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Team Pass Identities Through 10 Weeks (2015)

I’ve published the Game Scripts data from every game this year at the 2015 Game Scripts page, available here. What would it look like if we plotted Game Script score (on the X-Axis) against Pass Ratio (on the Y-Axis) for every game this year? Something like this:

avg game script

(Note that this looks pretty similar to how it was through seven weeks last year, although the constant (i.e., league-average pass ratio) has increased by nearly a full percentage point.)
[click to continue…]


Week 10 Game Scripts – The Saints Give Up

Reminder: the 2015 Game Scripts page is now updated.

Drew Brees threw just 28 passes last week, and was sacked two more times. For some teams, that’s not unusual, but the Saints have always been very pass-happy under Brees. In fact, since Brees came over in 2006, there have been only 48 games where New Orleans had less than 35 pass attempts (excluding sacks). In only four of those games were the Saints losing after three quarters, and in only one of those games were the Saints trailing by more than 7 points through three quarters.

Until Sunday. New Orleans trailed by 23 points entering the 4th quarter, which would be prime territory for a pass-happy game for most teams. In fact, since 2006, there had been 31 games where New Orleans trailed by double digits entering the 4th quarter; on average, the Saints threw 45 passes (excluding sacks) in those games, with only one game (a 29-attempt game in week 17 against Carolina in 2009 which Brees did not play in) coming in with fewer than 36 attempts!

That makes the Saints game in week 10 all the more remarkable. A 28-pass attempt game by Brees when the Saints get blown out? That’s unheard of. The Saints ran Tim Hightower on the game’s final seven plays. Running out the clock while getting blown out is one strategy, I suppose. Obviously New Orleans wasn’t going to win once they were down by 33 points, but it is pretty rare to see a team just sit on the ball like that. Frankly, they would have been better off from a health perspective having Brees take a knee on each play.

Below are the Game Scripts data from week 10.

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio

In addition to New Orleans, Chicago was a team that checked out as very run-heavy. The Bears ran 37 times and on 69% of all plays; both numbers were the highest of any team in week ten.

On the other side, the Steelers and Browns were both very pass-happy. Cleveland passed nearly 80% of the time, which is very high even given the -11.3 Game Script. Meanwhile, the Steelers still passed on 64% of all plays. Then again, neither team could get the running game going: the Browns rushed 14 times for 15 yards, while Pittsburgh produced an only-good-by-comparison 21 for 60 stat line.

Green Bay threw on 78% of all plays in a game that was close throughout with the Lions. And Jacksonville and Baltimore both threw on just over two-thirds of their plays in a game that was close throughout. This isn’t too surprising, though, as all three of these teams have exhibited pass-happy tendencies in the past.

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How many interceptions will a team throw in a game?  That’s dependent on a number of things, of course, but I want to focus on three things: how interception prone the team is, how interception prone the opposing defense is, and the Game Script.

Suppose you knew what the Game Script of a game would wind up being; given that you have a general sense of the offense’s and defense’s interception rates, what weight would you put on each variable to predict a team’s interception rate?

The same is true for other statistics.  For example, what about rushing yards?  How many yards would you project Team A to run for against Team B, if you knew the rushing stats for  Team A’s offense, Team B’s defense, and the Game Script?

Or passing yards.  Or completion percentage.  The interplay between offense and defense is always interesting — some research suggests about 60% of the result is due to the offense, with 40% based on the defense — but throwing in Game Scripts adds an interesting element.

Oh, and one final thought: how would you go about trying to answer these questions.  What studies would you run?  What would you like me to do?


Week 9 (2015) Game Scripts: Buffalo Runs To Victory

Reminder: The 2015 Game Scripts page is now updated for week 9 results.

Last week, I wrote about the Rams heavy commitment to the running game. Well, in week 9, the Buffalo Bills had just 15 pass plays — 12 pass attempts and 3 sacks — while passing on just 29.4% of all plays. Both of those numbers set new team lows for the 2015 season.

Below are the Game Scripts data for each team in week 9. [click to continue…]


Let’s start with a piece of good news: I have created a 2015 Game Scripts page, where you can access the Game Scripts data from every game this season. That will likely be updated on Tuesday or Wednesday of each week.

The Rams are suddenly interesting to watch on offense. St. Louis traded into the top ten to draft Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin, and both players showed off their talents in week eight. Gurley had a 71-yard run, the highlight of a 20-carry, 133-yard day, while Austin ran for a touchdown and caught a 66-yard touchdown. Together, the duo combined for 265 yards from scrimmage as part of a run-heavy day for St. Louis. The team rushed 41 times compared to just 23 dropbacks, giving St. Louis the most run-happy identity of the week.

In losing efforts, two other teams stood out as run-happy. One, surprisingly, was Green Bay: The Packers were blown out, the sort of environment that usually leads to a 40-pass day. Instead, Aaron Rodgers had just 25 pass attempts, while the Packers finished with 21 carries. That ratio was supported by the efficiency metrics, though, as Green Bay shockingly averaged just 2.0 Net Yards per Attempt (compared to 4.3 yards per carry on the ground.)

