 47 total yards of offense with no touchdowns! In an entire game! And when you hear that the final score was 24-6, one would have to assume that Houston lost. But the didn’t. They won! They won 24-6!! In a game where they had 47 yards of offense and no touchdowns! That remains the fewest yards ever gained by a team in a winning effort. Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said it best:

Hold a team to under 50 yards offense, you’d think you’d have a chance to win at least….To get blown out when that happens, it’s tough.

Houston, of course, scored three defensive touchdowns, including two by former Jet Aaron Glenn. But what made watching the game even more confusing was that the Pittsburgh was pretty productive on offense, with 422 yards. Then again, the Steelers also had 15 drives and a whopping 95 plays, thanks due Houston recording eight 3-and-outs.

So why am I bringing that game up now? After watching the crazy Seahawks/Cardinals game last week, I was stunned by how Arizona was somehow kept out of the end zone all night. The Cardinals ran a whopping 90 plays, but the game ended in a 6-6 tie.

So I ran the numbers, and guess what? The only time in NFL history that a team ran more plays and failed to score a touchdown was Pittsburgh in that game against Houston.

The table below shows every game in NFL history where a team had 80 plays and zero offensive touchdowns: [click to continue…]


Joe Flacco’s Career, My Graphic Novel

My favorite measure of quarterback play is Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt. For new readers, ANY/A is simply yards per attempt, but it includes sacks (both in the denominator and with those yards lost deducted from the numerator) and adjustments for touchdowns (20-yard bonus) and interceptions (45-yard penalty).

I am going to use a modified version of that formula today, by basing my formula around yards per dropback rather than yards per attempt. The only difference? Spikes are discarded, scrambles (and yards gained on scrambles) are included, but those are both improvements to the formula.

With that said, here is Joe Flacco‘s modified ANY/A average in every game of his career, plotted from his first game in week 1 of 2008 through week 7 of 2016.  I have made the data points that represent playoff games larger and in yellow.  The four dots next to each and relatively high on the graph represent, of course, his Super Bowl run in 2012.

flacco [click to continue…]


538: Hue Jackson’s Browns Are 0-7

Today at 538: What Does An 0-7 Start Mean For An NFL Coach?

The Browns hired Hue Jackson to lead the team’s latest rebuilding effort in a move that was regarded as one of the best coaching hires of the offseason. In an offseason in which the Browns also brought in Paul DePodesta as chief strategy officer to turn the franchise around, it seemed like Cleveland had its coach of the future. But Jackson is now just the 20th coach since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to fail to win a game in his team’s first seven contests.

You can read the full article here.


In week 1, the Chargers lost to the Chiefs despite a Game Script of +10.3. San Diego led 21-3 at halftime and 24-3 in the third quarter, but the Chiefs ultimately won in overtime.

It’s pretty unusal to lose with a +10 Game Script, or stated another way, it’s pretty unusual to win with a -10 Game Script. But that’s exactly what San Diego did in week seven, beating Atlanta with a Game Script of -10.2. The Chargers trailed 27-10 in the first half, but won in overtime, 33-30. The Chargers still had an element of balance in the game — Melvin Gordon had 22 carries for 68 yards and two touchdowns — while the Falcons were done in by the team’s last three drives ending on an interception, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs.

Below are the week seven Game Scripts data. As is customary around these parts, I’ve lowlighted the Seahawks/Cardinals game in blue as a result of their tie (you can move your cursor over that row to see it more clearly, not that I know why you would want to). [click to continue…]


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

Previously, I introduced my new metric — Adjusted Points Per Drive — for measuring team offense. I thought it would be fun to apply the same methodology to quarterbacks, which I what I’m doing today. I highly encourage you to go back and read the previous post if you haven’t already, because I don’t want to clutter today’s post by repeating all of the calculation details.

Unfortunately, I don’t have drive stats for individual games, so there’s going to be some approximation here. To calculate a quarterback’s career Adjusted Points Per Drive (AjPPD), I simply take his team’s AjPPD from each of his playing seasons and weight those seasons by games started. This will give us a measure of a quarterback’s scoring efficiency, but it doesn’t account for volume or longevity. That’s where Adjusted Offensive Points (AjPts) comes in handy.

I assign each QB a portion of his teams’ Adjusted Points, then compare that to league average to calculate Points Over Average (POA). The formula for calculating a given season’s POA = (Tm AjPts – 315) * (GS / 16). The 315 figure is derived from multiplying my normalized baselines of 1.75 AjPPD by 180 drives per year, meaning the average team scores 315 Adjusted Points per season.

I’ll use Ben Roethlisberger’s 2015 season as an example: Pittsburgh scored 400 Adjusted Points and Ben started 11 games, so his 2015 campaign is worth (400 – 315) * (11 / 16) = 30 POA. Do this for every season and we have Career POA, which is the primary metric I’ll be using here. However, some people prefer to rank quarterbacks based on their peak years rather than their entire career, so I added the “Peak” column which is the sum of each quarterback’s three best POA seasons.

