SITE NEWS: We are moving all of our site and company news into a single blog for Sports-Reference.com. We'll tag all PFR content, so you can quickly and easily find the content you want.

Also, our existing PFR blog rss feed will be redirected to the new site's feed.

Pro-Football-Reference.com » Sports Reference

For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Maurice Jones-Drew

Posted by Doug on July 16, 2007

Have I mentioned that I enjoy listening to the footballguys.com podcast: The Audible? Well I do, and you probably would too, so give it a try if you're a podcast kind of a person. It's free all year round. As I've mentioned before, they are currently going around the league and interviewing a beat writer from each NFL team. Their chat with Jags' writer Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union contained a number of interesting nuggets, among them was Vito's assertion that Maurice Jones-Drew benefited a lot last season from nickel defenses that were expecting the pass.

I decided to check it out, and ultimately I decided that Stellino was both right and wrong. Compared to his backfield-mate Fred Taylor, Jones-Drew did indeed see more carries in situations where passing is to be expected. Compared to the league as a whole, however, Jones-Drew's carries were not unduly tilted toward those situations.

For a simple look at things, note that Fred Taylor had only five (5) third-down carries all season, while Jones-Drew had 30. So it's not unreasonable to get the impression that Jones-Drew was running against a lot of thin front lines. However, it's tough to make a case that his numbers were a product of that fact. Consider that six of his nine longest runs (including the longest three) came on first-and-ten. Here is a log of all his 10+ yard rushes. The clock column runs from 0 (the opening kickoff) to 60 (the final gun). The score indicates the relative score, from the Jags' standpoint, at the time of the run.

d-d  clock score length
=======================
1-10  16.8   -3   74
1-10  28.5   +4   48
1-10  44.0  +37   40
2- 7  52.3  +10   32
1-10   5.1   +0   26
2- 5  18.8  -10   24
1-10  31.1  +21   22
2-25  11.5   +7   18
1-10   2.6   +0   18
2- 3  22.2   -3   17
2- 7  27.5  -10   17
3- 4  24.4   +3   17
1-10  22.9   -3   17
2-10  36.0   +0   15
1-10  19.4  -10   14
3- 3  58.0   -7   13
2-11  47.8   +7   13
2-16  56.1  -10   13
1-20  53.0  +10   12
1-10  35.1  +24   12
2- 1  39.1   +3   12
3- 7  12.2   +7   12
3-20  24.8   -4   12
1-10  20.5   +0   12
2-12  11.9   -7   12
2- 7  44.7   +7   11
1-10  28.1   +4   11
1-10  17.5   +0   10

A quick eyeballing doesn't reveal a preponderance obvious passing situations there.

But the p-f-r blog isn't about eyeballing for preponderances. I decided to quantify the "average situation" of all of Jones-Drew's rushing attempts and compare it to that of other running backs. Here's the plan.

Step 1: build a model that eats up the relevant situational variables and spits out the probability of a running play occurring. That wasn't pretty, but ultimately I got it built. I'll put the details at the end of the post for those who are interested. For those who just want the gist, here are a few examples:

  • 2nd-and-6, down by 10, 5 minutes left in the second quarter: 40% probability of a run / 60% probability of a pass
  • 2nd-and-6, down by 6, middle of the first quarter: 46% probability of a run / 54% probability of a pass
  • 2nd-and-6, up by 6, late in the second quarter: 52% probability of a run / 48% probability of a pass
  • 2nd-and-6, down by 39, start of the fourth quarter: 10% probability of a run / 90% probability of a pass
  • 2nd-and-6, up by 14, start of the fourth quarter: 65% probability of a run / 35% probability of a pass

The model isn't perfect, but I think it's good enough for our purposes here.

