The off-season is here.
But Football Perspective isn’t going anywhere. I prefer off-season writing to in-season writing, as football theory and history is more compelling to me than figuring out whether to rank the Lions ahead of the Bills. At the old Pro-Football-Reference Blog, we did some of our best work in the off-season, and I hope for the same results here.
Evan Silva just published a great piece detailing what each team needs in the off-season, but you’re not going to find that type of article here in the off-season. I will have some draft articles, but I don’t intend on staying topical all that often. My first big off-season project is to come up with a wide receiver ranking system.
I won’t bore you with all the details yet, but I think grading wide receivers (or for that matter, receiving tight ends) is much, much more complicated than people realize. I hope you guys are excited to participate the discussion, as I am in the early stages of this project and will go where the research takes me. One possible result I envision: the ultimate wide receiver ranking system does not exist, but a series of four or five ranking systems might give us the complete picture of a wide receiver.
Let me start with a question: which team had a better passing offense last year, Houston or Detroit? For now, try to ignore what we saw out of Matt Schaub in the post-season and just focus on the regular season results.
The Lions passed for more yards and had a better sack rate, but otherwise it’s a pretty clean sweep for the Texans. Whether you go by Y/A, AY/A, NY/A, or ANY/A, the Texans have the edge, and they also lead in things like passer rating and completion percentage. For the purposes of this post, I am going to ignore strength of schedule because I want to talk about the actual stats. SOS adjustments are easy to incorporate at the end.
The Lions passed for more yards, but that’s only because they threw more passes, so I’m not particularly inclined to give them any credit for that. It’s true that being very good on a large number of attempts can be more valuable than being great on a smaller number of attempts. Bayes’ theorem also informs us that by being very good over a large number of attempts could be an indication that such team’s true ability is more likely to be above average than by being great over a smaller number of attempts. But since the Lions were right around league average in Y/A, AY/A, NY/A, and ANY/A, I don’t know how much weight those points hold in this particular case. Another argument could be made that by shouldering a larger burden of the total offense, the Lions’ pass efficiency metrics would be artificially suppressed. I don’t really agree with that statement but do not feel like supporting my position with evidence at this time.
But I’m not willing to give up the fight on behalf of the Lions just yet. Football Outsiders, in their non-SOS adjusted ratings, ranked Detroit’s passing offense as slightly better than Houston’s. FO also ranked Detroit’s rushing offense as slightly better than that of the Texans.
Here’s another way to think of it. These two offenses were pretty equal. Houston ranked higher in points scored, but if you take away their five non-offensive touchdowns, the Texans would have outscored the Lions 381-372. Considering both teams had slightly above-average offenses in things like drive success rate, yards per drive, and points per drive, and the fact that Detroit’s passing game accounted for 75% of its offense compared to just 64% for Houston, perhaps that means Detroit’s passing game was better.I don’t know the answer. My natural inclination is to pick ‘Houston’ but I think it’s a difficult question. Let’s call it a draw.
Andre Johnson was responsible for 39.5% of the Lions receiving yards, compared to 38.3% for Calvin Johnson. If we look at receptions, Johnson had 31.6% of Houston’s receptions compared to 27.4% for Megatron, while Calvin Johnson caught 5 of his team’s 22 touchdown passes compared to 4 of 22 for Andre Johnson.
Unless that one extra touchdown makes a big difference (it doesn’t), the natural conclusion is that Andre Johnson was a (slightly) bigger part of the Houston passing game than Calvin Johnson was of the Detroit passing game. If we agree that Houston’s passing game was better or equal to Detroit’s passing game, then we would have to say that Andre Johnson was the better (or more valuable) receiver. (I suppose another conclusion would be that Schaub is much better than Matt Stafford, and that if you switched the two quarterbacks, Detroit’s passing offense would have been much better.)
I think we can safely ignore the touchdown and reception data (at least in this case) and summarize the argument like this: Andre Johnson was responsible for 39.5% of a passing offense that averaged 6.3 ANY/A (or produced 231 adjusted net yards over average) while Calvin Johnson was responsible for 38.3% of a passing offense that averaged 6.0 ANY/A (or produced 38 ANY over average). Therefore, Andre Johnson was better (or had the better year, or had the more valuable year).
I noted earlier in the year that Houston’s Johnson averaged more receiving yards per team attempt than Detroit’s Johnson, although I also recognized there were some limitations to that study. But considering their respective contributions to their teams, you would need to rank Detroit’s passing offense as considerably better than Houston’s to say that Megatron had the better year (all else being equal). If the argument that Calvin Johnson had the better year boils down to nothing more than “Detroit threw 186 more passes” then there is no argument at all.
Finally, note the tag to this post: I hope to place a lot of posts at http://www.footballperspective.com/tag/wr-project/ over the next few months.