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Archive for September, 2007

Quick trivia

Posted by Doug on September 29, 2007

An email motivated this query.

Name the only three players to debut in 1950 or later and start games for seven different teams.

13 Comments | Posted in History, Trivia

Really simple ratings

Posted by Doug on September 28, 2007

Simple rating system rankings through three weeks of play are obviously going to be subject to a lot of small-sample-size-fueled zaniness (it's unlikely that the Eagles will score 56 points in a third of their games this year, for instance). But I think they're kind of fun if you look at them in the right context. The right context, in my opinion, is this: what would an alien, who had never heard of Tom Brady or Brett Favre or Adrian Peterson or Rex Grossman or any other NFL player, think about the relative strengths of the NFL teams if he had just seen the scores of these three weeks worth of games? Such an alien wouldn't have any reason to think (or not think) that the Packers are a fraud, and he doesn't have any opinion on whether or not the 49ers have a true ability to win close games despite getting blown out in their losses. He'd just see teams beating other teams. Here are the ratings:

nwe 2007   27.4    1.1    3- 0-0
gnb 2007   23.6   12.9    3- 0-0
dal 2007   21.7    4.7    3- 0-0
phi 2007   17.8    9.8    1- 2-0
pit 2007   15.6   -8.0    3- 0-0
was 2007   12.2   10.8    2- 1-0
nyg 2007   10.8   19.2    1- 2-0
sdg 2007   10.2   16.8    1- 2-0
ind 2007    7.5   -5.5    3- 0-0
hou 2007    5.0   -3.0    2- 1-0
mia 2007    3.8   11.5    0- 3-0
nyj 2007    0.6    9.9    1- 2-0
sea 2007    0.2   -4.5    2- 1-0
ten 2007   -0.4   -6.4    2- 1-0
chi 2007   -0.5    7.8    1- 2-0
bal 2007   -1.5   -2.5    2- 1-0
cin 2007   -3.9   -3.2    1- 2-0
ari 2007   -4.2   -3.2    1- 2-0
tam 2007   -5.4  -13.4    2- 1-0
jax 2007   -5.6   -9.6    2- 1-0
min 2007   -5.8  -10.8    1- 2-0
det 2007   -6.2   -0.6    2- 1-0
buf 2007   -7.5   10.8    0- 3-0
car 2007   -8.0  -10.7    2- 1-0
sfo 2007   -8.3   -2.6    2- 1-0
cle 2007   -8.3   -0.7    1- 2-0
kan 2007   -8.4   -0.4    1- 2-0
den 2007  -10.6   -9.0    2- 1-0
oak 2007  -13.7   -8.4    1- 2-0
atl 2007  -17.8   -6.5    0- 3-0
stl 2007  -19.2   -7.2    0- 3-0
nor 2007  -21.1    0.6    0- 3-0

Remember, we can interpret the numbers as follows, taking the Chargers as an example:

sdg 2007   10.2   16.8    1- 2-0

San Diego's literal average margin this season has been -6.6 points per game. But their average opponent has a rating of 16.8, so they have morally been 10.2 points per game better than an average team. The alien doesn't see a struggling star running back or a bumbling coach, he just sees a team that is losing, but is losing to very good teams, and by less than other teams are losing to those very good teams. So they must be pretty decent. Likewise, he knows nothing about Denver's talent and their track record of having solid teams, he just sees a team that has struggled to beat a couple of teams that aren't beating anybody and lost to a team that hasn't really played anybody.

The game scores really show no reason at all to believe that San Diego is bad or that Denver is any good this year. Does that tell us anything about what will happen in weeks 4 through 17? Probably not. But it's just fun sometimes to strip away all the preconceived notions and see what's left.

17 Comments | Posted in General

Every game counts

Posted by Doug on September 27, 2007

As everyone knows, there are lots of reasons to dislike the BCS. But today I'll tell you one reason to like it. Or at least one reason I like it. The fact that the computer ranking algorithms play a real role in the process means that, at least theoretically, every one of the dozens of games played each Saturday has the potential to affect your team's chances of making the title game.

As an example, let's take a look back at 2004, when Oklahoma, USC, and Auburn were all undefeated. You'll remember that USC demolished OU in the championship game while Auburn ended up playing a consolation game against Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl. In that particular case, Auburn probably wouldn't have ended up in the title game even if they had ranked higher in the computer polls, but the possibility certainly exists that this year (or any year), a few thousandths of a point on a few of the computer rankings could determine who plays in the big game. My personal margin-not-included ranking algorithm, which is very similar to at least one of the official BCS computer polls, shows the following pre-bowl rankings for that season.

  1. SouthernCalifornia         12-  0       22.53 
  2. Oklahoma                   12-  0       20.46 
  3. Auburn                     12-  0       19.75 

Auburn played a slightly weaker out-of-conference schedule than Oklahoma, and the Pac 10 was stronger than the SEC that year, so that's how Auburn ended up third. They were third in almost all the computer polls if I recall correctly. But the margin between Auburn and OU was close enough that changing the outcome of just a game here or there could flop them. The only SEC / Big 12 matchup of the regular season was a very close Texas win over Arkansas. Had Arkansas won it instead, we would have had this.

  1. SouthernCalifornia         12-  0       22.66 
  2. Auburn                     12-  0       21.54 
  3. Oklahoma                   12-  0       16.88

The point is: every single interconference game, especially those between two BCS conferences has the potential to make significant changes in the rankings.

That's pretty obvious. What's less obvious is that even intraconference games can make a difference. Let's flip the Arkansas/Texas result back, so that OU outranks Auburn again. Now, if you flip the results of the North Texas / Middle Tennessee State game and the Louisiana Tech / UTEP game, Auburn jumps OU again. Why? Because the Big 12 played three games against North Texas, winning all three. So where North Texas finishes in their conference is relevant to determining the overall strength of the Big 12, which is obviously is a key factor in determining how strong Oklahoma is. Likewise, SEC teams played a couple of games against La. Tech, so an extra win by them raises their stature just enough to prop the SEC up just enough for Auburn to slip ahead of the Sooners.

Once you've got that in mind, you begin to realize that you might have a rooting interest in lots of intra-conference games that you never thought you cared about.

If you're an Ohio State fan, you have to root for Oregon (who beat a Big 10 team) to beat Cal (who beat an SEC team) this weekend. If you're a West Virginia fan (who doesn't have any particular animosity for any of your conference-mates), you were happy about the South Florida win over Auburn and disappointed about the Louisville loss to Kentucky, obviously, but you were also not pleased about Mississippi State's win over Auburn. If you like West Virginia, in fact, you are now a big fan of Auburn and Kentucky in all their SEC games and you like Michigan State (who beat Pitt) in the Big 10 and Oregon State (who lost to Cincinnati) in the Pac 10.

So while it's very unlikely that the outcome of the Washington / Arizona State game will be the deciding factor in getting Oklahoma or Texas into the championship game instead of Ohio State or Wisconsin, games are always more fun to follow if you have a rooting interest. And whether you know it or not, you almost always do.

8 Comments | Posted in BCS, College

Missing: The Saints Passing Game

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 26, 2007

Yesterday, we saw how the Chargers running game has declined through three games more than any team since the '96-'97 seasons. Well, San Diego, you've got some company. The 2006-2007 Saints are currently mirroring the Chargers' fall from grace. No passing attack since 1996 has seen as large a decline in performance through three games as the '07 Saints.

What makes both situations so surprising is that each team kept its key personnel. The Saints brought back Brees, Bush, Colston and McAllister, and drafted Robert Meachem to replace Joe Horn. Sean Payton is still around, so we can't use the Norv Turner excuse in New Orleans. The real culprit has been the abysmal play of the line, but who could have predicted that? Pro Bowl LT Jammal Brown is injured and playing like it, while RT Jon Stinchcomb is playing miserably. Brees has been sacked "only" four times, but he's committed nine turnovers in three games in the face of constant pressure. So how much worse than last year are the Saints passing stats?

I calculated the adjusted yards per pass attempt for all passes thrown by QBs for every team from 1996-2006. For those that don't remember what AY/A is,

Adjusted yards per attempt is defined as (passing yards + 10*(TD passes) - 45*(interceptions thrown)) / (pass attempts). It was devised (and the reasoning behind it explained) in a book called The Hidden Game of Football, by Carroll, Palmer, and Thorn.

Here are the top 20 passing teams from 1996-2006, sorted by adjusted yards per pass attempt.

year tm cmp att yard td int AY/A
2004 clt 353 526 4732 51 10 9.11
2004 min 379 548 4717 39 11 8.42
2000 ram 380 587 5492 37 23 8.22
1999 ram 343 529 4586 42 15 8.19
1998 atl 236 420 3722 28 15 7.92
2006 phi 322 542 4298 31 8 7.84
2003 oti 312 496 3992 30 9 7.84
1998 min 327 534 4492 41 16 7.83
2005 clt 348 515 4191 31 11 7.78
2006 clt 362 557 4397 31 9 7.72
2004 sdg 287 446 3468 29 7 7.72
2001 ram 378 549 4852 36 22 7.69
1998 sfo 346 555 4482 40 15 7.58
2003 min 333 518 4169 32 13 7.54
2006 nor 372 578 4626 27 12 7.54
2000 den 354 568 4464 28 12 7.40
2004 phi 336 546 4208 32 11 7.39
2004 kan 370 561 4633 27 17 7.38
2005 kan 317 507 4014 17 10 7.36
2000 sfo 365 581 4404 32 10 7.36

For comparison's sake, here are the worst 20 passing teams from 1996-2006:

year tm cmp att yard td int AY/A
1998 sdg 260 565 3092 10 34 2.94
1997 nor 244 487 3012 12 35 3.20
1999 crd 286 555 3059 11 30 3.28
2005 sfo 202 387 2163 8 21 3.35
2003 det 318 585 2967 17 24 3.52
2000 cin 207 454 2219 6 14 3.63
1998 phi 282 531 2733 7 18 3.75
1999 phi 235 472 2405 18 18 3.76
2001 cin 322 601 3291 12 25 3.80
2001 car 314 578 3098 12 22 3.85
2002 det 277 575 3168 19 25 3.88
2005 chi 218 416 2183 11 15 3.89
2006 rai 263 481 2850 7 23 3.92
1996 nyg 237 458 2639 13 21 3.98
2003 atl 230 457 2631 14 21 4.00
2001 dal 209 411 2409 14 20 4.01
2004 mia 308 585 3343 19 26 4.04
2002 crd 291 548 3038 18 22 4.07
1998 pit 273 488 2764 13 20 4.09
2003 chi 271 515 2905 12 20 4.13

The 2006 Saints averaged 7.54 AY/A, but through three games in 2007, New Orleans is at just 2.86 AY/A. That difference of 4.67 (rounded) is the largest decline from Year N to Year N+1 (through three games) of any pairing since the 1996-1997 seasons:

2006 nor 7.54 2.86 4.67
1996 nor 4.74 0.44 4.29
1998 sfo 7.58 3.29 4.29
1997 pit 5.54 1.54 3.99
2004 min 8.42 4.43 3.98
1998 crd 5.50 1.58 3.93
2005 rai 5.86 2.26 3.60
2000 was 5.61 2.01 3.60
2002 atl 6.43 2.95 3.49
1998 nyj 7.13 3.67 3.46
1999 sea 6.02 2.70 3.31
2000 dal 4.41 1.14 3.27
2005 pit 6.95 3.78 3.17
1998 rav 5.62 2.46 3.16
2001 ram 7.69 4.62 3.07
2002 rav 5.64 2.60 3.04
2002 chi 4.90 1.89 3.01
2004 clt 9.11 6.14 2.97
2001 det 5.13 2.21 2.92
2005 tam 5.57 2.68 2.89

These Saints have some company, at least. The 1997 Saints had an absolutely miserable start thanks to Mike Ditka and Heath Shuler. Steve Young had one of the best seasons of all time for the 49ers in 1998, but was injured very early in 1999 and played poorly before that. The '98 Steelers? The beginning of the Kordell Stewart collapse. The 2005 Vikings? The beginning of the Daunte Culpepper collapse, although to be fair, he had quite a perch to fall from. The 1999 Cardinals? The Jake Plummer collapse. Suffice it to say, history doesn't have anything pretty to say for Saints fans.

You might have noticed that Tom Brady's having a pretty good start, but he wasn't bad last year. While it's one of the biggest improvements over the same era, it's not even the sharpest increase in 2007:

2000 atl 4.65 10.35 -5.70
1998 ram 4.86 10.20 -5.34
2004 pit 7.17 12.47 -5.30
2006 tam 4.34 9.04 -4.70
2005 sfo 3.35 7.81 -4.46
2006 nwe 6.26 10.70 -4.44
1998 was 5.92 10.16 -4.24
2005 chi 3.89 7.99 -4.10
1999 den 5.43 9.23 -3.80
2001 car 3.85 7.49 -3.64
2005 phi 5.18 8.72 -3.53
2003 phi 6.03 9.54 -3.51
2003 nyg 4.71 8.22 -3.51
1996 rai 5.21 8.66 -3.45
1998 sea 5.47 8.88 -3.41
2000 sdg 4.13 7.33 -3.20
1996 tam 4.39 7.59 -3.20
1999 cle 5.12 8.31 -3.20
2005 nyj 5.16 8.21 -3.05
2006 dal 6.68 9.66 -2.98

The 2000 Falcons gave away over a third of their stats to Doug Johnson and Danny Kanell, who played terribly. Chris Chandler started off lights out in 2001, with 651 passing yards on 60 attempts through three games. The '99 Rams obviously added Kurt Warner, and Roethlisberger started off white hot in 2005, with 688 passing yards on 60 passing attempts through three games. And then you've got this year's Bucs, who seem rejuvenated with 37-year old Jeff Garcia.

