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The Dude Abides...The Stats That Don't Lie, Week 11

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"All stats and no play makes Jack a dull boy." --Jack Torrance

Week 11 in the NFL was a classic horror movie.   There were some spine-chilling moments (Chiefs over the Steelers), terrifying screams (Ravens fans watching their red zone offense), and when the Raiders beat the Bengals, things got downright bloodcurdling.

For their part, the Denver Broncos treated their fans to a B-movie slasher flick, in which they played the victim.  By the time the 4th quarter rolled around their rush defense had been so hacked to pieces, they simply tried to survive until the sequel.

Welcome again to the Stats That Don't Lie, Week 11.  This is your weekly descent into statistical madness.  These are the stats that give you Cabin Fever.  They are the packaged little REDRUM of stats.  As always, they are Turnovers, Field Position, Time of Possession, and 3rd-down efficiency. 

This week, we're going to shake things up slightly.  While you'll get the same summary statistics that you get each week (for those that like light reading) for all the teams and all the games, I'm going to spend a significant amount of time in this piece looking at the first half of the Denver/San Diego game in order to demonstrate some important lessons about these four statistical categories.  Hopefully, this will help us understand not only the complexities of how these four statistical categories intertwine, but the actions/strategies behind these statistics.

 Let's first begin, however, at the 10,000-foot level.  There's no reason to sugarcoat the Broncos' misfortunes.  These turnover-margin numbers over the last four games are as one-sided as a Tom Cable/Randy Hanson cage match:


Denver's turnover margin keeps getting worse each game.   And every game that they've lost, they've come out of the game with a negative turnover margin.  Statistically, teams that have a turnover margin of -3 (minus three) only win about 17% of the time.  However, more disturbing than this individual game (or its statistic) is the trend.  When Denver was winning they were not turning the ball over, to the point of being labelled a "dink and dunk" offense.  Now that they are losing, they are giving the ball up in droves.  So we can talk all day and night (and we will) about Simms, Orton, onside kicks, who owns whom, and whether pigs have wings.   The Broncos' season stops and starts in one place: turnover margin.

It might sound like a broken record, but if Denver does one thing against the Giants that will ensure a win, it is to simply hold on to the ball.   Easier said than done, of course.

Denver continues its ghastly fall in all four of the statistically categories, however - not just turnovers.  Here are where they rank against all 32 teams:


Denver is 10th in Turnovers, 27th in Field Position, 22nd in Time of Possession, and 21st in 3rd downs.   I'm not saying this is becoming a ghost ship just yet, but things are getting rather ghoulish.  Denver is beginning to drift into the territory of the Rams, Lions, and (GASP!) Raiders with these grisly rankings.  

Notice the San Diego Chargers and where they rank.  After Denver backhanded the Bolts in Week 6, the Chargers ranked 6th in Turnovers, 25th in Field Position, 30th in Time of Possession, and 17th in 3rd downs.  Now they are 2nd in Turnovers, 9th in Field Position, 21st in Time of Possession, and 13th in Third Downs.  All of this has come on the heels of a commitment to the running game--something Denver has struggled with.

You can certainly draw your own conclusions about the other teams on the list, but if I'm picking a Super Bowl match-up today, you can go ahead and give me New England and Minnesota based upon these statistics. Perhaps I enjoy the prospect of Jared Allen talking about mullets next to Tom Brady talking about Gisele.  Or perhaps I simply think the Colts' field position struggles will cost them at some point  and  that the Saints give the ball up too much on average.

Before moving on to the weekly rankings, I can't resist pointing out that the Bears rank second in field position. Imagine the kind of damage they could inflict on opponents if their QB didn't dispense interceptions like Pez candy.


Week-11 Summaries:


2-Turnover Rule  (Explained Here)

  • 7 teams had 0 turnovers.  5 won (71%); For the season, 53/65 (82%)

  • 11 teams had 1 turnover.  4 won (36%); For the season, 44/87 (55%)

  • 5 teams had 2 turnovers.   3 won (60%); For the season, 43/94 (46%)

  • 6 teams had 3 turnovers.  4 won (67%); For the season, 12/45 (26%)

  • 2 team had 4 turnovers.  None won (0%); For the season, 4/21 (19%)

  • 1 teams had 5+ turnovers.  None won (0%); For the season, 0/8 (0%)

Week-11 Big Picture
  • The team that won the turnover battle won 8 of 16 games played (50%).  This is the lowest percentage for turnovers I've seen all year.

  • In the previous category, remove the ties (1 game) and this changes to 47%

  • The team that won the time of possession battle won 12 of the 16 games played (75%).  

  • The team that had better third-down efficiency won 11 of the 16 games played (69%).

  • The team that had better average starting field position won 9 of the 16 games played (56%). This is the lowest percentage for field position I've seen all year.

  • There were 5 games this week in which a team won all four categories.  In 4 of the 5, the same team won on the scoreboard (80%).  For the season, this stat is 52 out of 56 games.  In only 2 games, however, has a team won outright in all four categories (no ties in the turnover battle) and lost.