The table below shows the week 8 Game Scripts data: [click to continue…]


The New England Patriots on Sunday provided one of the most incredible pass/run ratios in recent history. Last year, teams were very pass-happy against the Jets, as a result of New York having a great run defense and a terrible pass defense. The Jets pass defense is significantly better this year, but that didn’t stop the Patriots from pretending the run option didn’t exist.

New England finished the day with 54 pass attempts, 3 sacks, and just 9 carries, representing an incredible 86.4% pass ratio. If you consider that Tom Brady had two scrambles and a third “carry” that went down for zero yards but was a sack on a pass play where Brady managed to get back to the line of scrimmage, and the Patriots really meant to pass on 60 plays, while calling runs just six times. A fourth run was a Brady sneak, leaving just five rushing attempts for the rest of the team that totaled exactly one yard. Brady was effective but not stellar in the passing game, but it was pretty clear that passing was the best option for the Patriots offense on nearly every play.

Two other big notes from week 7: Washington fell behind 24-0 against Tampa Bay, but won in the final minute of the game. That gave Washington a remarkable victory in a game where the team posted a -9.3 Game Script, topping the Bears game against the Chiefs for largest comeback as measured by Game Script. And, on the far other end of the spectrum, Miami produced an unreal 25.9 Game Script, the top score of the season. There have been three Game Scripts this year of over 20 points, and two of them have come against the Texans. The third was the previous high of the season, Arizona’s 24.3 Game Script against the 49ers. [click to continue…]


The Jets have long been one of the most run-happy teams in the NFL, particularly after accounting for Game Script.  That rung true again in week 6, when New York was in control for most of the game against Washington.  The Jets had a solid +6.1 Game Script, but most teams would still pass at least half of the time with that sort of game flow.  But not the Jets, who passed on just 38.8% of pass plays and recorded a league-high 41 runs in week 6.

Four of those runs were from Ryan Fitzpatrick (an 18-yard touchdown, a 15-yard scramble, and two kneels), but Chris Ivory and Zac Stacy rushed 33 times for 192 yards (less impressive: Bilal Powell with four carries for -2 yards). The Jets are always going to run the ball, and when the Game Script goes their way, they will put up some truly impressive rushing totals. There have been just four games this year where a team has rushed more than 40 times, and two of those came in New York’s last four games. With a date in Foxboro this weekend, tracking the Jets pass/run ratio will be very interesting if the Game Script doesn’t go the Jets way. In New York’s only loss, the Jets had 59 passes and just 16 runs.

Without Ben Roethlisberger — and with Le’Veon Bell — the Steelers have become quite the run-happy team. Pittsburgh has now run more than its passed over the last three weeks, including a pass ratio of just under 40% despite posting a negative Game Script against the Cardinals (don’t let the 12-point final margin of victory fool you). The Steelers have completed just 43 passes over the team’s last three games.

Below are the week 6 Game Scripts data. As you can see, the biggest comeback of the week belongs to the Carolina Panthers. [click to continue…]


In the first four weeks, the biggest “comeback” as measured by Game Script belonged to the Atlanta Falcons, who defeated the Cowboys despite posting a Game Script of -5.4. But Chicago won on Sunday despite a Game Script of -8.9! This game seemed like a Chiefs win from before kickoff — when Kansas City was a 9-point favorite — until the very end.

The Chiefs led 14-3 early in the second quarter, 17-3 at halftime, and 17-6 entering the 4th quarter. With five minutes left, Kansas City led by that same score. With 3:11 to go, Jay Cutler found Marquess Wilson for a 22-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-6, giving the Bears new life. After the failed two point conversion, the Chiefs went 3-and-out, and Cutler took over on his own 33 with 2:04 to go. He drove the Bears down the field again, and found Matt Forte for the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds remaining. The Bears drive chart reads: Punt, Fumble, Field Goal, Punt, Punt, Punt, End of Half, Field Goal, punt, Downs, followed by an 88-yard touchdown drive and a 67-yard touchdown drive. File this in your memory bank the next time a coach decides to take the conservative approach because his defense had been shutting down the opponent all day.

And while not on the same level, the Browns (-4.9), Bengals (-3.8), Steelers (-3.4), Bills (-2.7), and Falcons (-2.1) all won with negative Game Scripts. That always make the numbers a bit more interesting to look at. So let’s do just that: below are the week 5 Game Scripts data: [click to continue…]


I’m short on time this week, so I will present the data and leave the commentary to you guys. Here are the Game Scripts data from week 4.

Well, okay, allow me one comment. Under Joe Philbin, the Miami Dolphins have been incredibly pass-happy, despite the fact that the team has often been more effective on the ground than through the air. Well, in Philbin’s last game as head coach, Miami passed on 81% of dropbacks, the highest rate of any team in week four. And, of course, while some of that was due to the team’s poor Game Script, note that Tampa Bay had nearly the same Game Script and passed on only 61% of all plays.