Which ugly start is more surprising, the 'Aints passing attack or the 'Bolts rushing attack? Which of those team seems more likely to turn it around? The Saints have lost McAllister for the season, while the Chargers main players are all healthy (although they lost their head coach and offensive coordinator). And will either of the first two picks in the Chargers 2001 draft go back to the Pro Bowl this year?

3 Comments | Posted in General

Missing: The Chargers Running Game

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 25, 2007

Last week, I wrote how LaDainian Tomlinson was off to a terrible start. He was averaging under two yards per carry, almost unheard of for an elite back over a 35-carry stretch. Well after three games, neither Tomlinson nor any of the San Diego running backs are rushing very well.

It was only last year that Charger running backs ran 461 times for 2,482 yards, an incredible 5.38 average yards per carry. Those last two numbers were the second highest of the past decade, behind only the the 2003 Packers (2,506 yards) and 1997 Lions (5.94 yards per carry). There were 343 teams in the NFL from 1996-2006, and Chargers running backs ran the ball better than almost every one of them. The Chargers also ranked 2nd in my quick "Yards over 3.0" stat. Here are the top 10 teams, with the last column representing rushing yards accumulated over three yards per attempt:

1997 det 396 2352 5.94 1164
2006 sdg 461 2482 5.38 1099
2003 gnb 473 2506 5.30 1087
2003 rav 478 2452 5.13 1018
2006 jax 430 2206 5.13 916
2005 sea 475 2326 4.90 901
2002 den 396 2052 5.18 864
2006 nyg 426 2121 4.98 843
1998 den 458 2213 4.83 839
2005 kan 468 2242 4.79 838

This year, the Chargers rank dead last in the league in rushing yards per attempt by running backs, with 77 carries for just 198 yards, an ugly 2.57 yards per rush. Only the Chiefs at 2.80 join San Diego with a team RB average under three yards per carry. Here are the worst 15 teams in YPC average after three games played, from 1997-2007. The last column shows each team's season ending YPC average by RBs:

2000 cin 48 93 1.94 4.34
2004 mia 62 132 2.13 3.44
2006 cle 48 104 2.17 3.27
1999 crd 78 191 2.45 3.12
2006 tam 50 123 2.46 3.68
2000 buf 75 185 2.47 3.56
2000 crd 61 151 2.48 3.69
2006 nyj 73 187 2.56 3.40
1997 jax 89 228 2.56 3.63
2002 nyj 39 100 2.56 4.07
2003 buf 72 185 2.57 3.94
2007 sdg 77 198 2.57 --
2000 jax 78 201 2.58 4.22
2005 nwe 74 192 2.59 3.51
1998 gnb 79 208 2.63 3.52

Ironically enough, the worst team after three games ended up looking best of the group. Corey Dillon had 82 yards on 41 carries after three weeks, but would later set the single game rushing record (since broken) and rush for 200 yards in another game later that year. This was right in the middle of Dillon's prime, when he was considered the most inconsistent RB in the NFL. That 2000 Bengals team was one of the ugliest worst passing teams in the last decade (more on this tomorrow). For the season the Bengals had a QB rating of 52.0, and in the first three games it was an ugly 39.8. That team was such an outlier, I'm not sure they provide a great comparison to any current team, let alone one with a Pro Bowl QB.

The other two teams to top 4.00 -- the '02 Jets and '00 Jaguars -- were, like the 2000 Bengals and the 2007 Chargers, carried by great RBs. The '02 Jets were a weird team, because they were outscored by 64 points in games 2 and 3 with Vinny Testaverde at QB, and became a different team after the emergence of Chad Pennington. The '00 Jags? Fred Taylor would rank 6th in the league in rushing yards and average 4.8 YPC, despite playing only 13 games. Any guesses as to which three games he missed?

The rest of the list is filled with teams that never really fixed things in the running game. I don't think the '07 Chargers are anything like the '02 Jets or '00 Jaguars, because of the significant change in personnel, but they could conceivably match what the 1997 Bengals did. Certainly, though, most teams in the Chargers' situation have failed to become even an average rushing team.

Before we go, let's just take a second and recognize how badly the Chargers RBs have regressed this year. Of the 343 teams from 1996-2006, none of them have declined as much in performance after three games like the 2007 Chargers. Below is a table that shows each team's Year N yards per carry average by RBs, that team's Year N+1 yards per carry average by RBs after three games, and the difference:

2006 sdg 5.38 2.57 2.81
1999 cin 4.57 1.94 2.63
2001 nyj 4.77 2.56 2.20
1996 atl 4.52 2.65 1.87
2004 nwe 4.43 2.59 1.83
2004 nyj 4.72 2.89 1.82
2002 buf 4.35 2.57 1.78
2005 tam 4.21 2.46 1.75
1997 gnb 4.33 2.63 1.69
2005 cle 3.84 2.17 1.68
2006 sfo 4.99 3.39 1.60
2005 sea 4.90 3.31 1.58
2006 jax 5.13 3.55 1.58
2004 rav 4.33 2.77 1.57
2001 nyg 4.39 2.83 1.56
2006 kan 4.34 2.80 1.54
2001 pit 4.57 3.06 1.51
1999 jax 4.08 2.58 1.50
2003 mia 3.61 2.13 1.48
2005 chi 4.39 2.95 1.44

The difference between the Chargers and even the fourth biggest decliner is huge. Now obviously the Chargers had a high perch to fall from, but this steep decline is unprecedented in the past eleven years, and maybe much longer. As we've seen, the 2000 Bengals and 2002 Jets did turn it around, but I'm not sure if we can explain what's going on in San Diego. The 2000 Bengals started off with rookie (and soon to be bust) Akili Smith at QB, after Jeff Blake had a good season in 1999. The 2002 Jets ran Curtis Martin just 24 times in the first three games; the 2007 Chargers have run LT 57 times already. This Chargers team returns all five offensive lineman and their superstar TE, along with two great RBs. And while it's easy to blame Norv Turner, he's always coached successful running games. It's hard to see what's going on in San Diego, but we're seeing a decline of absolutely historic proportions so far. It's as if Peyton Manning started playing like Andrew Walter. As I said last week, I'll never be surprised to watch Tomlinson run for 150 yards on any Sunday, but right now, the 2007 Chargers RBs and offensive lineman have looked pitiful.

On the other side, let's give some credit to the 2007 Cleveland Browns, who have the third largest increase using the same criteria:

1998 car 3.64 6.57 -2.94
2002 rav 4.25 6.75 -2.50
2006 cle 3.27 5.71 -2.44
1997 sfo 4.02 6.29 -2.28
1996 min 3.74 5.87 -2.13
2000 pit 4.03 6.00 -1.97
2001 mia 3.38 5.33 -1.95
2001 rai 3.61 5.51 -1.90
1999 nyg 3.22 5.10 -1.88
2003 oti 3.37 5.07 -1.70
2002 chi 3.42 5.05 -1.63
2001 crd 3.51 5.14 -1.63
2002 car 3.59 5.20 -1.61
1996 cin 3.68 5.08 -1.39
1996 tam 3.27 4.65 -1.38
1997 sdg 3.59 4.97 -1.38
1996 chi 3.78 5.10 -1.32
1999 phi 3.92 5.23 -1.31
2001 min 3.67 4.97 -1.31
1997 crd 3.19 4.48 -1.28

18 Comments | Posted in General

Meaningless week 3 trivia

Posted by Doug on September 24, 2007

1. The Patriots have scored exactly 38 points in each of the first three weeks. How often does a team score the same number of points in three straight games? Not too infrequently, it turns out. The Redskins did it last year in weeks six through nine with the rather odd score of 22 points. Prior to that, the last time it happened was in 2003, when the Ravens did it with three straight weeks of 26 points. The Giants also did (7 points) in 2003. It's happened 20 times since 1990. In all of NFL history, only the 2000 Broncos, and now the 2007 Patriots, have scored exactly 38 points for three straight weeks.

Not since the 1990 Raiders has a team scored the same total for four consecutive weeks.

2. I was intrigued by the Seahawks' pass distribution yesterday:

                    Rec  Yd TD
Deion Branch          6  77 1
Nate Burleson         6  76 1
Bobby Engram          5  62 1

So I went searching for games where a team's top three receivers all scored a TD and had yardage within 15 yards of each other. Since 1995, I found only three:

bal 1997, week 16
Eric Green            3  59 1
Michael Jackson       4  56 1
Derrick Alexander     2  47 1

kan 1999, week 17
Kevin Lockett         3  69 1
Joe Horn              4  62 1
Tony Gonzalez         6  56 1

min 2000, week 15
Cris Carter           7  66 1
Randy Moss            4  63 1
Johnny McWilliams     5  53 1

7 Comments | Posted in General

The San Francisco 49ers

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 21, 2007

A few months back, Doug and I discussed the 2006 San Francisco 49ers. While the team went 7-9, the 'Niners looked like fools gold. Consider this post from June, where Doug wrote:

[T]he 2006 San Francisco 49ers had the worst point differential of any 7-9 team in history....There has, in fact, only been one 6-10 team ever to post a worse point differential. And the 49ers compiled this differential against a weak schedule. San Fran was 31st out of 32 last year according to the simple rating system.

So they were either really lucky to be 7-9, or they were a clutch team that played their best football when it counted the most. You can probably guess which way I’d lean.

Here is one more interesting stat: the 49ers were outscored 113-251 in first halves of their games last year. Again, that’s a stat in which people will see what they want to see. But to my eye, it looks like the 49ers will need to improve greatly in 2007 just to finish with the same record. Fortunately for them, they do appear to have gotten better in the offseason, so it looks like that might happen.

The 49ers played a very weak schedule, yet still ranked 24th in points scored, 26th in yards gained, 28th in yards allowed and 32nd in points allowed. That's terrible, of course, but hidden by the 7-9 record. The 49ers average margin of victory was 7.4; their average margin of loss was 18.4. Basically, all that information is wrapped up in their pitiful Simple Rating System Rank of -8.7, second worst in the league (but best in the Bay area!).

Now you might wonder who cares what their simple rating system rank is, the team went 7-9. Here's my counter to that. I performed a regression analysis for each team since the merger using their SRS score as my input and their actual winning percentage as their output. It spit out a formula of:

Projected winning percentage = 0.500 + 0.28 * SRS score

So the 49ers projected winning percentage based on their SRS score was 0.256, while their actual winning percentage was 0.438. That difference of 0.182 led the league last year, and was the 27th biggest positive difference since the merger. Of the first 26 teams, 23 teams saw their winning percentage decrease the next year, one stayed the same, and two showed slight increases. Fourteen of the fifteen teams with the highest differential saw their winning percentage decrease the next season. The average change was a 0.183 reduction in winning percentage the following year.

Going the other way, of the 26 teams that "underachieved" the most -- that is, posted a strong SRS score but a relatively weak winning percentage -- 21 had a better winning percentage the following year, two stayed the same, and three saw small increases. None of the 16 most underachieving teams had a worse winning percentage the next year. The average change was a 0.213 increase in winning percentage in Year N+1.

All of that was really just a long way of saying the 49ers win-loss record looks a ton better than their peripheral statistics, and teams that fit that profile generally regress to their true rating the following year. Now the 49ers made a number of impressive moves this off-season, and that should help them improve -- but it doesn't change the base. The 49ers should improve off a terrible team that ranked 31st in the SRS rating, not improve off a team that went 7-9 last year.

Why am I writing about this now? Because the 49ers are 2-0 in 2007, but it looks more like games 17 and 18 of the 2006 season. Nothing's changed in San Francisco, where they've won both games by a combined four points against two mediocre teams. The 49ers have been out-gained by 259 yards. And they were oh so close to going 0-2, and not 2-0. If Terrence Holt knocks a loose ball out of the end zone in the final minute instead of trying to pick it up, the 49ers lose to the Cards. Only a little more "luck" was necessary to beat the Rams, as a Dante Hall muffed punt late in the game led to the winning score. Note: According to Jeff Sagarin, the Rams are the worst team in the NFL, the 49ers have played the 32nd hardest schedule in the NFL (read: easiest) and rank as the 29th best team.

Certainly it looks like the 49ers are on their way to another season of laughing in the SRS's face. So the question of the day: Do you believe in the 49ers? Do you believe in the SRS? How many more close wins and blowout losses would we need to see out of the 49ers before we can say it's not a fluke? And do they get blown out in Pittsburgh this weekend?