Step 2: I looked at each rush of Maurice Jones-Drew's (and everybody else's) season and computed the average rush probability of those situations. So a runner who was running more often in passing situations, and/or in more extreme passing situations, would have a low value. While runners who were often running while ahead and in classic running situations would have a high value. Here is the list of all players with at least 100 rushes:

Cedric Houston         0.560
Marion Barber III      0.553
Cedric Benson          0.545
Deuce McAllister       0.535
Dominic Rhodes         0.518
Jamal Lewis            0.514
Joseph Addai           0.512
Corey Dillon           0.511
Laurence Maroney       0.506
Thomas Jones           0.504
LaDainian Tomlinson    0.497
Julius Jones           0.486
Kevan Barlow           0.484
Fred Taylor            0.484
Steven Jackson         0.483
Willie Parker          0.483
DeAngelo Williams      0.482
Rudi Johnson           0.482
DeShaun Foster         0.480
Edgerrin James         0.479
Shaun Alexander        0.477
Willis McGahee         0.477
Maurice Morris         0.474
Mike Bell              0.472
Ronnie Brown           0.471
Larry Johnson          0.468
Maurice Jones-Drew     0.467
Clinton Portis         0.466
Kevin Jones            0.464
Wali Lundy             0.462
Reggie Bush            0.461
Chester Taylor         0.460
Tiki Barber            0.460
Ahman Green            0.457
Brian Westbrook        0.454
Anthony Thomas         0.451
Justin Fargas          0.450
Frank Gore             0.447
Tatum Bell             0.445
Ron Dayne              0.444
Warrick Dunn           0.442
Travis Henry           0.433
Reuben Droughns        0.428
Cadillac Williams      0.425
Ladell Betts           0.424
Leon Washington        0.418
LaMont Jordan          0.408
Michael Vick           0.407

As you can see, Jones-Drew is below Taylor, but completely unremarkable compared to the rest of the league's backs. And, as we saw above, Jones-Drew's big runs did not come in passing situations anyway. Here is a list of the "average situation" of all running backs on their runs of ten or more yards only (minimum 10 such runs):

Michael Turner         0.532
Vernand Morency        0.511
Correll Buckhalter     0.509
Dominic Rhodes         0.506
DeAngelo Williams      0.503
Jamal Lewis            0.502
Laurence Maroney       0.493
Willie Parker          0.493
Marion Barber III      0.491
Ronnie Brown           0.488
Deuce McAllister       0.484
Willis McGahee         0.483
Cedric Benson          0.483
Rudi Johnson           0.482
Joseph Addai           0.478
Leon Washington        0.477
Fred Taylor            0.476
Julius Jones           0.474
Maurice Morris         0.471
Frank Gore             0.471
Mike Bell              0.471
Edgerrin James         0.468
LaDainian Tomlinson    0.467
DeShaun Foster         0.465
Jerious Norwood        0.458
Kevin Jones            0.458
Thomas Jones           0.456
Wali Lundy             0.455
Travis Henry           0.453
Steven Jackson         0.450
Corey Dillon           0.447
Chester Taylor         0.441
Brian Westbrook        0.437
Larry Johnson          0.437
Maurice Jones-Drew     0.431
Tiki Barber            0.430
Reggie Bush            0.424
Warrick Dunn           0.422
Ladell Betts           0.417
Brandon Jacobs         0.414
Justin Fargas          0.413
LaMont Jordan          0.392
Michael Vick           0.391
Shaun Alexander        0.386
Clinton Portis         0.382
Ahman Green            0.381
Ron Dayne              0.375
Reuben Droughns        0.374
Cadillac Williams      0.374
Tatum Bell             0.359
Donovan McNabb         0.288
Vince Young            0.246

Maurice is a little on the low side, but essentially in the middle of the pack.

In conclusion:

  • I see no evidence that Maurice Jones-Drew faced, all things considered, a particularly easy set of situations to run in.
  • I see no evidence that he took undue advantage of the easy situations he did see.

So, while I do think Jones-Drew's 5.7 yards per rush average last season was partly a result of luck (no one is truly a 5.7 yards per rusher), I do not think it was a result of situation.



Details of the model: as you might guess, the model is based on a logistic regression of leaguewide play-by-play data. Here it is:

Run probability =~ 1 - 1/(1 + exp(-.1201 + .001135*(ScoreDifferential)*(ClockTime) + X))

Where ClockTime = 0 at the start of the game and 60 at the end of the game, and X takes on the following values:

1st,10:            0
1st,11+:      -.3105
1st,9-:        .7687
2nd,0-3:       .7675
2nd,4-6:       .0061
2nd,7-9:      -.6187
2nd,10+:      -.5225
3rd/4th,0-1:  1.0670
3rd/4th,2-3:  -.8121
3rd/4th,4-7: -1.9350
3rd/4th,8+:  -1.7210

Note that the more positive the number is, the more likely teams are to run in that situation.

This entry was posted on Monday, July 16th, 2007 at 4:33 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.