Miami rushed 11 times for 59 yards, so it was not as though the Dolphins rushing attack mandated a pass-happy approach. And Ryan Tannehill averaged 2.49 ANY/A on 47 dropbacks. You can probably figure out why Philbin was fired. [click to continue…]


In week 3, Arizona picked off two Colin Kaepernick passes and returned them for touchdowns… in the first six minutes of the game. The Cardinals led 28-0 before we were halfway through the second quarter! On average, Arizona led by 24.3 points during every second of game play, the most dominant Game Script so far in 2015 (it would rank 5th last year).

But while the Cardinals provided the biggest blowout of week three, it was hardly the only one. A full half of all 16 games had a double digit Game Script, and only the Jets managed to finish within one score of their opponent. Three other games finished with double-digit margins; there simply weren’t that many nail biters last weekend.

The Falcons, though, did pull off an impressive upset: Atlanta trailed 14-0 midway through the first quarter against the Cowboys, and then 21-7 midway through the second. Atlanta even went into halftime down 11, but scored three second half touchdowns while shutting out the Cowboys to pull away with the victory. In the process, the Falcons became just the 11th team since 1990 to trail by at least 11 at halftime and still win by at least 11 points.

Below are the week 3 game scripts: [click to continue…]


On Sunday, New England defeated Buffalo by the misleading score of 40-32. The Patriots may have won by only one score, but New England held an 11-point lead at halftime and a 24-point lead after three quarters. The Patriots were in control of the game for most of the contest, and held an average lead of 9.8 points during each second of game play (the “Game Script”).

Teams with large leads don’t pass very often; in general, you’d expect a team with a Game Script of +10.0 to pass around 50% of the time. But New England threw on 80% of all snaps! That even includes three Tom Brady kneels, and one run each by wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. Excluding those plays, New England passed on 61 of 71 plays, an astonishing 86% pass rate. Much of that number owes to a stout Buffalo run defense, but that’s a remarkable pass-happy performance regardless of Game Script or opponent; given that it came in a game where New England dominated, it was even more noteworthy. By comparison, Minnesota had a Game Script of +10.4 against Detroit, and passed on just 31.7% of plays. In fact, none of the other 31 teams passed as often as New England in week two. [click to continue…]


It’s a little late, but good news: I have the week 1 Game Scripts!

Regular readers know all about Game Scripts, but you can learn more about them here. Essentially, Game Scripts is the term I’ve used to represent the average margin of lead or deficit over the course of every second of a game.

In week 1, three won in week 1 despite having a negative Game Script: the Dolphins trailed by 1 point, on average, throughout the game against Washington, Dallas had a -2.7 Game Script against the Giants, and the Chargers came back from a 21-3 deficit to win, which produced a -4.8 Game Script.

Below are the results of every game from week 1. [click to continue…]


2014 Defensive Pass Identity Data

Yesterday, we looked at offensive Pass Identity grades. Today, we are going to use the same process to analyze the data for defenses.  Yesterday’s post is required reading to understand how Pass Identity grades are calculated, but here’s one update.  While we can use the same numbers for Game Script (including the 3.27 number for standard deviation and 0 for average), that’s not the case for defensive Pass Ratio. There, while the average is roughly the same at 58.29%, the standard deviation is much smaller at 2.84% (it was 4.66% for the offenses).

Let’s use the Lions as an example.  Detroit had an average Game Script of +0.4 last year, meaning the Lions were leading by, on average, 0.4 points during every second of every game.  That was 0.11 standard deviations above average. [click to continue…]


Final 2014 Game Scripts and Pass Identity Data

As we did last year, today I’m going to calculate the final 2014 Game Scripts and Pass Identity data.  Every week during the season, I write about the Game Scripts from the previous weekend. For new readers, the term Game Script is just shorthand for the average points differential for a team over every second of each game. You can check out the updated Game Scripts page, which shows the results of all 256 games from 2014, and you can read the history behind the metric here.

Let’s begin by looking at the 2014 Game Scripts numbers. The Packers held an average lead of 6.9 points during their regular season games, the highest average in all of football. Because Green Bay was so good, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers weren’t very pass-happy; in fact, the Packers ranked just 21st in pass attempts. That’s why Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, as good as their raw numbers were, look even better in some advanced metrics. In some ways, the Packers were the victims of their own success last year, as Green Bay was — by far — the best first half team in the NFL in 2014. That led to the high Game Script number, and a lot of casual dress second halves. [click to continue…]

Brady was happy to have the game put in his arm on Saturday

Brady was happy to have the game put in his arm on Saturday

Every week during the season, I compile Game Scripts data, which measures the average points margin during every second of every game. Since most people don’t have a chance to watch every game, it’s helpful to have this information.

