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Seven Statistical Nuggets As December Looms

Random statistical thoughts and musings as we take the W against Washingston, don't apologize for it and look ahead to December.

1. Garrett's number has been called, and it's 1-800-DIAL-A-BLITZ

DC's around the league think they've figured out how to slow down the Dallas offense. In four games this year, Romo has been blitzed on more than 50% of his pass attempts. All blitzes are gambles and sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. Fortunately, all that blitzing did not pay off for our opponents

Dallas Cowboys Passing Attempts & Blitzes, 2009


TB NYG CAR DEN KC ATL SEA PHI GB WAS
Passing
Attempts
27 29 33 42 34 29 36 34 39 27
Blitz on PA 12 8 12 15 21 15 19 22 14 6
Blitz in % of PA 44% 28% 36% 36% 62% 52% 53% 65% 36% 22%

 

2. Hey ho, let's go!

Teams are gambling that Romo will make mistakes under pressure and have pinned back their ears 139 times through week 10 this year in an attempt to throw him off his game. That's more than any other quarterback in the league. So far, Romo has held up remarkably well, maintaining a 91.4 passer rating when blitzed, only marginally down from his 95.2 non-blitz passer rating.

Quarterbacks under pressure, min 200 passing attempts through week 10, 2009

Quarterback Team Passing Attempts Blitzed Blitz/ATT Passer Rating Non-Blitz Passer Rating Blitz Difference
1 T. Romo DAL 303 139 45.9% 95.2 91.4 -3.8
2 E. Manning NYG 275 128 46.5% 96.5 81.5 -15.0
3 J. Cutler CHI 338 121 35.8% 69.2 88.1 18.9
4 T. Brady NE 352 115 32.7% 95.0 112.1 17.1
5 B.Roethlisberger PIT 302 115 38.1% 93.8 102.5 8.7
6 P. Rivers SD 299 112 37.5% 101.1 92.5 -8.7
7 D. Garrard JAC 292 105 36.0% 80.2 89.4 9.1
8 J. Flacco BAL 300 104 34.7% 86.6 98.4 11.8
9 K. Orton DEN 287 102 35.5% 80.5 110.4 29.9
10 M. Cassel KC 259 102 39.4% 67.7 87.1 19.4
11 M. Sanchez NYJ 244 102 41.8% 60.5 75.0 14.5
12 M. Ryan ATL 298 101 33.9% 67.8 100.4 32.6
13 K. Warner ARI 353 100 28.3% 85.0 108.0 23.0
14 M. Schaub HOU 326 98 30.1% 98.2 97.9 -0.3
15 A. Rodgers GB 296 91 30.7% 91.3 125.4 34.1
16 B. Favre MIN 285 86 30.2% 106.9 108.8 1.9
17 M. Stafford DET 265 86 32.5% 54.0 70.9 16.9
18 C. Palmer CIN 290 85 29.3% 88.7 86.6 -2.1
19 M. Hasselbeck SEA 255 84 32.9% 86.8 72.8 -14.0
20 P. Manning IND 357 78 21.8% 102.6 109.9 7.3
21 J. Russell OAK 205 77 37.6% 48.1 46.9 -1.2
22 J. Campbell WAS 254 74 29.1% 83.3 99.0 15.7
23 J. Delhomme CAR 245 68 27.8% 75.6 44.6 -31.0
24 D. Brees NOR 291 67 23.0% 103.0 110.0 7.1
25 M. Bulger STL 210 62 29.5% 59.7 104.8 45.1
26 D. McNabb PHI 218 56 25.7% 100.5 79.3 -21.2

Note on the data: Blitz numbers are taken from the ESPN QB splits. These blitz numbers are updated by Thursday for the previous Sunday, so we'll have to make do here with last week's data. Also, in case you're wondering why I chose 200 attempts as the cut-off for this list, look no further than the 26th entry to understand why.

Couple of observations:

