Thursday, January 22, 2009

I recently read a post on Truehoop about Darius Miles.  He is a player who was coming off knee surgery and was trying to find his way back into the league.  In the process, he tried out for several teams.  One of these teams was the Celtics, and this is what he said:

"So far, Miles' physical condition, coming off major knee surgery, hasn't proved to be a major setback. 'When I went to training camp with the Celtics they established in me that you play hard every time you're in a game and in practice,' Miles said. 'Seeing what a championship team does made me realize that you have to work hard every time and that's what I'm going to do.'"

This again emphasizes the effort aspect of play.  If the average level of intensity is 70% for a game, the Celtics are at maybe 90% for a given practice or game.  Or maybe 85%.  Either way, it is sustained superior effort that helps them win games that they might not win ordinarily.  Conversely, some teams will be below 70% effort. 

I think teams that would be giving out minimum effort, or individual players giving minimum effort, would be players with guaranteed contracts, veteran players, and players on losing teams.  
Players with no hope yet.  Younger players with more at stake will tend to give more effort, teams doing better than the year before and with a defineable goal (either making the playoffs or winning a championship are the only two I would consider "major).  Lastly, players in a contract year.

Look at Baron Davis: Last year he played in every game because it was a contract year.  Now he has a 62 million dollar contract on losing team and hasn't played in many games while shooting his lowest percentage from the field ever.  He is giving maybe 50% effort right now.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII: we've seen this before (sort of)

In the aftermath of the Cardinals' and the Steelers' victories, I read something very intersting.

Ken Whisenhunt was the tight-ends coach of the Steelers from 2001-2003, and the offensive coordinator from 2004-2006, including their Super Bowl run.  

He interviewed for the Head Coach position but lost to Tomlin; in the aftermath, he left the organization and went to the Cardinals.  So the Steelers thought they had seen the last of their former coach;  he's back, with a strong team.

And the reason I bring this up is because Super Bowl XXXVII (37) was very similar to this situation.  We have a former coach going up against his old team.  

SB 37:  Jon Gruden faces his old team (Raiders).  Gruden was one year removed from the job.  Gruden was head coach of Raiders and Bucs. 

SB 43:  Ken Whisenhunt faces his old team (Steelers).  Whisenhunt is two years removed from the job.  Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator, now is head coach.  

So this is now the third time in recent memory that something like this has happened:  SB 37, when San Francisco hosted Detroit (with Mike Martz, Detroits offensive coordinator from last season, as our new offensive coordinator).  The result both times has been the coach on the new team helping his new team dominate the old one.  

I've seen this twice in the pro-league and both times its been a bad loss for the former team.  Will it happen a third time?  

Remember: the Cardinals are good too.  And the game will be played in warm weather.  The Steelers are a cold-weather team with a great defense travelling to  a warm weather city to play a fast, dome offense.  Sounds just like when the Colts played the Bears.  

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Random Football Facts

One would think that an intense rivalry game would feature more penalties, specifically personal fouls, maybe offsetting personal fouls, late hits, etc.  

More-penalized games tend to be low scoring because the penalties hurt the offense.  

Also, here is a post by Jim Glass with some interesting data. 

Tom Brady's passing rating when: 
Ahead by 9-16 .... 136 
Ahead ............. 99 
Behind............. 67 
Behind by 9-16 .... 57 

This suggests that when teams are forced to pass, and the defense expects a pass, it gets progressively harder to throw well.  

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Conference Championships

Looking at your post about the luckiest teams (and actual games where the Eagles lost at the end of games) its surprising to think that a 12.1 win team (Eagles) would be road underdogs to a 8.2 win team especially win the 8.2 win team is from the NFC West. Concerning the Ravens/Steelers, we saw the Giants lose to Dallas twice in the regular season before finally solving the riddle at Dallas in the playoffs. The Ravens were so close both times and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they won. They have Superbowl experience, great leadership (Ray Lewis), and a good defense. That is a recipe for victory.

Lastly, if you look at how the Cardinals won, it was by intercepting the QB five times. But they only had 13 in the entire regular season. They average less than one per game. So perhaps they defense is playing really well. But its more likely that Carolina's offense was just really bad.