During the playoffs, most of us are watching each game, so we know what’s going on. But after two weeks, I thought it was still worthwhile to check in on the numbers. There have been two big comebacks during the playoffs: the Cowboys against the Lions during the wildcard round, and the Patriots against the Ravens last weekend.

The Dallas comeback against Detroit would rank as the 4th biggest comeback of 2014, or the 4th worst Game Script produced by a winning team. Those with longer memories may recall that in 2011, the Lions beat the Cowboys despite having a Game Script of -9.4, and last year, the two teams scored 41 combined fourth quarter points. In other words, don’t turn off the game early when the Lions and Cowboys are playing.

The Patriots also pulled off a big comeback. New England trailed 14-0 and for most of the first half, and entered the locker room down seven. The Patriots are no strangers to these sorts of comebacks, though: since 2001, New England has the third best winning percentage when trailing at halftime by between 7 and 14 points.

Here are the full numbers from the first two rounds of the playoffs:

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio

[click to continue…]


There are lots of bad things one could write about the NFC South. But for the most part, the Atlanta Falcons had been a competitive team this year, and not just by NFC South standards. Entering week 17, Atlanta had posted an average Game Script of +0.7; sure, that’s not very good, but it’s above average! The Falcons had not been embarrassing, and in fact, had outscored opponents by 40 points through three quarters.

Sure, Atlanta had issues maintaining leads in the fourth quarter, but they were rarely soundly beaten from start to finish. The Falcons had (prior to Sunday) four bad Game Scripts this year. Three of them came on the road: -12.8 in Baltimore, -10.6 in Green Bay, and -8.5 in Cincinnati, and all three of those teams are notable for being much stronger at home in recent years. The fourth was a -8 against the Steelers, but even then, Atlanta had the ball down by just seven with 6 minutes remaining.

Then, week 17 came. The Panthers led by 10-0 after the first quarter, the largest deficit Atlanta faced after one quarter all year. Carolina upped that margin to 21 points at halftime, the second largest halftime lead an opponent had against the Falcons this year (Green Bay was up by 24 points). The 31-point margin after three quarters was easily the largest margin, too. It was a start-to-finish beating by the Panthers, who posted a Game Script of 16.4 in the process.

That was the second largest Game Script for Carolina this year, and by quite a large margin. Other than another December blowout over a division rival (New Orleans), the Panthers didn’t have a Game Script of over +7. But are the Panthers peaking at the right time, or just beating up on NFC South opponents? Tune in next week: actually, never mind. The Cardinals are an NFC West team in name only; with Ryan Lindley under center, Arizona is actually the fifth member of the NFC South. [click to continue…]

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With their season on the line, the San Diego Chargers chose to dig deeper. Into a hole, that is.  On Saturday night, the 49ers jumped out to a 21-0 lead just 20 minutes into the game, and San Francisco took a 28-7 record into halftime. Even with six minutes left, San Diego still trailed by two touchdowns.

Down to their final drive, the Chargers needed to convert a 4th-and-8 (on a 17-yard pass to Eddie Royal) and a 4th-and-10 (to Dontrelle Inman), just to set up an 11-yard touchdown from Philip Rivers to Malcom Floyd with 32 seconds remaining.

Through 60 minutes, the Chargers had a Game Script of -11.3, which would tie the Lions/Falcons game for the most negative Game Script by a winning team all season. Because the game went to overtime, that Game Script number ended at -10.5, but that’s still easily the biggest comeback since the Detroit/Atlanta contest.

The other notable comeback of week 16 was in Miami, where the Vikings and Dolphins staged a crazy affair that resulted in a whopping 41 fourth quarter point. But Minnesota jumped out to an early lead and led 17-7 at the break, so the Vikings ended up with a Game Script of +4.3.

On the other end of the spectrum, there was only one large blowout: the Cowboys dominated the Colts by a score of 42-7, producing a Game Script of +23.9 in the process. The table below shows the week 16 Game Scripts data: [click to continue…]


Week Fifteen Game Scripts: Bengals Dominate Manziel

Entering week 15, one of the biggest storylines was that Johnny Manziel was set to make his first start of the season. Manziel’s opening performance was a flop: his -0.56 Adjusted Yards per Attempt average was the second lowest by a quarterback this season, although not the lowest by a quarterback in a Browns/Bengals game. The Bengals won 30-0 in a game that was never in doubt for much of the second half; Cincinnati’s +16.6 Game Script was the highest of the week.

The Patriots, Chiefs, and Saints all posted double digit Game Script scores as well. In the process, New England clinched the AFC East, Kansas City kept their playoff hopes alive and avenged an uglier loss to Oakland, and the Saints? Well, New Orleans still controls its own destiny for the playoffs despite a 6-8 record.

