Bill Connelly uses the national title game to explore the topic of player matchups and advanced stats here and concludes there’s still plenty of work to be done.
But then there’s the next level of data: the matchup data where the ball isn’t involved.
Alabama clearly identified a potential weak link in Parrish and exploited him. The Tide were able to render Georgia’s offense far less efficient than normal, too, by eating up the interior of the Bulldogs’ line.
On multiple occasions throughout the national title game, a coach friend and I would end up texting back and forth — “That Georgia center is getting whooped.” “Georgia center again.” Et cetera. Poor Lamont Gaillard appeared to be pretty regularly getting his lunch eaten by Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne and others.
When the Bama defensive front was creating disruption, it was probably coming from the middle. But Payne finished the game with 4.5 tackles and no TFLs or havoc plays. Our eyes told us Payne was dominant, but we don’t have the stats to back that up. Stuff like this will show up somewhat in PFF grades (which a lot of coaches I’ve spoken with really do not tend to enjoy or trust), but the general point remains: we get far more about Xs and Os from stats than the proverbial Jimmies and Joes..
So here’s an offseason conversation topic for you (and trust me, if this indeed generates conversation, I’ve got plenty of other questions to toss to the field): what do we do about this?
It’s an excellent question. Anybody who watched that game knows that Payne was ridiculously disruptive all night, and yet there’s no good way of quantifying his performance. Maybe you think this is just another case of trying to count the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin, but I assure you it matters more to, say, Sam Pittman than that.
So much of football is derived from specific matchup advantages, but our overall data set doesn’t necessarily align with that. You basically win by creating numbers advantages or by having numbers that are better than your opponents’. We’re a lot better at measuring the former than the latter.
I’ll be curious to see where this inquiry takes Bill.
By the way, Bill takes this piece as a jumping off point to discuss the genius of Bill Walsh. Genius is a word used over broadly these days, but when it comes to Walsh, it’s appropriate. Connelly has some great quotes, but for my money, Walsh’s reflection on bringing back the Single Wing two decades before we saw the rise of the Wildcat, spread offense, zone read and Rich Rod’s offense at West Virginia is simply amazing.