Category Archives: Strategery And Mechanics

A little more on stopping the run as a means of generating turnovers

I brought up Manny Diaz’ philosophy last week and a couple of bloggers of a more statistical bent than I explored the topic as well.

At Football Study Hall, Chad Peltier did a little regression analysis on the subject and found that Diaz wasn’t full of shit.

There’s enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis that there isn’t a relationship between defensive rushing S&P+ and turnovers gained. Rush defense doesn’t explain the whole variation in the data on turnovers gained (r squared is .14), but the two variables do seem to be related in a non-random way (at the 95% confidence level).

In short, the stats do seem to support Diaz’s argument that a defense should work on stopping the run first and foremost for more turnovers.

And today at Team Speed Kills, David Wunderlich does a little statistical exploration, finds some correlation, but wonders if there’s more to it than what Diaz suggests.

But wait a second. Let’s apply a different truism, this one from Football Outsiders: “You run when you win, not win when you run.” As Aaron Schatz explained it:

There are exceptions, usually when the opponent is strong in every area except run defense… [h]owever, in general, winning teams have a lot of carries because their running backs are running out the clock at the end of wins, not because they are running wild early in games.

Apply this to a defensive context, and winning teams will defend more passes than runs. Certainly it’s possible to have a great defense that doesn’t win a lot of games—see Auburn and Tennessee in 2008, or Florida in 2013—and it’s possible to win a lot of games with a terrible defense—see 2011 Baylor, which won 10 games despite being 113th in scoring defense. There are always exceptions, and that’s why these correlations are in the +/- 0.300 to 0.400 range rather than, say, the +/- 0.700 to 0.800 range.

Still, teams that win a lot of games usually have good defenses. We should also expect that good defenses will force a lot of turnovers. We’re now stuck in the correlation vs. causation trap. Does strength at stopping the run cause a team to generate more turnovers? Or does simply being a good defense cause that unit to both stop the run and generate more turnovers?

I’ve always believed that context matters, so I would be stupid to dismiss David’s qualifiers there.  But it’s worth mentioning that Louisiana Tech, while leading the nation in turnovers last season, finished 9-5.  Take that for what it’s worth.

In the meantime, let’s see what Diaz does in his second tour of duty at Mississippi State.  As David concludes,

One thing I can say for sure is this: when you share a division with Nick Saban, Bret Bielema, Gus Malzahn, and Les Miles, focusing on stopping the run isn’t a bad plan.

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Filed under Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics

The further adventures of run the damned ball, Bobo.

Some really solid stuff from Ian Boyd here about what sort of offenses force teams to make solo tackles more than others.

As you might suspect, teams that deploy spread attacks tend to force more solo tackles than others.  But check out this chart of the ten most efficient offenses in 2014:

S&P Rank Team % Solo Tackles Solo Tackle % Rank
1 Ohio State 72.5% 84
2 Alabama 72.9% 82
3 Oregon 72.4% 86
4 Georgia Tech 80.5% 22
5 Auburn 75% 66
6 Mississippi State 67.8% 11
7 Oklahoma 73.3% 76
8 Georgia 69.4% 105
9 Baylor 83.1% 12
10 Michigan State 70.7% 100

Two out of ten were really good at forcing solo tackles, and Georgia Tech was above average in that regard.  The rest were anywhere from subpar to genuinely poor at it.

Now ask yourself why that’s the case.  Well, actually, Boyd’s gone ahead and answered that question.

Well this puzzle is simple enough to solve, there are more defenders around the line of scrimmage then there are in the flats or downfield. If there are more defenders around on a running play then it’s going to be easier for the defense to get multiple people to the ball carrier to help bring him down.

Why are their more defenders there? Because defensive coordinators look at the S&P rankings and determine that the teams that can run the ball effectively are often the most difficult to defend. So they always ensure that there are players around the box that can limit damage from the run game. You’ll notice that the efficient running teams that rank high in S&P were also generally good at punishing this defensive response with the passing game.

Everyone wants their passing game to revolve around getting their athletes in one-on-one match-ups in space where they become hard to tackle, whether you are a pro-style power run team or a four-wide Air Raid spread squad. However, the teams that are killing are the ones that set this up with the run.

As a general rule, solo tackles occur most frequently from the passing game or from bad running attacks that put the running back in positions where he can’t evade a single tackler and is brought down before he can get up to speed.

Georgia is the most extreme case on that list:  5th in rushing S&P+; 105th in solo tackle percentage.  Teams were doing exactly what so many defensive geniuses on the Internet advocate – loading up the box to force Georgia to beat them throwing the ball – and were still getting killed on the ground in spite of this tactic.

Which should tell you a couple of things about the Dawgs’ offense.  First, Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb are a couple of ridiculously talented running backs.  Second,  deploying the play action pass should be like taking candy from a baby. There’s always going to be at least one receiver running around with single coverage.  Georgia just needs to find the quarterback best suited to take advantage of that.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics

Thursday morning buffet

The chafing dishes are steaming.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Look For The Union Label, Recruiting, Science Marches Onward, SEC Football, Stats Geek!, Strategery And Mechanics, What's Bet In Vegas Stays In Vegas

Let’s give ’em something to gripe about.