  • The winning teams this week averaged 1.38 turnovers, 32:14  in time of possession, 47.42% on 3rd downs, and their average starting field position was the 30.63 yard line.  

Top 5 in Week 11:
  • Top 5 in giveaways: 7 Teams tied with 0

  • Top 5 in time of possession: 1.Pittsburgh  2.Minnesota  3.Green Bay  4.New York Jets    5. Cincinnati

  • Top 5 in 3rd downs: 1.Minnesota   2.Jacksonville  3.Atlanta  4.Indianapolis  5.Green Bay   

  • Top 5 in avg. starting field position: 1.New Orleans  2.San Diego  3.Oakland   4.Kansas City   5.Chicago

Running Totals, Season (through 11 weeks):
  • 160 games have been played this season

  • 80% were won by the team with less turnovers (counting ties as wins)

  • 67.50% with a better time of possession

  • 66.25% by the team who won on 3rd down

  • 71.25% by the team that won the field-position battle.

11-week League Averages:
  • 11-week running average/game, turnovers (all teams): 1.68

  • 11-week running average/game, time of possession (all teams): 30:11 (thanks to numerous OT games)

  • 11-week running average/game, 3rd down efficiency (all teams): 37.91%

  • 11-week running average, starting field position (all teams) 29.81 yard line


    The Denver/San Diego Game

    Even though there were several interesting games from last week, including one where the stats did lie (Detroit/Cleveland), this is the weekly look in-depth at the Denver/San Diego game.  So let's see what we can learn:

    Drive 1 - Denver

    Eddie Royal takes the ball from his end zone and returns it to the 26-yard line, so it's better than a touchback.  Denver proceeds to line up in a series of Single-Back, 3 WR sets, varying slot-left and slot-right.  They also use one shotgun formation to run for a 3rd-and-3 conversion..  They cram the ball off of the right tackle, getting huge chunks of yards until they are stopped at the San Diego 17-yard line.  In the 2nd-down play that follows, Simms doesn't step up into the pocket, is stripped of the ball, and Denver commits its first turnover of the day.  San Diego recovers at their own 31-yard line.

    What can we learn from this drive?  Denver chews up 4:25 of clock on this drive, only to have 3 to 7 points destroyed by a turnover.  So even though Denver is ahead in time of possession, they are behind in the turnover battle and in field position.  Here one can see that time of possession is much less important than the fact that Denver could not extend its drive and score.  Even worse, the momentum has clearly shifted in San Diego's favor.  Turnovers kill.  Time of possession means nothing without a score.

    Drive 1 - San Diego

    San Diego takes over on its own 31-yard line.  They use a series of their own single-back formations, I and Off-I formations to gash Denver in the running game off left end and up the middle.  Denver's middle linebackers are consistently getting caught in traffic and a stupid personal foul penalty allows San Diego to score an easy touchdown.

    San Diego holds onto the ball, chews up 4:37 of clock, achieves two 3rd-down conversions, and the score.  So now the Chargers are leading in all four statistical categories.   But the most important stat of this drive is San Diego's average yards/play:  7.1 yards.

    Drive 2 - Denver

    Royal takes a touchback, which is better than nothing.  This drive is a disaster, however, with two penalties, and Simms looking very rusty in the shotgun formation.  The drive ends in a sack and an unconverted 3rd-down opportunity.   Even worse, the ineptness of the offense forces a Denver punt from its goal line. 

    Drive 2 - San Diego

    San Diego takes over at its own 43-yard line after an excellent Mitch Berger punt.  However, San Diego is benefiting from excellent field position already in this game.  San Diego continues to show a variety of single-back, shotgun- , and offset-I formations.  A stupid penalty from Jarvis Moss helps give San Diego another easy 3rd-down conversion, and before one can say "LT," San Diego is deep into Denver territory.   Although they settle for a field goal, they've added to their lead and taken another 7:14 off the clock.  If we looked at the 4 statistical categories at this moment we would see:

    Turnovers: Den (1), SD (0)

    Field Position: Den (23), SD (37)

    Time of Possession: Den (7:15), San Diego (11:54)

    3rd-Down Efficiency: Den (1/2), San Diego (3/4)

    Drive 3 - Denver

    The ball flies through the end zone for another touchback, so Denver gets the ball on its 20-yard line once again.  Denver is victimized on this drive by a tipped pass, a penalty on Ryan Clady, and a safety blitz on third down.  So Denver goes three and out.  It's important to note that Denver is doing nothing whatsoever to help itself in the field position battle.

    Drive 3 - San Diego

    The Chargers start from their own 27-yard line.  They now use a lot of play action off of their offset-I formations to march down the field with level-two out routes. They also convert a big 3rd-and-one conversion in the process with a back shoulder fade to Vincent Jackson.  Denver only rushes 3 or 4 at a time, so it's easy pickings for Phil Rivers.  A couple of bad calls by the Chargers sets up a long 3rd-down conversion that the Chargers can't quite pick up.  The Chargers settle for another field goal while taking more time off the clock.  However, the key stat for the Chargers from this drive is passing yards/play: 10 yards.

