When debating the relative values of individual player contributions to a football team, the first things thrown onto the table are usually volume stats of some form or another. Let's take the Cam Newton over Tony Romo for the Pro Bowl debate, for example. Cam Newton threw for oh-so-many yards (4,051 to 4,184) and touchdowns (21 to 31), for a rookie. Sure, but look at his interceptions (17 to 10 - if you're keeping score at home, Romo's superior in every category...but that's besides the point).
From there, the argument typically evolves to efficiency stats. Yards-per-attempt and touchdown to interception ratio come into play. The overall perspective of the discussion is improved by the content and quality of the available data.
Once this supply of readily available statistics is exhausted, however, you start seeing a few other terms squeezed in. Things like "clutchness" and "heart" and "leadership." Others will try to assign credit, or blame, improperly. Think back to some of Romo's "chokes" and Tim Tebow's, well, "Tebows" - exceptional quarterback play should not warrant blame for a loss, and exceptionally poor play should not warrant credit for a win.
See what exactly I'm getting at after the jump...
If it seemed like something was missing from that breakdown of a common sports discussion, you're right. I left out the Pro Football Focus (PFF) grading system. Typically, these will enter the conversation between the advanced metrics and the outright lies. But what are they? Essentially, they are subjective conglomerations of the opinions of employees of a commercial entity.
My problem with PFF, today, is this: despite reviewing every play of every game, PFF does not see fit to evaluate special teams play. For those of us interested in examining the potential of certain bubble players to stick to the roster, this information gap may leave us feeling a bit let down. It would seem that, given proper camera angles, it'd be awfully simple to evaluate special teams play. But then, when you think about it, the camera angles on special teams are typically terrible. Oh well, we'll have to wait until the All 22 film is released (assuming it ever is).
As fans, we'd better pay attention to our kickers. Dan Bailey knocked in 135 points for the Cowboys last season, which isn't too bad when compared with Tony Romo's 192 points. Adding in the lamentable lack of points from the ground game obviates the significance of the kicker's contribution to total scoring output.
To evaluate kickers, we typically look at their accuracy. (If David Buehler were still here, we might also consider kick off range, 40-yard dash times, career tackles, and punt coverage ability). Traditionally, accuracy is simply total attempts divided by total successful kicks. To be fair to the kickers, however, I feel one significant change must be made. In order to only score the kicker, the total number of attempts should be reduced by the number of attempts blocked, so that only kicks with a chance to be good are included in the data. Using this information, I've calculated the league rankings for all four kickers in the NFC East.
|Team||Kicker||FGM||FGA||Blocked||Net FG%||League Rank*|
*Shayne Graham, although 2 for 2 last season, was not included in this ranking due to small sample size. His statistics were included in the league average.
Admittedly, Dan Bailey's one blocked FG did not significantly impact his accuracy. It did, however, put him rightfully atop the rankings for the NFC East (in which I gave precedence to players with more attempts). Graham Gano was significantly benefited by my statistical revision, having a full five misses taken off the books.
The first thing to take away from this (aside from the obvious acknowledgement of Dan Bailey's excellence) is that, in the NFC East, even the kicking is disproportionately good. Every kicker in the division came out ahead of the league average net field goal percentage (85.4%).
The next thing that I noticed is somewhat disturbing. If you order the teams in the NFC East by field goals attempted, you're left with the division standings from last season. Even more conspicuous is that no team had fewer than the New York Giants and Lawrence Tynes' 24 attempts last season. While further research shows that fewer field goal attempts does not necessarily mean a better team (the Arizona Cardinals were tied with the Giants last season), there is something to be said for teams that don't have to trot out their kickers three plays after a first and goal.
Over the past 7 seasons, only once did the eventual Super Bowl champion team attempt more than 30 field goals during the regular season - Pittsburgh's Jeff Reed attempted 31 field goals during the 2008 season.
I'm glad that Dan Bailey can convert on nearly 90 percent of his opportunities. I'm not so thrilled that he's forced to do so on such a regular basis. So it seems: Field Goals win games, but Touchdowns win championships.