The comebacks were light this week, as only Detroit (-3.3) and the Jets (-1.5) managed to win with a negative Game Script. The table below shows the Game Scripts data from week 15: [click to continue…]

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Week Fourteen Game Scripts: Comeback Colts Return

Luck had gone 20 consecutive regular season games without a game-winning drive

Luck had gone 20 consecutive regular season games without a game-winning drive

As a rookie in 2012, Andrew Luck led Indianapolis on a league-high seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter. In 2013, the Colts won games with Game Scripts of -11, -4.6, and -2.8, and Luck recorded four 4th quarter comebacks for the second straight year.

This year? Indianapolis did not have a single victory with a negative Game Script, and Luck did not record a game-winning drive or a 4th quarter comeback, until this past weekend in Cleveland. It’s worth noting that the comeback was in part the result of Luck’s mistakes: the Browns raced out to a 21-7 lead thanks to two Luck turnovers that went for defensive touchdowns. But in the final four minutes, the star quarterback led the Colts on an 11-play, 90-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown.

That was the only big comeback of the week. On the blowout side, the Carolina Panthers — you know, the team that was on a six-game losing streak and had not won a game since October 5th — produced the most dominant performance of the week, finishing with a Game Script of +22.9 in a blowout over New Orleans. The Giants similarly embarrassed the Titans, producing a Game Script of +18.5.

Below are the week 14 Game Scripts data, and three games near the top of the list show the difference between Game Script and points differential.  The Packers had a Game Script of 10.6 but won by only 6 against Atlanta, while St. Louis won by 24 but with a Game Script of only 10.  But the Game Script measures the average points differential throughout the game: Green Bay led Atlanta 31-7 at halftime, while the Rams were up by just six points at the break.  The Broncos led Buffalo 24-3 after three quarters, which led to a Game Script of +9.6, even though Denver wind up winning by only seven points. [click to continue…]


Over the prior two weeks, we were short on comebacks. Things took a big turn towards exciting in week 13:

  • The Bengals trailed the Bucs 3-0 for most of the first quarter, and then 10-0 for the majority of the second. Cincinnati would ultimately take the lead by the end of the third quarter, but the Bengals still finished with a -3.0 Game Script.
  • On Monday Night Football, the Jets also jumped out to a 10-0 first-half lead before ultimately falling to Miami, 16-13. But more to come on this game later in the post.
  • Another team that fell behind 10-0 early was San Diego. In fact, the Chargers didn’t take their first lead against the Ravens until the final minute, winning 34-33 despite posting a Game Script of -5.9.
  • But the biggest “comeback” of the week was in Jacksonville, where the Jaguars ruined Tom Coughlin’s homecoming. New York stormed out to a 21-0 lead, but imploded in the second half, allowing Jacksonville to steal the win, 25-24. Jacksonville won with a Game Script of -6.8, the fourth largest of the year and the worst Game Script by a victor since the Lions 21-point comeback in London against the Falcons.

Below are the Game Scripts data for each game in week 13: [click to continue…]


Last week, the Game Script winners went 14-0. In week 12, there were two moderately-sized comebacks:

  • In New York, the Giants jumped out to 14-3 and 21-10 leads, fueled in part by Odell Beckham being ridiculous. But then the Cowboys offensive line got ridiculous, and Dallas went on a 21-7 run to win the game despite posting a Game Script of -4.0.
  • In Denver, the the Dolphins controlled the game for most of the first three quarters. Miami led 21-10 with two minutes left in the first half, and later took a 28-17 lead into the fourth quarter. But the Broncos scored three straight touchdowns to put the game out of reach, despite finishing with a Game Script of -4.3.

Denver had posted a Game Script of at least +5.0 in 6 of the team’s first 7 games, after doing so in 10 of 16 games in 2013. But things have changed drastically in Denver over the last month: the Broncos have had Game Scripts of -11.5, -7.7, and now -4.3 in three of the team’s last four games.

On the positive Game Script side, the Eagles (+14.3) and Bills (+14.2) were the big producers this week, although New England’s +11.2 against Detroit might have been the most impressive when you consider strength of schedule. The table below shows the week 12 Game Scripts data: [click to continue…]


Week Eleven Game Scripts: Game Script Winners go 14-0

Some weeks, the NFL is filled with comebacks. Some weeks there are teams that wind up winning with strongly negative Game Scripts. And then there was week 11. There were only three comebacks last weekend, and none of them were last-minute comebacks:

  • Seattle led 20-17 entering the 4th quarter, but the Chiefs scored the game’s final points — a Knile Davis touchdown — with over 13 minutes left in the quarter.
  • Pittsburgh technically trailed 24-13 entering the 4th quarter, before Le’Veon Bell scored on the first play of the final frame. The Steelers scored the go-ahead score with just over nine minutes left, and since Pittsburgh led for most of the first half, the Steelers finished with a Game Script of +0.3.
  • Carolina took a 1-point lead with just over 6 minutes left in the game against Atlanta, but the Falcons responded with a field goal on the ensuing drive to win the game. The kick came with just over 2 minutes remaining, but a 1-point 4th quarter deficit doesn’t move the Game Script needle.