20 Comments | Posted in General

Tarvaris Jackson and 4 interception games

Posted by Jason Lisk on September 20, 2007

On his blog recapping the Vikings-Lions game, Pacifist Viking had this to say about Tarvaris Jackson's performance against the Lions, in which he went 17 for 33, 166 yards, and 0 TD to 4 INT:

Tarvaris Jackson never got comfortable and made many bad mistakes (I suppose a young QB is bound to have a 4 INT game in at least one of his early starts: let's hope there aren't too many)--he was very, very bad.

I'm going to focus on the four interception portion, and probably do a poor job of talking Vikings fans off the ledge. Last week, I wrote of Tarvaris Jackson in a piece on later round quarterbacks:

If he is a success, he would break the mold. It would take one above average passing season in his career to make him the second most successful passer drafted from a non-Division IA school [outside the top 50 overall picks] since 1983. We know the Vikings staff likes him, and he was the 62nd overall pick. There were 16 other teams that liked their guy picked between 51-80, and gave their guy an opportunity, and only 6 reached Journeyman status or better.

Using the game by game database going back to 1995, let's take a look at other young quarterbacks and how they fared in terms of interceptions early in their careers. I have included all quarterbacks drafted outside the top 50 who qualified as at least "Journeymen" in my post on later round quarterbacks, plus a few others drafted outside the top 15. All of these guys should qualify as young passers, as they debuted and had most of their early starts by age 25 (Jackson is 24 this season, and in his 2nd year in the league). I looked at the first 10 games in which the player had at least 15 pass attempts, and the list is sorted by reverse order of interception rates in those first 10 "starts", and also lists the most interceptions thrown in a game in the first 10, with the TD/int ratio in that game. Also included is the 2nd most interceptions thrown in a game in the first 10 starts. Jackson's numbers threw 5 career starts are included for comparison at the top.

Player             Int Rate    Worst game  2nd most thrown
T. Jackson          0.068          0/4          2
K. Stewart          0.047          3/3          2  
J. Plummer          0.045          2/4          2
K. Boller           0.042          0/3          2
T. Banks            0.039          0/2          2
D. Brees            0.038          0/2          2
G. Frerotte         0.035          0/1*         1
J. Kitna            0.035          1/3          2
M. Bulger           0.031          1/2          2
B. Griese           0.030          0/3          1
A. Brooks           0.028          1/2          2
J. McCown           0.024          0/2            2
P. Ramsey          0.024           1/4          2
T. Brady            0.024          2/4          2
C. Batch            0.023          0/3          2
M. Brunell          0.020          0/1          1

*NOTE: Frerotte had 5 games played in the 1994 season, with 100 attempts. He did have a 1 TD/4 INT game in his 9th game of the 1995 season

Okay, so no other quarterback on this list had a 0 touchdown, 4 interception game. Tom Brady did have one 4 int game, but that was against Denver, after he had gone 135 straight pass attempts without an interception to start the 2001 season. Ramsey and Plummer both threw four interceptions in their 2nd career starts as rookies, so they were even younger and less experienced than Jackson. None of those other three had as few attempts as Jackson to get to four interceptions.

Similarly, Boller and Batch had their three interception games early in their rookie years. Griese and Kitna had their 3 interception games in their fourth career starts.

If you want to go outside that list to some guys not included because they did not have enough starts early in their careers, Jake Delhomme had a 1 TD/ 4 INT game (on 49 pass attempts) as a 24 year old in week 17 of 1999 against Carolina. He would not start again until moving to Carolina in 2003. Jim Miller had a 1 TD/3 INT game in his 2nd career start in 1995, and would have no more starts that season, and not get another chance until 1999. Hasselbeck did not begin to start until age 26, and he threw no more than two picks in any one game in his first ten starts.

Notably, none of the guys on the above list had another game with more than two interceptions in their first ten starts. So when Pacifist Viking hopes there are not too many more games like that, he is right. If there are, history does not bode well for Jackson's chances as a starter, and he might want to study up on what Craig Whelihan, the fourth "most successful" non-division IA quarterback drafted outside the top 50 overall since 1983, is doing these days.

3 Comments | Posted in General

Wondering about Tomlinson

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 19, 2007

Two weeks ago, every intelligent football fan on the planet would have said that LaDainian Tomlinson was the best running back in the NFL. In 2007 LT led the league in rushing, set the all time single-season touchdown record, and led the league in the famous yards over 3.0 statistic. So surely it is a surprise to all that through two weeks, Tomlinson currently ranks last among all RBs in yards per carry in 2007.

Tomlinson has played two tough defenses (Chicago and New England), and we're still dealing with a pretty small sample size. Those arguments would make a lot of sense if say, Tomlinson was averaging 2.9 yards per carry this year. But he's averaging 1.9 YPC right now, which puts him in the company of Derrick Blaylock 2006, Lamar Gordon 2004 and Ciatrick Fason 2005. Needless to say, I think there's cause to worry.

I wondered if maybe things just look bad because it's the first two weeks, and not weeks eight and nine. I looked at all RBs from 1995 to 2006, to see how many had: (a) had 35 or more carries in consecutive games, and (b) averaged 2.00 or fewer yards per carry in those games. Well, only five RBs in those twelve seasons met those criteria:

Edgerrin James	2006	crd	1.82	3.44
Kevan Barlow 2005 sfo 1.91 3.30
Quentin Griffin 2004 den 1.97 3.66
Eddie George 2001 oti 1.78 2.98
Darick Holmes 1996 buf 2.00 3.02

The last column shows how many YPC they averaged in the full season, and the second to last shows how many they averaged in their miserable two game slump. I love Tomlinson as much as the next guy, but that's a pretty miserable group of players to be paired with. Barlow, Griffin and Holmes were busts that had short spurts of success. James and George, while each would earn four trips to Hawaii, were miserable in those seasons and shells of their former selves. The idea that the best spin we could put on Tomlinson's 2007 season is "hey, he could do what Edgerrin James did in 2006" isn't very comforting to Chargers fans.

Let's expand things a little bit, though. Here's a list of RBs with 30+ carries that averaged 2.20 YPC or fewer over consecutive games during the same span:

Larry Johnson 2006 kan 2.00 4.30
Warrick Dunn 1998 tam 2.09 4.19
Marshall Faulk 1998 clt 2.13 4.07
Mario Bates 1995 nor 2.00 3.90
Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala 2001 pit 2.17 3.78
Mike Alstott 2002 tam 1.90 3.75
Quentin Griffin 2004 den 1.97 3.66
Karim Abdul-Jabbar 1996 mia 1.81 3.64
Jamal Anderson 2000 atl 1.90 3.63
Kevin Jones 2005 det 2.08 3.57
Karim Abdul-Jabbar 1998 mia 1.97 3.56
Jamal Anderson 1997 atl 2.03 3.46
Edgerrin James 2006 crd 2.10 3.44
Edgerrin James 2006 crd 1.82 3.44
Kevan Barlow 2004 sfo 2.20 3.37
Kevan Barlow 2005 sfo 1.91 3.30
Darick Holmes 1996 buf 2.00 3.02
Darick Holmes 1996 buf 2.08 3.02
Arlen Harris 2003 ram 2.14 3.00
Eddie George 2001 oti 1.78 2.98
Marshall Faulk 1996 clt 2.15 2.96
James Jackson 2001 cle 2.18 2.84
LeShon Johnson 1999 nyg 2.09 2.34
Lamar Gordon 2004 mia 1.74 1.83

The above list is sorted by the right column, yards per carry average in the full season. And yes, just a year ago, Larry Johnson suffered through a miserable stretch in weeks five and six. I suspect people will make of this what they like; if they own Tomlinson in a fantasy league, they'll accurately point out that superstar RBs like Johnson and Marshall Faulk (1998 version) had down games and still were studs. Conversely, if you don't believe Tomlinson can turn it around, you can point out that he's hit a level of ineptitude rarely matched, and by some of the worst RBs in modern memory. Even when Faulk did it (1996 version), he had by far the worst season of his career, and maybe Tomlinson is headed for his own down year.

It's easy to suggest that Tomlinson will be fine, and I'd never say otherwise. He's just too talented for me to put it print that Tomlinson won't be a stud. But I am concerned by the lack of comparables in recent history. I suspected that there'd be several star RBs that endured bad stretches, but really, there's very little to go on. Just three of the 24 RBs that have looked as bad at LT has looked averaged 4.00 YPC that season. Tomlinson has been flat out bad, so far, and who knows when he'll turn it back around. And while New England and Chicago are tough, Larry Johnson averaged 3.4 YPC against the Bears (LT 1.5), and Thomas Jones averaged 3.0 YPC against New England (LT 2.4). And it's not like we haven't seen the old Tomlinson run all over good defenses or the Patriots, before.

On the other hand, Tomlinson has had some ugly moments over the years. He had 17 carries for 7 yards in a game against the Eagles in 2005. He had a five game run in the middle of 2004 where he averaged just 2.88 yards per carry. Previously, his lowest YPC averages in a two game stretch were 2.24, 2.69, 2.69, 2.78 and 2.86. All I know for now, is 1.94 certainly sticks out. It's the worst two-game stretch of his 99 game career. His offensive line has performed significantly worse than they did in '06, and Tomlinson himself hasn't looked as good, either. At this point, I'd feel a lot better about his future chances if he said he had the flu the past two weeks and just didn't tell anyone.

16 Comments | Posted in General, History

Scattered thoughts: Brady Quinn and Browns/Bengals

Posted by Doug on September 17, 2007

1. I floated this question at the footballguys message board and got a variety of responses. Does Notre Dame's 2007 season alter your opinion of Brady Quinn? With Brady Quinn at the helm, Notre Dame was 19-6 in 2005 and 2006. Without him, they're 0-3 and haven't scored an offensive touchdown. I understand that it's not a completely ceteris paribus situation, but it's not like the first and second rounds of the last few drafts have been filled with Fighting Irish. Here are the Notre Dame products drafted in the first two rounds of the last two drafts:

Tackle Ryan Harris, 3rd round, 2007
Guard Dan Santucci, 7th round, 2007
Tight End Anthony Fasano, 2nd round, 2006
Wide Receiver Maurice Stovall, 3rd round, 2006
Guard Dan Stevenson, 6th round, 2006

And Quinn, of course. An honorable mention should probably noted for Jeff Samardzija, the big wide receiver who probably would have been drafted in the second or third round in 2007 had he not opted to play baseball instead. So, while I understand that Quinn is not the only difference between the 06 and 07 versions of the Irish, I don't see USC or LSU or Ohio State --- the teams Quinn was criticized for not beating --- sweating the loss of a handful of late-rounders. It's probably a stretch to say his record should be compared with Jay Cutler's, but it's clearly unfair to compare his win-loss record in college to that of Matt Leinart, Vince Young, and JaMarcus Russell.

2. The 51-45 Browns/Bengals game reminded every one of the 58-48 game they played a few years ago. It made me wonder what the highest scoring series has been during the last few decades. The highest scoring series from 1990--2007, measured by average total points per game (minimum 15 games) is Atlanta/San Francisco. But that was the 49ers doing most of the scoring. I think the more fun thing to measure might be the average score of the losing team. That would give us a sense of which series consistently had both teams scoring. Instead of giving you the answers, I'll pose it as a trivia question:

What series (minimum 15 games) has had the highest average losing score during the period 1990--2007? [It's not Browns/Bengals, nor is it 49ers/Falcons] Also, what series has had the lowest average winning score during the same period?

