Taking a Closer Look at Forte’s Week 1

CHI RB Matt Forte was named the NFC offensive player of the week for his amazing 7-catch, 151-receiving yard, 2-receving TD game against the Lions. When I looked up the advanced stats for RBs, I expected to see him near the top of the list for WPA. I was surprised to find him more than halfway down, posting a net negative WPA. I thought there must be some bug in the system. There’s no way a guy with 151 receiving yards and 2 TDs could have a negative effect on his team’s chances of winning, especially in a victory.

I’m not suggesting that WPA should be the ultimate stat for handing out awards, but taking a closer look at Forte’s plays can reveal a lot about WPA and what kind of events truly affect a team’s chances of winning.

First, let’s look at his positive plays. The two TD catches were by far the biggest in terms of WPA. What wound up being the game-winner came with 1:40 to play on 2 and 18. Forte caught a 28-yd pass in the end zone to take the lead for good. This play was worth +0.25 WPA. The longer catch was actually worth less because the game's leverage was lower when it happened. Forte’s 89-yd catch and run late in the 2nd quarter was worth +0.17.

Forte had only 8 other positive plays, none worth more than +0.04 WPA, including one 17-yd rush, and some small gains toward the end of the game that helped run down the clock. In total, he registered +0.59 positive WPA.

Forte had a great day catching the ball, but he also ran 17 times for only 50 yards, and lost one fumble. Down by 1 point late in the 4th quarter, Forte was stuffed on a 1st and 10 from the DET 40 for a 1-yd gain. This cost -0.07 WPA, a relatively large effect for that kind of play primarily because it helped push CHI further from FG range.

His fumble came in the 2nd quarter on 1st and 10 at the DET 43. DET recovered, costing CHI -0.09 WPA.

But the most costly events occurred on the goal line. Forte was stuffed on 3rd and goal from the 1 in the 1st quarter, costing -0.09 WPA. Then in the 4th quarter, again down by a point, Forte was stuffed on the 1 twice more including once on 4th down. Each stuff cost CHI -0.14 WPA.

Forte had 8 other negative plays, mostly rushes for very short gains. In total, he posted a -0.68 negative WPA, for a net of -0.09 WPA.

This is not intended in any way to be a critique of Forte’s individual performance. It’s virtually impossible to separate individual performance from his teams’ and opponents’, at least quantitatively. Plus, Forte was put into circumstances of time and score beyond his control. But it is interesting that what really matters in games is not always what we think. Gobs of yards and even 2 touchdowns can’t make up for a fumble and a handful of stuffs that would probably never make a highlight real.

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4 Responses to “Taking a Closer Look at Forte’s Week 1”

  1. SportsGuy says:

    I'll critique Forte's performance. His numbers had little to do with his own talent and much more to do with the Lions' D.

    I don't know how much they'll be hurt by Avril's injury, but at full health this DL is one of league's top units. That play in the first Q was blown up by the rookie Suh, who pushed his man into the fullback, and pushed the both of them into Forte.

    The 89-yarder was a screen play that bypassed the DL and got Forte into what is right now almost certainly the NFL's worst back 7.

    Playing against the Lions' D right now is a very high variance affair: either the DL stuffs you or there is a lot of green space in front of you.

    You would have hardly recognized Martz' offense at times. He was giving the OL lots of help from the opening bell.

    But you don't need to look at film. Look at the boxscore. Detroit led the game for about 45.5 minutes. The Bears had problems running, but made huge yardage when Cutler wasn't being sacked or intercepted. Yet Martz still threw the ball only 35 times and ran 31.

    That's because the DL was breathing down Cutler's neck most of the time. Its easily the best unit on the Detroit roster.

  2. John says:

    Awesome breakdown and analysis. I have actually been thinking about this problem for quite a while now. I developed a measure, derived from the Sharpe Ratio, that utilizes standard deviation as a way to break down the WPA data in a meaningful manner. Variance is an extremely important factor in interpreting the WPA numbers. It cuts down on the white noise and allows for greater parsing out of individual player value, sort of like they do in basketball. Coincidentally, I have started doing a lot of this kind of analysis lately on my site. That's why I was very interested to see your mention of it in this article.

    Also if any readers are interested in the style of play by play data that Brian generously offered a few months back, I have just compiled the 2010, Week 1 data in the same format Brian did. Feel free to grab the link and download from my front page:


    Also, congrats on your mention in "The House Advantage". Glad to see your work getting great coverage.

  3. Martin says:

    Wouldn't it be a better way to messure who is the player of the week with EPA or just plain EP? WP(A) shows who's more clucth, while EP(A) shows who's the better player(think how Manning and Brady was compared before Manning won SB41)

  4. Anonymous says:

    You state that, "Forte was put into circumstances of time and score beyond his control". To me, that describes the Leverage Index in baseball, wouldn't WPA/LI number tell you a little more about Forte's day than either WPA or EPA?

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