The table below shows the Game Scripts for each game in week 11. As you can see, despite some shocking upsets, week 11 was as straightforward as it gets: all 14 teams with positive Game Scripts were victorious. For the second straight week, the Packers provided the biggest Game Script of the week, while the Bucs (!) were the only other team with a Game Script in double digits. [click to continue…]


Week Ten Game Scripts: Primetime Blowouts

Don't bet against Rodgers in Movember

Don't bet against Rodgers in Movember.

It was another week of blowouts in the NFL, particularly in prime time. On Thursday night, the Browns shocked the Browns with a 24-3 blowout, as Andy Dalton produced a historically bad performance. Cleveland had a Game Script of +12.8, which turned out to be the third largest of the week.

On Monday Night Football, the Eagles dominated the Panthers. Darren Sproles scored two first quarter touchdowns, Jordan Matthews chipped in with two touchdown catches from Mark Sanchez later in the game, and Philadelphia won, 45-21. That score is a bit misleading, as Kelvin Benjamin caught two late touchdowns: the Eagles had a Game Script of +20.0, which is more in line with about a 40-point win.

But the biggest Game Script of the week came in the other primetime game, Bears at Packers on Sunday Night Football. Aaron Rodgers was an insane 18/24 for 315 yards and 6 touchdowns… in the first half! Green Bay produced a Game Script of +28.7. The Packers took a 42-0 halftime, lead, and finished with the second best Game Script of 2014.

The table below shows the Game Scripts from every game in week 10: [click to continue…]


These two men like to throw the ball

These two men like to throw the ball.

Andrew Luck and Tom Brady are pretty good. And it appears as though their coaches know it.

The Colts were were the 2nd strongest pass identity of any team in the NFL through seven weeks. Since then, Indianapolis has kicked it up another notch: in week 8, the Colts threw on over 80% of their plays while playing under a Game Script of -11.6 against the Steelers. Well this week, Indianapolis posted a Game Script of +13.0… and still managed to throw on 67% of all plays! Combine the team’s fast tempo with its pass-heavy nature, and you can see why Luck easily leads the league in pass attempts (oh, and pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns). Luck now has 393 attempts; in NFL history, only Drew Bledsoe (401 in 1994) has thrown more passes through 9 games.

In the case of Brady, his name may as well be a proxy for Rob Gronkowski, who has transformed this offense over the past month. New England passed on 68% of plays against the Broncos, despite the Patriots having a Game Script of +11.5. With Stevan Ridley out for the year and Gronkowski playing some of the best football of his career, New England seems destined to stick with this pass-heavy approach. In each of the past three weeks, the Patriots have passed at least 10% more than one would project from the team’s Game Scripts.1

The largest Game Script of the weekend was also the most surprising: Miami blew out San Diego, 37-0, and posted a Game Script of +19.8 along the way. Miami led 7-0, 20-0, and 37-0 after each of the first three quarters in a total annihilation of of the Chargers. Miami was more pass-happy, and San Diego more run-happy, than you might expect: as a result, despite the one-sided nature of the game, the Chargers only passed on 8.5% more plays than the Dolphins. The table below shows the Game Scripts data from each game in week 9: [click to continue…]

  1. Based on the formula: 0.000005*GameScript^3 – 0.00003 * Game Script^2 – 0.0082 * Game Script +0.5875. []

Week Eight Game Scripts: The New Comeback of the Year

If you watched the Lions/Falcons game — you know, the Wembly WhyamIwatchingthisgame — you probably left with the feeling that neither team deserved a win. The game was a disaster of epic proportions at the coaching level, but the game was also notable for another reason: after trailing 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and 21-0 at halftime, the Lions came back to win, 22-21. Detroit posted a Game Script of -11.3, making it the largest comeback of the year.

The biggest blowout of the week was in Foxboro, where the Bears lost by 28 points and posted a Game Script of -21.0. In a weird twist, though, both teams had pretty similar pass/run ratios. Was this due to New England being pass-happy despite leading, Chicago being run-heavy despite trailing, or a combination of both? As it turns out, both teams veered off their expected pass/run ratios by about 10%. A team with a Game Script of +21.0 should be expected to pass on about 45% of plays, while the Patriots 56% of the time. On the flip side, the Bears would have been projected to pass 70% of the time, but wound up throwing on just 59% of all plays. Chicago ran well — Matt Forte and Ka’Deem Carey combined for 147 yards on 25 carries — while New England was passing uh, very well, with Tom Brady completing 30 of 35 passes and throwing five touchdowns.

