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WELCOME to QuantCoach.com, the only site on the world-wide web that provides meaningful professional football coaching statistics. QuantCoach.com's revolutionary coaching statistics are derived from a peer-reviewed and generally accepted theory of competition known as Growth Theory. Veteran coach Bill Parcells once said, "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." But Growth Theory teaches us that success "springs from better recipes, not just from more cooking." In professional football, those "recipes" are the plays that coaches design. Simply, QuantCoach.com's coaching statistics separate the contribution of plays to pro football success from the contribution of players.

THE ARCHIVES (2016-Part 3)

The Browns Doctor Is "In" : Weeks 3 and 4 Therapy Session

Dr. QC apologizes for canceling your appointment last week. But his computer crashed like the Browns in the fourth quarter.

The good news is the computer seems to have healed itself and is now functioning smoothly. Hue Jackson could only wish his team could do the same.

Cleveland fell to Miami in Week 3 and Washington in Week 4 because Jackson's players violated QC's 8th Commandment (Special teams involve almost no play design) and 9th Commandment (Turnovers are player-playmaking failures, not play design failures). If K Cody Parkey had made a field goal at the gun in Miami and the Browns had not suffered 3 fourth quarter turnovers after rallying to take a 20-17 lead in Washington, Cleveland could be waiting for New England, including Tom Brady, with a 2-2 record instead of its current 0-4 slate.

It is true, as Bill Parcells once observed, that a coach is what his record says he is. But it is still wise to dig down below the most obvious result statistics--wins and losses--to evaluate whether a team is getting better. (As an aside, it is rarely mentioned that Bill Parcells' career record was 55-57 without Bill Belichick's play design, but that is a different story, which you can scroll down to find here.)

Jackson has the Browns ground game in high gear. Cleveland ranks No. 1 in the NFL in both yards per carry and yards gained on 1st-and-10. As a result, Jackson has kept rookie QB Cody Kessler out of turnover infested waters. (Kessler's only interception in 2 games came after two lost fumbles by Cleveland running backs left him looking uphilll at an 11-point Q4 deficit against the Redskins.)

DC Ray Horton's frightfully young defenders also have shown signs of life for stretches. Despite below average pass pressure (.291 sack yards lost per pass attempt; .400 is average), the Browns are giving up almost a whole yard less per pass attempt as measure by QCYPA (7.696 v. 8.517 in 2015, No. 31 in the NFL).

Winning and losing in the NFL is separated by a thin line. The Browns' play design differential, -2.91%, is virtually thes same as it was last year, -2.34%, when Cleveland was 1-3. And their turnover differential, -1 TO, is better than it was at this time last year, -3 TO.

Belichick and the Patriots arrive in Cleveland 4.63% better designed, +3 TO, and with a 3-1 record. But if Arizona K Chandler Cantanzaro had been true on his FG attempt on the last play of the game in Week 1 and the Houston Texans had not fumbled away not one, but two, kickoff returns in Week 3, New England might be 1-3.

A coach is what his record says he is. But it would be imprudent to fail to recognize that sometimes bad luck (or good luck) plays a formative role in that record. And, like QC's computer, luck can heal itself.

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QC's Week 3 Thoughts

The Patriots, Vikings, Eagles and Cowboys are 12-0 ATS and 11-1 straight up. What do they have in common? None of them have had the QB that in the off-season they expected to be their starting QB take a single snap. It is often said, “The NFL is a QB driven league.” We often hear that no price is too great to pay to move up in the draft to pick a potential franchise QB. Yet, these teams are nearly perfect with Jimmy Garapolo (2RD), Jacoby Brissett (3RD), Sam Bradford (acquired via trade), Carson Wentz (1RD) and Dak Prescott (3RD) under center. It would seem that this is pretty clear evidence that NFL success is driven by more than QB play.

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Yes, Bill Belichick is a genius. And this may be the best defense he has had in quite some time. The Patriots D completely stifled DeAndre Hopkins and all of Houston’s new acquisitions (QB Brock Osweiler, RB Lamar Miller and WR Will Fuller.) But it was special teams that lost this game. The Texans twice fumbled kickoffs and the Patriots recovered. The miscues directly led to 10 New England points. As QC always says, "You can't feed the Patriots. You have to make them hunt."