The toughest things to figure out are absolute measures of a team. I think I would have to have a great understanding of a team and watch the game three times at a minimum to figure out how good a team is. If the Cardinals defense is say, a 60 on a 100 point scale, but Carolina and Delhomme play at a 20 level, the Cards will really do well . But if Carolina plays at a 60 but the Cards at a 40, it will look worse for the Cards.

So the two concepts are the *normal skill* or average, median, mean, typical, or baseline, performance level of an a team unit. Then there are certain factors applied to it, for motivation, correct game planning, fatigue, familiarity between teams and players, etc. These factors can boost or reduce a teams number.

As an analyst one has to figure out the baseline level and then the true level. And these concepts can be difficult to discern because there is no easy way to measure them. A defense can only be graded relative to the offense it is playing against, which also has a myriad of its own factors. No home-boosted offense plays a home-boosted defense.
These are the problems I have to solve. The first is just watching a game several times. I've never watched a game more th an once. What if I watched it five times? What if I watched every game that a football team played all season five times?

Then I would have a tremendous understanding of that one team.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The importance of Run Defense

I just read an excellent post about the importance of Run Defense over at the blog "Advanced NFL Stats" located at  .   Its also one of the blogs that I follow.

The gist of the blog is that the team with better run defense wins 67% of games in the playoffs yet only 48% of the time in the regular season.  

I hope that those win percentages were calculated after the season with "end of season" ranks rather than updated after each game throughout the season.  

Here is a comment I made after reading their article:

Part of the problem when analyzing statistics over a long period is changes in the way statistics are measured. 

This doesn't have as big of an effect in football but in basketball, who gets credited with assists, steals, and some rebounds are depending on the scoring table and changes in how they are perceived. 

The other major thing I'd point out is the *absolute* strength of a team's run defense. Some years the best run defense in the league might be (if it were transported through time) only the fifth or sixth best in the league now (or vice versa). So maybe what matters is that your run defense is "good enough" rather than simply "top ten". The first term is an measure of absolute skill, the second a relative term.

The concept of being "good enough" rather than using relative rank is something I got from reading Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" where he discusses that once you are "smart enough" you can succeed to the highest levels in out society and excess intelligence is not a predictor of how well you do; one simply has to be "smart enough".  

Also, consider that players playing the playoffs are trying harder than the regular season. Think about it, intensity and physicality go up in the playoffs, the refs are less inclined to alter a game with borderline penalties, players are typically more experienced, more veteran, better able to get away with physical play. 

Coaches don't want to "get fancy" and risk losing their job because of poor play calling. Remember: conservatism is rewarded in the NFL by owners and fans alike. Its much easier to blame the offensive line if you get stuffed on 4th and 2 than to blame them if you try a halfback pass on 4th and 2 and the fan base calls for you to be fired because of a single bad outcome in a special play.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Plaxico Burress: what is his effect?

I read today that since Plaxico Burress left the Giants they were 1-3 in the regular season (and the one win was in overtime) and then lost in the playoffs.  So why the big difference?  

Well, Eli Manning is the best down-field passer in the NFL.  I can't remember the site where i read it, but the statistics supported him being the best and most accurate down-field passer.  Plaxico Burress, at 6-5 232 pounds is like a power forward, able to break past receivers who jam him at the line to go down field.  His replacement is 6-2, 185.  About a fifty pound and 3 inch difference.  

Domenick Hixon may have good NFL-level skills as a receiver, but the way he plays may be much more different.  He may go across the middle more, take longer to get downfield, or run faster in routes.  The difference isn't just production, but how he affects the playcalling.  

So Burress' absence may have affected the play-calling (because the receivers have different strengths) and the Giants might have to adjust blocking for different routes, seams, and different lengths of plays.  

The effect is much greater because Burress is such a specialized player with unique talents.  Its much different than a generic wide receiver.  And his strength is also Eli Manning's strength (downfield).  

Topics for research

Some topics I'd like to investigate at some point are:

Which pick's are the quarterbacks faults and which are the fault of receivers.  Interceptions are such a discreet event, either a full interception or the pass is simply recorded as incomplete or even caught by the intended receiver.

Also, no information is given if an interception happened at the end of a game in a meaningless throw, if it was a bad read, a bad route, or the receiver bobbled it and a defender caught it.  That woudl give a much more accurate assesment of how good a quarterback is.

