"Stats washed over The Dude...darker than a black steer's tookus on a moonlight prairie night..." Sam Elliott
In almost every Hollywood movie there is a moment that comes, about three-fourths through the movie, in which the hero or heroin appears defeated. This moment is called the "dark moment," and if you're paying attention, it appears in almost all stories. The great mythologist, Joseph Campbell, wrote a book called The Hero With a Thousand Faces, in which he described the hero's journey, and briefly, the dark moment:
Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely test him...(page 246)
For modern day storytellers, this is the moment in which everything appears bleak and all is lost. In the greatest movie ever made, The Big Lebowski (Citizen Kane, stay down), the dark moment occurs when The Dude is drugged by Jackie Treehorn (don't ask me for the rest of the plot, or you'll be here for hours).
Why all this talk about dark moments? Week 13 of the NFL. Aside from the normal unlucky-number reference, week 13 in the NFL was a dark moment for many teams. Some of them still have the ability to break through this dark threshold (Ravens, Cowboys, and Patriots). Others are headed for the abyss (Titans, Texans, and Falcons).
In what could have been the darkest moment of the Broncos' season, they decided to summon some inner-strength, face their own December demons, and emerge battle-tested on the other side.
Welcome to another edition of the Stats That Don't Lie, your own weekly Hero With a 1,000 Stats. These are the stats that won't refuse the hero's call. They are your statistical elixir. As always they include Turnovers, Field Position, Time of Possession, and 3rd-Down Efficiency.
A little note before our we enter the fray. I've been asked why I use these stats and why not other stats that have an even higher correlation to winning, like passing yards/drive or point differential. Although I do spend time on these other stats, and they are extremely useful and predictive in nature, I'm not as interested in them at the individual game level as markers or plot points. That's because I'm still interested in a good story. And I've found the four stats that I keep track of--when told together--weave one hell of a story in a language most fans understand. And in the rare instances in which they don't, I'm even more interested in telling that compelling narrative. And it's during these times I can bring in other stats.
The View From High Up
Here I usually put up a graph showing the turnover margin from each game, but let's do something a little different this time. Let's also see what the games would have looked like if we included turnovers on downs:
The orange bars represent the recorded turnover margins. These are the turnover margins that include fumbles and interceptions. Notice that only the New England game did the Broncos lose the turnover margin and win the game. Previously, I "normalized" Orton's Hail Mary from that game to show an even-turnover margin. I decided to leave it in this week since a few comments have been made that I could just as easily "normalize" other types of interceptions like tipped balls, etc. While I think everyone would agree that a Hail Mary is in a different category altogether, there is some validity to the point. So I let it ride. It doesn't materially change the point, however. When the Broncos lose the turnover battle, they generally lose the game.
The blue bars represent the turnover margin to include turnovers on downs. This changes things only slightly, but it's an important distinction, and worth a few words. Some stats geeks have argued for decades that turnovers on downs should be included in the turnover statistics. The thinking is that no matter the method of turning the ball over (fumble, interception, or downs), it still has the same basic result: the drive is dead. Clearly, there is a higher value in an interception or fumble because of the inherent possibility of a score, but a turnover on downs stops your drive just the same.
Why do I bring this subject up this week? Because it helps explain the Denver-Kansas City turnover margin. From the box score, the turnover margin looks even. But everyone who watched the game can tell you that, in reality, the Chiefs came out in the 2nd half, in their own territory, and on 4th down, attempted a fake punt (which was open, by the way). There was a turnover on downs and Denver was sitting pretty inside the opponent's territory. This would have been no different than if an fumble or interception had occurred.
Later in the game, the Chiefs again went for it on 4th down and failed. When you add these two additional "turnovers" to the total, Denver came out of the game plus 2. This explains a lot (not all), and certainly helps to explain the larger margin of victory. As Paul Harvey would say, "And now you know the rest of the story."
There are other issues in the Broncos-Chiefs game to discuss, but we'll put those aside for the moment to get into the meat of the rankings.
Here's where the Broncos stack up against the rest of the league after week 13. Keep in mind these are averages/game:
You will immediately notice I added another boon this week for your amusement and education (what else is there?). This week I included average turnover margin/game. There was a reason for this. I wanted you to be able to see the discrepancy between a good team and a team masquerading as a good team.
Two examples will drive the point home. First, notice New Orleans. While they are ranked only 14th with respect to giveaways/game, the are ranked 2nd when it comes to turnover margin. What does this mean? Simply that, although they are giving the ball away regularly, they are getting the ball back in spades. Conversely, let's look at the Dallas Cowboys. They are ranked 8th in giveaways/game, but 17th in turnover margin/game. So we can say the exact opposite about the Cowboys. They aren't giving the ball up (on average) as much as the rest of the teams are, but their defense isn't creating opportunities either. America's team? Only if Americans like facades.