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Bruce Arians has been getting a lot of well-earned praise for his play design for the past few years. But the Cardinals play designer delivered a stinker in a 33-18 to the unraveling Bills. New York Jets’ QB Ryan Fitzpatrick shredded Rex Ryan’s pass D just 10 days ago. But Arizona QB Carson Palmer could do nothing against the same coverage, less CB starting CB Ronald Darby. DC James Betcher’s design on D was even worse. It looked like Arizona had never seen or prepared for option football. The Bills averaged over 10 yards per carry in the first half and 6.5 per carry for the game. That was better than the QCYPA posted by either team. It is rare that one NFL team simply runs over its opponent. And with the Bills promoting RB coach Anthony Lynn to OC after firing Greg Roman, Betcher had to know the Bills were going to attack on the ground. Defending the option is simple assignment football. But the Cardinals were not prepared.

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Regression to the mean is still undefeated. QC “5 Best Guesses” were all against teams that were 0-2 ATS going into Week 3 (Bills, Colts, Giants, Seahawks, and Packers). Only Green Bay, who jumped to a huge early lead and was never in danger of losing, failed to cover. This is the problem with handicapping based on play design. It lures into a very false sense that little will change when in reality great week-to-week change is a constant possibility in the NFL. Oh well. Back to the chalkboard.

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QC's 5 Best Guesses: Week 3

Since 2012, the Packers, Seahawks, and Colts have made 11 playoff appearances (out of 12 possible appearances). But in 2016, they are 0-6 ATS. Still, all three are home favorites in Week 3. Has there been a power shift, particuarly in the NFC? Or will these teams bounce back to their typical form? If the bounce back does not occur, this probably will be the last week you can pick against these teams at bargain prices.

1. Lions +7.5 over Packers. Suddenly, Green Bay looks stale and old. Only the LA Rams' brutal Case Keenum has posted lower QCYPA than Aaron Rogers (5.843). And the pass defense has been just as bad (8.343 QCYPA) and has just a single takeaway. Coach Mike McCarthy's play design differential was No. 2 in the NFL in 2014, fell to No. 18 last year, and now ranks No. 30 through 2 games. That is evidence of a team in decline and a team in decline should not be laying 7.5 points, even in Lambeau Field. The Lions have questions on defense, particularly without Ziggy Ansah. But QB Matt Stafford and a deep corps of pass-catchers should be enough to reveal the Packers' true identity.

2. 49ers +9.5 over Seahawks. Seattle's defense is still a proud unit. But the offenses they have shut down, Miami and LA, featue little and no potency. Moreover, the Seahawks' D has yet to generate a takeaway. On offense, Tom Cable's O-line has been a disaster. And San Francisco has a front 7 to prolong the suffering. You know QC loves tall interior pass rushers. The 49ers have a pair of 6-7 trees that played for Chip Kelly at Oregon, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner. SF QB Blaine Gabbert threw 2 picks last week, but only in Q4 after the 49ers fell behind and had to pass. Chip and Pete Carroll have met only once in the NFL. In that 2014 meeting, the Seahawks won by 10 (24-14) by dominating time of possession (41:56 to 18:04). But Seattle is no longer equipped to control the game on offense. These look like pretty evenly matched teams and as long as Gabbert and the Niners offense is not -2 TO or worse the point spread should provide more than enough cushion.

3. Chargers +3 over Colts. Backing Chargers QB Phil Rivers is not something QC usually would do even under perfect circumstances and San Diego will have to go without WR Keenan Allen and RB Danny Woohead who have been lost for the year to knee injuries. However, 2015 1RD RB Melvin Gordon has given Rivers a ground threat who can keep defenses in base on first down. Through the first two weeks of the season, San Diego is tied for third in rushes greater than 10 yards, second in rushing yards on 1st down, and first in rushing first downs. That balance is a big reason Rivers is second in the NFL in 1st half QB rating (126.8) and the Chargers have been able to build big first half leads in their first two games. The defense has been adequate statistically in most areas, except takeaways where it has been outstanding (4). The Colts' brought in Ted Monachino as DC this year, but so far both the pass rush (.111 sack yards lost per attempt) and the pass coverage (8.722) have been dreadful. If the coaching situation in Buffalo was not such a hot mess, HC Chuck Pagano would be the leading candidate to be the first coached fired this year.

