Break It Down: St. Louis @ Denver

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and enjoys the weekend. In the spirit of the holidays, I have something special for this week. Before I dig into the numbers going into Denver's week 12 match-up with St. Louis, I am going to discuss two important elements of stats.

My hope is that each of you will develop of much better understanding of what stats represent as well as the ability to use stats correctly with that knowledge. My reason is simple - I know stats do not tell the whole picture and are not perfect, but they do help paint a picture more easily than maybe we could by just glancing at the current state of the NFL and the Denver Broncos.

I will go into detail after the jump.

If you visit NFL.com, ESPN.com or other various sites, they will clump everything together. This includes total yards, offensive points, quarterback rating and turnover differential. Unfortunately, not all of these are the same.

In an article I wrote on my website (www.queuestats.com) called Defining Statistics, I described the characteristics of a stat using three statements. First, a stat is simply a numerical representation of an action that has occurred by a player or team. Second, it is not altered in any way. Third, it cannot be disputed.

To best illustrate this, I will compare the difference between total yards and quarterback rating (or passer rating). Total yards is a simple number representing the yards gained by an offense or allowed by a defense. It does not mean that the team with the highest yards per game average is the best offense, just that it gains the most yards. It has not been altered. Unlike many of my intelligent "stats", these numbers have not been altered. When you visit NFL.com, most of these numbers indicate exactly what has happened. Finally, these cannot be disputed. Going into week 12, San Diego has the highest yards per game average on offense at 418.2.

On the other hand, the quarterback rating uses these stats to measure a quarterback's performance. Stats such as touchdowns and interceptions have been used in a calculated formula to arrive at a value that is determined to effectively quantify the level of quarterback play. In this case, the quarterback rating breaks each of my three rules in defining a stat because it doesn't describe an action, but a collection of calculated events. It has been altered. It can be disputed as to the legitimacy of the measurement.

So what now?

This is important because after you know the difference between a stat and a measurement, the scope of a stat is just as important. In another article, The Scope of Statistics, I used an example to define what "scope" means.

The example is this: any state police only have jurisdiction within the boundaries of their state. Meanwhile, the FBI has jurisdiction within the boundaries of the entire United States. Therefore, the scope of the FBI is the same as the area in which FBI has jurisdiction.

Similarly, stats only have the scope equal to their importance. Since total yards is not a great indicator of success, its significance is less and therefore its scope is less than other more important stats. While there is no perfect stat that perfectly measures such a huge portion of football as the offense, one of the best stats is offensive scoring. While most of the MSM will declare San Diego's offense as the best, they come in at #2 in offensive scoring. Right now, Philadelphia is #1 with 27 points per game. Philadelphia ranks #2 in total yards with 399.4 yards per game.

The purpose of this is to only use stats when they should be used (facts to support an idea) and to use them correctly. Each time the MSM uses total yards to rank an offense, those individuals are taking a stat beyond its scope. In real life terms, people usually do not use data from New York or even the northeast to describe the entire United States. One state or region simply cannot accurately describe the whole country. The same is with stats.

My Advice

Every time you read a stat, do 2 things:

  1. Figure out if the stat is actually a stat, and not a measurement. If it is a measurement, see if it is based off of accurate stats.
  2. Define the scope of the stat to make sure it is being used correctly.

Next up: St. Louis @ Denver.

This week represents more of the same. Denver is another underdog statistically. I use several stats and measurements (I still call measurements "stats" to make it easier) to paint a picture of the NFL and Denver on my website.

The main stats are:

  1. Quarterback Rating - total effectiveness of the QB
  2. Net Quarterback Rating - Offensive QB rating minus Defensive QB rating
  3. Net Yards Per Touchdown (YPT) - how many yards a team must travel to score an offensive TD
  4. Net Misc - Averages my net turnovers stat, penalties and net third down percentage
  5. Net Points - weighted average of point differential based on win-loss percentages

The idea here is to accurate measure every team's success. It is not perfect and I am a long way from getting these stats where I want them to be. However, they are generally a great representation of what has happened and also a good predictor of future success.

