Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Better Stat For Running Backs

Let's say you are an NFL coach, and you have a running back that gains 100 yards on 25 carries and you could choose how to distribute those yards over those carries. You could have him break an 80 touchdown run, but then he would only have gained 20 yards on those other 24 carries, thereby completely bogging your offense down. The best use of those 100 yards would be to distribute them as evenly as possible, in this case being 4 yards for carry. The reason being...

Aaaand I fucking shit you not, right as I'm typing this up (ask Sampson), FOX runs a graphic breaking down Purple Jesus's 18 rushes for 76 yards by each carry.

-1,-1, 2, 2, 6, 2, 40, 6, 0, 6, 1, 3, 0, 2, 0, 3, 0, 5

It saves me a lot of work, but wow that really steals the thunder of this post. Damn you FOX! How dare you listen in to my conversations with my roommate and instantly create a graphic solely to sabotage my shitty blog post that six people are going to read. Fuck.

Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes, even distribution. An even distribution is optimal because if you are picking up four yards every time, you can pick up a first down at will by running three times (theoretically, obviously picking up 4 yards on 3rd & 4 is not the same as on 1st & 10). You can put your team in good down/distance situations, opening up your offensive options. Simply put, given similar total yards and yards per carry, a guy who consistently picks up yards is more valuable than the one who gets you a few big gains but many short runs.

For the sake of argument, I'll say that 4 yards is the cutoff for a "valuable run" (VR). You run for 3 yards 3 times and you still have 4th & 1, so I think you've gotta round up. Look again at PJ's carries again. Out of 18, only 5 of them were VRs. Using the easy method of calculating yards per carry, he's averaging 4.2 YPC. Slightly better than my arbitrary determination of valuable.

What I propose is that in calculating YPC, have 10 yards be the maximum amount per carry. You can make more specific adjustments based on the distance remaining for a first down, but I really don't feel like laying out the specifics at the moment. You could call the stat something nerdy to piss of sportswriters, like VYPR (Valuable Yards Per Rush). Got a better one? Leave it in the comments?

Now, using my new, awesome and completely original formula (probably not) PJ is only averaging 2.5 yards per carry, well below the 4 yard "valuable" threshold. I don't mean to blaspheme Purple Jesus, I'm just trying to say that the 4.2 YPC somewhat overstates his value in that particular game.

[Update - 7:20pm] I type this whole thing up and Westbrook who had 16 touches for 32 yards before this basically wins the game on a 71 yard screen pass. Seem familiar, Giants fans?

[Update - 7:34pm] Wow, after TJack does a great job of reinforcing negative black QB stereotypes by throwing a bunch of shitty passes then breaking a huge run, a fumbled snap essentially ends the game. That was anti-climactic and the fucking Eagles won. I was a much happier person when I started writing this post.

Note: 20th Century FOX assumes responsibility for all cursing in this post.

Why Do 8-8 Teams Host Playoff Games?

Like Joe, I would have picked the Colts and the Falcons yesterday. Objectively, analytically, theoretically they seemed like the better teams. Manning's Colts had won 9 straight, and Matty Ice's Falcons had taken 5 out of their last 6. They both had better records than the 8-8 division winners, and were Vegas favorites. Now we are left to grapple with annoying football analyst talking points like home field advantage.

In a single game, how much does it really matter? Ironically, in baseball, where you have the tangible advantage of batting in the bottom half of the inning, home field advantage creates a 54/46 advantage, slightly less significant than in football (56/44). Vegas says 3 points, Bill Simmons says "nawt that impawtahnt any mahwah", so who really knows? One would imagine crowd noise certainly can have a greater motivational impact on players in more physical-effort-oriented sports. The adrenaline spike provided by the crowd's cheers isn't going to help Mariano Rivera locate his cutter, but it might help Brandon Jacobs punch it into the endzone. Regardless, can we just give HFA to the better team?

It's bad enough that winning a division automatically grants a team a playoff berth when teams with better records get locked out. That's probably not going to change. But those teams get to host the game too? Why? Both the Cardinals and the Chargers were 3-7 outside their division. Can we please at least give home field advantage to the team with the better record?

As a fan of a team with a first round bye, I am thrilled by the outcomes of yesterday's games (sorry Joe). Let these teams win at home in their domes, because next weekend those teams are going on the road to the blustery Meadowlands or to chilly (in January) Charlotte, where the Panthers went 8-0 this season. But taking my personal rooting interests (for this season alone) out of the equation, the system is kinda retarded.