4. Cardinals -4 over Bills. Speaking of Buffalo, HC Rex Ryan fired his OC Greg Roman this week and elevated loyal lieutenant/RB coach Anthony Lynn to OC. Despite that move, the sharp money loves the Bills this week. QC will jump in with the public without hesitation. Bruce Arians is the last play designer a struggling opponent wants to see coming to town because the man in the driving cap will go for the throat. The Cardinals covered 6 of 8 games on the road last year by scores of 48-23, 42-17, 34-20, 39-32, 27-3, and 40-17. Arizona is still smarting a bit from its WK1 loss to New England and Arians will make sure his players know that they cannot give another game away with all their division games still in front of them. Meanwhile, Ryan's pass coverage has been atrocious (9.044 QCYPA). QC speculates that Ryan threw Roman under the bus by blaming the terrible defense on Buffalo's inability to control the ball on offense. But Roman's designs turned Colin Kaepernick into a Super Bowl QB and got Tyrod Taylor a big contract. Reportedly, management canned Roman because of the Bills' failures on 3DN. But Ryan's teams always have run the ball way too much on 1DN to keep defenses honest, which frequently leads to OCs and QBs finding themselves in difficult-to-impossible 3DN situations. It will be surprising indeed if the 1DN run/pass ratio changes significantly with the change from Roman to Lynn. It will be almost as surprising if the public does not get over on the sharps as well.

5. Giants -4.5 over Redskins. New York is an impressive 2-0 straight up and has looked good on both sides of the ball. But the Giants are 0-2 ATS because a) they are -4 TO and b) their WK1 line moved from +3.5 to -1.5 after Dallas QB Tony Romo was injured in the preseason. The focus will be on the matchup between WR Odell Beckham Jr. and Washington DB Josh Norman, but Eli Mannig has a deep cast of pass catchers now that Victor Cruz is healthy and rookie Sterling Sheppard is emerging. Meanwhile, the Redskins pass coverage as been lousy (8.896 QCYPA) despite the additiona of Norman. It was not long ago that Washington was among the worst teams in the NFL and through the first two weeks of 2016 nobody has underachieved more than the Redskins who dropped 2 home games. Strange things happen in this rivalry. But the Giants pummelled Jay Gruden's team in the Meadowlands in 2015 (32-20) and QC does not see any reason why this improved version of the G-men who are do for a cover cannot do it again in 2016.

Last Week: 1-4
Season: 6-4

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The Browns Doctor Is "In" : Week 2 Therapy Session

How tough was the Browns 25-20 loss to the Ravens?

Better designed teams have won 27 of 32 NFL games this season. Hue Jackson's team was 2.3% better designed than Baltimore. In 4 of the 5 games where the better designed team has lost this year, that team has lost the turnover battle. Only the Browns have lost a game when better designed and at least even in turnovers. (Cleveland was +1 TO until Josh McCown's last desperate heave was intercepted.)

For the season, Cleveland is just .42% worse designed than its opponents and -1 TO. Those stats usually would translate into a 1-1 record. There are 9 NFL teams that are 1-1 and worse designed than the Browns. The Eagles, who are off to a positive 2-0 start, are only slightly better designed (-.08%), and can attribute their record mostly to their sterling +4 TO. Almost every NFL team wins at +2 TO per game.

The Browns rank No. 5 in Brian Billick's "Toxic Differential" statistic, which combines both turnovers and big offensive plays. In other words, teams that rank high in Billick's statistic are buying risk and variance and making big plays on offense or defense. This is exactly what QC expected from a team designed by Hue Jackson.