The Broncos continue to get by with a rather pedestrian 3rd-downconversion rate, at 35.12%/game. The league average for all teams is through 13 weeks is 37.80%. While this will beat the Chiefs and the Raiders (maybe), it simply will not get it done against the Colts (more on this later) or in the playoffs--unless the defense simply dominates and turnovers continue to come Denver's way.
On the positive side, Denver is doing a better job with field position and their time of possession average increased since they played ahead the entire second half and killed the clock by running Moreno.
Notice who have taken over the top stop in giveaways. It's the team quarterbacked by Philip Rivers. Want to start a 7-game winning streak? Don't turn the ball over. Want to win some close game that you shouldn't? Don't turn the ball over. Want the mainstream media to anoint you a contender (go ahead and crown their @#%!) for the 100th time? Don't turn the ball over. After week 5, San-Diego was ranked 22nd in giveaways, averaging 1.67/game. Now they are ranked 1st with .91/game. They aren't measurably better all of the sudden (no one in the NFL is). They aren't David Blane or Criss Angel, or even Siegfried and Roy (well, perhaps they are that). It's just that they have stopped turning the ball over.
Also, please stop thinking that the Jacksonville Jaguars are a playoff team. Right now they are simply playing one on TV. Their average turnover margin/game is -.33, and let me pull out another stat on you--points differential. Jacksonville's current point differential is -48. That's right. A team with a winning record is -48. This trend can't continue. Their points/points allowed ratio is .83. Historically (over the last 25 years), this ratio suggests they are a 6-10 team. Since they already have 7 wins, they are playing with house money. I believe they are--in the immortal words of one of the finest poets of our generation--Kip Winger, "headed for a heartbreak."
Picking Super Bowl teams isn't really fun until Indianapolis and New Orleans lose, so let me throw out a few more controversial choices. How about the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots. Both teams rank very well in all four categories, and speaking of points differential, the Packers have a points/points allowed ratio of 1.41. The Patriots, despite all of the crying by the main stream media, have a ratio of 1.46. There have been many Super Bowl Champions that have ratios at or below this ratio, including the 2007 Giants, the 2006 Colts, and 2003 Patriots. The highest ratio of points/points allowed in the last 25 years? The 1985 Chicago Bears with a ratio of 2.3.
Speaking of the Bears, it's now time I get in my weekly obligatory Jay Cutler blast. Once again I'd like to point out that Chicago is ranked 1st in field position. Imagine the kind of damage they could do if they had a QB who wasn't chain smoking interceptions.
Week 13 Summaries
There are a few games worth mention in week 13, but let's exhaust our analysis of the Broncos and Chiefs first. Already, we've noted that the turnover margin wasn't reflective of the true turnover margin in the game, since KC had two additional turnovers on downs. We can also look at the context of each turnover as well.
Denver turned the ball over on its first possession. Statistically, they were down minus-1 in the turnover battle early in the first quarter. Big freakin' deal. As we know, a turnover committed early in the game can be easily overcome. In this case, the first drive was simply 1 out of 15 drives that Denver had in the game. They scored on 7 others.
But it was even more interesting was how quickly Denver scored. Denver's average number of plays per scoring drive was just 6 plays. And Denver's average yards gained/play on these scoring drives was 6.5. Most of this was done on the ground. They were shredding the Chiefs--in a hurry. Combine this with Denver's points off of turnovers, 13 (including turnovers on downs), and you have the makings for a nice victory.
This does helps all of us swallow the 3rd-down efficiency pill a little easier. Even though Denver was only 30.77% on 3rd downs, they only had a total of five 3rd downs during their 7 scoring drives. They were making quick work of the Chiefs' defense.
Also of note is Denver's total domination with respect to the time of possession. Don't let this fool you. Much of this stat came in the 2nd half as Denver was simply killing the clock. In the 4th quarter alone, Denver dominated the time of possession 11:32 to 3:28. In this case, the time of was truly a reflection of Denver having the lead going into the 2nd half.
There are two other questions remaining from week 13. How did the Saints escape with a win in Washington? And how did Oakland beat the Steelers? Both questions have the same answer, and let's just be honest, stats won't make you feel any better about it.
But let's point out the obvious. First, the Steelers and Redskins did lose the turnover battle. In addition, the Steelers and Redskins were pitiful in the Red Zone. The Steelers were 2 for 5 and the Redskins were 3 for 7. Neither of these stats helped either team. However, with the game on the line, each team had the ability to win the game. And here's where one of the truths of football rears its ugly head:
Sometimes crap just happens.
