Jets' and Dolphins' Resurgence in 2008

Why are the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins doing so much better this year compared to last? Their new quarterbacks are immediately credited, but are they the real reason? What about the defense and the running game? And how does Favre's passing numbers compare to the Jets of last year? Are they really any better than those of the Chad Pennington/Kellen Clemens duo from 2007? I'll break down each facet of the game and tell you where each team's improvements have really come from.

The first consideration is strength of schedule. Last season both the Jets and Dolphins faced a tougher than average schedule. With division bully New England finishing the regular season 17-0, each team's opponent average win probability was 0.55. In other words, their opponents averaged a 55% expected winning percentage. That puts both teams in the top 5 in terms of schedule difficulty for 2007.

This year is quite different. The Dolphins opponent average win probability is 0.50, perfectly neutral, meaning their opponents have been league-average in terms of difficulty. The Jets, however, have faced a relatively easier schedule. Their opponents average 0.43 in expected win probability. So both teams can thank an easier schedule so far this year, the Jets more than the Dolphins.

But opponent strength only tells part of the story. Both the Jets and Dolphins have fundamentally improved, most prominently in their offensive passing games. Most analysts will point to total yards or touchdowns scored, but we know those stats can be very misleading. Let's look at efficiency stats for the real story.

The tables below list each team's efficiency stats for all of 2007 and 2008 through week 10. The year-to-year difference in each stat is also listed. Each facet of the game is not equally important, so the bottom row of each table lists the estimated number of wins a team can expect to improve or decline based on the change in each stat. For example, the improvement in Miami's offensive passing efficiency of +2.2 net yards per attempt would normally result in a gain of 3.3 wins over the course of a full season. These estimates are based on a regression model detailed in this article.

Wins +/-+3.1-0.2+0.7+0.6-0.1+0.5-0.9-0.1

Miami's passing game is clearly the biggest difference. Between passing efficiency and interception rate, the passing game alone is responsible for a whopping +3.8 gain in wins. Despite all the attention garnered by the Wildcat offense, the Dolphins' running attack is actually slightly worse this year than in 2007. All together, the Miami offense is responsible for an improvement of +4.2 wins.

Overall, their defense is actually slightly worse this year. Although they are stopping the run better, run defense doesn't translate into many wins. They've also been unlucky in the defensive interception department. All together, the Dolphin defense can be credited with half a loss (-0.5 wins).

Now let's look at the Jets.

Wins +/-+1.2+0.8-0.3-0.2+1.0+0.6-0.5+0.2

The Jets' numbers tell a different story. Their improvement this year has come from both the offense and defense. Favre has helped improve the passing game, but he's throwing interceptions at an even higher rate. The Jets' passing attack is responsible for only +0.9 additional wins over last year. The running game has improved just as much, going from a solidly below average 3.7 yards per rush to a solidly above average 4.6 yards per rush. All together the Jets offense can take credit for an improvement of +1.5 wins.

Their defense is also pulling its fair share of the load. Significant improvements in both running and passing efficiency combine for an improvement of +1.5 estimated wins. Their defensive interception rate has declined slightly from 2007, giving back half a win on average. In total, the Jets' improvements have been across the board in contrast to the Dolphins' offensive passing resurgence.

It's hard to compare Favre and Pennington directly. But the one observation I will make is that a 0.045 interception rate is extremely high. That means about 1 in 20 of Favre's passes are intercepted. Favre, with better receivers and arguably better protection, is achieving 6.2 net yards per attempt--essentially league-average--with that very high interception rate. It's hard to see how a team can continue to win giving up that many interceptions.

Pennington, on the other hand, has faced slightly tougher defenses so far and is getting 7.1 net yards per attempt. And he's doing it with a very low 0.017 interception rate. That's about 1 in 60 passes. Plus, his team's running game isn't nearly as threatening as the Jets'. But wins are the bottom line, and right now New York has the edge.

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2 Responses to “Jets' and Dolphins' Resurgence in 2008”

  1. Brian Burke says:

    Favre vs. the Pats last night--zero ints.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi Brian,nice analysis.
    Here's my take on the improved Jets.

    Last year their run defense was strong up the middle,but teams could get above average yardage if they ran behind their own tackles or ends.This year the Jets are above average at defending the run wherever the opposition tries to run.(There's a slight blip when teams run behind their own right guard,but it's probably a statistical one).

    The passing defense struggled in 2007 at defending passes that went for 20 yards or less and this year they're even worse.They've regressed at defending passes thrown short left,short right and short over the middle.Where they've improved enormously is defending the deep ball.Last season they were good,(above average deep left and middle and average defending deep right balls),but this year they've become even better.

    Their opponents average 8.8 yards per attempt when going deep left,but only 6 .2 ypa when going deep left against the Jets.For deep middle opponents gain 15.2 ypa,but only 9.9 ypa against the Jets and it's 14.6 compared to just 9.8 ypa deep right.

    Offensively on the ground they've improved markedly.Last year they were only above average when running behind the left guard and right end.In 2008 they've build a consistent downhill running game,going for above average gains behind the centre,right guard and right tackle as well the left end.That's helped to turnaround the time of possession.

    On the passing game they're slightly better at throwing the short stuff,but that's balanced by them being worse at throwing deep.Overall I don't think the aerial game's changed much from last term and the increased raw yards per attempt seems to stem from the weaker pass defenses they've faced in 2008 compared to 2007.

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