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The Dude Abides...The Stats That Don't Lie, Week 17

Quick to the stats to the stats no fakin', cookin' MCs like a pound of bacon.

--Vanilla Ice

Alright, stop.  Collaborate and listen.  Josh is back with a brand new invention.  

You knew I couldn't get through a whole season without bringing out the worst song of all time

I'm not sure what's worse.   That song or the idea that Week 17 actually meant anything in the NFL.   The way things ended up, there wasn't much drama involved, as both the Ravens and Jets took care of business.  As expected, the Raiders got the business end of another loss.  Sorry, Pittsburgh. Sorry, Houston.   And sorry, Den....

I guess I could give an apology to the Denver Broncos, too.  But they really don't deserve one.  With the effort they put out last Sunday, they could have possibly been the ugliest part of Week 17--perhaps the entire second half of the season.  In the end, they were killing your brain like a poisonous mushroom.

Welcome to the season-ending edition of the That Stats That Don't Lie, your statistical hook while the DJ (not Williams) revolves it. These are these stats that could never produce a one-hit wonder.  They are the stats that don't sample Queen or David Bowie.  As always they are Turnovers, Field Position, Time of Possession, and 3rd-Down Efficiency.

This week, in addition to the normal cornucopia of stats, we're going to take a look at the Denver Broncos from two different sides.  First, the team that "rocked the mic like a vandal" in their 8 wins..  Then, we'll look at what they became in their 8 losses: sucka MCs.  All through the prism of Ice Ice Baby, which will always be worse torture than a season-ending collapse.

A Tale of Two Rappers

The 2009 Denver Broncos really were two different teams.  In the games they won, they usually played great defense, took advantage of timely turnovers, and generally had fewer mistakes (translation: turnovers).  In the games they lost, the defense was gutted in the running game, mistakes were aplenty, and the offense had to play against their strength, which was playing catch-up football.

If you read my work, you know I think you can learn a lot from studying a profile of how your opponent typically loses.. We can do the same thing with the Broncos.  Here are the side-by-side statistical profiles of Denver's 8 wins next to Denver's 8 losses:

8 WINS- Rockin the Mic
  8 LOSSES - Sucka MCs
Points 25 11   15 30
1st Qtr 4 5   3 6
2nd Qtr 7 3   3 7
3rd Qtr 5 1   7 6
4th Qtr 9 2   2 11
Overtime 0 0   0 0

First Downs 21 15   17 21
Rushing 7 4   5 8
Passing 12 10   12 11
Penalty 2 1   1 2
3rd Down Conv Pct 37.58% 27.55%   33.08% 44.46%
4th Down Conv Pct 31.25% 31.25%   50.00% 37.50%
Red Zone Conv Pct 44.58% 33.33%   40.63% 53.96%
Goal to Go Conv Pct 53.13% 43.75%   43.75% 85.42%
Avg. Gain Per Play 5.68 4.21   4.84 5.78
Net Yards Rushing 147 79   82 179
Total Rushing Plays 34 23   21 34
Avg. Gain Per Rush 4.29 3.40   3.94 5.25
Net Yards Passing 227 179   226 193
Times Sacked 2 3   3 2
Gross Yards Passing 236 197   242 206
Pass Attempts 31 35   39 29
Completion Pct 62.97% 56.72%   58.62% 62.67%
Avg. Gain Per Pass 7.03 4.66   5.34 6.31
Interceptions 0 1   1 1
Fumbles / Fum. Lost 1/1 2/1   1/1 1/1
Penalties 6 5   6 5
PenaltyYards 44 44   56 47
Gross Punting Average 47.41 47.55   42.04 45.36
Net Punting Average 36.04 39.43   38.30 40.06
Punt Return Avg. 10.29 17.91   6.44 5.86
Kickoff Return Avg. 21.85 22.19   20.99 22.35
Time of Possession 32:37:45 27:58:38   27:45:45 32:14:15


For those of you that don't like stats or tables (it makes me cry like a Raiders fan), allow me to summarize:

  • For bad or worse, Denver was defined by how it played in the 2nd half, and in particular, the 4th quarter.  The numbers show that in most of Denver's games, there wasn't nearly as much scoring in the 1st half as there was the 2nd.  And even in their losses, the Broncos still outscored their opponents in the 3rd quarter.   The 4th quarter was very hot and cold.  Denver was either dominant or was completely dominated.  They averaged 9 points per 4th quarter in their wins.  They averaged a grisly 2 points per 4th quarter in their losses.  They also gave up, on average, 11 points per 4th quarter as well.   That's hideous.  Love it or leave it, Denver, you better gain weight.
  • In their wins, Denver averaged almost 2 more first downs via the run.  As many have alluded, Denver often abandoned its running game in its 8 losses.  Conversely, Denver's opponents, on average, doubled the number of first downs they got on the ground  Although passing correlates more directly with winning in today's NFL, Denver's inability to sustain its running game was quite evident when it lost.
  • Denver was fairly consistently average on 3rd downs, in the red-zone, and on goal-to-go situations in both wins and losses.  However, its opponents had significantly higher percentages when Denver lost.  During its 8 losses, Denver's opponents were 45% on 3rd downs, 54% in the red zone, and a staggering 85% in goal-to-goal conversions.  Let's hope Chris Baker will be rocking Fat Burgers in the offseason.  Denver will need that beef up the middle.   And lost in all the Dumervil sack-record talk?  His less-than-stellar run defense.  But he will get better at this.  
  • If there is one thing you should take from this week is it this:  In Denver's losses, they allowed an ungodly average of 179 yards rushing per game.  This is a full 100 yards more than in their wins.  Quick, let's trade Brandon Marshall to the Rams so we can draft Ndamukong Suh.  Maybe the Rams won't notice that Marshall gets the chills sometimes--like, I don't know, once he hits 100 catches.
  • In the passing game, Orton's numbers were fairly comparable during losses and wins.  His completion percentage and yards-per-pass numbers were slightly lower during losses, however.  The guy is simply steady. Expect more of the same.  One would like to see his yards/pass average get into the 7.5-8.0 range next year.
  • In their losses, the Broncos forced less turnovers.  No surprise there.  What was surprising, though, was that the penalty numbers were almost exactly the same during wins and losses.
  • Regarding special teams, I'm finally glad we can put the Brett Kern-Mitch Berger telenovela behind us.  Look at the numbers, friends.  And not the gross average.  Look at the Net Average.  In the 8 losses (can we all chant Berger Time!) the net average per punt actually went up by almost 2-and-a-half yards.  Did Berger have a few clunkers? Sure.  Is he the long-term answer at Punter?  No.   But Denver's punting game actually improved over Kern when they signed Berger.   I don't care what Kern did once he left the Broncos.  That's a Tennessee Titans statistic.  These are the numbers Denver saw and what they got when they brought Berger in.  At the very worst, one would say it was a wash (which I'm not).   But it probably improved Denver's special teams overall.   In the future, let's hope we can have the best of both worlds.  A high-gross and a high-net average.  Word to your Berger.
  • The Broncos benefited by better returning (and a smaller sample size) in the punting game when it won. However, its kickoff-return game was consistently underwhelming in both wins and losses, averaging between 21-22 yards-per-kick return.  Eddie Royal is not the answer at returner.   Eddie Royal is the answer to the question of who should be the slot receiver.
  • In another not-so-surprising development, Denver dominated the time of possession when it won and got buried by the stat when it lost.

Final Team Rankings 

TEAM Turnovers Rank TO Margin Rank Field Position Rank TOP Rank 3rd Down Rank
GB 1.00 1 1.50 1 32.75 2 33:02:45 3 45.06% 4
SD 1.00 1 0.53 6 30.48 11 30:04:32 15 44.16% 6
MIN 1.13 3 0.38 9 32.93 1 32:51:11 5 45.12% 3
DAL 1.19 4 0.13 13 27.44 29 32:16:30 6 39.42% 15
NE 1.38 5 0.38 9 29.86 17 33:05:56 2 43.40% 7
BAL 1.38 5 0.63 4 31.84 5 29:33:34 19 40.15% 12
SF 1.38 5 1.00 2 28.90 20 29:34:30 18 29.28% 30
PHI 1.44 8 0.94 3 30.40 13 27:57:04 30 36.65% 19
DEN 1.44 8 0.44 8 29.42 18 30:11:37 13 35.21% 23
IND 1.56 10 0.06 15 28.50 23 27:40:00 31 48.00% 1
JAX 1.56 10 -0.13 19 28.32 25 30:53:30 12 43.28% 8
ATL 1.56 10 0.19 12 30.45 12 29:53:56 17 41.64% 9
CIN 1.56 10 0.00 17 30.62 9 33:06:49 1 40.85% 11
WAS 1.56 10 -0.63 28 28.18 26 29:15:08 20 38.63% 17
PIT 1.63 15 -0.31 22 29.30 19 32:53:26 4 39.75% 13
NO 1.69 15 0.63 4 31.42 7 31:36:04 10 44.47% 5
KC 1.69 15 0.13 13 28.75 21 28:19:08 28 26.62% 32
MIA 1.75 18 -0.44 24 28.67 22 31:59:11 8 47.99% 2
HOU 1.75 18 -0.06 18 30.21 15 31:21:19 11 39.47% 14
BUF 1.75 18 0.50 7 31.19 8 28:37:45 26 28.19% 31
NYJ 1.88 21 0.06 15 32.48 3 32:02:23 7 37.82% 18
NYG 1.94 22 -0.44 24 30.38 14 31:39:38 9 41.37% 10
TEN 1.94 22 -0.19 20 27.11 30 28:41:45 25 39.24% 16
CAR 1.94 22 0.38 9 28.40 24 30:10:15 14 36.00% 22
SEA 1.94 22 -0.50 27 28.10 27 27:30:41 32 32.22% 27
CLE 1.94 22 -0.75 29 31.75 6 28:54:34 22 31.49% 28
STL 2.06 27 -0.94 31 28.05 28 29:10:34 21 32.90% 26
OAK 2.06 27 -0.81 30 27.08 31 28:17:45 29 29.74% 29
TB 2.12 29 -0.24 21 30.49 10 28:41:46 24 33.10% 25
CHI 2.13 30 -0.38 23 32.08 4 28:36:52 27 36.27% 20
ARZ 2.25 31 -0.44 24 30.17 16 29:55:23 16 36.15% 21
DET 2.56 32 -1.13 32 27.06 32 28:53:26 23 34.78% 24


