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# NFL 2009: Big Plays Ruled The Day

Our very own Aaron Novinger has an excellent post up looking at The Five Statement Plays by the ’09 Dallas Cowboys.

Immediately, I felt a compelling urge to look up the stats on how Dallas fared on big plays last season. Unfortunately, there is no shared definition in the league of what constitutes a "big" or "explosive" play.

The Cowboys’ Jason Garrett considers any run of 12 or more yards an explosive play. Any reception of 16 or more yards falls into the same category. Alas, these yardages are not something I can find in any publicly available database.

I’ve read other definitions that look at pass plays of at least 20 as big play. In general, the idea is that the bigger the chunks of yardage a team can gain, the fewer chances there are to mess up on a long drive.

Brian Billick is promoting a statistic that adds a team's turnover differential to the team’s differential in offensive gains of 20 yards or more. He calls the resulting number the ‘Fox-Tox rating’ (Fox: his employer, Tox: turnover differential plus explosive play differential – and Fox rhymes with Tox), and this may be the last you’ll ever hear of this silly name.

ColdHardFootballFacts.com had published a Big Play Index for previous seasons, but have not done so for this year, perhaps their algorithm was too complex - I certainly had a hard time trying to replicate their data.

So today, we invent our own stat: The BTB Big Play Index.

Our very own Big Play Index looks at a teams' differential in

• Turnovers
• Plays of 20 yards or more
• Defensive scores
• Sacks

You could of course argue that I may be double-counting some defensive scores and turnovers, and that a sack or a 20 yard play shouldn't have the same weight as a turnover, but I'm not trying to invent a mathematical monstrosity like the passer rating.

Big Play Index: Team differentials in big plays, 2009

Rank Team TOs 20+ yard pass 20+ yard run Defensive Score
Sacks
Total
1 Colts +2 +35 -3 +1 +21 56
2 Chargers +8 +33 -2 +3 +9 51
3 Saints +11 +10 +3 +5 +15 44
4 Eagles +15 +19 -4 +7 +6 43
T5 Cowboys +2 +16 +5 +1 +8 32
T5 Vikings +6 +3 +9 0 +14 32
7 Packers +24 +6 +5 +1 -14 22
8 Texans -1 +24 -10 +3 +5 21
9 Patriots +6 +1 -3 0 +13 17
T10 Bengals 0 -5 +12 +2 +5 14
T10 Jets +1 +6 +9 -4 +2 14
T10 Steelers -3 +18 +7 -5 -3 14
13 Ravens +10 -4 +8 +3 -4 13
T14 49ers +9 -5 +4 +1 +4 13
T14 Panthers +6 +2 +9 -4 -2 11
16 Bears -6 +15 -7 +4 0 6
17 Broncos +7 +3 -10 -1 5 4
18 Titans -4 -29 +16 +3 +17 3
19 Cardinals -7 -1 -4 -2 +17 3
20 Falcons +3 -16 +10 0 +1 -2
21 Giants -7 +11 -9 +2 0 -3
22 Buccaneers -5 +4 -13 1 -5 -18
23 Dolphins -8 -28 +3 +1 +10 -22
24 Bills +3 -3 -6 -3 -14 -23
25 Redskins -11 +2 -3 -7 -6 -25
T26 Seahawks -8 -8 -1 +1 -13 -29
T26 Chiefs +1 -3 -4 0 -23 -29
28 Jaguars +2 -4 +4 -4 -30 -32
29 Browns -12 -37 -3 +1 +10 -41
30 Raiders -13 -26 -8 -2 -12 -61
31 Lions -18 -15 -13 0 -17 -63
32 Rams -13 -24 -1 -8 -19 -65
• The Top 13 on this list contain 11 playoff participants (highlighted in bold). Only the Texans and Steelers are in the Top 13 and didn't make the playoffs. And then there are the Cardinals, ranked 19th, and still making the playoffs. Go figure.
• Despite having less than stellar defenses, the Colts and Saints made the Superbowl. Ranked first and third in this Big Play Index, it is only logical that the outcome of the Super Bowl would rest on a big play.
• The data can also be used to understand where team needs may be: Imagine where the Titans could be if they had a pass defense, or where the Texans could be if they had a running game. And then there are the Raiders, Lions and Rams where it may be hard to figure out where to start at all.
• Only one team, the Cardinals of course, made the playoffs with a negative TO differential.
• The Cowboys' area of need according to this table: Takeaways on defense, and perhaps an O-line that protects Tony Romo just a little better.

"You can't give up explosive plays in this league," Cowboys inside linebacker Keith Brooking said in 2009. And if you do, it's always a good idea to counter with a big play or two of your own.

Abigail Klein can get really excited over big plays