    Let's face facts.  This game could be 21-0 at this point.

    Drive 4 - Denver

    Royal takes the kickoff return to the 38-yard line.  For once, Denver starts with good field position.  And the Chris Simms experience is also done, as Kyle Orton jogs onto the field.  Orton uses a series of max-protect shotgun and single-back formations to zip some deep balls on the left side of the field.  Denver is quickly to the Chargers 4-yard line.  On the next play (Single-back, slot-right formation), Moreno fumbles.   Despite the fact that Moreno had actually crossed the plane, the referee rules that the fumble stands.  San Diego takes over at the 20-yard line.

    Denver squanders another opportunity with a penalty.  Throw time of possession and 3rd downs out the window.  This drive was all about the turnover.   At this point in the football game, 2 turnovers have essentially cost the Broncos between 6 and 14 points.  

    Drive 4 - San Diego

    San Diego starts at their 20-yard line and it's their goal to now kill clock and take it into the half with runs out of the offset I-formation.  This is the first time San Diego has gone conservative all game.  And what does it get them?  Three and out.  The punt is also horrible, only traveling 28 yards.

    Drive 5 - Denver 

    Denver again gets the ball in good field position, at their 45-yard line.  This is a perfect opportunity to get some points before the half.  Denver comes out in the Shotgun.  Orton tries to go to a deep out to Royal, but is intercepted.

    Drive 5 - San Diego

    San Diego takes over at their own 42-yard line.  Turner again goes conservative, letting the clock hit halftime.

    At halftime, when the game was effectively over, here is where both teams stood in the four statistical categories:

    Turnovers: Den (3), San Diego (0)

    Field Position: Den (29.60), San Diego (32.40)

    Time of Possession: Den (10:43), San Diego (19:17)

    3rd-down efficiency: Den (1/3), San Diego (1/3)

    What does all of this teach us about how the four categories work together?  There are several points to consider:

    1) Turnovers depend on context and situation.  As has been said many times, a Hail Mary at the end of the half is not as important as a fumble in the red zone.  This game certainly illustrated that.  In this case, the three Denver turnovers cost them points.  They could have had (in my estimation) at worst 3 FGs, and at best 2 TDs and 1 FG.  This represents between 9 and 17 points.

    2) Field position is fluid.  The Football Outsiders are the ones who have coined this phrase, but it's certainly true.  In short, it means that your chances of scoring increase/decrease for each yard you move north or south.  In this case, the Broncos gave the Chargers good field position twice in the first half, once with a turnover and once with their three-and-out drive after a touchback.  And they paid for it.  The Chargers put up 10 points during these opportunities.  Short fields are not good, unless your team is getting them.

    3) Time of Possession doesn't equal run domination.  This is an important concept, and was touched upon last week in the comments to the Stats That Don't Lie by MHR members like warmick.  San Diego won the time of possession in the half through through a balanced attack (14 passes, 16 rushes).  Furthermore, San Diego only had four more rushing yards than Denver going into halftime.  So how did they do it?  They simply ran more plays and sustained their drives with scores, despite having the same number of drives as the Broncos.  They did it through a steady yards per play average.  In the 2nd half this became even more pronounced, as San Diego ran more often to kill the game clock.  Thus, the huge time-of-possession advantage that San Diego possessed at the end of the game was also a result of them being ahead at halftime.  

    4) 3rd down is important...if you need it.  Don't get me wrong.  3rd-down efficiency is a critical stat to measure because it means you are sustaining drives, and, hopefully, you are scoring at the end of these drives. However, if your offense sustains its drives on 1st and 2nd down, the 3rd-down-efficiency battle may not be as important.  In this game, on the Chargers' third drive of the afternoon, they got a lot of big plays on 1st and 2nd down, and, as such, only faced 2 third-down conversions.      

    The Look Ahead

    Looking ahead to New York, here is how the two teams stack up in the four statistical categories (keeping in mind these are averages/game):

    Team                    Turnovers/Game          Time of Possession          Field Position          3rd-Down Efficiency

    Denver                  1.40                                   28:56                                     27.51                         35.99%

    New York              1.60                                   34:06                                     31.68                         43.10%

    While these statistics would indicate a Giants victory, I'm not buying it.  There are several reasons I feel this way. First, there's a reason why the Giants are complaining about travelling on a short week to altitude.  That's because it will have an effect. Second, Eli Manning has a gunslinger streak in him that can be coaxed out with a few blitzes (something Denver did not do against San Diego).  So look for Denver to get a turnover or two.  And third, losing three home games in a row is a rarity for any Bronco team.  That's a horror movie no one wants to see. 

    Hail, Kyle Orton!!

    Last stat: 2.5% (percentage chance that Brandon Marshall and Knowshon Moreno are still upset with each other)