The league per-game average (rounded) for the season in these four categories is:

Turnovers (giveaways): 1.70

Field Position: 30-yard line

Time Of Possession: 30:00

3rd-Down Effiecienty: 38%

The only category in which Denver was better than average was turnovers per game.   3rd downs were their big problem, as we have alluded to numerous times.  They finished the year with a paltry 35% per-game average on 3rd downs.  The quickest clue to what Denver will be doing in free agency and the draft can be found within the confines of improving on 3rd downs.  

Since these are the final rankings, I'll point out a few more things that might not jump out at you immediately.  First, notice that of the teams in the top-ten in turnovers per game, only two are not in the playoffs.  One of them happens to be the Broncos, but put that aside for the moment, and ask yourself if keeping a QB who doesn't throw a lot of interceptions is a good idea.  If you have any hesitation, look at the bottom-10 teams in turnovers. Aside from the Bears being 3rd-worst (pause while everyone giggles), you'll notice that not one of them is in the playoffs this year. Again, is keeping an average quarterback who doesn't throw a lot of picks a good thing? The answer is evident--if you want to make the playoffs.  In other words, McDaniels is keeping Orton around. Yo, VIP, let's kick it.   

Another way these stats can prove helpful is in determining which teams will be next year's surprises.  The trick is to look at the 3rd-down percentages.  As I indicated last week, there has been quality research done (namely by the Football Outsiders) to show that teams that are bad on 3rd downs, but who are generally good on 1st and 2nd downs, tend to improve significantly in following years.    I put the Broncos in this category.   Who else would be good candidates?  Here are two teams that jump to mind (along with the Broncos for review):

  • Carolina: 36% on 3rd downs, but a 7.01-yard average when passing on 2nd down.
  • Tennessee: 39% on 3rd downs, but 7.10-yard average when passing on 1st down.
  • Denver: 35% on 3rd downs, but 7.0-yard average when passing on 1st down.

I'll be doing a longer analysis on this one subject in the offseason, but for now, expect all three of these teams to have more wins next year.

Lastly, these rankings wouldn't be worth anything if I didn't try to apply them to the upcoming playoff games:

Green Bay vs. Arizona - Green Bay will destroy them twice in two weeks.  I've been as high on Aaron Rodgers as anyone all season and I don't see a reason why I should stop now.  Green Bay doesn't turn the ball over, they are hideously good on 3rd downs, and they will control field position again.  Arizona is just the opposite.  Lucky for them, they play in the NFC West.  Their luck runs out this weekend.

Philadelphia vs. Dallas - The hardest game to call because they are so similar statistically.  Even their scoring ratios (points/points allowed) are close.  Dallas sports a ratio of 1.44.  Philly's ratio is 1.27.  As much as it pains me to say this, Dallas should win the game given their superior ratio and the fact that home-field advantage generally gives the home team a 3-point edge.  