UPDATE: here are the answers:

Highest scoring losing teams

                 Average scores
Tm-wins Tm-wins  winner  loser
car- 8  sfo- 7    29.6   19.5
jax- 9  bal- 6    25.8   18.3
atl- 8  sfo-17    33.3   18.3
gnb-17  min-17    26.8   18.0
det-12  min-23    26.8   17.9
ari- 6  sfo-10    26.8   17.6
nor-15  stl-11    27.7   17.0
atl-20  nor-15    26.1   16.9
den-18  kan-17    25.8   16.8
ari- 8  stl- 8    26.5   16.8
den-18  sea- 8    25.1   16.5
kan-27  oak- 8    25.6   16.5
cin-14  cle-15    28.3   16.4
cin- 8  ten-20    31.6   16.3
det-12  gnb-24    27.2   16.3
ind-19  nyj- 7    23.8   16.1
atl-14  stl-12    32.2   15.8
mia-14  nyj-20    25.7   15.6
oak-17  sea- 9    27.4   15.5
den-22  sdg-12    26.9   15.5
cle- 7  ten-13    27.6   15.5
kan-22  sdg-13    24.9   15.5
den-21  oak-15    26.6   15.4
chi-16  min-19    25.7   15.4
cin-10  bal-13    26.1   15.3
ind-10  mia-17    25.9   15.3
buf-22  mia-16    27.2   15.3
buf-20  nyj-14    25.3   15.3
mia-21  nwe-14    24.3   15.2
stl-12  sfo-23    29.6   15.2
ind- 9  ten- 6    28.3   15.1
sdg-13  sea-13    24.3   15.1
ten-14  pit-13    27.2   15.0
ari-11  was-15    27.0   15.0
car-13  nor-11    24.0   14.9
kan-18  sea- 8    25.5   14.8
phi-23  was-13    23.9   14.7
ari-12  phi-14    24.2   14.7
cin- 5  jax-11    25.0   14.6
jax-11  ten-15    23.9   14.6
min-13  tam-13    26.5   14.6
ind- 9  nwe-19    25.2   14.5 
cin-11  pit-23    26.1   14.4
dal-22  was-12    25.9   14.3
car-10  stl- 7    27.9   13.8
nwe-19  nyj-16    25.8   13.8
nor-10  sfo-17    26.3   13.7
pit-13  bal- 9    25.0   13.7
nyg-17  phi-17    23.9   13.6
ten- 7  bal- 8    22.5   13.6
nyg-20  was-13    25.8   13.6
chi-12  gnb-22    27.0   13.4
dal-18  nyg-17    25.2   13.4
atl- 8  tam-11    27.4   13.2
oak-17  sdg-17    23.8   13.2
chi-17  det-17    24.6   13.2
nor-11  tam- 8    22.9   13.1
ari- 8  nyg-19    22.3   13.1
buf-15  ind-11    26.3   13.0
det-13  tam-14    25.6   12.6
dal-17  phi-19    26.8   12.4
atl-15  car- 9    24.5   12.2
buf-14  nwe-20    25.2   11.9
gnb-19  tam- 9    22.8   11.7
jax-10  pit- 8    22.8   11.3
ari- 7  dal-22    25.9   11.2
chi-17  tam-11    24.0   10.9
cle- 7  pit-23    24.0   10.7
cle- 5  bal-11    24.9   10.6

Lowest scoring winning teams

                 Average scores
Tm-wins Tm-wins  winner  loser
ari- 8  nyg-19    22.3   13.1
ten- 7  bal- 8    22.5   13.6
jax-10  pit- 8    22.8   11.3
gnb-19  tam- 9    22.8   11.7
nor-11  tam- 8    22.9   13.1
ind-19  nyj- 7    23.8   16.1
oak-17  sdg-17    23.8   13.2
nyg-17  phi-17    23.9   13.6
jax-11  ten-15    23.9   14.6
phi-23  was-13    23.9   14.7
cle- 7  pit-23    24.0   10.7
chi-17  tam-11    24.0   10.9
car-13  nor-11    24.0   14.9
ari-12  phi-14    24.2   14.7
mia-21  nwe-14    24.3   15.2
sdg-13  sea-13    24.3   15.1
atl-15  car- 9    24.5   12.2
chi-17  det-17    24.6   13.2
cle- 5  bal-11    24.9   10.6
kan-22  sdg-13    24.9   15.5
cin- 5  jax-11    25.0   14.6
pit-13  bal- 9    25.0   13.7
den-18  sea- 8    25.1   16.5
dal-18  nyg-17    25.2   13.4
buf-14  nwe-20    25.2   11.9
ind- 9  nwe-19    25.2   14.5
buf-20  nyj-14    25.3   15.3
kan-18  sea- 8    25.5   14.8
det-13  tam-14    25.6   12.6
kan-27  oak- 8    25.6   16.5
chi-16  min-19    25.7   15.4
mia-14  nyj-20    25.7   15.6
nyg-20  was-13    25.8   13.6
den-18  kan-17    25.8   16.8
jax- 9  bal- 6    25.8   18.3
nwe-19  nyj-16    25.8   13.8
ind-10  mia-17    25.9   15.3
dal-22  was-12    25.9   14.3
ari- 7  dal-22    25.9   11.2
cin-11  pit-23    26.1   14.4
atl-20  nor-15    26.1   16.9
cin-10  bal-13    26.1   15.3
buf-15  ind-11    26.3   13.0
nor-10  sfo-17    26.3   13.7
ari- 8  stl- 8    26.5   16.8
min-13  tam-13    26.5   14.6
den-21  oak-15    26.6   15.4
ari- 6  sfo-10    26.8   17.6
det-12  min-23    26.8   17.9
dal-17  phi-19    26.8   12.4
gnb-17  min-17    26.8   18.0
den-22  sdg-12    26.9   15.5
chi-12  gnb-22    27.0   13.4
ari-11  was-15    27.0   15.0
buf-22  mia-16    27.2   15.3
ten-14  pit-13    27.2   15.0
det-12  gnb-24    27.2   16.3
atl- 8  tam-11    27.4   13.2
oak-17  sea- 9    27.4   15.5
cle- 7  ten-13    27.6   15.5
nor-15  stl-11    27.7   17.0
car-10  stl- 7    27.9   13.8
ind- 9  ten- 6    28.3   15.1
cin-14  cle-15    28.3   16.4
car- 8  sfo- 7    29.6   19.5
stl-12  sfo-23    29.6   15.2
cin- 8  ten-20    31.6   16.3
atl-14  stl-12    32.2   15.8
atl- 8  sfo-17    33.3   18.3

8 Comments | Posted in General

Random notes through two weeks

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 17, 2007
  • The NFL realigned the divisions following the addition of the Houston Texas in 2002. The 2007 AFC East is the first one to feature a 2-0 team and three 0-2 teams.
  • The 2002 NFC East, 2002 AFC South, 2004 AFC North and the 2005 AFC East were the only divisions with four 1-1 teams; a Rams win yesterday over the 49ers would have allowed the '07 NFC West to join that group.
  • The '07 AFC East obviously is 2-6, which is the second worst record over the six year span. The '07 NFC South is also 2-6, with none coming from pre-season favorite New Orleans. The '02 AFC North was 1-7, with the lone win coming in a Browns victory over the Bengals. That division would rebound, though, and send two teams to the playoffs. The '03 AFC North, the 2002 NFC West and 2005 NFC North were the only other divisions with just two wins after two weeks.
  • Best divisions? The 2002 AFC West went 7-1 through two weeks, and never slowed down: none of the four teams finished with a losing record, and the Oakland Raiders won the AFC crown. Only two other divisions have even six wins. The 2002 AFC East was 6-2, with both losses coming in intra-division games, and no team finished with a losing record that season. The 2005 NFC East was the other six-win division, and would send two teams to the playoffs. One team finished with a losing record, along with a wide receiver that didn't like his QB or coach very much.
  • Until yesterday, that is! The NFC North and AFC South are both 6-2, thanks to surprising 2-0 starts out of Green Bay, Detroit and Houston. Both the AFC South's losses were intra-division, and I don't think there's a weakling in that bunch. That could be a problem for Indianapolis as they battle New England for home field. The Patriots' division rivals are 0-5 outside the division, while the Texans and Jaguars are 3-0 outside the AFC South.
  • How good is New England, anyway? They won both games 38-14, which is pretty good. Only seven teams from '02 to '06 had outscored their opponents by 48 or more points after two games. The '06 Chargers (+60, 14-2), '03 Seahawks (+55, 10-6), '06 Bears (+53, 13-3), '02 Patriots (+53, 9-7), '03 Bills (+52, 6-10), '06 Ravens (+49, 12-4) and the '02 Chargers (+49, 8-8). Not only is this not the best Patriots start in the past six years, it's not even the best NFL start in '07: the Steelers are +50, after allowing just ten points in two games.
  • But perhaps something is to be said of consistency. I wondered when was the last time a team won its first two games by at least 24 points each? I guess my memory's going, because it happened twice last season, in San Diego and Chicago. It's still pretty rare, though. The 1997 Patriots (10-6), 1996 Packers (13-3, SB), 1981 Bills (10-6), the 1975 Redskins (8-6) and 1970 Detroit Lions (10-4) are the only teams to have done it since the merger. If you make it two 23+ point victories, you can bring in the 2007 Steelers and the 1991 Houston Oilers (11-5).
  • The 2007 New Orleans Saints haven't played very well so far, being outscored by 17 and 31 points in two games this year. Twenty-one teams from 1970-2006 were outscored by at least 17 points in their first two games, with the '06 Raiders being the most recent example. That's not a very good sign. On the other hand, the Saints don't have to look too far back for some hope. The 2002 Eagles lost in the NFC Championship game and then started the '03 season with 17 and 21 point losses at home. They'd make it back to the NFC Championship game again that season.
  • Twenty teams from '70-'06 were outscored by 48 or more points in their first two games, with the Colts and Saints having each done it three times. While the 2007 Saints broke that tie, this is far from the worst start in franchise history. New Orleans was outscored by 92 points in their first two games of '73, and by 59 and 49 in '75 and '76. That's not a misprint -- the Saints lost 62-7 on opening day, 1973, to the Falcons. Atlanta would get shut out 31-0 the following week to the Rams. Remarkably, that Saints team managed to still win five of its last eleven games. The Colts had their three pitiful starts in '78, '85 and '86.
  • How about the best start? The '70 Lions were +75 and the '75 Skins were +74. Only two teams have been +60 in the past quarter-century, the '06 Chargers and the '89 Browns. None of those teams won the Super Bowl, but one of the linebackers had a pretty cool sack dance.
  • Dallas has 80 points, which is a lot. The Cowboys are the 10th team since the merger to score over 80 points after two weeks. But while Tony Romo and company may have outscored every team in the league, it's not the biggest offensive explosion in Big D's history. The 1971 Cowboys scored 13 TDs in its first two games, led the league in scoring and won the Super Bowl. In the past fifteen years, only the '01 Colts (87 points), '99 Redskins (85) and '98 49ers (81) have scored over 80 points, and all of them but the 2001 Colts at least made the playoffs.
  • Atlanta has 10 points, which is a little. The Raiders and Bucs had fewer last year, and the '03 Eagles had just ten points after two weeks, as well. In the past decade it's only happened two other times: the 2002 Ravens (7 points scored, ended the season ranked 24th in points scored) and the 2001 Redskins (3, 28th).
  • As noted earlier, the Steel Curtain has been in full effect in Pittsburgh this year, having surrendered just ten points after two weeks. The Chargers, Bears, Ravens and Falcons all allowed fewer than ten points after two weeks last year. The '05 Colts and '03 Seahawks were the only teams to do that in the prior three years.
  • While the Bengals allowed 51 points yesterday, the Giants are last in the league with 80 points allowed to date. The Browns aren't much better, having allowed 79 points. That's really bad; in the past decade, only the '03 Cardinals and '02 Lions have allowed 79 or more points after two weeks. Those two teams finished with 12 and 13 losses, respectively, and both ranked in the bottom two in points allowed that season. The '89 Steelers (92 points allowed) were the second worst since the merger (behind the '73 Saints), but Pittsburgh would rebound and even win a playoff game that year.
  • Finally, while yesterday's Browns-Bengals game was the highest scoring game of the past 20 years, it's not even the highest scoring Browns-Bengals game in the past four seasons! Here's a list of the eleven games to hit the 95-point mark:
    year	htm	hpts	rtm	rpts	tpts
    2007 cle 51 cin 45 96
    2004 cin 58 cle 48 106
    1995 phi 58 det 37 95 (playoff game)
    1986 nyj 51 mia 45 96
    1985 sdg 54 pit 44 98
    1983 sea 51 kan 48 99
    1983 gnb 48 was 47 95
    1966 was 72 nyg 41 113
    1963 rai 52 oil 49 101
    1950 ram 70 bcl 27 97
    1948 nyg 35 crd 63 98

8 Comments | Posted in General

Mailbag/Trivia: Length of TDs

Posted by Doug on September 14, 2007

I got this in my email a few days ago:

My roommate and I were curious of the following: In NFL history, what yardage have the majority of touchdown passes been thrown from? I feel like the answer can be generalized in around 5-10 yard increments (i.e., majority of TD passes thrown between 20-30 yards).

Well, I can't get that data for all of NFL history, but I have it for 2002--2007.

Let's go ahead and break it down by individual yard lines. I'll open it up for guesses: during the period 2002--2007, what is the modal TD pass length? I'll post a full distribution after someone guesses the answer.

Bonus questions: what are the modal TD reception lengths for wide receivers, for tight ends, and for running backs?