The table below lists the Game Scripts from each game in week 8: [click to continue…]


Pass Identities Through Seven Weeks

I’ve published the Game Scripts data from every game this year at the 2014 Game Scripts page, available here. What would it look like if we plotted Game Script score (on the X-Axis) against Pass Ratio (on the Y-Axis) for every game this year? Something like this:

game scripts
As you move from a more negative Game Script to a more positive one, the expected Pass Ratio decreases. But the relationship is not purely linear: in extreme cases, the Pass Ratios tend to move a bit more towards league average, and I think that trend is probably even stronger than it might appear on this graph. In any event, you can derive a best-fit polynomial equation from that data, which could give us an expected Pass Ratio.

Luck's Colts have been very pass-heavy in 2014

Luck’s Colts have been very pass-heavy in 2014

For example, with a Game Script of +3.0, teams should be expected to pass on 56.3% of all plays. But in the Eagles/49ers game, Philadelphia passed on 78.6% of all plays. At the time, I thought it was an oddly pass-happy performance, as it turns out, it was the most pass-heavy game of the year, with a pass rate 22.3% higher than expectation.

If we perform that calculation for every game this year, we can derive season grades. Let’s look at the Colts line in the table below. In 7 games this year, Indianapolis has an average Game Script of +7.9, which happens to be the highest in the NFL (the table is fully sortable). Based on how each game has unfolded, Indianapolis would be expected to pass on just 52.7% of all plays if it was an average team; however, the Colts have passed on 59.4% of all plays. That means the Colts have passed 6.7% above expectation, the second highest rate in the NFL this year. The table below lists that data for each team through week 7: [click to continue…]


Week 7 (2014) Game Scripts: Packers Lead the Way

For the second straight week, a pair of blowouts registered Game Scripts of at least +17.0 points. This time, two 2013 NFC playoff teams were on the losing side of things, as the Packers (+22.8) crushed the Panthers in the afternoon before the Broncos obliterated the 49ers (+18.0) at night. Aaron Rodgers was his absurdly hyper efficient self, completing 19 of 22 passes for 255 yards and 3 touchdowns. Peyton Manning, in addition to setting the career passing touchdowns record, threw for a first down on 14 of his 28 dropbacks. That’s pretty darn good.1

There were only two teams to win in week 7 with a negative Game Script.  The most shocking comeback of the day came in Detroit, where the Lions overcame a 13-point deficit with five minutes remaining to win, 24-23. In Buffalo, the Bills drove 80 yards in just over three minutes and defeated the Vikings when Kyle Orton hit Sammy Watkins for a touchdown with just one second left in the game.

In the “misleading final scores” category, the Browns/Jaguars game takes first prize. The Jaguars posted a Game Script of just +1.5 in the team’s 24-6 win; the Browns actually led for most of the first half and had the ball in Jacksonville territory in the middle of the fourth quarter tailing by just four points. Alas, two late touchdowns, and it turned into a Jaguars blowout. On the other side of the coin, the Rams won by just two points, but were in control for most of the game in the upset victory over Seattle. St. Louis had a 21-3 first half lead, before Russell Wilson second-half magic nearly altered the result. For the day, Wilson became the first player to ever pass for 300 yards and rush for 100 yards in the same game.

The table below lists the Game Scripts data from each game in week 7.

[click to continue…]

  1. The best rate this year was Matt Ryan against Tampa Bay, when he picked up a first down on 60% of his dropbacks. []

Week 6 (2014) Game Scripts: Bucs Blown out Again

It was only back in week 3 when the Falcons posted a Game Script of 32.5 against the Bucs. In week 6, the Ravens nearly duplicated that effort in Tampa Bay!

Joe Flacco threw two touchdowns to Torrey Smith in the first 6 minutes of the game. He would hit Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro before the quarter was over, becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history with four first-quarter touchdown passes. The other? Tommy Kramer in 1986 against the Packers.

Baltimore’s Game Script produced the 2nd best Game Script of the year; meanwhile the Eagles’ 27-0 shutout against the Giants came with a Game Script of +17.1, the 7th highest mark this season.

The table below lists the Game Scripts data from each game in week 6. As is customary around these parts, I’ve highlighted the Bengals/Panthers 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…]


Brian Football

Brian Football.

Last week in this space, we bemoaned the large number of blowouts and the lack of exciting comebacks. Apparently, bemoaning works.

After falling behind against Atlanta by a score of 20-10, the Giants scored the final 20 points of the game to steal the win. The Saints jumped out to a 13-0 lead against Tampa Bay, but the Bucs responded by going on a 31-7 run. With the season teetering on the edge, New Orleans responded by scoring 17 straight points to pull off the rare come from ahead comeback.

In Detroit, the Lions jumped out to a 14-0 lead. But the Bills scored 17 straight, and won with a Game Script of -6.4. In Carolina, the Bears took an early 21-7 lead, but the Panthers scored 24 of the game’s final 27 points, winning with a -3.8 Game Script. But by far the biggest comeback of the day came in Tennessee, when the 2014 edition of the Kardiac Kids pulled off the largest road comeback in NFL history.

