Late and Trailing by 14 Points: Always Go For 2 After a Touchdown

There’s been a lot of talk1 about the Browns analytics-driven front office, yet on Sunday we saw an example of how their coach Hue Jackson did the traditional thing and passed up an easy decision – from an analytical perspective – to go for to 2 in the fourth quarter.

No one blinked an eye when Jackson called for an extra point after cutting the Bengals’ 14-point lead to 8. Going for 2 in that situation probably wasn’t giving a passing thought by most watching the game. Continue reading “Late and Trailing by 14 Points: Always Go For 2 After a Touchdown”

Forget Ezekiel Elliott, The Cowboys Really Miss Tyron Smith

Ezekiel Elliott finally began serving his on-off-on-off-on-off-on suspension this week, and everyone had an opinion on how much of an impact it would have the Cowboys offense.1

On Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons, what was more noticeable than Elliott’s absence on the running game was the massive effect that an injury to Tyron Smith had on the Cowboys’ ability to protect Dak Prescott. Smith’s replacement gave up six sacks to Adrian Clayborn, the most any player has had this season and in the top-5 of all time. For context, Smith only gave up two sack in Weeks 1-9 and two all of last season. Continue reading “Forget Ezekiel Elliott, The Cowboys Really Miss Tyron Smith”

The Saints Defense (Not Run Game) is Why They’re Legit

The New Orleans Saints have been one of the most dominant teams in the NFL this year at 7-2, a big departure from last three seasons when the team finished 7-9 each year.

The Saints improved run game has been the talk of the town, with Twitter lighting up to label the Saints running success as a game-changer for the franchise.1 Continue reading “The Saints Defense (Not Run Game) is Why They’re Legit”

Kizer or Hogan: Who Should the Browns Start Next Sunday?

We have our first serious quarterback controversy in Cleveland after head coach Hue Jackson benched rookie starter DeShone Kizer and turned the reins over to second-year backup Kevin Hogan.

A day later, Jackson passed when asked whom he would choose to start at quarterback this coming Sunday, saying that he needed to go watch the tape before making that decision. Continue reading “Kizer or Hogan: Who Should the Browns Start Next Sunday?”

Running from Shotgun Formation Works, Even in Short Yardage

An stat popped up in my Twitter timeline yesterday on how teams average significantly more yards per carry from the shotgun than any other formation.

This piqued my interest for a couple reasons: 1) You logically wonder if this is a down-and-distance issue more than a formation issue, and 2) I’ve been thinking for a while that the traditional way for running the ball from jumbo formation in short-yardage situations might not be the optimal choice.  Continue reading “Running from Shotgun Formation Works, Even in Short Yardage”

Marcus Mariota, the Red Zone and the Danger of Splitting Small Samples

It’s been highlighted in reporting for at least the last year that Marcus Mariota has some very gaudy red zone stats. In 103 career red zone attempts, Mariota has thrown for 475 yards, 33 touchdowns and zero interceptions. His 112.7 quarterback rating is better than any quarterback with more than 10 red zone attempts.

The topic is Mariota’s incredible red zone numbers has come up again after receiving praise from the head coach of this week’s opponent, Pete Carroll. Continue reading “Marcus Mariota, the Red Zone and the Danger of Splitting Small Samples”

How Is Deshaun Watson Currently Second in ESPN’s QBR?

Last week I started posting the expected points added (EPA) for Week 1 by quarterback. The total figure aggregates the EPA on all the different types of play a quarterback was involved in: passes, interceptions, scrambles and runs. Sam Bradford led all Week 1 passers in total EPA and EPA per play, and his efficiency mark still stands at the top after missing Week 2.

One of the more well-known quarterback statistics that uses EPA in its calculation is ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR). But QBR isn’t as simple as totaling up the various EPA figures, it adjusted credit/blame for the quarterback on various plays and also has a “clutch-weighting” on individual plays based on how close the score is at that time. I like QBR in concept, and I believe the analysis built into the calculation is likely sound. But, when there is a confusing or counterintuitive result in the final QBR numbers, we’re left guessing as to why QBR differs so much from fan impressions, or even the raw EPA figures. Continue reading “How Is Deshaun Watson Currently Second in ESPN’s QBR?”

Exactly How Great/Good/Bad/Doomed Was Deshaun Watson’s First Start?

Deshaun Watson, the No. 12 overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, took the field for his first start in a tough situation: playing on the road, on a short week and with a slight ankle sprain. Surprisingly, the Texans prevailed 13-9, but the consensus reaction on football Twitter was that Watson looked out of place, with some going as far as to say that his career might already be doomed.

With all the opinions flying around on Watson, we can dig a little deeper than the box score to see what Watson’s impact was on the game. My preferred method for doing this is using expected point added (EPA). Continue reading “Exactly How Great/Good/Bad/Doomed Was Deshaun Watson’s First Start?”

Finding the Best Historical Comps for the NFL’s Top Young Quarterbacks

There was a lot of talk over the offseason about which young quarterback insiders and outsiders would want to start their franchises. Bleacher Report found that 42 current and former NFL insiders put Derek Carr and Carson Wentz at the top. The MMQB’s Andy Benoit had Wentz as his top pick.

While the “football people” like the pocket presence of traditional throwers like Carr and Wentz, the numerically inclined tend to favor Marcus Mariota and Dak Prescott. Field Gulls’ Ben Baldwin makes a compelling stats-based case for Prescott over Carr, and doesn’t think they’re particularly close.

In previous posts I’ve shown how we can use Bayesian updating to project future passing efficiency. A quick refresher: we can calculate the best future estimate by adjusting a knowledge-less, league-average expectation for each piece of evidence, or pass attempt. In that way, we don’t overreact to small samples by incorporating the fact that variance plays a big role in the final numbers of any drive, game or even full season. Continue reading “Finding the Best Historical Comps for the NFL’s Top Young Quarterbacks”

Air Yards, Passing Distributions and What Thursday Night Told Us About Alex Smith

A lot has been made of Alex Smith opening night performance, and much should be. It’s not every day that a quarterback known for his inability to win shootouts walks into the defending champion’s house and drops 42 points, including 21 straight to finish the game.

Almost more entertaining than the game itself was the battle on twitter between those who see Patrick Mahomes as sooner-the-better, and others who think Smith shouldn’t see the pine at all this season. Though Smith engineered a long drive in the first half, it was full of short passes and other uninspiring early drives had #TeamMahomes begging to see the cannon-armed youngster.

Less than three minutes into the second half the narrative shifted. Smith found Tyreek Hill wide open down the sideline, connecting for a 75-yard score. To start the fourth quarter, Smith again uncharacteristically dropped a deep bomb to rookie running back Kareem Hunt for a 78- yard touchdown. Needless to say, #TeamAlex now had the upper hand and were crowing loudly and with sarcasm. Continue reading “Air Yards, Passing Distributions and What Thursday Night Told Us About Alex Smith”