Memorial Day Fisher House Drive

I'm sure everyone is looking forward to the upcoming 3-day weekend. I know I am. But with all the traffic on the way to the beach or lake, and all the cookouts and everything else we'll be busy with, it's easy to lose sight of the meaning of Memorial Day. Countless men and women have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our liberty and make the world a safer place.

Memorial Day is a fitting tribute. There were plenty of situations flying in the Navy when I knew I was lucky to be alive after a harrowing flight (often due to my own mistakes). I was always at peace with the danger because if I were killed, all I'd ask in return is that my sacrifice would not be forgotten. I'm sure that's how almost everyone in the military feels: Just remember.

Remembering fallen heroes is important, but there are many men and women who sadly do not get the recognition and honor they have earned. There are many who have been maimed and wounded badly in our recent conflicts, and they are sent to convelesce and rehabilitate in military hospitals around the country, usually far from their loved ones.

Dave Berri Responds

Stumbling On Wins author Dave Berri responds to my analysis of the debate regarding whether top draft pick QBs are really any better than later picks. He has a good point about Elway.

Analyzing the Titans' Decline in 2009

LenDale White thinks the Titans' struggles in 2009 were due to his lack of carries. "I think what happened was in Tennessee they probably got a little too carried away with the Chris Johnson thing," said LenDale. Sour grapes aside, is he on to something? Could Chris Johnson's success caused the Titans to abandon the pass enough to ultimately be a hindrance?

Somehow the Titans went from 13-3 and the #1 seed in 2008 to a non-contender that was lucky to claw back to 8-8 in 2009. Let's break down their WPA and EPA numbers to find out what really caused Tennessee's troubles.

4th Down Briefs

About a year ago I made a powerpoint about when teams should go for it on 4th down. The goal was to have something other than a 4-part blog post or a scholarly research paper that could be used to convince the doubters out there. I never published it because I was never really thrilled with it. I wanted to keep it as short as possible, knowing most people generally don't have lots of time to devote to abstract notions of "Expected Points" in the NFL. The result was an unfortunate eye chart of bullets, sub-bullets, and graphs.

I think it's salvageable with some work, at least as a presentation for a willing audience. But I decided to start over with something much simpler, designed for the uninitiated on the topic. I got the powerpoint religion and abandoned my bullet-ridden format for something I hope is more compelling and more entertaining. My hope is that it's more accessible, and it gets emailed and twittered around a little.

Here is the revised version:

And this was the original which goes into another level of detail:

Individual Defender Stats by Team

Same defensive stats, now organized by team.

Individual player career pages will come next.

How Costly Were Alex Barron's 43 False Starts?

Peter King noted yesterday that former first-rounder Alex Barron, who is being traded from the Rams to the Cowboys this week, was flagged for 43 false starts in his five NFL seasons. To put that in perspective I crunched some numbers.

In terms of Expected Points (EP), Barron's false starts were responsible for the loss of 24.4 potential points for the Rams, or about 5 points per season. In terms of Win Probability (WP), his false starts cost 0.62 wins, or about 0.12 wins per season.

Individual Defender Stats

Here they are, since 2000, broken out by year and position. There are the "playmaker" stats +WPA and +EPA, but there's also Tackle Factor (TF). There are conventional stats too, including interesting stuff like passes defended, tackles for a loss, and QB hits.

For now linebackers are all lumped together, without regard to 3-4 or 4-3 scheme. For that matter, tackles and ends are lumped together as well. In the future I'd like to differentiate positions by scheme.

I also plan to add some more stats. For example, "victories" (or some other lame name) would be the number of plays that a defender made that resulted in a loss of expected points (EP) for the offense. They could be stuffs, passes defended, turnovers, sacks, or even tackles 6-yards deep on 3rd and 7.  I've left success rate (SR) in the tables, but for defenders I think the total number of successes makes more sense.

The tables are sortable, with the default sort key set to +WPA. I think +WPA may be the most interesting stat, but +EPA is going to be a better indicator of long-term player ability.

Measuring Defensive Playmakers

Traditional individual defensive stats don't tell us much. There are tackles, sacks, and turnovers, and that's pretty much it. Recently, I developed "Tackle Factor," a way to make better sense of tackle statistics, at least for the front-seven defenders. It's not perfect, but I think the consensus was that it's a step forward. Still, there's much more that can be done.

Offensive stats are straightforward, but objective defensive stats are problematic. When a running back picks up a 10-yard gain, although other teammates contributed, that's obviously a good play by the ball carrier. And when a running back stumbles at the line for no gain, that's obviously bad. But looking at the same two plays from the other side of the ball is much trickier. A strong safety, say Troy Polamalu, who makes the best play he can by preventing the runner getting past 10 yards, would be be debited for that 10 yard gain. The other four or five defenders who had a chance to make the play sooner, but didn't, aren't mentioned in the play description and wouldn't be docked for the play.

On the other hand, if Polamalu is playing run support, and he reads the play and stuffs the running back at the line, that's certainly to his credit. If only there were a way to credit each defender for plays like this, and at the same time ignore the plays that really should count against his teammates.