Yrd   WR%    TE%    RB%   TOT%
 1   1.78  16.20  10.49   5.99
 2   2.72  10.89   6.65   4.99
 3   3.70   5.98   6.14   4.49
 4   4.81   5.58   6.14   5.14
 5   4.23   4.78   5.12   4.46
 6   3.39   5.71   4.86   4.07
 7   3.74   2.92   3.84   3.57
 8   3.30   3.45   4.35   3.45
 9   2.85   3.59   4.09   3.16
10   2.81   2.39   3.58   2.80
11   2.27   3.32   2.56   2.54
12   2.41   2.39   2.81   2.45
13   2.67   1.46   2.81   2.42
14   2.63   2.26   3.07   2.60
15   2.85   2.52   2.05   2.69
16   1.78   3.19   0.77   1.98
17   1.52   2.66   1.53   1.77
18   1.78   1.86   1.28   1.74
19   1.74   1.59   1.79   1.71
20   2.45   1.73   1.53   2.18
21   1.69   1.20   1.53   1.56
22   1.96   1.46   0.51   1.68
23   1.43   1.06   1.79   1.39
24   1.20   1.20   0.26   1.09
25   1.83   0.80   1.53   1.56
26   1.56   1.46   1.02   1.48
27   1.92   0.93   0.77   1.56
28   1.38   0.40   1.02   1.12
29   1.38   0.27   0.26   1.00
30   1.34   0.53   0.51   1.06
31   1.29   1.06   1.53   1.27
32   1.38   0.53   0.26   1.06
33   1.34   0.80   0.51   1.12
34   1.07   0.40   0.51   0.86
35   1.38   0.40   1.02   1.12
36   1.02   0.13   0.51   0.77
37   1.25   0.00   0.51   0.89
38   0.80   0.00   0.77   0.62
39   1.16   0.00   0.26   0.80
40   1.07   0.00   0.00   0.71
41   0.71   0.40   0.77   0.65
42   0.85   0.53   0.26   0.71
43   0.80   0.00   0.26   0.56
44   0.80   0.00   0.26   0.56
45   0.49   0.40   0.26   0.44
46   0.62   0.13   0.26   0.47
47   0.53   0.00   0.00   0.35
48   0.53   0.00   0.00   0.35
49   0.53   0.13   0.00   0.38
50   0.67   0.00   0.00   0.44
51   0.71   0.00   0.51   0.53
52   0.36   0.13   0.77   0.35
53   0.40   0.00   0.00   0.27
54   0.40   0.00   0.00   0.27
55   0.40   0.00   0.26   0.30
56   0.31   0.00   0.00   0.21
57   0.45   0.13   0.00   0.32
58   0.40   0.00   0.00   0.27
59   0.40   0.00   0.26   0.30
60   0.45   0.13   0.77   0.41
61   0.18   0.00   0.26   0.15
62   0.22   0.13   0.51   0.24
63   0.09   0.00   0.51   0.12
64   0.18   0.00   0.77   0.21
65   0.45   0.00   0.00   0.30
66   0.27   0.13   0.51   0.27
67   0.18   0.00   0.00   0.12
68   0.40   0.00   0.51   0.32
69   0.22   0.00   0.26   0.18
70   0.27   0.00   0.00   0.18
71   0.31   0.00   0.00   0.21
72   0.40   0.13   0.00   0.30
73   0.18   0.00   0.26   0.15
74   0.13   0.00   0.26   0.12
75   0.31   0.00   0.00   0.21
76   0.31   0.13   0.00   0.24
77   0.27   0.00   0.26   0.21
78   0.27   0.00   0.00   0.18
79   0.22   0.00   0.00   0.15
80   0.40   0.13   0.51   0.35
81+  1.02   0.27   0.26   0.77

10 Comments | Posted in General, Trivia

Quick thoughts on the weekend’s action (and some site news)

Posted by Doug on September 12, 2007

1. Is it me, or is the number of helmets popping off of heads up about 200% over last year, and about 5000% over ten years ago? Maybe my memory is faulty, but the way I remember it, it used to be that you could watch an entire season of college and NFL football and only see one or two helmets fly off heads in the middle of a play. Now it happens once a drive. I first noticed it during the Oregon-Michigan game on Saturday, where some Duck lost his helmet on about 40% of the plays. The NFL games I watched on Sunday, while not quite so extreme, still produced a lot of airborne helmets. What's going on?

2. I've written a few times (I, II) about my belief, which is not backed by any actual evidence, I should admit, that Michael Vick's presence was responsible for the running backs' success in Atlanta during the last few years. The Falcon runners struggled last week and I expect that to continue, but what I want to point out is that the same phenomenon could be on display in Tennessee. The threat of Vince Young getting to the corners allowed Chris Brown and LenDale White to rush for 241 yards on 37 carries, many of them right up the middle, against a Jaguar defense that is supposed to be pretty stout.

3. Last year I noted that week one was a very, very poor week for wide receiver production. This year it seems that running backs got bit by the same bug. Last week, 73.2% of all offensive touchdowns were passing TDs. Since 2000, only five weeks have seen a higher percentage. Hat tip to this thread at the footballguys message board for pointing out that no running back scored multiple touchdowns this week. According to my quick check, that happened in week 2 of 2001 but had not happened since.

4. The new rookies who saw game action this week now have pages at p-f-r which are sponsorable, with pricing determined by Dutch auction. Sponsoring pages is a fun way to support the site.

5. Stay tuned to the blog for an announcement about big things happening at p-f-r very soon. I can say without hyperbole that p-f-r will soon be one million times better than every other site on the internet combined.

9 Comments | Posted in General

In Search of the Next Brady or Bulger

Posted by Jason Lisk on September 10, 2007

What are the chances that Tony Romo . . . or Matt Schaub . . . or Brodie Croyle . . . or Jim Sorgi . . . or Chris Simms . . . or Troy Smith . . . or [insert name of quarterback not drafted in the first 50 picks of the draft] becomes the next later round QB success in the NFL?

That's what I am going to try to evaluate. There are lots of problems in trying to come up with an answer, though. First, what constitutes "success?" To define Brady, Bulger, or Trent Green as a success is easy. But is it a success if a later round pick even starts in the NFL for a season? After all, the vast majority never see any substantial playing time in the regular season. What about guys like Scott Mitchell and Elvis Grbac? They did accomplish more than most later round picks. Successes or not?

To attempt an answer, I divided the later round quarterbacks into performance tiers, so that there were varying degrees of "success". I sorted all quarterbacks who entered the league between 1983-2002, and were not selected within the top 50 selections in the draft. For now, I am going to set aside those drafted since 2003, as only a handful have played a sizeable number of games in one season, and only Charlie Frye has seen significant playing time in more than one season. I then found all quarterbacks from that group who threw at least 150 pass attempts in at least one NFL season. 88 quarterbacks qualified. These 88 QB's were divided into two groups, those who threw 150+ pass attempts in more than one season (64 total), and those who threw 150+ pass attempts in only one season (24).

Next, to evaluate the quarterbacks within these groups, I used Adjusted Yards Per Attempt (AYPA), and compared the player's AYPA to a baseline number of "the Nth ranked quarterback in terms of AYPA among all who threw 150+ passes", where N = the number of teams in the league for that season. The total number of quarterbacks throwing at least 150 passes in a season fluctuates, but the average is approximately 1.25 x N (40 for a 32-team league, for example). So, this performance baseline would put about 20% of passers below the baseline (and thus having negative value) for the average season.

I took the player's AYPA, subtracted the baseline AYPA, and then multiplied that difference (Let's call it AYPA over replacement level) by the raw number of pass attempts to calculate "value added" for each season.

I was not as concerned with ranking the quarterbacks in exact order, as much as in creating tiers of relative success levels to then evaluate to see what those players had in common. I used the career passing "value added" and "value added" per season as the main tool, along with considering some other factors: the best years, the consistency of performance from year to year, and rushing ability and health, to make some decisions at the margins between tiers.

The 64 quarterbacks who threw 150+ attempts in more than one season were divided into five groups:

THE TOP GUNS make up the first tier, and consist of the following nine quarterbacks, sorted in order of career passing value added (for all 150+ attempt seasons) to date: Warren Moon, Trent Green, Mark Brunell, Kurt Warner, Rich Gannon, Tom Brady, Marc Bulger, Jeff Garcia, and Matt Hasselbeck. All of the Top Guns have posted at least two Top 5 Value Added Seasons, except Brady, who has just missed a few times and has five Top 15's. Only one QB, Mark Rypien, had multiple Top 5's and is not in this group, because his third best season was not even in the Top 15.

The next two tiers are what you might call Groups 2A and 2B. The next 21 QB's all started (from now on, when I say started, I mean threw at least 150 attempts) for multiple seasons. I split these two groups up, not strictly by raw value added, but by their career paths. The first, the STEADY PERFORMERS, all were Top 15 in at least 40% of their starting seasons, Top 25 in at least 75%, and started at least 4 seasons. The second, the UNEVEN PERFORMERS, had more up and down years, a greater deviation in year to year performance, and a higher incidence of bad years. On balance, I would take most of the STEADY PERFORMER group ahead of the UNEVEN PERFORMERS, though a few of the Uneven guys do rank high in "value added" due to their best season.

THE STEADY PERFORMERS are Chris Chandler, Brad Johnson, Neil O'Donnell, Steve Beuerlein, Aaron Brooks, Jeff Hostetler, Bobby Hebert, Jake Delhomme, and Charlie Batch.

THE UNEVEN PERFORMERS are Mark Rypien, Jay Schroeder, Brian Griese, Gus Frerotte, Jeff Blake, Elvis Grbac, Stan Humphries, Scott Mitchell, Doug Flutie, Erik Kramer, Jon Kitna, and Kordell Stewart. Kordell Stewart was moved up to this group, even though his passing profile fits more in line with the next group, based upon his extraordinary rushing contributions and seven starting seasons.

THE JOURNEYMEN are next. These guys got a few chances to start, maybe even put together a solid season among some not so good ones, and some of them hung around to play for several franchises. They are Rodney Peete, Bubby Brister, Jay Fiedler, Don Majkowski, Mike Tomczak, Damon Huard, Craig Erickson, Steve Bono, John Friesz, Rob Johnson, David Garrard, Steve Pelleur, Ty Detmer, Shaun Salisbury, Jim Miller, Josh McCown, and Ray Lucas.

Finally, among those getting 2 or more opportunities to throw 150 or more attempts, are the STOPGAPS. These guys were failed starters or career platoons/backups, maybe even guys who looked good in limited action one year, and were overexposed the next. They are Kent Graham, Hugh Millen, Quincy Carter, Billy Joe Tolliver, Eric Zeier, Chad Hutchinson, David Archer, Jamie Martin, Kelly Holcomb, Anthony Wright, Shane Matthews, Danny Kanell, Bobby Hoying, A.J. Feeley, Randy Wright, Doug Pederson, and Craig Whelihan. Quick aside--can someone explain numerous football commentator's fascination with mentioning Kelly Holcomb every time they think a team needs a backup that could challenge for a starting spot? I just do not get it.

The final two groups are simply the guys who threw 150 passes or more in only one season. I just took these 24 guys, and divided them into half based on their value added (or in most cases subtracted), into the SERVICEABLE BACKUPS, and the DISASTERS. I use the term "backup" here even though some were failed experiments as starters.

THE SERVICEABLE BACKUPS are Billy Volek, Jason Garrett, Tim Rattay, TJ Rubley, Cody Carlson, Alex Van Pelt, Bucky Richardson, Anthony Dilweg, Chris Redman, Steve Stentstrom, Frank Reich, Tommy Hodson. Bonus points if you can tell me where Dilweg went to school without looking.

THE DISASTERS were Doug Johnson, Billy Joe Hobert, Koy Detmer, Scott Campbell, Bruce Mathison, Donald Hollas, Mike McMahon, Stoney Case, Joe Dufek, Stan Gelbaugh, Rusty Hilger, and Chris Weinke.

When I look at the players in these tiers, and their characteristics, a few things stand out.


It only matters in determining the likelihood a quarterback even gets an opportunity, and how soon that opportunity occurs. When trying to evaluate the chances of an undrafted free agent, there is a problem. What is the relevant population? I settled on a rough estimate of 6 undrafted free agents per season, relying on the number of quarterbacks drafted in later rounds back when the draft went twelve rounds, and my guesstimate as to how many new undrafted free agents are make a roster each year, or at least make a practice squad. The other problem when trying to estimate success percentages of quarterbacks by draft position is that not all "quarterbacks" were drafted with a realistic thought of playing QB in the NFL. It's easy to spot a guy like Ronald Curry, but not as easy when we are talking about the quarterbacks drafted as athletes who never made a position switch successfully. My numbers below may not match up entirely with the draft results, because I removed some other guys who, in my opinion, were not drafted to play quarterback in the pros even though they played it in college and were listed as such on draft summaries. So, take my numbers below as educated estimates.

Here is the breakdown by draft pick selection number, sorted by tier groups:

GROUP        51-80  81-110  111-140  141-170  171-200  201-260  261-UFA
TOP GUNS        0      1        1        1        2         1        3
STEADY          4      1        1        0        0         1        2
UNEVEN          1      3        0        3        1         1        3
JOURNEYMEN      1      3        3        2        1         2        5
STOP GAPS       3      2        1        1        1         2        7
SERVICEABLE     5      0        1        0        0         4        2
DISASTERS       2      2        0        3        1         1        3
ALL 150+ ATT   16     12        7       10        6        12       25
ALL DRAFTED    22     29       19       26       27        38      120


We know about the small college guys that have made a big splash in the NFL. Everyone wants to find the next Kurt Warner. The problem is, teams show no ability to find "Kurt Warner" in the actual draft. Out of 49 selected, here is the list of all quarterbacks drafted between 1983-2002 who attended a non-division IA program, and threw at least 150 passes in one season:

Rich Gannon (Delaware)
John Friesz (Idaho)
Josh McCown (Sam Houston State)
Craig Whelihan (Pacific)

That's only 8% of all non-DIA QB's drafted. Compare that to approximately 42% for "BCS" school products (49/118) and approximately 33% for other D-IA products (12/36). Warner, Hebert, Kitna and Romo went undrafted, while Giovanni Carmazzi, Jeff Carlson, Chris Hakel, Perry Klein, Doug Nussmeier, and Jeff Lewis all went by the end of round four.