New York Jets vs. Cincinnati - A lot was made about the Jets receiving the benefit of teams resting their starters against them for two weeks in a row.  If you judged the Jets this way, you've made a mistake.  Their time-of-possession stat isn't just a result of them killing the clock after getting a big lead.  These guys make a commitment to the run unlike any other team in the league, running the ball 59% of the time.  Rex Ryan is no chump (although he is still quite annoying).  He knows this is the best formula to win while breaking in a rookie quarterback.   Even if the Bengals win, don't expect a blowout.  The Jets were only beaten badly once all year.  So give me the Jets.  Just on a day when Mark Sanchez doesn't throw the ball more than 18-22 times.  

Baltimore vs. New England - With the loss of Wes Welker this becomes a difficult game to pick.  The scoring ratios for these two teams are virtually deadlocked (scoring ratio, as you know if you've followed these weekly pieces, correlates highly with winning percentage).  Each has a ratio of 1.498.   And statistically, both have been holding onto the ball well. Again, since the home field adds 3 points, just give me the hoodie.


The Game Summaries - Girls Wearing Less Than Bikinis

GAME Score TOs TOP Third Down Field Pos   GAME Score TOs TOP Third Down Field Pos
IND 7 3 22:26:00 27.27% 31.75   ATL 20 3 35:29:00 46.67% 27.27
BUF 30 0 37:34:00 35.71% 35.92   TB 10 2 24:31:00 46.67% 34.17
NO 10 3 29:22:00 15.38% 31.38   PHI 0 1 19:37:00 25.00% 23.82
CAR 23 0 30:38:00 20.00% 27.20   DAL 24 1 40:23:00 38.46% 27.27
JAX 17 1 27:02:00 52.94% 27.50   GB 33 1 37:27:00 41.67% 30.22
CLE 23 1 32:58:00 35.71% 38.20   ARI 7 3 22:33:00 50.00% 27.78
CHI 37 0 29:13:00 46.67% 32.50   KC 44 2 26:57:00 30.00% 17.92
DET 23 2 30:47:00 35.71% 33.67   DEN 24 3 33:03:00 46.67% 25.50
NE 27 2 28:26:00 40.00% 21.90   BAL 21 0 27:46:00 42.86% 30.09
HOU 34 1 31:34:00 42.86% 33.00   OAK 13 2 32:14:00 46.15% 24.70
PIT 30 2 32:38:00 50.00% 33.67   WAS 20 0 32:33:00 50.00% 26.90
MIA 24 2 27:22:00 58.33% 31.91   SD 23 1 27:27:00 46.15% 33.64
NYG 7 2 23:08:00 12.50% 25.09   TEN 17 2 32:22:00 42.86% 23.91
MIN 44 0 36:52:00 33.33% 38.18   SEA 13 1 27:38:00 30.77% 31.45
SF 28 0 33:08:00 26.67% 24.40   CIN 0 3 18:46:00 9.09% 37.60
STL 6 0 26:52:00 11.11% 30.80   NYJ 37 0 41:14:00 61.11% 45.18


Unfortunately, there weren't many games that had meaning from Week 17, but we'll briefly address what happened to the Broncos.  There's not much to be said that hasn't already been said.  On a day when Denver finally won time of possession, field position, and the 3rd-down battle, the true strength of the team (not turning the ball over) faltered. And the context of these turnovers was even worse because they were all committed in the 2nd half.  Denver had 8 total drives in the 2nd half.  Three of them ended up in turnovers that cost the Broncos 14 points.  Actually, it cost them more. This brings us to a concept which we'll discuss more in the offseason, but it's the concept of expected point value. 

The True Cost of a Turnover - Vanilla With a Nine

Every down and distance on the field has an expected point value, which can be measured by averaging how many points will be scored next and by whom (either the offense or the defense).  As Brian Burke explains so nicely over at Advanced NFL Stats:

Every other yard line has a point value too. We can measure it by averaging how many points will be scored next. For example, having a 1st down and 10 from an opponent's 20 yard line is worth, on average, about 4.2 points. Often the offense will score a touchdown, and failing that, it is likely to be able to kick a field goal. But sometimes, the offense will fail to do either, and the opponent may be the next to score. In other cases, neither team will score immediately, and they will exchange possession until someone does score.

There have been numerous studies placing a value on each down and distance for each yard line.  Thus, on both of Denver's interceptions, we can place an expected value on their position just before the interception.  Orton's first interception came in the 3rd quarter when Denver faced a 1st and 10 on its own 24-yard line.  The expected point value of this down and distance was .51 points.  Thus when Orton threw the pick-six interception, not only did it cost the Broncos the 7 points that the Chiefs scored on the play, it also cost them their expected .51 points.  So the real value of Orton's interception to the Chiefs was 7.51 points.  