With 2:55 left in the first half, the Titans led the Browns, 28-3. But from that point forward, Brian Hoyer completed 16 of 27 passes for 259 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell, and Terrance West rushed 24 times for 107 yards. By the end of the day, Cleveland had won 29-28 despite a Game Script of -10.5. That checks in as the worst Game Script by a winning team since the Colts won with a -11.0 against the Texans in week 9 of last season.

The table below shows all the Game Scripts data from week 5:

[click to continue…]


Thursday Night Football. New York and Washington. Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Giants won in a snoozer, 45-14, while posting a Game Script of +12.9.

Okay, what about Sunday Night Football? Dallas and New Orleans. Tony Romo and Drew Brees. Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Cowboys won in a snoozer, 38-17, while posting a Game Script of +14.4.

The week ended with Monday Night Football and Tom Brady! Can you feel the excitement? Probably not. Despite being 3-point underdogs, the Chiefs won in a snoozer, 41-14, while posting a Game Script of +14.5.

In between, two other teams — Miami and Indianapolis — also finished with Game Scripts of 13-14 points. Green Bay and San Diego won by a combined 40 points, although the Game Scripts indicated slightly more competitive action against the Bears and Jaguars than that final score. In fact, just two games were won by teams with negative Game Scripts, and those were the only two real comebacks of the week.1

TeamH/ROppBoxscorePFPAMarginGame ScriptPassRunP/R RatioOp_POp_ROpp_P/R Ratio

The two teams to win with negative Game Scripts were San Francisco and Tampa Bay. The 49ers trailed for most of the first half, and the Eagles extended their lead to 21-10 in the 2nd quarter. That means that in every Philadelphia game this year, the first team to obtain a 10-point lead has wound up losing. And the 49ers, after blowing a 17-point lead to the Bears and an 8-point lead to the Cardinals, finally found themselves on the positive side of a comeback. In Pittsburgh, the Bucs jumped out to a 10-0 lead, Pittsburgh responded with a 24-7 run, and then Tampa Bay scored the final 10 points of the game.

For the Patriots, this was the 3rd worst Game Script of the Tom Brady era. The worst performance came in the 31-0 loss to the Bills on opening day 2003, when the Patriots had a Game Script of -18.0. The only other game with a lower Game Script was a -16.6 in the playoff loss to the 2009 Ravens.

Finally, let’s look at some of the unusual pass/run ratios from week 4:

  • Against the Packers, the Bears became the first team since 1976 to run 40+ times despite losing by at least three touchdowns. To some extent, there was a perfect storm of events to make that happen: the Packers scored the final 24 points of the game, and the 21-point margin was much worse than the -7.1 Game Script number indicates. But Chicago still was very run-happy in this game: consider that the Bears ran more than they passed, while the Packers threw on about 60% of their plays. That stat line is typically associated in a game where the Bears would be posting the +7.1 Game Script, not the other way around. Of course, Chicago rushed for 235 yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry, which might explain the run-heavy offensive game plan.
  • The Chargers are known as a run-oriented team, but injuries to Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead may change things. Donald Brown and Branden Oliver rushed 19 times for just 42 yards against the Jaguars. As a result, San Diego threw on about twice as many plays as it ran, which is out of character for a team (especially the Chargers) with a +6.2 Game Script. Jacksonville actually ran more frequently, although without much success (to be fair, five of the Jaguars runs were by Blake Bortles). Were the Jaguars trying to protect their rookie quarterback? Probably. But giving Toby Gerhart, Denard Robinson, and Jordan Todman 20 carries isn’t worth much if they can only muster 61 yards. Another sign of the team’s conservative attack: Other than a 44-yard bomb to Allen Hurns, Bortles averaged 7.6 yards per completion on his other 28 completions.
  • The Jets and Lions had nearly identical pass/run ratios, with Detroit passing slightly more often. That is only unusual because the Jest trailed by an average of 5.9 points throughout the game on Sunday. As we’ve said just about every week, the Jets like to run the ball, and teams do not like to run the ball against the Jets. By the end of the year, expect New York to rank in the bottom three in both pass identity and in opponent’s pass identity.
  • The Eagles had an incredible 78.6% pass rate against San Francisco. Nick Foles did not have a very good day, completing just under half of his pass attempts.  So why did the Eagles abandon the run? LeSean McCoy couldn’t do much against the 49ers front: he had just 10 carries for 17 yards, with Darren Sproles chipping in with only one rush.  The Eagles offensive line has been decimated, although it’s not clear that the response to that circumstance is a very pass-happy attack. There’s nothing wrong with passing so often, but it’s always worth noting when the team that was the most pass-happy of the week was in one of the more competitive games. The Eagles had been passing on around 60% of their plays through the first three weeks, with a consistent ratio each week.  Perhaps Sunday’s result says more about the opponent than it does the Eagles.
  1. Technically, the Vikings had a 4th quarter comeback against the Falcons, but Minnesota took the lead for good with about 11 minutes left in the game. []
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