The reason the Browns are 0-2 and not 1-1 can easily be traced to special teams breakdowns and penalties against the Ravens. After the Browns jumped to a 20-0 lead behind explosive rookie WR Corey Coleman (5-104-2 TDs), Baltimore blocked Patrick Murray's PAT and returned it for 2 points for the Ravens. And the last 3 Cleveland drives of Q4 were sabotaged by penalties. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Coleman pushed the Browns back and Murray missed the 52-yard FG try. Center Cameron Erving drifted downfield and nullified a miraculous 25-yard gain that occurred when WR Rashard Higgins caught a McNown pass on a carom. Finally, a suspect taunting penalty on WR Terrelle Pryor nullified another completion that would have put the Browns at the Ravens 10-yard line in the last 30 seconds.

All of these events are beyond the control of a play designer like Jackson.

Cleveland now enters the toughtest stretch of its schedule with 4 of the next 5 games on the road. The only home game will mark Tom Brady's return from his absurd "Deflategate" banishment. And the Browns will have to confront some or all of those road trips without McCown (painful shoulder injury v. Baltimore), Coleman (broken hand in practice), rookie 6-7 pass rusher Carl Nassib (broken hand v. Baltimore), and Erving (bruised lung v. Baltimore).

So brace yourself, it is likely to get rough.

But that was going to happen anyway because of the schedule.

Everybody will get an extended look at rookie QB Cody Kessler, who Jackson thought enough of to draft ahead of Dallas' rookie starting QB, Dak Prescott. Higgins and perhaps another rookie WR will get the chance to develop until Coleman's hand heals. Tyrone Holmes, who the Browns picked up after he was cut by Jacksonville, may get a chance to fill in for Nassib until he returns. And big-play WR Josh Gordon is still on schedule to return for WK5.

Hue Jackson's play designs work. If he can continue to design big plays and Kessler can execute enough of those big play designs to keep Cleveland's play design differential from ballooning too much beyond -4%, then the Browns may have a chance to steal a win during this tough stretch.

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QC's Week 2 Thoughts

QB play—for better and worse—caught QC’s attention in Week 2. Minnesota mixed Sam Bradford into its offense using Norv Turner’s downfield passing recipes and-whoila!—Bradford tasted more like a “No. 1 pick in the draft QB” than he has at any other time in his career. Bradford hung in the pocket (1.032 yards lost on sacks per pass attempt) and fought off an injury (non-throwing hand) to post 8.839 QCYP and 2 TD passes in a 17-14 win over Green Bay. Those are Philip Rivers in his prime-type numbers. It is just one game. But if Bradford does not get injured behind the Vikings shaky O-line, this offense quickly will become Bradford’s offense no matter the status of RB Adrian Peterson, who left the game against the Packers with an injured knee.

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Prior to Sunday, Dallas had lost 14 of its last 15 games that QB Tony Romo did not start. Against the Redskins, however, rookie QB Dak Prescott produced impressively (9.267 QCYPA; rushing TD) and rallied the Cowboys to victory in Q4, 27-23. Prescott has now thrown 75 NFL passes without being intercepted, an NFL record for a rookie QB. A -22 TO +/- was a major cause of a lost season in Dallas in 2015 (4-12). It looks like the Cowboys may have transmitted the turnover virus to the Redskins (0-2). Washington QB Kirk Cousins opened the door for Prescott to rally the Cowboys when he threw a killer pick in the Dallas end zone with the Redskins leading 23-20 and looking to clinch their first victory of the season.

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In Week 1, Tampa Bay QB Jameis Winston looked every bit an MVP candidate in throwing 4 TD passes against just 1 interception in the Bucs’ win over Atlanta. What a difference a week makes. Winston’s numbers were reversed (1 TD; 4 INTS) as Tampa absorbed a 40-7 beating from Arizona. If that level of variance continues in Tampa, Jamies may become known as “Whiplash Winston.” While a good bit of variance is to be expected with young, talented passers (especially on the road), Winston has to learn to smooth the curve some before he can be considered a realistic candidate for MVP.

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What is up with Oakland’s pass defense? The Raiders invested heavily in the off-season in their secondary (Sean Smith, Karl Joseph, Reggie Nelson) and in FA pass rusher Bruce Irvin. But one week after getting torched in New Orleans by Drew Brees, Oakland was nearly as powerless in its attempts to stop Atlanta’s Matt Ryan in a 35-28 loss to the Falcons. On the season, opposing QBs are infinitely productive (11.461 QCYPA!) and have thrown 7 TD passes against the Raiders. If DC Ken Norton cannot get the pass defense turned around quickly, look for HC Jack Del Rio to step in and exert more influence over the pass defense design as has been reported.

