Super Bowl coaches love Quality Stats!
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Feb 27, 2011
By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Oscar winner of analysis
The Cold, Hard Football Facts are built upon a simple but oft overlooked premise: there are stats in football that everybody talks about. And then there are those stats that actually matter when it comes time to win football games.
We call the latter "Quality Stats." In short, they value efficiency numbers over meaningless volume numbers.
Turns out we're in good company. Super Bowl XLV-contending defensive coordinators Dom Capers of Green Bay and Dick LeBeau of Pittsburgh feel the exact same way that we do about the value of efficiency over volume.
Yet it's funny that the numbers we value remain in the shadows of wider football analysis. In fact, we'd argue that the sport of American football could not be more misunderstood statistically by the pigskin public, even by those you would expect to know better.
This country is obsessed with football. It's bigger than sport. It's a defining aspect of a unique American culture. But even then, so few are in tune with what matters statistically on the football field.
For example, networks that cover the NFL insist on posting a quarterback's total passing yards on the screen, and not his yards per attempt. Put bluntly: they're misleading the viewer into believing that passing yards have some connection to the score. But you, the CHFF reader, know that passing volume is meaningless and that passing efficiency means everything.
For a little comparison, imagine if baseball broadcasts put up on the screen a batter's total number of hits instead of his batting average or, more recently, his OPS. It'd be a waste of time and space.
They same thing goes when posting defensive indicators. Networks, broadcasters and various other pigskin "pundits" insist on ranking pass defenses by the number of yards they allow. If they really wanted to inform the viewer they'd rank them by yards per attempt allowed or, even better, by Defensive Passer Rating.
But we're happy to learn that Capers and LeBeau, two legends of modern defensive football, break down the game just like we do – by looking at critical Quality Stats that value efficiency over volume. We recently got confirmation from both coaches themselves.
Sharp-eyed CHFF reader Logan McDermott sent us this link from Packers.com on Friday. It was a mailbag with longtime football writer Vic Ketchman, who had recently interviewed Capers.
Writes McDermott to us: "I was just reading an article on Packers.com and something caught my eye. Apparently Dom Capers is also a big fan of passer rating differential, as I know you guys are at CHFF."
Here's Ketchman: "During our most recent chat (Capers) dropped a new one on me: quarterback passer rating differential. He explained that the Packers enjoyed a 40-some point advantage in passer rating differential during the postseason. I have no doubt that's a coach Capers original. He's an amazing coach."
Two things from this quote jump out: 1) the fact that a guy like Ketchman, a great, longtime and highly respected football writer, is ignorant of Passer Rating Differential, highlights the generally sorry state of football analysis in this country.
And 2), we agree with Ketchman that Capers is an amazing coach. But Passer Rating Differential is not necessarily a Capers original. It's a Cold, Hard Football Facts Quality Stat that we've tracked each week for the past two seasons and have chronicled throughout all of pro football history.
As CHFF readers know, Passer Rating Differential has an incredible correlation to victory. The No. 1 team in Passer Rating Differential in 2009 was New Orleans (+37.4). They won the Super Bowl. They No. 1 team in Passer Rating Differential in 2010 was Capers' Packers (+31.7). They, too, won the Super Bowl.
Teams who win the Passer Rating Differential battle within a given game, meanwhile, historically win more than 80 percent of all NFL contests (more on that phenomenon during the offseason).
And as we noted recently, the average NFL champion since 1940 was an incredible +27.4 in Passer Rating Differerntial.
We're not saying Capers got Passer Rating Differential from us. But we are saying that great coaches look at the same data that we do. Therefore, you should trust our data, too.
Capers is not alone in his affinity for "Quality Stats" that value efficiency numbers over the volume numbers which fans and media obsess about. Defensive coordinator extraordinaire Dick LeBeau of the Steelers is in our corner, too.
Here's an interview we did with Pittsburgh's TribLive Media at a Steelers party in Dallas the day before the Super Bowl. That's host Ken Laird on the left, yours truly in the middle and former Steelers DB DeShea Townsend on the right, being inundated by autograph seekers. Go to the 8:10 mark, when Laird brings up LeBeau's affinity for efficiency indicators as a way to measure his defenses.
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Townsend, a member of Pittsburgh's Super Bowl champion teams of 2005 and 2008, puts down the pen long enough to tell us that LeBeau is a "true believer" in efficiency indicators and would bring a long list of stats into the locker room that measured the efficiency of his defenses. "We have stats of 2.0 per run, 4.5 a pass," said Townsend. The Cold, Hard Football Facts track both of these indicators, too.
We track yards per rush against as part of our mighty Defensive Hog Index. Pittsburgh was No. 1 in 2010, by the way (3.0 YPA).
More importantly, we track yards per pass against as part of Defensive Passer Rating. Interestingly, Townsend was a member of a 2008 Steelers defense that produced one of the most remarkable efficiency numbers in recent history.
The 2008 Steelers allowed just 5.37 yards per pass attempt. They were light years ahead of the No. 2 team in 2008, Baltimore, which allowed 5.93 yards per pass attempt. Pittsburgh was also the No. 1 team in yards per pass allowed in 2010 (6.31 YPA) – once again, just a head of Baltimore (6.34 YPA).
But those are gross numbers. You should look at how the 2008 Steelers performed when we take into account the impact of sacks. LeBeau's crew, including Townsend, surrendered just 4.71 yards per pass attempt during that championship season.
That number was so good it compared favorably to many of the great defenses of the Steel Curtain Era back in the 1970s – an era when the Steelers dominated because they dominated on pass defense.
By the way, for a little perspective on the 4.71 yards per pass attempt that Pittsburgh allowed in 2008, keep in mind that six teams that season surrendered more yards per attempt on the ground.
More perspective: Detroit in 2008 fielded the worst pass defense in NFL history, with a 110.8 Defensive Passer Rating. The Lions, not coincidentally, are the only 0-16 team in NFL history. Notice a trend here, folks?
Great pass defense = champs.
Worst pass defense ever = worst record ever.
Put in terms of yards per attempt, the Lions surrendered 8.39 yards per pass attempt – nearly 4 full yards more per attempt than the Steelers. It's the wide disparity in efficiency between great passing units and bad passing units (on both sides of the ball) that make passing efficiency so critical to success in the NFL.
Put most simply, you do NOT understand football if you do not value efficiency over volume. We know this. You, the loyal CHFF reader, knows this. And, it turns out, the game's greatest coaches know this, too. So you're in good company.
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