Of the Top Guns, three were free agents, one each from a BCS (Moon-Washington), other D-IA (Garcia-San Jose St), and non-DIA school (Warner-Northern Iowa). Of the remaining drafted players, all except Gannon went to schools that are BCS-caliber, and their teams were average to above average during their college careers. You cannot say that scouts had limited opportunity to see these guys. In fact, they had multiple players selected from their school in their same draft class, and most played with multiple eventual first day draft picks during their college careers. Hasselbeck (Boston College), Green (Indiana), Brady (Michigan), Bulger (West Virginia), and Brunell (Washington) all played in pro style, balanced to run-oriented offenses, but with the exception of Brunell, were not frequent runners themselves. If you expand it out to look at the Steady Performers and Uneven Performers as well, you bring in twelve more drafted BCS-level prospects, five other drafted D-IA products, and no non-DIA guys. That's approximately 14% of BCS caliber and other D-IA caliber drafted quarterbacks reaching at least "Uneven Performer" level, compared to only Rich Gannon for the others (2%).

It appears that teams could increase their chances to get a surprise top starter later in the draft by focusing on players from BCS conferences who play in pro-style offenses, and may not put up huge raw numbers like other system quarterbacks (run-n-shoot, spread offense). If teams are trying to guess at who will be the next Warner or Ken Anderson, they may miss the next Brady, Brunell, Bulger, Green, or Montana, and the odds of finding those guys are a little better.


I should say that height matters to an extent. It is not going to make a player a really good quarterback. It is, however, going to allow a player that otherwise shows himself competent at the position to have more upside and longevity. Here are the numbers sorted by height (in inches). "72" includes all players 72 inches or shorter, and "77" includes all players 77 inches or taller.

GROUP          72     73      74      75      76       77  
TOP GUNS        0      2       1       4       2        0
STEADY          0      0       2       3       3        1        
UNEVEN          2      2       2       2       2        2
JOURNEYMEN      2      3       3       4       4        1
STOP GAPS       0      3       5       5       0        4 
SERVICEABLE     0      3       3       5       1        0
DISASTERS       2      0       2       5       3        0
ALL 150+ ATT    6     13      18      28      15        8

The key height seems to be 6'3" or taller. 16 of the 21 (76.2%)quarterbacks who achieved at least one top five passing value added season were 6'3" or taller. Compare that to 51 of 88 (58.0%) for all late round passers who ever attempted 150 passes in a season. I did not go through every drafted QB's height who never played in the NFL, but I would guess that the number 6'3" or taller is somewhere in the 55% range, for all late round quarterbacks ever making a roster.

The guys under 6'3" who were successful primarily relied on their mobility and ability to throw on the run to make up for the inch or two in height. Brunell and Garcia are the most successful examples of this. Warner and Delhomme have been the most successful pocket passer types listed at 6'2".

Weight, however, does not matter, and might be overvalued. I am not sure how to quantify this, and it is just an observation, but alot of the most successful passers had a similar wiry body type coming out of college. Brady, Trent Green, Bulger, Chandler, Beuerlein, Warren Moon--none of these guys are built like Peyton Manning, Culpepper, McNabb or Roethlisberger.

So, let's turn to the current guys, but first take a quick look at how long it takes the top performers to become good or great, to get a sense of what to expect and when out of the current group of later round quarterbacks. Here is a chart showing how many seasons, after the first season in which the passer had 150 attempts, before that passer first reached certain milestones in terms of value added. It consists of all passers who had at least 2,500 in career passing value added--21 total passers. All members of the Top Guns are included, as well as everyone from the Steady Performers except Charlie Batch, plus Rypien, Griese, Schroeder, and Frerotte from the Uneven Performers group. If the milestone was achieved in year "0", that means that milestone was first accomplished the same season the player first began starting.

YR/FINISH  TOP5    TOP10  TOP15  TOP20    TOP25    TOP30
0          1       4       9      16        19       21
1          4       8       8       4         1        0
2          3       3       1       0         0        0
3          1       2       0       0         0        0
4          1       2       0       0         0        0
5+         2       4       3       1         1        0
Never      5       0       0       0         0        0

Only Chandler (28th) and Gannon (26th) were outside of the Top 25 in value added their first starting season. Chandler, notably, was the only one to start straight out of college as a rookie among this group. Slightly less than half finished in the Top 15, and Kurt Warner was the one Top 5 season in the first season starting. Within one season of their first opportunity, all except one had already posted at least one Top 20 Value Added Passing season, and that one was Chandler, who did not get another extended opportunity until his 5th year in the league. Slightly over half (12/21) had already had a Top 10 season by their second year as a starter. The difference between the Top Guns, the Steady Performers, and the Uneven Performers is not so much how they started their careers, but how they improved or sustained as their careers went on.

In conclusion, I'm going to turn back to some of the notable guys drafted since 2003, to provide an assessment of their chances.

Matt Schaub: I'll give him about a 40% chance of of joining the group with at least one Top 5 type passing season in his career. I think he has a chance to join the "Steady Starter" group, and we should know fairly early if that is the case, given his age and years of experience in the NFL.

Tony Romo: Big first year as a starter means he probably is going to be somewhere within the Top 30 list (top gun, steady performer, uneven performer) when his career is over. His height (6'2") means his upside and consistency may be impacted in the long haul, but he is a more mobile guy who could emulate the career of a Mark Brunell.

Tarvaris Jackson: If he is a success, he would break the mold. It would take one above average passing season in his career to make him the second most successful passer drafted from a non-Division IA school since 1983. We know the Vikings staff likes him, and he was the 62nd overall pick. There were 16 other teams that liked their guy picked between 51-80, and gave their guy an opportunity, and only 6 reached Journeyman status or better. He is however going to at least join the Top 5 most successful draft non-DIA guys, because he is all but guaranteed to start a significant number of games this year, which should mean we have an idea of the answer by season's end.

Brodie Croyle: See some of the comments on Jackson, as he is a 3rd round guy who Herm Edwards likes and thinks can be the starter. He looked bad in preseason, looked bad on 7 pass attempts last year. The Chiefs still need to give him substantial starting time this year if they have a belief he is the quarterback of the future, so they know the answer. He does have the tall skinny kid thing going, but then again, TJ Rubley and Stan Gelbaugh were skinny too.

Andrew Walter, Kyle Orton, and Bruce Gradkowski: Yeah, they get lumped together. If they never start again, they would rank as 3 of the 7 worst Disasters on the above list. Here's guessing that two of them actually do never start again, while one may get another chance to add negative value for someone else. I could make excuses for each of them (Orton and Gradkowski were rookies, Walter had the Raiders offensive line and a bed and breakfast operator calling plays), but I am sure everyone on the list above had some excuse.

Charlie Frye: I think we have seen enough to say it is highly unlikely he rises above "stopgap". The eventual successes did not put together 2 seasons like Frye at the start of their careers.

Chris Simms: Intriguing. We don't know if he will ever be able to make a comeback from the spleen injury. He was 21 in value added in his only season with 150+ attempts, his 3rd year in the league. He has the height and big school background shared by many successes, and put up numbers similar to many of those guys in his first opportunity. If I were a team, I would take a low-risk chance on Simms. He could have a career like Chandler or Beuerlein if he can come back from that injury.

Troy Smith: Height is an issue. His absolute upside is probably along the lines of Jeff Blake or Erik Kramer, but I am not saying that is likely. He could be a serviceable backup, or we may never see him play a significant role in an NFL game.

Jim Sorgi: Another intriguing guy. He is second string, has looked solid in limited action, and fits the profile of the successful guys--- BCS school, run-oriented pro style offense in college, good height, skinny. At this point, we can surmise he is not as good as Peyton Manning.

19 Comments | Posted in General, History

How much does week one matter?

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 7, 2007

Note: For those that participated in the NFL Opener Contest, scroll to the bottom for the results.

I don't think any of us would think the Patriots or Ravens or Bears were in for a down year if they lost their first games. Likewise, none of us will be guaranteeing a post-season berth out of the Raiders/Lions winner. But winning in week one means something, right? And how much does winning in weeks 1 and 2 mean? If the Ravens (13-3 last year) are 3-5 after eight weeks while the Raiders (2-14) are 5-3 after eight weeks, which team would we suspect will do better in the second half of the season?

Certainly, no one rule can be applied to every team. If the Lions get really lucky in winning their first three games, we might not be that high on them. If Tom Brady gets hurt, we're going to downgrade the Patriots a lot more than if they just look bad. So while this may be a pointless exercise -- it's Friday, so why not.

First we need to come up with a variable for pre-season predictions. Remember the Simpe Rating System? I used each team's SRS score from the previous year as their projection. Obviously this doesn't take into account any off-season moves, so our faith in the predictions shouldn't be too high. While human projections aren't great, they're usually a bit more accurate than merely using last year's data. Using the SRS tends to be a bit more predictive than wins and losses, so that's why I chose to use that.

The 2006 Chargers and 2006 Patriots both had SRS scores of +10.2, highest of any team last year. I performed a regression analysis of teams from the past decade to convert a SRS score into a projected win total. The resulting formula to project next season's wins was 8 +/- 0.45 wins for every SRS point. So the Chargers and Patriots will both be projected to win 12.59 games this year, while the Raiders will be projected at 3.68 wins. That more or less feels right to me. Here's how many wins every team is projected for in 2007:

team SRS projWins
nwe 10.2 12.6
sdg 10.2 12.6
bal 9.3 12.2
chi 7.9 11.6
jax 7.5 11.4
ind 5.9 10.7
cin 4.1 9.8
nor 4.0 9.8
dal 3.7 9.7
pit 3.4 9.5
phi 3.4 9.5
buf 2.2 9.0
nyj 2.0 8.9
den 1.3 8.6
kan 1.0 8.5
mia 0.7 8.3
nyg 0.1 8.0
ten -1.3 7.4
car -2.7 6.8
atl -3.0 6.7
sea -3.6 6.4
stl -4.0 6.2
was -4.0 6.2
min -4.1 6.2
gnb -4.4 6.0
hou -4.5 6.0
cle -5.8 5.4
det -6.4 5.1
ari -6.9 4.9
tam -7.9 4.4
sfo -8.7 4.1
oak -9.6 3.7

I then looked at the ten seasons from 1997-2006, focusing on three variables: each team's projected number of wins (based on their SRS score from the prior year), each team's winning percentage through game X of the season, and each team's winning percentage for the remainder of the season. It's important to use the remainder and not the final season winning percentage to avoid biasing the results.

What's the verdict? How much does each week matter? The table below shows how much weight should be placed on both last season's results (N-1 weight) and the current season's results to date (N-T-D Weight) in figuring out winning percentage for the remainder of the year:

After Game N-1 Weight N-T-D Weight
1 6.06 1.00
2 2.57 1.00
3 1.44 1.00
4 1.01 1.00
5 0.70 1.00
6 0.64 1.00

Does this information jive with what you would have guessed? Remember, if you have really strong predictions (and I think most of us could come up with better predictions than the Year N-1 SRS grade), the weight placed on them should increase. If that's the case, your pre-season projections might be more important than even five or six games worth of data.

Here are a couple of examples.

If the Chargers start off 2-4, they'll be projected to have a 0.510 winning percentage the rest of the season, which means about five wins, and a 7-9 season. Does that seem right to you? If the Raiders go 4-2 through six games, Oakland will have a projected 0.496 winning percentage for the remainder of the year, which would lead to a 9-7 record.

If you asked me who would win more games the rest of the year -- the 2-4 Chargers or the 4-2 Raiders -- I'm not sure which team I'd like. On one hand, that tells me this system is pretty good, because the results are reasonable. On the other, I'd want to ask how in the world did the Chargers go 2-4? Is Tomlinson hurt? Is Gates hurt? If so, that would be a lot more valuable than any formula I could derive. But at least this gives me something relatively concrete to rely on, and reinforces the idea that what happens in week one shouldn't change your thoughts very much. It's still six times less valuable than what went on in 2006.

And for Saints fans, that's the only good piece of news they'll hear all day.

NFL Opener Contest Results

Congrats to Dr. I Don't Know, who was the closest among our 31 contestants in predicting the final score of last night's game. Please send an e-mail to to claim your prize.