You may have heard that the NFL has decided to move the extra point attempt to the fifteen-yard line, while leaving two-point conversions at the two.  As Chase Stuart nicely points out, given the current skill level for making 33-yard field goals, this move is a lot more form than substance.

But it should raise a real bumper crop for second guessing.

What we may see, though, is a missed extra point costing a team a game. Or, perhaps, causing a team to win a game. That could happen if say, a team is down 20-10, scores a touchdown and misses the extra point, and then gets the ball back down 4. No longer strained by conservatism, a team may wind up scoring the game-winning touchdown instead of settling for a field goal. So, what happens first: a team loses a game because it misses an extra point, or a team wins a game because of it? And yes, posing that question is a sign of how bored I am by this news.

Man, I can hear the pundits now.

Stuart points out the math that the coaches will ignore – “From an expected value standpoint, an extra point now drops from 1.00 points to 0.95 points; one could argue, therefore, that a 2-point conversion now needs to be successful only 48% of the time to make it the better proposition.” – but, again, that’s in the League, where kickers are far more consistent than they are at the college level.

Which leads me to ponder the obvious – what would happen if the same rule were adopted for the college game?  I don’t know what the overall success rate is (and I’m not going to take the time to do the math), but you can look here and see that while there are plenty of kickers sporting high percentages, unsurprisingly, the overall rate of success isn’t anywhere near the NFL’s 96%.  Which would mean the value of going for two would increase in collegiate football.

I just wonder how all of this would fit into Mark Richt’s world view.  Gee, how has that kind of stuff worked out in the past?

There’s a difference between coaching conservatively and coaching scared.  What happened on the ensuing kickoff reminded me so much of what happened in the overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl after the 2011 season. Georgia ran out to an early lead, blew it, took the game into overtime and was on the verge of pulling out the win after a Rambo interception.  The conservative thing to do then was check Blair Walsh’s stats on the season, realize that he was money on kicks of 40 yards or less, a bad check on anything longer, and pound the ball three straight plays to improve the odds of his making a winning kick. Richt instead chose to run Aaron Murray around on second down for a loss, taking Walsh out of his comfort zone, and kick on third down. The end result:  a miss and a loss.

Let’s just say I’d rather not cross that bridge.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

To win in our league, you have to (get turnovers).”

Manny Diaz, who’s back at Mississippi State as its defensive coordinator, has an interesting theory about how to generate turnovers on defense – and he ought to have an inkling, as the defense he ran last season led the nation in takeaways:

“It’s always going to start with stopping the run. If you stop the run, you make them have to throw to beat you. If they have to throw to win, the ball is in harm’s way. No one turns the ball over more than the quarterback.

“There’s a bunch of things you can do to get after the quarterback to make him make mistakes. But if you can’t stop the run, then you have no chance of doing that. Our run defense will be the first thing we’ll pride ourselves on. Anything from that point on, that’s where the turnovers start to come.”

That kind of made me wonder how Georgia’s 2014 season fit into that.  If you look at the defensive turnover and rushing game logs from last year, here’s what you’ll find:

  • First seven regular season games:  2.43 turnovers per game; 3.04 yards per carry
  • Last five regular season games:  1.80 turnovers per game; 5.33 yards per carry
  • Bowl game:  3 turnovers; 2.30 yards per carry

There does seem to be some correlation there.  Just something to keep in the back of your mind as Pruitt and Rocker figure out how to restructure a defensive line that will have plenty of new faces being counted on to do a better job of stopping the run than we saw in the second half of last season.

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Filed under Georgia Football, Strategery And Mechanics

The NFL keeps getting crankier about the spread.

Seattle’s offensive line coach Tom Cable isn’t a fan, either.

… Cable said that the proliferation of spread offenses in college has made it harder for players to adjust in the NFL, particularly the offensive linemen under his charge. That, in turn, has made it harder to evaluate players as they prepare to enter the league.

“Unfortunately, I think we’re doing a huge disservice to offensive football players — other than a receiver — that come out of these spread systems,” Cable continued. “The runners aren’t as good. They aren’t taught how to run. The blockers aren’t as good. The quarterbacks aren’t as good. They don’t know how to read coverage and throw progressions. They have no idea.”

Judging from his record as Idaho’s head coach, I’m not that convinced Cable’s got an idea.  But the more this stuff circulates, the more it grows into a real thing.  Expect more pushback from spread coaches; at this point, they’ve really got no choice.

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Filed under Recruiting, Strategery And Mechanics, The NFL Is Your Friend.

“I can teach a third-grader in five minutes how to take a three-step drop and a five-step drop under center.”

Shorter college spread offense coaches:  NFL, you’re full of it.

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Filed under Strategery And Mechanics, The NFL Is Your Friend.