  • Don't crack under pressure: Among the top seven quarterbacks against the blitz (passer rating against the blitz > 108) you'll find the usual suspects in Brady, Brees, Peyton Manning, Favre and Warner. Perhaps a little surprisingly, Rodgers and Orton are also among this elite group. What characterizes this group is that they are very efficient under pressure, and while they may not have had time to complete their passes to their primary receivers, they have been able to find an open man and keep the offense moving forward.
  • Blitz me, pleeeaase: Bulger, Rodgers and Ryan seem to thrive on blitzes. All three have ratings against the blitz that are > 30 points higher than their rating in non-blitz situations. Not surprisingly, opponents blitz them on only about 30% of their pass attempts.
  • Fear the Rush: Fear is an emotional response to a threat. It is a basic survival mechanism observed in quarterbacks and occurrs in response to a specific stimulus, such as pain when sacked/hit or the threat of danger from blitzes, and may lead to significant behavioral change like low completion percentages, high INT/TD ratios and vomiting in Superbowls. Four QB's have a passer rating in blitz situations that is significantly lower than in non-blitzing situations: Hasselbeck (-14.0), Eli Manning (-15.0), McNabb (-21.2) and Delhomme (-31.0). Time to seek counseling.
  • Hammer time: The four most blitzed quarterbacks are Eli Manning (46.5% of all ATTs), Romo (45.9%), Sanchez (41.8%) and Cassel (39.4%). Rightly or wrongly, these QB's have seemingly acquired a reputation as soft or error-prone, and defenses are trying to take advantage. Surprisingly, only Eli's rating sees a significant drop in blitz situations, while Romo's rating drops only marginally and Sanchez and Cassel actually have a better rating against the blitz.
  • No way we're blitzing these guys: Over the years, Peyton Manning has gained an almost mythical reputation against the Blitz, and consequently no other quarter back is blitzed less (21.8% of ATT). Drew Brees is a close second (23.0%) and it is quite a surprise to see McNabb as the third least blitzed QB (25.7%), given that that his rating against the blitz drops off significantly

3. Beginner's guide to winning in December

In his Chill Pills post, 5Blings asked what it would take to win in December. From a purely statistical point of view, the answer is fairly easy: Take care of the football better than your opponent, and you win almost all of the time.

Our sister site StampedeBlue has a long-running series called Finding the Winning Factors. In it, mgrex03 looked at the Turnover Ratio in 4,080 games from 2001 to 2008 and found that 82.5% of the teams winning the turnover battle won the game. Bob Sturm is running a tally for the current season (Running Stats Project), and through week 11, 76.5% of the teams winning the turnover battle also won the game (101-31).

Dallas is 5-8 over the last three Decembers. TO ratio for the 5 wins: +1. TO Ratio for the 8 losses: -16. No rocket science required to figure out that this is not working for the Cowboys.

Dallas Cowboys December Turnover Ratio, 2006-2008


2006 2007 2008

NYG NO ATL PHI DET DET PHI CAR WAS PIT NYG BAL PHI
TO ratio
-1 -2 +1 -2 -3 -1 -2 0 1 -3 2 -1 -4
Result W L W L L W L W L
L W L L

 

4. Save the Cheerleader Quarterback, save the world.

A Sack is an evil thing. I shudder at the merest thought of Romo being sacked, and I've done a lot of shuddering lately, more so than in previous years. Romo is taking close to one sack more per game this season than in 2007 and 2008. Not good.

Quarterback Sacks allowed on Tony Romo, 2006-2009


2006
2007 2008 2009
Games
11 16 13 10
Sacks
21 24 20 23
Sacks/Game
1.9 1.5 1.5 2.3

Some of you might say, c'mon OCC don't get overexcited, those 23 sacks - while not great - are not earth shattering. We're ranked joint 18th in the NFL with 23, yeah it kinda sucks but get over it.

Let me reply with a little Algebra 101. On those 22 drives with sacks, we scored exactly one touchdown and 4 field goals for 19 points (Inexplicably, 3 of Folk's 5 missed FG's came on a drive with a sack. We also punted 11 times, fumbled three times and were intercepted once to end those drives) for an average score of 0.8 per drive. In the 89 drives without a sack, we scored 212 points or 2.5 points per drive. Statistically, that's a difference of 1.6 points per sack we're giving up, and the fumbles aren't even factored in yet.

In effect, a sack swings the balance of the game by at least 1.6 points in favor of the defense, either by forcing a punt or a longer FG try, or even just putting a team in a predictable passing situation. That's a big swing for a single play.

5. I don't believe in coincidences.

While this may not be the most opportune stat to post after two successive games in which we scored a total of 14 points, it is noteworthy nonetheless.

Top 6 NFL offenses in Yards per Play, 2009


Yards per Play
Record
Saints*
6.4 10-0
Colts*
6.4 10-0
Cowboys*
6.2 7-3
Steelers
5.9 6-4
Patriots*
5.9 7-3
Vikings*
5.8 9-1
*Division Leaders

***

Oh, to play in Tampa once more...

Tb2y_large

Happy now, Seanrude?