									Total	Correct winner
Dr. I Don’t Know Indianapolis 30 New Orleans 16 1217 YES
Yuval Indianapolis 27 New Orleans 13 1313 YES
Vince Indianapolis 38 New Orleans 24 1313 YES
Jason W Indianapolis 31 New Orleans 20 1789 YES
Jacob Indianapolis 24 New Orleans 13 1985 YES
Doug W Indianapolis 31 New Orleans 21 2022 YES
JWM Indianapolis 26 New Orleans 17 2334 YES
Doug Indianapolis 23 New Orleans 14 2466 YES
Hedgehog Indianapolis 30 New Orleans 23 2826 YES
Nick Indianapolis 38 New Orleans 30 2826 YES
MattyP Indianapolis 24 New Orleans 17 2922 YES
Dave Indianapolis 38 New Orleans 31 3146 YES
Mr Shush Indianapolis 34 New Orleans 28 3246 YES
Autumn Indianapolis 41 New Orleans 34 3398 YES
Luke Indianapolis 20 New Orleans 14 3414 YES
sepporepi Indianapolis 31 New Orleans 27 3837 YES
Joseph Indianapolis 35 New Orleans 31 4013 YES
Otis Indianapolis 27 New Orleans 24 4149 YES
Richie Indianapolis 21.5 New Orleans 18.5 4270 YES
Joshua P. Indianapolis 20 New Orleans 17 4345 YES
Scott Indianapolis 34 New Orleans 31 4345 YES
Arkuss Indianapolis 30 New Orleans 28 4578 YES
cjm Indianapolis 38 New Orleans 35 4633 YES
Sky New Orleans 38 Indianapolis 17 332 NO
monkeytime New Orleans 17 Indianapolis 7 2750 NO
Dan New Orleans 27 Indianapolis 21 3134 NO
JKL New Orleans 23 Indianapolis 19 3869 NO
Mats New Orleans 35 Indianapolis 31 4013 NO
Dan Miller New Orleans 31 Indianapolis 28 4213 NO
Don New Orleans 28 Indianapolis 27 4946 NO
MadMolecule New Orleans 31 Indianapolis 30 5030 NO

Final Score Indianapolis 41 New Orleans 10

9 Comments | Posted in General, History, Statgeekery

PFR Contest: Saints vs. Colts

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 6, 2007

The long wait is finally over, and meaningful NFL football is here again. What better way to rev up the excitement than a PFR contest? Scroll down to the bottom for that information.

Tonight's game features two of the most interesting teams in the league. I'd love to hear the thoughts of our readers on what I'm watching for tonight, so please post your opinions in the comments, along with whatever you're looking forward to seeing.

1. The Colts have won 20 of their past 21 home games -- with the only loss coming against Drew Brees' Chargers in 2005. Can Brees continue to do what no other QB has done, and beat the Colts at the RCA Dome?

2. Joseph Addai had more than 25 carries in a game just once in his collegiate career, and has yet to do so as a pro. With Dominic Rhodes now in Oakland, Kenton Keith and DeDe Dorsey are the backup running backs in Indianapolis. Keith was in the CFL the past four years, after spending four years at New Mexico State where he averaged 534 yards per season. By my count, Dorsey is the first player from Lindenwood to ever play in the NFL, and has already been waived once by the Colts. Suffice it to say, Addai should see a ton of carries this year -- Colts RBs have averaged 410 carries the past four years. Can he hold up? Does he get 25 or 30 tonight?

3. Does Reggie Bush explode this year, and leave Deuce McAllister in the dust? Does he turn his success at the end of last year into a huge season as as sophomore, like Frank Gore did in 2006? I know I've written about Bush quite a bit, but seeing him against the Colts defense should be a treat for any NFL fan. Well, except those that root for Indianapolis.

4. What does Marques Colston do for an encore? Colston was leading the entire league in receiving yards and receiving TDs through 10 weeks last year, before injuring his ankle on the first series of the game in week eleven. Since the merger, no rookie has ever led the league in receiving yards, and only Anquan Boldin and Randy Moss finished in the top three. Boldin would record 158 receptions in his next 24 games, and Moss would rank in the top five in receiving yards in four of the next five years.

Only six rookies have ranked in the top three in receiving TDs in a season. Moss and John Jefferson both led the league as rookies, and Jefferson made the Pro Bowl in his second and third years. Charlie Brown ranked 2nd in receiving TDs, and would play even better as a sophomore and make another Pro Bowl trip. Sammy White tied for third in receiving TDs as a rookie, and would finish in the top five each of his next two seasons in that category. And then there was Randy Vataha, who tied for 2nd in the league in receiving TDs as a rookie for New England in 1971, but flamed out shortly after. Calvin Williams tied for third in receiving TDs as an Eagles rookie in 1990, but failed to excel after that. While there are a couple of counter-examples, the history books indicate that Colston has a great chance of earning several trips to Hawaii -- but how does the former Hofstra product fare this year when he's now the number 1 WR?

5. The Colts defense was terrible last year, and has since lost both starting corners (including Jason David to New Orleans), its top tackler and former Pro Bowl LB, and its top run stuffer (Booger McFarland). However, none of those players were elite, and we've seen some very positive things from the Colts defense in the pre-season. A healthy Bob Sanders will go a long way towards curing the historically bad run defense from last year, which has to get better almost by default. If LB Freddie Keiaho and CB Antoine Bethea can improve as second year players, that will go a long way towards improving the defense. The Colts flat out couldn't tackle last season, and the early returns so far are promising. Cato June was a liability last year, and neither Nick Harper nor Jason David were good cover men. Is it possible that we'll see addition by subtraction in Indianapolis this year?

6. This game features two of the best coaches in the league. Sean Payton justifiably earned praise as perhaps the game's best play-caller, consistently making the right calls in leading the Saints to the NFC Championship. He'll match wits against Tony Dungy, who has the exact same career record as George Seifert. Among coaches with 50+ career wins, Dungy and Seifert rank third in career winning percentage behind Don Shula and George Halas.

7. While all eyes will be on the QBs that led their respective conferences in passing yards in 2006, you might want to look to the left a little bit. He doesn't have the reputation of Walter Jones, Orlando Pace or Jonathon Ogden, but third-year left tackle Jammal Brown might just be the best in the league. While he suffered a bone bruise on his right knee a month ago, he should be ready to go tonight against Dwight Freeney, the most well paid defensive player of all time. Brown has quick feet and excels in pass blocking, making this perhaps the top one-on-one battle in all of week one.

The Colts had one of the best pass blocking tackles in the league as well, but Tarik Glenn's recent retirement leaves Indianapolis in a bind. They'll be going with rookie Tony Ugoh to protect Mastercard's favorite pitchman. It's hard to overstate the important of solid left guard play, especially on an offense like the Colts. Indianapolis doesn't want to have to keep TE Dallas Clark and/or RB Joseph Addai in to protect Manning on every play, but they're not going to let him get roughed up, either. And Colts fans better hope that Tony Ugoh got prepared by facing Dwight Freeney in practice, because he goes up against the NFC's best right defensive end in Will Smith. While the Smith-Ugoh matchup isn't strength vs. strength like Freeney/Brown, how Ugoh handles Smith might be the deciding factor in the game.


Prize: 20 virtual dollars with which to sponsor a page at PFR. Also honor and glory.

Scoring and Rules: In order to win, you must pick the correct winner of the game. Your score is calculated as follows:

1) Compute the difference in total points scored between your projection and the final result. Square that number.

2) Computer the difference in margin of victory. Raise that number to the 2.5 power.

3) The person with the lowest score wins. All tiebreakers will be broken chronologically by when you posted your pick. PFR management reserves the right to handle any disputes in the matter that causes it the least amount of hassle. The winner will be announced tomorrow or at PFR management's earliest convenience, whichever comes later.

4) Everyone is limited to one entry per person. If you decide to enter more than once, all your entries will be disregarded and I'll make you watch this video over and over again.

5) Please post your prediction in the following way: Winning Team, Winning Team Score, Losing Team, Losing Team Score. This will make my life a lot easier. Example: Indianapolis, 20, New Orleans, 17.

Examples on how your score is calculated: Suppose the final score is 35-31 Colts. Poster A predicts 20-17 Colts, Poster B predicts 31-17 Colts, and Poster C predicts 35-31 Saints. Poster B would win with the lowest eligible entry. Poster A scores 842 points, Poster B scores 640 points and Poster C is ineligible due to picking the wrong winner.

Good luck to all, and most importantly, enjoy tonight's game!

36 Comments | Posted in General

Regression to the Mean

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 5, 2007

Whenever a player has an incredible season, people should expect lower results the following year due to regression to the mean. While most of the readers of this blog are certainly familiar with the concept, I thought I'd spend a few minutes today discussing exactly why it occurs. You also might want to check out how "regression to the mean" plays a part in the Madden Curse.

Let's pretend there are 10 WRs in the league, and break the NFL season up into three parts (ignoring that 16 doesn't divide by 3 evenly). Suppose a stud WR will gain 600 yards in a third of a season 1/3 of the time, 500 yards in a third of a season 1/3 of the time, and 400 yards in a third of a season 1/3 of the time. Obviously, his expected number of receiving yards in a given season is 1500. But equally obvious is that occasionally he'll get as many as 1800 yards in a season or as few as 1200 yards, purely based on luck. In fact, he can have 27 different possible season ending totals, assuming the order in which he gains his yards matters:

Part1 PartII PartIII Total
600 600 600 1800
500 600 600 1700
600 500 600 1700
600 600 500 1700
400 600 600 1600
500 500 600 1600
500 600 500 1600
600 400 600 1600
600 500 500 1600
600 600 400 1600
400 500 600 1500
400 600 500 1500
500 400 600 1500
500 500 500 1500
500 600 400 1500
600 400 500 1500
600 500 400 1500
400 400 600 1400
400 500 500 1400
400 600 400 1400
500 400 500 1400
500 500 400 1400
600 400 400 1400
400 400 500 1300
400 500 400 1300
500 400 400 1300
400 400 400 1200

So how often will each season-ending total occur (assuming the order in which he gained his yards doesn't matter)?

1800 1/27
1700 3/27
1600 6/27
1500 7/27
1400 6/27
1300 3/27
1200 1/27

The mode, median and mean of the sample are all 1500 receiving yards. Two-thirds of the time, our fictional WR will end up with between 1400-1600 yards. Once every 27 times, though, we'll see a crazy result.

Let's expand our field a bit to 10 WRs. Each WR has a 33% chance of any of the three numbers occurring in any of the three thirds of a season.

Part1 PartII PartIII Total
WR1 600 500 400 1500
WR2 575 475 375 1425
WR3 550 450 350 1350
WR4 525 425 325 1275
WR5 500 400 300 1200
WR6 475 375 275 1125
WR7 450 350 250 1050
WR8 425 325 225 975
WR9 400 300 200 900
WR10 375 275 175 825

What sort of season-ending outputs should we expect from this group?

rate/27 1 3 6 7 6 3 1
WR1 1800 1700 1600 1500 1400 1300 1200
WR2 1725 1625 1525 1425 1325 1225 1125
WR3 1650 1550 1450 1350 1250 1150 1050
WR4 1575 1475 1375 1275 1175 1075 975
WR5 1500 1400 1300 1200 1100 1000 900
WR6 1425 1325 1225 1125 1025 925 825
WR7 1350 1250 1150 1050 950 850 750
WR8 1275 1175 1075 975 875 775 675
WR9 1200 1100 1000 900 800 700 600
WR10 1125 1025 925 825 725 625 525

So WR4 should be expected to get 1375 yards or more, 10 out of 27 times (Do you see why?). And WR10 should be expected to get just 525 yards once, but also 1125 yards once. And so on.

What's it all mean? With our 10 WRs, what sort of results should we expect in a given season? How many times will a WR get between 1600 and 1699 yards? How many times between 1000-1099? What range should we see the most of? The table below answers all those questions.

Yards Times in a season
1800+ 0.04
1700-1799 0.15
1600-1699 0.37
1500-1599 0.67
1400-1499 0.96
1300-1399 1.19
1200-1299 1.30
1100-1199 1.33
1000-1099 1.30
900-999 1.15
800-899 0.85
700-799 0.48
600-699 0.19
500-599 0.04

Only once every 27 seasons played should we see a WR get 1800 yards, because there's only one WR that can even reach 1800 (WR1) and he only does it once every 27 years. But we should see 1500 hit a few more times; WR1 will land in the 1500s seven times, WR2 six times, WR3 three times, and WR4 and WR5 one time each.

Now we get to the point of today's post. Assume that these players don't age from year to year, and their situations don't change one bit. We'd project the same thing for them every single year.

Well what happens the year we see a WR (WR1, of course) hit 1800 yards? We'd project 1500 yards for him the next year. What about when we see a WR end up with 1500-1600 yards? Well seven times it will be WR1, and we'd project exactly 1500 yards again. Six times we'd project 1425 yards the next year, three times we'd project 1350 yards, once we'd project 1275 and once we'd project 1200. In Year N, the 18 WR seasons that landed in the 1500-1600 yard range averaged 1521 yards. In Year N+1, we'd project a weighted average of 1421 yards. Remember, absolutely nothing changed in between the two seasons, yet we'd reduced our projection for the WRs by a full 100 yards.

The reasoning behind "regression to the mean" is iron-clad: when an impressive feat is hit, there's a good bit of luck involved. Sometimes, it's hit by someone who is actually as good as his stats (although this becomes less likely the more impressive the feat is). But other times it's by a player who is a little lucky, and sometimes it's by a player who's really lucky.