Here is the chart for this week's match-up:

 


St. Louis Rank Denver Rank
QB Rating 64.8 20th 69.3 14th
Net QB Rating +3.1 12th -6.8 22nd
Net YPT +16.9 9th -23.5 27th
Net Points -21.4 20th -66.2 30th
Misc* 54 20th 75 29th
Net SFP +1.8 13th -3.3 26th (t)

 

*note: the lower the number, the better a team performs int he fundamental areas of turnovers, penalties and third/fourth down conversions.

Observations

Denver has the superior quarterback. While Sam Bradford has been efficient, he is too inaccurate to be considered a good quarterback, right now. Obviously with experience, he certainly has the potential to be great.

Denver's defense against the pass is not good. This is a direct result of two struggling areas: no pressure from the OLB position, and inexperience, lack of depth in the secondary. For this reason, St. Louis has the edge because they do a good job pressuring the quarterback with the front seven or DBs.

As a result of Denver's injuries and personnel issues, Denver's opponent's score much too easily. This explains the negative value for Net YPT. Opponents simply have an easier time scoring then Denver.

My Net Points stat is simply another measurement to describe wins and losses. Although St. Louis has only won 1 more game, they have been more competitive in their losses, which explains why their point differential is only -21.4 when Denver's is at -66.2. Denver is inconsistent and has the potential to win big, but also has played poorly in several games, losing by 14+ points 4 times.

Finally, Denver has even lost the field position battle.

Areas of Focus

Denver needs to focus on the running game more. I believe Moreno gives Denver the best chance to win. In Monday night's loss to SD, Denver had 14 rushes for 59 yards. Unfortunately, 23 yards came on the first drive and 28 in the first quarter. The score was only 7-7 at that point. Denver must find a way to run more effectively. Whether it is reverses, screen passes to Moreno to slow down the blitz, Denver must incorporate the running backs more frequently.

In three consecutive drives during the second quarter, Moreno rushed on the first play of the drive for 1, 3 and 1 yard. The score was only 14-7 at worst at the beginning of these drives, yet Denver never ran the ball again to see if they could gain 3-5 yards and make a possible 3rd-and-long situation a 3rd-and-short.

For Denver to succeed, the numbers indicate Denver must attempt to run. This will eliminate sacks, interceptions and possibly help wear down defenses that are expecting passes and are blitzing the QB frequently. This means Denver needs to develop an attitude that nurtures the belief that they can run successfully and they are going to do it to help the passing game. Denver knows what happens when the run effectively. They just need to do it.

Key Stat to Victory

Although my Misc stat sums up the game relatively nicely, with an even TO differential, a -37.9 third/fourth down differential and 8 penalties for 56 yards, I believe these were a result of only one number.

20. This is what Denver needs from Moreno. Even if he only averages four yards a carry (he had 58 yards on 13 carries), he needs more touches. Even when the game was close, Denver abandoned him, again. Houston, Oakland, Kansas City and most other good running teams have 1-yard runs. Often times they have consecutive 1 or 2-yard runs. They keep going. Denver may be a passing team, but running is the only way Denver will win consistently.

Closing Remarks

Most fans here have made statements that the season is over. Unfortunately, with all the injuries this year, it appears it was over well before it began. That does not mean Denver can't do great things. Denver can develop its younger players. It can develop an identity. It can finish strong.

This team needs to see success and what it takes to be consistent. St. Louis may not be great, but they are consistently good in many areas. They have an efficient and young QB, a solid defense and a good RB that is a huge part of their offense.

Denver can learn from its opponent this week and make an effort to become a solid team. Although this should have started at the bye, Denver has 6 weeks to play hard. Thankfully, my numbers only represent what Denver has done. I cannot give you the numbers of the next 6 weeks. That is up to the coaches and players.

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