This study includes all QB’s who started their first game in 1997 or later, and made at least 40 starts between 1997 and 2015 (partial numbers from 2016 are not included). These criteria leaves us with 56 quarterbacks. Before we dig into the results, it’s worth noting that the correlation between Career POA and ANY/A+ is a healthy 0.92. We all know that the NFL is a passing league, but drive efficiency is even more dominated by the passing game than I thought. According to r2, 85% of the variance in Adjusted Points Per Drive is explained by a basic measure of passing efficiency. That doesn’t leave much room for the running game to have an impact. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that rushing efficiency has no appreciable impact on scoring for the majority of teams. That’s not to say running the ball is useless; offenses must run occasionally to keep the defense honest, and running comes in handy for converting short yardage and bleeding the clock. But, to quote Ron Jaworski, “Points come out of the passing game!”

Time for the rankings… [click to continue…]


538: There Are No Great Teams This Year

Today, at 538: a look at how there are no great teams in the NFL this year.

The opening week of this NFL season featured a record number of close games that provided more than a hint of things to come. Because after Minnesota’s loss on Sunday to Philadelphia, there are no remaining undefeated teams. For reference, this time last year, there were five undefeated teams.

Sharon Katz at ESPN Analytics wrote Monday that every NFL team is flawed. Using Expected Points Added as her preferred measure of offensive and defensive efficiency, she showed that no team is excelling on both sides of the ball this season.

You can read the full article here.


Week Eight (2016) College Football SRS Ratings

Last week, Michigan, Alabama, and Ohio State were far ahead of the pack according to the SRS. The top 6 remains unchanged this week other than Clemson and Louisville switching spots. That might be surprising given that Ohio State lost in Happy Valley, but Penn State now ranks 22nd in the SRS (they ranked 34th last week) and the Buckeyes had a large lead on #4 Clemson last week. Ohio State gets a 51.0 for losing at Penn State, but Clemson had a 56.1 last week for a home win over N.C. State.

The three big wins of the week came from Auburn, Louisville, and Alabama. At this rate, the Crimson Tide look ridiculous: Alabama’s worst game of the year was a 59.7, scored in a 5-point road win against Ole Miss. Two other games (34-6 over Kentucky, 48-0 over Kent State) had similar scores. But against the three teams Alabama has faced with an SRS of at least 50, the Ride have won by a combined 134-30 (USC, Tennessee, A&M).

But after Auburn’s destruction of Arkansas this weekend, there’s at least reason to think the Iron Bowl should be interesting. On Saturday, the Tigers rushed for 544 yards and 7 touchdowns on 56 carries — that is insane. In fact, it’s the most by any SEC team in a regular season game since at least 2000: it’s also one less yard than the famed 2013 Tigers had in the SEC Championship Game against Missouri.

As for Louisville? Well, they obliterated that NC State team that nearly (and should have) beaten Clemson last week. Below are the single-game week 8 SRS ratings:
[click to continue…]

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Week 7, 2016: Gameday Thread

Let’s fire it up again this week!


2016 ANY/A Update

Matt Ryan is having a career year, in a not disimilar way from what Carson Palmer did last season. Thanks to a superstar receiver and an offensive coaching staff that is drawing rave reviews, Ryan is having the sort of once-in-a-career year expected from a top-3 pick.  In fact, Ryan is even ahead of Palmer’s pace from last year:

Rk Age Year Lg Tm G W L Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sk Yds ANY/A
1 Matt Ryan 31 2016 NFL ATL 6 4 2 143 210 68.10 2075 15 3 117.9 15 98 9.52
2 Carson Palmer 35 2015 NFL CRD 6 4 2 125 193 64.77 1737 14 5 106.9 8 42 8.71

The Falcons ranked 17th in ANY/A last year, and 1st this year; Atlanta’s offensive ANY/A has jumped by 3.34 ANY/A, the biggest leap in the league. You might think the Jets — 14th in ANY/A last year, 32nd this year — would have the biggest decline, but New York’s dip is only the second worst. That’s because Palmer, who had a very lofty perch from which to fall, has been far below-average this season: [click to continue…]


Today at 538: A look at draft value by team, based on the number of snaps taken by each player:

Based on the draft value calculator I created to measure the approximate average production level provided by each draft pick, we can convert each draft slot into a draft value (undrafted players receive a draft value of zero). Then, with the help of Pro-Football-Reference.com, I was able to calculate the snap-weighted draft value of each team’s offense and defense. For example, Palmer, as the first overall pick in the draft, has a draft value of 34.6. And since Palmer has taken 77 percent of all snaps for the Cardinals this season and he is one of 11 players on the offense, that means that 7 percent (i.e., 77 percent divided by 11) of Arizona’s snap-weighted offensive draft value is driven by Palmer’s 34.6 rating. This isn’t a perfect proxy for the production we can expect from a top pick — Palmer is on the back end of his career, when we expect even the best quarterbacks to be in decline — but it’s a fun way to look at the rosters.