Now NFL players aren't computer programs or dice, but the same theory applies. And we see these results every year in the NFL. No one projects LaDainian Tomlinson to rush for 28 TDs again, because we know his true ability isn't 28 TDs per season. To reach such a ridiculous result, a good bit of luck had to be involved. And regression to the mean becomes more likely in the NFL than when flipping a coin, because of strength of schedule. Many impressive feats involve general luck, and also luck due to facing an easy schedule. Every year, some team plays the easiest schedule in the league, and as a result, will achieve results they couldn't normally achieve without a ton of luck. But since strength of schedule is incredibly inconsistent from year to year, we see this effect ride on top of regression to the mean to push down the great seasons. Because if you're going to throw for 49 TDs in a season, you've got to be: a) awesome; b) have lots of luck; and c) have a really easy schedule. And only one of those traits is likely to be there the next season.

Enough theory...let's look at some real life results.

The table below includes all WRs since 1960, with the 1960-1961, 1977-1978, 1981-1982, 1982-1983, 1986-1987, 1987-1988 and 2006-2007 season pairs excluded due to changes in the league schedule (and since the 2007 hasn't been played yet). All players that did not play in Year N+1 were excluded, and all players that played for multiple teams had their yardage from all teams combined.

#WR	Year N tier	N Avg	N+1 Avg
22 1500+ 1625 1164
25 1400-1499 1437 1137
57 1300-1399 1344 997
67 1200-1299 1244 1025
122 1100-1199 1146 900
155 1000-1099 1046 845
168 900-999 948 798
242 800-899 844 724
312 700-799 748 645
300 600-699 650 539
327 500-599 549 479
346 400-499 449 453
354 300-399 351 374
419 200-299 249 331
438 100-199 148 240
932 001-99 33 159

If we look from just 1990 to now, the list doesn't change too much:

18 1500+ 1628 1226
18 1400-1499 1439 1132
41 1300-1399 1342 963
42 1200-1299 1244 1083
72 1100-1199 1148 950
89 1000-1099 1045 823
94 900-999 948 788
114 800-899 839 743
144 700-799 750 674
134 600-699 652 537
163 500-599 549 503
172 400-499 449 486
154 300-399 349 412
201 200-299 248 345
220 100-199 148 234
500 001-99 33 144

Obviously some of the decline is due to injury; perhaps even most of the decline. Let's see if we can remove that from the equation. All players that played fewer than 12 games in Year N or Year N+1 were excluded. All players that changed teams were excluded. Finally, we'll only look from 1990 to last season, and we'll use receiving yards per game instead of receiving yards:

#WR Year N tier N Avg N+1 Avg
12 100+ 105.0 81.7
14 90-99.9 94.3 79.1
49 80-89.9 84.4 72.2
81 70-79.9 74.4 69.5
120 60-69.9 64.8 59.7
130 50-59.9 54.7 52.1
138 40-49.9 45.4 48.1
143 30-39.9 34.8 38.8
111 20-29.9 25.3 33.9
133 10-19.9 14.9 24.6
163 0.0-9.9 3.9 11.8

While the N+1 data resembles the Year N data a little more closely, there's still a very large gap. And some, if not most, of that gap can be explained by regression to the mean. Of the 14 players that averaged 98+ receiving yards per game in a season the past 16 years, none of them averaged even 90 yards per game the next year. And only two of the other 12 WRs to average 90+ yards per game in a season hit the 90-yard mark the following year. No one likes to attribute incredible success to luck, but it plays a much bigger role in sports than we tend to remember.

7 Comments | Posted in General

What do you think of targets?

Posted by Chase Stuart on September 4, 2007

Targets -- the number of times a player has been the intended receiver of a given pass -- are becoming mainstream data these days. People generally cite a receiver's impressive reception to target ratio as a reason to think he's one of the best in the league. Conversely, critics will argue that a WR's terrible catch ratio proves that he's overrated. There hasn't been a lot of target discussion on the PFR blog yet, outside of this post, but Doug and I have been discussing what to do with target data over the past few days.

Let me skip the discussion for a minute and just present some stats first. Note: targets are not an official NFL statistic, and there are always differences in target data depending on which site you use. Often, the sum of the targets for all the skill position players on a team is fewer than the total pass attempts for the team, due to human error. Regardless, all target data used here are from, and I believe them to be as accurate as the target data available on any other site.

Here's a list of the 25 most targeted WRs from last season:

Torry Holt		STL	178
Donald Driver GB 171
Andre Johnson HOU 165
Chad Johnson CIN 154
Chris Chambers MIA 154
Roy Williams DET 153
Anquan Boldin ARI 152
Laveranues Coles NYJ 151
Terrell Owens DAL 151
Marvin Harrison IND 148
Mike Furrey DET 146
Joey Galloway TB 142
Steve Smith CAR 140
Reggie Wayne IND 137
Lee Evans BUF 137
T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN 133
Keyshawn Johnson CAR 128
Isaac Bruce STL 126
Hines Ward PIT 126
Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 125
Javon Walker DEN 125
Braylon Edwards CLE 123
Plaxico Burress NYG 121
Muhsin Muhammad CHI 117
Marques Colston NO 115

Now, here are the 25 WRs with the best catch-to-target ratio, minimum 90 targets:

Player Team Targ Rec Rec/Targ
T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN 133 90 67.7
Mike Furrey DET 146 98 67.1
Wes Welker MIA 100 67 67.0
Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 125 82 65.6
Marvin Harrison IND 148 95 64.2
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 108 69 63.9
Terry Glenn DAL 110 70 63.6
Reggie Wayne IND 137 86 62.8
Andre Johnson HOU 165 103 62.4
Marty Booker MIA 90 55 61.1
Marques Colston NO 115 70 60.9
Derrick Mason BAL 112 68 60.7
Reche Caldwell NE 101 61 60.4
Laveranues Coles NYJ 151 91 60.3
Lee Evans BUF 137 82 59.9
Steve Smith CAR 140 83 59.3
Mark Clayton BAL 114 67 58.8
Isaac Bruce STL 126 74 58.7
Hines Ward PIT 126 74 58.7
Chad Johnson CIN 154 87 56.5
Reggie Williams JAX 92 52 56.5
Terrell Owens DAL 151 85 56.3
Darrell Jackson SEA 112 63 56.2
Rod Smith DEN 94 52 55.3
Javon Walker DEN 125 69 55.2

Lots of intelligent people believe that receptions per target is a very good measure of the productiveness of a WR. But a metric that ranks Mike Furrey and Wes Welker as the 2nd and 3rd best receivers in the league is one that doesn't come close to passing the smell test. Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton over Steve Smith and Terrell Owens? I'm not buying that one.

One of the obvious problems is that guys like Welker and Furrey run short routes, while Owens and Smith are bigger play threats. It's just like how David Carr had a great completion percentage last year but wasn't very good. So perhaps yards per target, just like yards per attempt for QBs, will even the playing field? In theory this makes a bit of sense. If you are targeted five times on short passes, you might get four eight-yard receptions. If you're targeted five times on longer passes, you could end up with two receptions for sixteen yards each. Your yards per target would be the same, which seems like a more appropriate way to explain how you did.

But then again, that's just in theory. Who were the league leaders in receiving yards per target last year?

Player Team Targ RecYd Y/T
Reggie Wayne IND 137 1310 9.6
Terry Glenn DAL 110 1047 9.5
Lee Evans BUF 137 1292 9.4
Marvin Harrison IND 148 1366 9.2
Marques Colston NO 115 1038 9.0
Reggie Brown PHI 91 816 9.0
Chad Johnson CIN 154 1369 8.9
Larry Fitzgerald ARI 108 946 8.8
Isaac Bruce STL 126 1098 8.7
Javon Walker DEN 125 1084 8.7
Roy Williams DET 153 1310 8.6
Darrell Jackson SEA 112 956 8.5
Eddie Kennison KC 101 860 8.5
Steve Smith CAR 140 1166 8.3
Marty Booker MIA 90 747 8.3
Mark Clayton BAL 114 939 8.2
Plaxico Burress NYG 121 988 8.2
T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN 133 1081 8.1
Antonio Bryant SF 91 733 8.1
Anquan Boldin ARI 152 1203 7.9
Santana Moss WAS 101 790 7.8
Terrell Owens DAL 151 1180 7.8
Hines Ward PIT 126 975 7.7
Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 125 961 7.7

That looks a little better, I think. Welker and Furrey drop off the list, and the top guys are all very good. But seeing TO way behind Terry Glenn, Torry Holt (not listed) well behind Isaac Bruce, and Eddie Kennison above Steve Smith should raise some eyebrows. And I won't forget 2004, when Brandon Stokley, Ashley Lelie and Eddie Kennison ranked 1st, 2nd and 4th in the league in receiving yards per target.

So what do you think of targets? Are they worthwhile or not? Let me try and characterize Doug's position:

For the most part, yards per target and receptions per target are meaningless statistics. Much more often than not, on an incomplete pass, the targeted receiver was the *best* receiver on the field that play. If you consider all "bad" passing plays -- incompletions, interceptions, and also 4-yard-gains on 3rd-and-10 -- the targeted receiver was the best (or at least, not the worst) receiver on on that play the majority of the time. There's a positive correlation between how well the WR does his job and the probability that he gets the target.

I think Doug brings up a lot of good points. The fact that Bruce, Kevin Curtis and Steven Jackson all ranked ahead of Holt in yards per target last year is disturbing. Bryant Johnson has a better YPT average than Larry Fitzgerald or Anquan Boldin. Patrick Crayton, Terry Glenn and Jason Witten ranked ahead of Terrell Owens, too. A plausible explanation would be that Crayton only gets the target when he's wide open (which is rare, because he's not that good) whereas Owens gets the target when no one is open (since Owens is the best of the bunch). This is very much a Simpson's Paradox problem. Consider this hypo:

The Cowboys run 200 pass plays with just Crayton and Owens as the targets. On 50 of them, Crayton is open and Owens is covered. On 100 of them Owens is open and Crayton is covered. On 50 of them, neither was open. When he's open, Crayton will get 50 targets, and catch 36 passes. When Owens is open, he'll catch 50 of the 50 passes thrown to him. So far, edge to T.O.. On the 100 passes when neither is open, Owens will get the target 90% of the time because he's so much better than Crayton. Owens will convert 20 of the 90 passes into receptions, while Crayton will convert none of the ten targets into receptions. Clearly, Owens has outperformed Crayton. But Owens will have a catch-to-target ratio of 50%, while Crayton will have a catch-to-target ratio of 60%. So it's certainly plausible that Simpson's Paradox comes into play in target data, despite the relatively extreme hypothetical.

It's also possible that strong WR2s and WR3s should do well, because of matchups. Assume a team has the 10th best WR1 in the league and the best WR2 in the league, but that team's WR1 is still better than that team's WR2. But since the WR1 is only a little better than the average CB1 he faces and the WR2 is a ton better than the average CB2 he faces, it stands to reason that he'll have much better receptions and yards per target ratios.

However, Chad Johnson actually ranks ahead of T.J. Houshmandzadeh in yards per target, and both rank ahead of Chris Henry. Since many claim Chris Henry is the best WR3 in the league, you'd think he'd do well in this statistic. After all, Patrick Crayton did. And Lee Evans ranks behind Peerless Price and Josh Reed -- two of the weaker receivers in the league -- in receptions per target. I don't think Price ranked well because he's such a good WR2, but rather because Losman wouldn't throw his way unless no one was anywhere near him.

So in the end, what's the best use of target data to measure how good a receiver is? Yards per target? Receptions per target? Targets? I'll throw out one last one, that I think has some validity to it: targets per team pass. Raw target data is skewed towards teams that pass a lot, but this gets at the key question: When your team is throwing the ball, who is the QB throwing it to? Obviously this isn't perfect because Marvin Harrison would get a ton more targets if Reggie Wayne wasn't around, and vice versa. The quality of your supporting cast factors in significantly here. But here's the list:

Andre Johnson HOU 0.343 165 481
Lee Evans BUF 0.318 137 431
Laveranues Coles NYJ 0.310 151 487
Torry Holt STL 0.301 178 592
Terrell Owens DAL 0.298 151 506
Chad Johnson CIN 0.293 154 526
Anquan Boldin ARI 0.281 152 541
Javon Walker DEN 0.275 125 454
Donald Driver GB 0.272 171 629
Marvin Harrison IND 0.266 148 556
Joey Galloway TB 0.265 142 535
Chris Chambers MIA 0.261 154 591
Steve Smith CAR 0.259 140 541
Jerricho Cotchery NYJ 0.257 125 487
Roy Williams DET 0.256 153 598
T.J. Houshmandzadeh CIN 0.253 133 526
Reggie Wayne IND 0.246 137 556
Mike Furrey DET 0.244 146 598
Braylon Edwards CLE 0.241 123 510
Hines Ward PIT 0.241 126 523
Keyshawn Johnson CAR 0.237 128 541
Plaxico Burress NYG 0.231 121 523
Muhsin Muhammad CHI 0.229 117 512
Eddie Kennison KC 0.226 101 447
Drew Bennett TEN 0.220 98 445

Donald Driver moves down, Javon Walker moves up. Lee Evans goes up, Chris Chambers goes down. And Cotchery, Houshmanzadeh and Reggie Wayne become the top WR2s on the list, ahead of Mike Furrey. That's enough for me, at least.

But what are your thoughts? What do you think of targets, and how should we use target data?

15 Comments | Posted in General, Statgeekery