For college (and pros to some degree) a measurement of how "professional" a team is.  Do they allow big run-backs on special teams?  Sloppy punt coverage?  How much effort to they put into pinning back a team.

How much does the relative strength of a division help or hurt the division or conference champions?  

This question regards the strength of a division in the NFL.  If you win a division with a lot of soft teams, does that mean you are worse (because you played bad teams) or good (because you are more rested)?  

Same with conferences in college, does it help to have played better teams throughout the season?  

And how is ranking determined in college football?  Because it could be a case of the national attention focusing elsewhere and inflating the relative rankings of an entire conference.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

BCS Championship Game Analysis part 2

I've been continuing to think the BCS national championship game and the hype leading up to it.  

The over/under was seventy points and I'm beginning to think that it was ridiculously high for the game.  

To score seventy points in the game, each team would have to score 35 points (average).  The most the gators gave up all season was 31; the second most was 21.

To score so many points (like the 49 they hung on the Georgia Bulldogs, the 56 they hung on South Carolina) you have to not just win, but dominate both sides of the ball.  In the South Carolina game Florida jumped out to a quick 21 point lead.  It took them FOUR OFFENSIVE PLAYS and went for a total of 31 YARDS!  

They returned a pick for a score, a pick to the 1 yard line, and recovered a turnover at the twenty six yard line and then scored one pass later.  

So to rack up so many points you have to have an effective offense (the Gators had a drive of one play, 80 yards rushing for a score) and a dominant defense that not only stops the other team, but takes the ball away to get massive gains in field position.  

Urban Meyer is notorious for emphasizing field position and winning the field position battle.  That means getting maximum yards on kick returns and kickoffs, punts and punt returns, and pinning the opponent back.  Well if you can execute and win those battles but force turnovers, you can score a ton of points, more than is the true difference in skill just because you have such better opportunities.  

OU and Bob Stoops I'm sure do the same thing when they decimated Texas Tech.  

But when two teams like that play each other then everything cancels out.  There is no huge advantage in field position for one team over the other.  No team is getting a big field position advantage and also forcing their opponents into three and outs.  

So why would it be high scoring??

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Book review: Moving the Chains

I recently read "Moving the chains: Tom Brady and the pursuit of everything" by Charles P. Pierce.  

It focuses primarily on Tom Brady and his personality, values, and demeanor.  It gives extensive detail about his Catholic upbringing, his relationship with his father, mother, and sisters, and the role football and baseball played in his youth.  

It is low on details of football; the author apparently decided to write the book based on the 2005 season, which was when they were coming off of two straight super bowl wins and struggled throughout the season before losing to Denver in the playoffs.  

It doesn't discuss much except focus on his relationships with different mentors and personalities. 

Don't read it unless you and deeply interested in his personality and relationships.

Thoughts on the NFL divisional round playoffs

Well earlier I wrote briefly about the wild-card round.  This round features the Ravens squaring off against the Titans.  

The Titan's center has been scratched for the second straight game.  Now they are going up against a very veteran team in the form of the Ravens, and specifically a veteran defense that I'm sure can make up some very confusing blitz packages and try to overwhelm the center and offensive line in general.

I also read about how this year the eagles "don't know how to win close games".  They are 1-5-1 in games decided by games less than seven points.  In this situation, thats a good thing.  Because they still had a record of 9-6-1, it means only one loss was "bad".  I didn't watch every Eagles game, or any for that matter, but losing lots of close games and still making the playoffs means you are better than your record represents. 

Not only are you better, but 8 of their wins are by more than seven points!  The random bounce of the ball or one play can make a team win or lose.  Close games rarely provide a clear answer as to who is better.  But being 1-5-1 in close games with a 9-6-1 record?  That means you are really good, and a few bad bounces away from being great.

The same goes for the Ravens when compared to the Steelers and Titans.  They had very close a nd sometimes controversial losses to those guys; so they believe they can win and are essentially equals.  

Remember: if the Ravens played the Ravens, one team would win and one would lose.  It doesn't always mean one team is better than another.  

Friday, January 9, 2009

NFL Playoffs

I thought the Ravens would beat the Dolphins last week.  I also thought the Colts would blow out the Chargers but again it was a case of the Charger's record being worse than their actual skill because of several late season losses.  