Perform this calculation for each player on each team through the first six weeks of the 2016 NFL season and we can calculate the average draft value of each offense and defense, with all snap data coming from Pro-Football-Reference.com. Arizona has the best-pedigreed offense in the NFL; the Seahawks’ offense, on the other hand, has the lowest average draft value.

You can read the full article here.


Let’s start with a piece of good news: I’ve created a 2016 Game Scripts page! On the top right of every page, there is a link to the 2016 Game Scripts, along with a dropdown option to view prior seasons.  Here’s a screenshot:


So that’s the good news. The bad news is the Jets. In other news, Houston had the second-biggest comeback of the season as measured by Game Script: the Texans beat the Colts with a Game Script of -6.9. In many ways, this was more shocking than what the Chiefs did to the Chargers in week one (-10.3). That game was a 7-point contest with three minutes left; on Sunday Night Football, the Colts led by 14 with three minutes left, yet still managed to lose the game.

Let’s get to the Week 6 Game Scripts: [click to continue…]

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

Adjusted Points Per Drive

I love drive stats. There’s no better method, in my opinion, of measuring the performance of offensive and defensive units. However, raw points per drive has a couple of glaring flaws – it doesn’t account for field position or adjust for league offensive efficiency. In this post, I am going to correct those issues and rank every offense in the drive stat era (1997-2015).1 To accomplish this, I created a simple metric called Adjusted Points Per Drive. Here’s how it’s calculated:

Step 1: Calculate total offensive points for each team. OffPts = PassTD * 7 + RushTD * 7 + FGAtt * (LgFGM / LgFGA). I chose to use the average value of a field goal attempt rather than made field goals, as I want to minimize the effect of special teams. In 2015, for example, the average FGA was worth 2.535 points, so I plug that number into each team’s number of attempts.

Step 2: Calculate points per drive (PPD). All drives ending with a kneel down are discarded. PPD = OffPts / Drives.

Step 3: Adjust for starting field position. The expected points value of each yard line is a bit noisy, so I smoothed it out into a simple linear formula. Every yard is worth 0.05 expected points, and PPD is normalized based on an average starting field position at the 30 yard line. I call this field position adjusted points per drive, or fPPD for short. fPPD = PPD – ((AvgFP – 30) *0.05). With this step, we can accurately compare the scoring production of all teams within a given season.

Step 4: Adjust for league scoring efficiency. I normalize each season’s fPPD to a baseline of 1.75 to calculate adjusted points per drive. At the team level, AjPPD = fPPD / LgfPPD * 1.75. Now, at last, we can compare the scoring production of every team since 1997. To make AjPPD more intuitive, I also translate it into adjusted offensive points (AjPts) using a baseline of 180 drives per team season. AjPts = AjPPD * 180. [click to continue…]

  1. Drive Stats provided by Jim Armstrong of Football Outsiders, and expected points data courtesy of Tom McDermott. []

Strength of Schedule Data, Through Week 6 and Rest of Year

The Jets have had a brutal strength of schedule so far. Based on Pro-Football-Reference.com’s SRS ratings, and adjusted for home field, the Jets have had the toughest schedule this year, with home game against the Bengals, and Seahawks, and road games against the Bills, Chiefs, Steelers, and Cardinals.

The good news? For the rest of the season, the Jets have the 21st toughest schedule in the league, and no team has an easier dropoff in schedule than New York. This was predictable — in fact, I wrote just that for 538 in the offseason.

On the flip side, we have the Seahawks. Here’s how to read the table below, using Seattle. They are ranked 32nd, because no team’s schedule gets more difficult. Seattle’s through week 6 SOS — the TW6 SOS column — is -3.06, meaning its average opponent was about three points worse than average. That’s been the 31st toughest (or 2nd easiest) slate in the league. Meanwhile, Seattle’s rest of year SOS — marked as ROY SOS — is +2.13, the 3rd toughest left in football. That’s a difference of -5.19 (i.e., negative is bad, because the schedule is now harder). [click to continue…]


538: Buffalo, Washington, Are Making Running Great Again

The Bills are on one of the craziest running streaks in recent history.  Washington? Well, here is what I wrote in my Game Scripts recaps after weeks 1 and 2:

Washington finished with a Game Script of -5.8, but even that doesn’t typically justify a 78% pass ratio. That was the most pass-heavy attack in the week (both without adjusting for Game Script and after adjusting), and is a sign of the lack of faith in the team’s ground game. Matt Jones rushed 7 times for 24 yards, Chris Thompson had 4 for 23, and the team’s only other run was a scramble by Cousins for 8 yards on 4th-and-10.

