I'm a huge fan of posts that are part of a series, I suppose my mind works better when logic and though flow to it in a sequence, with the anticipation of future information causing me to prepare myself for it better when it arrives. Because of this, I try to organize all my posts into series, either Posts From Around SB Nation, Some Clarification is in Order, so any of my other posts, I try and take an idea, and see if it fits into the outline I've already created. Well in recent months, I've had ideas that don't fit into any of my previous mold, so I've decided to create a new one, Becoming a More Educated Fan.
Now I would like to say first off, I'm not even close to being the most educated person in terms of football on this site, not even close. I'm not the most literate or the most well mannered or the most likable person, but I am hardly ignorant, and ignorance is a rising issue on MHR. Now I'm not saying I'm better than anyone, or that I will share my great wealth of knowledge in this series, I just want to share a things I've learned as a football fan that help me understand the game better, contribute to the community more, and helped me become a more educated fan.
So this first piece will deal with, as the title suggests, doing research. Now MHR isn't the most stat safe haven on the internet, but stats do have their place here. So I will talk a bit about them, and I will also talk how to find information and how to use it.
Stats, It's Complicated:
Statistics are one of my favorite tools when it comes to sports, mostly because while I feel film is very important, opinion is in the eye of the beholder, and while stats can be misused, one play or drive in a game can be viewed differently for every single person. Because of this, I want to discuss proper use of statistics, more complex statistical sites, and how to make the most of of stats for personal and community use,
Now not everyone like stats because they feel like they don't tell the whole story, which is partly true. Just listing a quarterbacks yards for the season is pretty useless information without their touchdowns, interceptions, completion ratio, yards per attempt, sack rate and other info. Same could be said for running backs, total yards don't tell the story, neither does just touchdowns, because a back could have over 1,000 yards and only a handful of touchdowns and back on the same team could have less then 500 yards and 10 touchdowns, and by combining these two players information, we see the real picture, one is a red zone back, and the other is the primary back.
Now because of this, if you are going to use statistics in a post, try and include as many related statistics as possible. If you want to discuss a quarterbacks accuracy, include his percentage of touchdowns and interceptions per attempt, which can be created by taking touchdowns or interceptions and dividing it by the number of attempts. By doing this, we see a broader picture of where those passes are or are not going. Or take interceptions for a defensive back, you should also include passes deflected, to see if he's still disrupting passes, even if he's not creating turnovers. You could also include a statistic like times targeted, this is key for a some DB's, look at Revis versus Nnamdi, Revis is targeted nearly twice as often, and manages to create turnovers, but Nnamdi is such a good corner, he's almost never targeted, so logically his interception total would be lower. An even further look could include interception percentage per target.
So while for a quick look, basic statistics are useful, they often don't tell the whole story, and because of this, the more wide your research is, and the more you look at other variables and include them, the greater level of authority your information will have. So to help us look at how to obtain or look for some more advanced statistics, we look to the next section.
These Aren't Your Mother's Stats:
So this section will mostly be a review of a number of statistic sites that are either extremely comprehensive, have great search tools, or just provide a unique look at football that normally isn't studied. Just a quick history lesson, the first real "advanced" NFL stat was what is now called the passer rating, and is commonly used, and either hated or loved by people. Now the passer rating is a great example of how an advanced stat is used, it combines a number of features and unites them into a single figure which can be referenced to get a general sense of how a quarterback is doing. Now like all statistics, it has flaws, it puts too much emphasis on some attributes of a quarterback and ignores others. But as a statistic, passer rating is still valuable at times because of what it does say.
This site has a number of useful tools, and is considered one of the best references for historical football statistics. It includes data on all 32 teams, player info, and historical stats going back to each teams creation. Along with this it also has draft data and a very powerful draft search tool that lets you do things like search for how many Pac 10 quarterbacks have the Vikings drafted in the past 20 years (just one), or how many 2nd round RB's have gone to multiple Pro Bowls since the merger in 1970 (17 in total).
The last tool this site has is possible the best, it's called the Play Index Tool, and it's amazing. I can't begin to explain all it's uses, but I'll just say, if you have a question about NFL statistics, this is the tool to use. Want to know which QB was the first to pass for 4,000 yards, it can tell you, it can show you who rushed for the most yards in 2001-2003, it can tell you Jerry Rice had 36 touchdowns of more then 50 yards, that the most for any receiver. The list goes on and on, from largest deficit comeback to best turnover differential in NFL history to what team has the most 1,000 yard rushers. This database is the best place to go to look for information.
Like the sites title suggests, they deal with creating and using more advanced NFL stats then are normally used. This is one of a few specialty sites that creates their own metrics to measure success. Now the authors, Brian Burke and John Morgan, formerly with SB Nation's Seahawks site, wrote this about the site:
What I'm interested in is analysis. What makes a winning team? Is it better to go for it or punt on 4th and short at the 50 yard line? Which teams are most likely to make the playoffs? How much does luck play a part in any game? Advanced NFL Stats tries to answer those questions and many others. I call it "Advanced" because I use real statistical methods--regression, tests of significance, game theory, simulation and other advanced techniques. This isn't the kind of analysis you get on TV...
Now they have a number of very useful statistics they've created, and I won't list and discuss them all, but the definitions can be found here. But they do a few things I want to discuss.
- The first is First Down Probability, which is the study of the likelihood of a team achieving a 1st down based on previous plays, and the distance. This is created from study of historical data.
- The second thing I found very useful was Tackle Factor. Now tackle numbers are iffy to use because they can be deceiving, a DB can have a high tackle number, but it's so high because he could be allowing a lot of passes to be completed. Tackle Factor is a statistic that looks at the average number of tackles for that positions, and then looks at how much a player was above or below that average.