***

6. Doomsday returns... Wade Phillips style. (Hat Tip to DalaiLuke for the sig)

For all the scorn and criticism heaped on Wade as a head coach, there is little doubt that he knows what he is doing as a defensive coordinator. In 9 out of 10 games this season, the Cowboys have allowed 21 or fewer points. While 'only' ranking 5th in the NFL with an average 17.5 points allowed per game, this figure ranks 1st in the NFC.

Fun with stats: Four AFC teams are ahead of the Cowboys: the Colts (15.7), Patriots (16.4), Bengals (16.7) and the Ravens (17.1). As you are well aware of course, through week 11, the AFC teams scored an average 20.8 points per game, while the NFC teams scored an average of 22.6, a difference of 1.8 points per game. If we were to adjust Dallas' 17.5 PA/Game for conference strength by subtracting 1.8 ppg, we'd have a value of 15.7, tied with the Colts for best defense in the NFL. Lies, damn lies and statistics.

7. Do you need a Top 10 Receiver for post-season success?

In my last post I pointed out that Dallas was tied with the Saints with a league-leading 7 players with more than 350 yards from scrimmage. Spreading the wealth around like this makes it unlikely that any one of our WRs will make it anywhere close to the NFL Top 10, particularly after our WR corps caught a grand total of 5 passes against Washington. Heck, T.O. had 9 catches for the Bills in a losing effort against the Jaguars. But is a top 10 WR that important?

Big Stat Wide Receivers by and large are eye-candy for the highlight reels but do not generally translate into post-season success. While a 1400+ yards WR may be great for your fantasy football team, there are plenty of ways to win games in the NFL, and a big-time receiver is not on the list of must-haves. Consider the following WR stats on play-off winning teams of the last 5 years:

  • Only 23% of teams with post-season wins in the last 5 years (7/31) have had at least one WR ranked in the NFL Top 10 in regular season receiving yards.
  • Only 1 of the last 5 Superbowl winners had a WR ranked in the NFL Top 10 that season (Colts 2006).
  • 39% of winning post-season teams (12/31) had a top receiver with less than 1.000 regular season yards.
  • Notably, two playoff-winning teams featured Tight Ends as their leading receivers (ATL 04: Crumpler, SD 07: Gates).

Leading Receivers on Playoff Winning Teams by Yards and NFL Rank, 2004-2008 (SB Winners in yellow)

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Tm Player Yards Rnk Tm Player Yards Rnk Tm Player Yards Rnk Tm Player Yards Rnk Tm Player Yards Rnk
Stl
Holt 1.372 4 Car
Smith 1.563 1 Ind Harrison 1.366 2 NE
Moss 1.493 2 Ari
Fitzger. 1.431 2
Ind Wayne 1.210 9 Was Moss 1.483 2 NO Colston 1.038 19 Sea Engram 1.147 13 SD Jackson 1.098 11
Phi Owens 1.200 11 Den Smith 1.105 13 Sea Jackson 956 23 GB Driver 1.048 20 Pit Ward 1.043 15
Min Burleson 1.006 23 NE Branch 998 21 Chi Moham. 863 30 Nyg Burress 1.025 21 Bal Mason 1.037 17
Pit Ward 1.004 24 Pit Ward 975 22 Phi Brown 816 33 SD Gates 984 25 Phi Jackson 912 28
NE Givens 874 32 Sea Engram 778 35 NE Caldwell 760 40 Jac Williams 629 61
Nyj Moss 838 34
Atl Crumpler 774 43

 

For what it's worth

  • The last time the Cowboys opened a new stadium, in 1971, they christened it with a Super Bowl win that season. Make of this what you will.
  • No other Quarterback in the NFL has had to pass on more 3rd and long situations (50) this year than Tony Romo. Remarkably, his conversion rate of 40% (20/50) is second best in the NFL, behind only Carson Palmer (50%).
  • The Cowboys have given up 23 first downs to opponents on penalties. That's bad enough for 31st place in the league, just barely ahead of the Packers with 24.
  • The NFC East is a combined 22-18, second only to the 24-14 AFC South in terms of winning percentages. And despite the offensive juggernauts like the Saints, Colts, Patriots and Vikings in other divisions, no division in the NFL has a better points differential (+117) than the NFC East. AFC East (+75) and AFC South (+37) complete the Top 3.

_________

Sources:

1. ProFootballFocus.com, game data usually completed 5-7 days after the game.

2. ESPN.com, blitzing data usually updated by Thursday after a game.

3.-7 Pro-Football-Reference.com, NFL Gamebooks, NFL.com, pictures courtesy of SI.Com

For what it's worth: Superbowl: Useless factoid clogging up my brain, 3rd and long: Stats Llc., Penalties: ESPN.com

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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