The Ravens are a verteran team.  

later today I'll post on the national championship game and some predictions/notes for the upcoming week.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Celtics and Bobcats

I just read a comment from Larry Brown when they played the Cavaliers. They lost on the road by thirty points, 111 - 81.  Despite upsetting the Celtics the previous night, they came out today and played very poorly.

Their coach Larry Brown said "The first minute of the game, you look out there and feel like you've got no chance. It's disappointing."  

He continued with ""We never competed a lick," coach Larry Brown said. "There's some players that some of our guys play against they don't think they have a chance. If you look at our history, maybe that's why you don't win. You don't expect to win"

Lastly, Brown said ""They played harder, they played better, they wanted to win more," Brown said. "The first play of the game, the game was over in my mind. LeBron just dribbled in and laid it up like nobody was guarding him."

Some interesting things to note in this case.  

It was the second of a back to back series for Charlotte.  

The first game was at home, the second was on the road at Cleveland.

Their two opponents were the top two teams in the East.

They upset the Celtics.

It was an overtime victory.

The team has very low expectations for the season.

The Cavs are undefeated at home.  

The Bobcats coach is experienced, has a few rings, and proven.  He is not "hungry".  

Cleveland was favored by 14.5 points.  

Cleveland is in a push for the number one seed in the East and isn't likely to play lightly or take any games off.

This combination of factors resulted in a 30 point loss which the coach described as a game that the team was incapable of winning and was over before it started. 

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Some thoughts on College Football

It would be interesting to do some research on the following topics:

Homefield advantages for each team.

Percent chance of winning based on the spread for different teams (historically).

Also, Utah had a really loud crowd in the Sugar Bowl. It was no home game for Alabama.

Conference Records in the Bowl Season

Conference records in the bowl season are a good indication of conference's relative strengths.

End-of-season rankings are a much better indication of relative skill than early season rankings.

So when the PAC-TEN was 4-0 heading into USC's matchup with Penn state, you knew USC was good.

And how can we use this for predictions? Well, Utah just put the hurt on the SEC's #2 team by the same score that Alabama was beat by Florida (almost).

Opposing date: Ole Miss beating up on Texas Tech, show's TT is not that strong. But Ole Miss is very good this year.

What does that mean? I would consider Oklahoma to be a bigger version of Utah, which did quite well against Bama. However, Bama didn't have their All-American left tackle, and had to switch up their entire offensive line against the Ute's feriocious and confusing defensive line/LB rush.

This is the second time that a prominent offensive lineman has been scratched before a big game and both times the teams have lost. The first being Raiders/Bucs in the Super Bowl when their center was scratched the night before the game.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

2nd quarter of Rose Bowl

The key has been the passing game.  The Penn State corners can not cover the USC wide receivers or their defensive scheme is just inadequate.  

Either way this aerial attack looks like it is just dominant.  And of course that is opening up the running game and running attack.  

Also USC's defense had some crucial third down stops and third and short but they were all running attacks.  One was off tackle and one was up the middle.  Both were stopped.  

1st quarter of Rose Bowl

What stood out to me the most was Penn State's offensive line holding back the USC rush.  Their QB was able to stand in the pocket and pick out the open targets and complete the passes.  

So far no turnovers and really no penalties of consequence.  One fumble was overturned by penalty but the penalty (offsides) was what allowed the fumble to happen in the first place.  

Neither team has been able to rush the ball with much success so they have been going to the air for big plays.

Thoughts on the Rose Bowl pregame

I think this is a classic case of cognitive biases coming together to make me think that USC and Penn State is a mismatch.

The statistics for each team are very similar.
USC's offense coordinator has been hired by Washington to be head coach but is still going to call the game.
Penn State has really packed the stadium with their fans.
Penn State has a bunch of seniors on the team who want to win.
USC is mostly underclassmen.
I doubt USC is that pumped up for the game.
10 points is a big spread.

So to conclude I'd have to say that I think Penn State has a great chance of covering.

Quick Guesses

Here are some quick bowl game guesses and thoughts on the recent bowls:

1) I was really surprised that LSU blew out Ga Tech like they did.

2) I think that USC will beat Penn State handily.

3) Happy New Year

Plans for the New Year:

Advertise on facebook groups for the Network, which is currently unnamed.
Advertise for my blog to try and get feedback and find other bloggers like me out there.