- The site also has statistics like: Target Percentage (for WR's not CB's), Catch Rate, Quarterback Hits (for defensive players), and a lot more very useful numbers.
They have a fantastic tool as well called the Win Probability Graph, which charts throughout the game the likelihood of each team to win the game, and it is extremely helpful in looking at what plays altered the game.
So Advanced NFL Stats has a number of great stats of it's own, but it also has a lot of great stats that are widely used as well.
More of a rating site then a statistics site, Pro Football Focus deals more with looking at game film, and as their motto states "Every Game. Every Player. Every Play." They are heavily focused on how a player does on film and then assigns them a rating for every play and game. The site is primarily a place where the editors use their rating system to answer questions and do game reviews, but the real meat is in the subscription section.
Now this is the biggest downside to Pro Football Focus, while they are a great place to come and read the articles, you can't access all their data without a membership. Now with the membership you get very, very indepth game and player reviews, and the writers are some very smart people, but the pay is a big turn off for the casual fan, which is fine. If you do join, you get a lot of information, great player and game reviews, and here's a small sampling of the stats you get:
The number of offensive and defensive snaps each player played
The number of times each defensive player blitzed or dropped in coverage
Graphical week-by-week grade charts for each player
Separate sections on player pages for special teams play
Missed tackles on special teams
Punting and kickoff hang times
The number of penalties by player (including those declined)
How defensive players grade out against the run, in coverage and rushing the passer
Individual passer ratings against for LBs and DBs
YAC against LBs and DBs
The gap each running back attacks
RB yards after contact
RB/WR/TEs making tacklers miss
Run blocking grades for WRs
How many times QBs throw it away, get hit as they throw and have passes batted down
How many QB passes are dropped
QB Passing by direction
QB Passing under pressure
How many sacks, pressures and hits individual linemen are allowing
So whether you pay or don't pay, Pro Football Focus is a great place to visit for analysis and information.
Considered one of the premiere advance statistic sites on the internet, Football Outsiders, or FO, has some of the best analysis and statistical research around. Similar to Pro Football Focus in that it has a subscription section, it also has a hugely vast database of statistics and studies that make it worth the visit even without the membership.
Some of their great content is related to their DVOA metric, as described by them:
Defense-adjusted Value Over Average. DVOA breaks down every single play of the NFL season to see how much success offensive players achieved in each specific situation compared to the league average in that situation, adjusted for the strength of the opponent.
With this metric, which tries to keep all numbers in relation to one another by a standard, FO creates a number of other statistics it uses. Now the description above is very shallow for what really is going on in the actual statistic, but because of the complexity of the system, FO is able to manipulate it to look at other aspects of the game more indepth. The main off-shoot of DVOA is Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement, DYAR, and it's basic definition is here:
By definition, an average level of performance is better than that provided by half of the league and the ability to maintain that level of performance while carrying a heavy work load is very valuable indeed. In addition, a player who is involved in a high number of plays can draw the defense’s attention away from other parts of the offense... Therefore, we translate these success values into a number.
This mostly looks at how a player did in relation to his peers and how much an impact he was.
Now the last major statistic studied at FO deals with drive stats. These look at touchdowns and points per drive, punts per drive, and yards per drive, among other very useful statistics. Now these are given for both the offense and the defense, and are a great way to look at how the offense and defense of a given team did. The site also includes other advanced stats used among other sites, like success rate, catch rate (for WR's), and defensive statistics (such as success against runs to the left, right middle, and success against the #1 WR).
Some Lesser Known Sites:
This is a site that also is a reference place for little bits of data that can be useful. With statistics that include:
- Passes dropped
- Yards after the catch
- Percentage of 1st downs per reception and per run
- 3rd down success
This site is a great place to visit.
A site that doesn't get much traffic, but it has some very useful statistics that shouldn't be ignored:
- 1st downs per game
- Average time of possession
- Plays and yards per game
- Red Zone success rate
- Penalty data
Give this site some attention, with the data it has, it deserves it.
A site that comes off as a little prideful, but does a fantastic job of reviewing the current statistic system, looking for better statistics and metrics, and does a great job analyzing games. A few things they discuss:
- Quality Standing (record against winning opponents)
- Bendability Index (yards per points scored on defense)
- The Hog Index (a team metric that looks at a combination of statistics to create a better one)
Now I know there are a lot of things here, I encourage you who skipped down here to just read one section and explore that site, take a break, come back here again later and repeat. I shared these sites with you as a reference place, I keep these sites in a folder in my bookmarks tab, and I encourage you to do that same if you find a site you like. I have yet to see someone lower their opinion of someone or disregard a point made because you added statistics to it, rather then just ignored them.
Now one thing to note, I have way to much free time on my hands due to my work requiring me to travel a lot, so I get to spend a lot of time at airports. Now as a guy who has a mind that won't shut up, I ask myself a lot of questions, like "what RB had the best percentage of their runs be for over 10 yards?" Now there is no site on the internet that contains this data, so in my frustration and free time, I went through each game as the season went on and recorded the data for each back and created my own database (the answer was Jamaal Charles by the way). So I encourage you, if you can't find a stat online, just do the research yourself, I followed this advice and now I have enough data to, well I don't know what I'd do, but I could do something with it. I've created databases that have running back statistics for length of runs, time of possession broken down by quarter and offensive and defensive stats related to that, historical rookie statistics for running backs and wide receivers and more. A little research on your own can be very helpful.
Hope this was educational, any advice on how to tweak future entries in the series and topics you'd like to see discussed would be greatly appreciated.
Next time on Becoming a More Educated Fan: Misinformation, Don't Start or Spread It