We can go through the same process on Orton's 2nd interception as well.  Denver faced a 2nd and 11 at Kansas City's 40-yard line.  The expected point value for this down and distance was 1.99 points.  So when Orton threw the pick-six again, we simply give Kansas City the 7 points, plus the 1.99 points that Denver essentially lost.  Thus, we are talking really about an 8.99-point swing.  

All-in-all, Orton's two pick-six interceptions didn't just cost Denver 14 points.  It cost them 16.5 points.  Given that Denver lost by 20 total points, one can begin to see just how devastating a pick-six turnover can truly be.  

The Summaries

2-Turnover Rule  (Explained Here)

  • 9 teams had 0 turnovers. 7 won (78%); For the season, 78/100 (78%)

  • 8 teams had 1 turnover. 5 won (63%); For the season, 88/150 (59%)

  • 9 teams had 2 turnovers.  3 won (33%); For the season, 61/137 (45%)

  • 6 teams had 3 turnovers. 1 won (17%); For the season, 24/78 (31%)

  • No team had 4 turnovers; For the season, 4/32 (13%)

  • No teams had 5+ turnovers; For the season, 0/15 (0%)

Week 17 - Big Picture
  • The team that won the turnover battle (removing ties) won 9 of 12 games played (75%) 

  • 4 games were tied in the turnover battle.

  • 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 10 of the 16 games played (63%).

  • The team that had better average starting field position won 10 of the 16 games played (63%)

  • There were 4 games this week in which a team won all four categories.  In all 4, the same team won on the scoreboard (100%).  

  • The winning teams this week averaged .88 turnovers, 33:21  in time of possession, 40.05% on 3rd downs, and their average starting field position was the 31.16-yard line.  

End-Of-The-Season Totals:
  • 256 games were played this season

  • 76.4% (or 162/212) were won by the team with less turnovers (removing ties)

  • 44 games were tied in the turnover battle

  • 68.36% with a better time of possession

  • 69.14% by the team who won on 3rd down

  • 70.31% by the team that won the field-position battle.

The Look Ahead - My Style's Like a Chemical Spill

If you are a Broncos Fan from the late 60s and early 70s, you might be tempted to laugh at all of the Broncos fans today screaming like primates after an 8-8 campaign.  In the early days, Denver had a dozen seasons in which it won 4 games or less.  Or, if you were at the 1996 AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars (like me), you might even be tempted to laugh when people say things like, "this is the worst choke in NFL history."   

Please.  I still have nightmares of Tory James being beaten in the corner of the end zone.  I still remember Shannon Sharpe saying the loss would set the organization back 5 years.  We all know what happened soon after.

So let's just put things into perspective.  As bad as things seem right now, they could always be much worse. Since 2005, the Broncos haven't had a playoff berth.  In that stretch, their record has been 32-32.  So, as Broncos fans, we've experienced just about as many highs as we have lows.  Well, perhaps a few more lows given how the team has faltered after fast starts.  However, that's not the point.  The point is, there are many teams that can't even break even.  These are truly the chumps of the NFL.  

Like the Oakland Raiders, for example.   While they might get all giddy after beating the Broncos, their record in the same stretch since 2005?  A rather Raider-like 16-48.   Yikes.  I am sure that USC really could have beaten them in some of these years.  Will it ever stop? Yo, I don't know.  Turn off the lights, and Al Davis will glow.

Or how about the Matt Millen-lead Detroit Lions?  Their record in the same period?  An even worse 12-52.  If you're getting worked up over 8-8, imagine what you would do if you were a Lions fan.  Want to bash Kyle Orton?  Try Joey Harrington.  Don't like Eddie Royal?  Try Charles Rogers.  Millen is lucky he got out of Detroit in one piece.  He truly was the Vanilla Ice of general managers.  A simple novelty act that hung around too long.  

So, let's get some perspective, Broncos fans.  The Broncos are not heading for the cellar.  I'm not going to tell you that we are one player away.  That would be something the new coach for the Washington Redskins would say.  But we're closer to ten wins than six, in case you didn't know it. 

Josh Josh, baby.

Post-Script--Rollin' in my 5.0

Now that we've hit the offseason, I can't wait to work on several projects.  So please keep checking back at MHR. I'm currently working on things like a correlation bible, a gunslinger-game manager index, an update of the 2-turnover rule, an expected-points analysis of every Broncos play from the 2009 Season, and hopefully, along with other members here like Doug Lee, Jeremy Bolander, Steve Nichols, Tim Lynch, and Emmett Smith, some tag team articles on the upcoming draft. 

But I'm taking requests.  If there is anything that you would like to see researched, please email me or leave your comments below.

Go Broncos!  And just remember that neck beards never go out of fashion.