On the pass-heavy side, Washington was at it again. In a game where Washington led for much of the second half before ultimately losing to Dallas, Kirk Cousins had 48 dropbacks (50, if you include the two scrambles), while the team rushed just 17 times (15, if you exclude the two scrambles). Matt Jones wasn’t bad against Dallas, and Cousins wasn’t very good, so it will be interesting to see if anything changes in week 3 against the Giants.

Since then? Well, both teams have seen significant improvements in both quantity and quality on the ground. And now they are are on four game winning streaks after 0-2 starts.  They were the subject of my 538 recap this week:

But it wasn’t just the 0-2 record on the field; the teams looked ugly off the field, too. After the team’s second loss, Buffalo fired offensive coordinator Greg Roman, a move widely viewed as an attempt by head coach Rex Ryan to make Roman into a scapegoat for the team’s problems. In Washington, rumors swirled that the locker room was holding quarterback Kirk Cousins responsible — and that caused head coach Jay Gruden to issue the dreaded vote of confidence for his starter.

Now? Both teams are riding four-game winning streaks and look like playoff contenders. Before this year, only 18 teams in NFL history1 had started a season 0-2 and then won four straight games. Over the past 20 years, this season’s Buffalo and Washington squads are only the fourth and fifth teams to do so. So how did they do it? Although the NFL continues to shift toward the passing game, both teams have zagged and rebounded thanks to their ground game.

You can read the full article here.


Week Seven (2016) College Football SRS Ratings

Last week, Michigan jumped to number one in the SRS after demolishing Rutgers. The Wolverines, on bye, stayed at number one this week, but the Crimson Tide are coming after them. The top team of week 7 was Alabama, who destroyed a good conference opponent in Tennessee.  Here’s what you need to know: the Crimson Tide….

  • outgained the Vols, 613-201;
  • outrushed the Vols, 438-32, the most rushing yards by Alabama in 30 years; and
  • scored on both a punt return and an interception return, winning 49-7.

Given that the Volunteers have an SRS rating of 50.4, and that the game was in Tennessee, a 39-point road victory translates to an SRS rating of 83.4; no other team in week 7 cracked 70.

The second best win came from West Virginia; at 5-0 and now #16 in the SRS, it may be time to start watching the Mountaineers more closely.  WVU’s toughest opponents to date have been BYU and Kansas State, and both were close wins.  But the Big 12’s best hope for national relevance is for both West Virginia and Baylor to enter their December 3rd matchup undefeated. Unlikely, of course, but that’s at least a path.

Oh, and the Western Michigan hype machine should keep rolling.  The Broncos destroyed Akron, which may not sound that impressive, but for reference: WMU won 41-0 in Akron, while Wisconsin won 54-10 at home against the Zips. Running back Jarvion Franklin had 33 carries for 281 yards in the win. [click to continue…]

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Week 6, 2016: Gameday Thread

Last Sunday, I posted a gameday reaction thread, and we had over 50 comments. Let’s try it again this week: Write about whatever you want — emotional reactions, interesting observations, statistical questions, whatever — in the comments below. I’ll do my best to respond to each of them.


The Green Bay Packers run defense has been insanely dominant this season, allowing just 1.99 yards per carry and 157 rushing yards through four games. Since 1940, only one team — the 1995 49ers — have allowed fewer rushing yards through four games. And Green Bay is the first team since 1953 to allow less than two yards per carry through four games!

Making this all the more remarkable is that the Packers run defense was bad last season, ranking in the bottom half of the league in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and 29th in yards per carry. From a snap count perspective, LB Nick Perry (76%), LB Jake Ryan (73%), DT Mike Daniels (64%), and LB Blake Martinez (52%) are the only front seven defenders to have appeared in at least 50% of the team’s plays! In other words, it’s not like guys like Clay Matthews (47%) and Julius Peppers (44%) are having monster seasons.

Frankly, I haven’t watched enough of the Packers defense to weigh in on what’s going on — I don’t know if Perry or Ryan is having a breakout season.  So instead, here’s what I’ll do.  The graph below shows the percentage of running plays against the Packers that have gone for X yards, and also against the rest of the NFL.  Here’s the key: the Packers have been incredible at dropping opposing carries for a loss (28%) compared to the rest of the NFL (13%).  Meanwhile, 11% of all runs against the other 31 teams have gone for at least 10+ yards, compared to just two percent of all runs for the Packers (with a long of just 14 yards).


So what’s the takeaway? Does this graph make you think the Packers’ run defense success is more or less fluky (given that there’s always a large amount of flukiness present in such an outlier result)?

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