Roundup 11/8

A new site from the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective looks promising. (But what's with the term "Collective?" What happened to "Club?") Here they look at 2-point conversion decisions.  They also look at what effect the new wedge rule might be having on kickoff distances (not much, especially if you consider the weather is about to get a lot worse). Do teams with RB committees run better than teams with a feature back? How much more accurate are FG attempts when kicked indoors? Overall, the site asks some neat questions and is definitely headed in the right direction.

Greg Easterbrook on coaching: "One factor here is the Illusion of Coaching. We want to believe that coaches are super-ultra-masterminds in control of events, and coaches do not mind encouraging that belief. But coaching is a secondary force in sports; the athletes themselves are always more important. TMQ's immutable Law of 10 Percent holds that good coaching can improve a team by 10 percent, bad coaching can subtract from performance by 10 percent -- but the rest will always be on the players themselves, their athletic ability and level of devotion, plus luck."

I'd mostly agree with Easterbrook, however I'd say that a good coach can make a good team 10% better, but a bad coach can absolutely ruin a good team. In most cases though, the NFL rarely features coaches bad enough to do that kind of damage simply because the league is considered the top of its profession. I think the bigger point is that modern coaching, beyond the leadership aspect, is mostly about the illusion of control.

Another chalk talk from Smart Football, this time about the smash route vs man coverage. Here's another post on zone run blocking. I can't get enough of these Xs & Os posts. I'm really hungry for this kind of analysis, and we rarely get it on TV or elsewhere. Last Sunday I saw Mariucci (who's usually a buffoon) on NFL Network explain how, on one type of screen play, the TE needs to block against the zone but can just drag off his coverage against man-to-man by running a short crossing route. I thought, gosh, that makes so much sense. Why can't we get more analysis like that?

Jason Lisk finds that non-divisional opponents are 96-182 (0.345 win %, which indicates a very strong home field advantage) when visiting a new stadium for the first time. This supports the environmental familiarity theory of home field advantage, but Jason says the small sample size doesn't let us make any definitive conclusions. I'm more optimistic. If we say that the "true" HFA win % in the NFL should be .570, then the .655 Jason found with n=278 is solidly significant (p=.002). This isn't to say we can be certain that new stadiums cause exactly a .655 win %, but it does mean some systematic effect is at work. There may be some bias in the data due to one effect or another (average/middling teams tend to show higher home win % for example), but it's not sample size that's holding us back from drawing an inference.

Neil Paine uses Doug Drinen's SRS ratings to find the best 2-game stretches. The Ravens' 2000 Playoff/Super Bowl run takes the #1,#2, and #4 spots.

Neil also points out just how bad the Browns and Derek Anderson in particular have been. Anderson had that one promising year, so he's kind of a head-scratcher. I realize the team around him was better in 2007, but this year he's just a disaster. Two years ago he threw for 29 TDs and 6.8 Net Yards per Attempt. So far this year he has 2 TDs and 3.7 netYPA. Looking back at his career year, there may have been some indications that he wasn't all he was cracked up to be. His Int rate was 3.6%, well worse than average, and his completion % was 56.5%, which is very low for someone you'd think was breaking out.

Here's another article on Kevin Kelly, the high school coach who never punts. It's interesting is to read the comments of some notable college coaches. Texas Tech's Mike Leach says “It’s an interesting idea. Statistically, there’s definitely some validity to it." Michigan State's Mark Dantonio says "Often, it’s simply a gut decision. Is the timing right and do you have the confidence in your offense to execute the play against the defense that’s called?” LSU's Les Miles says, "To me, it’s a statistic, a position, a feel that gives a coach the, ‘This is the right time to do this.’"

Lastly, from the baseball world, here's a great post on game theory in pitching from Fangraphs.

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2 Responses to “Roundup 11/8”

  1. Guy says:

    Brian: Regarding Lisk's study, don't you need to account for the strength of these 12 teams, and the visiting teams? I don't think you can treat them as random selections and do a signficance test. These twelve teams, in their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th seasons in the new stadiums (whem many of the first-time visits must have occured), were a combined .564 overall. If you assume a HFA of 70 points, we'd expect them to be about .634 at home -- not that much lower than Lisk found. If the first-time visitors happened to be slightly below average (which they likely were, since these 12 teams are above average), that could account for the other 20 points.

    I can believe HFA advantage is weaker in year 1 than in later years. But does a big effect on visitors seem likely? A lot of out-of-conference players must be visiting a stadium for the first time in every game (because they are younger players). Conversely, even in a first-time visit by a franchise, some visiting players will have been in the stadium before (when playing for a different team). So I'm not sure how big an impact on visiting teams is plausible.

  2. denis says:

    Also re Lisk's numbers.IIRC the elevated home field for games involving teams visiting a new stadium for the first time in the last decade is primarily down to the home records of the Ravens and the Pats.

    Take these two teams out of the equation and home teams welcoming first time visitors win at about the rate you'd expect allowing for the quality of opposition.

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