That's right. How else do you explain what happened at the end of both of these games? Players make plays? Well, I guess if we are being technical. I was listening to the post game radio show on the Raiders' radio network (a mortal sin), and Gradkowski essentially said he was just throwing the ball up for grabs and knew it had a good chance of being picked off . Then a few plays later, the refs call a personal foul penalty on a seemingly normal hit, giving the Raiders 1st and goal. I suppose we should all be happy, for it it helped the Broncos in their quest for the playoffs, and it put the Raiders one step further away from being able to draft Ndamukong Suh. Still one has to wonder if the Raiders would be smart enough to draft him if he was available. Perhaps they would need to see a 40 time. It's always good to know the Raiders are not on the hero's journey.
The Redskins didn't fair much better. An interception-fumble-TD return by the Saints on 3rd-and-26? Seriously? A missed 23-yard field goal? Sometimes crap just happens, but it seems to happen to the Redskins a little bit more often, although after the game, Drew Brees credited Karma. Oh, well, one man's Karma is another person's crap.
2-Turnover Rule (Explained Here)
4 teams had 0 turnovers. 4 won (100%); For the season, 60/74 (81%)
10 teams had 1 turnover. 7 won (70%); For the season, 64/109 (59%)
10 teams had 2 turnovers. 2 won (20%); For the season, 48/110 (44%)
6 teams had 3 turnovers. 3 won (50%); For the season, 16/56 (29%)
1 team had 4 turnovers. None won (0%); For the season, 4/25 (16%)
1 teams had 5+ turnovers. None won (0%); For the season, 0/10 (0%)
Week 13 - Big Picture
The team that won the turnover battle won 13 of 16 games played (81%).
In the previous category, remove the ties (1 game) and this changes to 75%
The team that won the time of possession battle won 9 of the 16 games played (56%).
The team that had better third-down efficiency won 12 of the 16 games played (75%).
The team that had better average starting field position won 10 of the 16 games played (63%).
There were 3 games this week in which a team won all four categories. In all 3, the same team won on the scoreboard (100%). For the season, this stat is 62 out of 67 games. In only 3 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 1.25 turnovers, 31:43 in time of possession, 40.45% on 3rd downs, and their average starting field position was the 30.23-yard line.
Top 5 in Week 13:
Top 5 in giveaways: New York Jets, Oakland, Philadelphia, and San Diego tied with 0.
Top 5 in time of possession: 1.Dallas 2.Jacksonville 3.Cincinnati 4.Denver 5.Green Bay
Top 5 in 3rd downs: 1.Indianapolis 2.Washington 3.Dallas 4.New York Jets 5. Tennessee
Top 5 in avg. starting field position: 1.Saint Louis 2.Denver 3.Cincinnati 4.Green Bay 5.Pittsburgh
Running Totals, Season (through 13 weeks):
192 games have been played this season
80.73% were won by the team with less turnovers (counting ties as wins)
66.67% with a better time of possession
66.67% by the team who won on 3rd down
70.31% by the team that won the field-position battle.
13-week League Averages:
13-week running average/game, turnovers (all teams): 1.70
13-week running average/game, time of possession (all teams): 30:11 (thanks to numerous OT games)
13-week running average/game, 3rd down efficiency (all teams): 37.80%
13-week running average, starting field position (all teams) 29.73 yard line
The Look Ahead
Looking ahead to Indianapolis, 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 1.50 30:04 28.74 35.12%
Indianapolis 1.33 28:21 28.42 49.96%
I don't need to tell you what you already know, but Denver is going to struggle to win this game. Indy's speedy defense is built for 3rd downs. Peyton Manning and the Colts don't need time of possession and field position to win. They are last in the league in number of drives, but first in the league in yards/drive. The last thing the Colts do is waste time. Additionally, they are deadly running the no-huddle offense, which has vexed Denver to no end this year.
Most impressive is the Colts on 3rd down. There was really only one game this year in which the Colts had a bad day on 3rd downs. It was in week 3 against Arizona, and the Colts still won 31-10. However, the game is instructive. The Cardinals did a pretty good job in the first half of not giving away their defense at the line of scrimmage and stacking their linebackers to hide their blitzes. Manning had a bit of difficulty calling his audibles properly. Later in the game, Manning started using quick counts to counteract this strategy. Still, the tape would be useful to the Broncos so that they don't stand stationary in their standard 5-2 sets.
If there ever was a time for heroes, it is now. This will be an important test for the new Broncos and their new 3-4. In past years, Denver has been destroyed by the Colts--except the year the Colts decided to rest Manning. But just like winning in December in Kansas City, this Broncos' team could care less about what happened under Mike Shanahan. Perhaps this version of the Broncos will continue to buck the trends and return to Denver after slaying the monstrous Colts' offense.
It would be a great story, indeed. And the dark moment of Denver's 4-game losing streak would simply fade into myth.
Hail, Kyle Orton!!
Last stat: 50% (percentage chance that you can beat Dallas Clark in a 40-yard dash).