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QC's 5 Best Guesses: Week 2

1. Bengals +3.5 over Steelers. People are piling onto the Pittsburgh bandwagon in the wake of its 38-16 thrashing of Washington. But its seems to QC the final score was built in part on Redskins’ underachievement. Washington punted only once in the entire game and it was from the Steelers’ 40-yard line. In Week 1, A.J. Green had a monster game against the Jets and WRs Brandon LaFell and Tyler Boyd also chipped in. Cincinnati beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh last year when Andy Dalton was healthy and he missed almost all of the next 2 games with the Steelers (both losses) with a broken thumb. In addition, the Bengals are not nearly as soft as Washington on defense. And DC Paul Guenther--reportedly a hot HC prospect for 2017--may have found a player in CB Josh Shaw, who clinched a WK1 victory in New York by intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick. Both teams are missing key offensive ingredients in TE Tyler Eifert and RB Le’veon Bell and defensive ingredients in LBs Bud Dupree and Vontez Burfict. It should be a close game decided by a FG.

2. Giants -4.5 over Saints. New York’s revamped D was impressive against the Cowboys, especially against the run. While NY spent money and draft picks on the D-line and secondary, it was a new trio of LBs that stood out in Dallas. OLB Jonathan Casillas played particularly well. New Orleans staggers into the Big Apple after losing the opener to Oakland despite more than 400 yards passing and 4 TDs from Drew Brees. Eli Manning utilized 7 receivers in the win over Dallas and rookie WR Sterling Shepard (3-43-TD) looks like he will be a capable complement to uber-dangerous Odell Beckham, Jr. RB Rashad Jennings can keep defenses honest on first downThis does not look like the time or place where the Saints can fix their leaky defense.

3. Chiefs +2.5 over Texans. It seems almost certain that Houston will not subsidize Kansas City with 5 turnovers as it did in a 2015 wild-card playoff game. Still, Chiefs’ DC Bob Sutton is quite familiar with new Texans QB Brock Osweiler from his time in Denver. QC does not expect Osweiler to escape this game turnover free. Andy Reid’s teams are usually money on the road. A team that loses by more than 21 points frequently bounce back ATS in its next meeting with the team from whom it absorbed the beating. But the Chiefs were -3 favorites in Houston in that wild-card game. Now KC is a +2.5 underdog? Is Brock Osweiler really a 5.5 point upgrade? QC does not thinks so.

4. Raiders -5 over Falcons. Both teams struggled mightily on defense last week against top tier QBs. Oakland DC Ken Norton will have to design a much better game plan than he did in New Orleans where too often his rangy CBs found themselves all alone with the Saints’ jitter-bug WRs. The Falcons’ wide-outs are talented too, but better matchups for the Raiders. When Derek Carr has the ball, he should be able to strike downfield as Tampa’s Jameis Winston did because Atlanta still has not shown any ability to pressure opposing QBs. People are starting to wonder if 2015 1RD pass-rusher Vic Beasely is going to be a bust.

5. Vikings +2.5 over Packers. Minnesota will open its new stadium with a new QB, Sam Bradford. Mike Zimmer also will field a nasty defense that almost single-handedly beat Tennessee in Week 1. The Vikings were terrible on special teams (2 missed FGs, missed PAT), could not run, and had ancient hanger-on Shaun Hill managing the game at QB. And they still won by more than a TD. That is a strong D. Green Bay sweated out a victory in the heat and humidity in Jacksonville. QB Aaron Rogers is still as dangerous as anyone in the NFL in the red zone, but he averaged only 6.441 QCYPA, which is even less than the 6.654 Green Bay averaged in 2015 (No. 27 in the NFL). The return of Jordy Nelson did not shock the Packers’ vertical passing game back to life versus the Jaguars so it would be surprising if it does so in what is sure to be an amped up atmosphere in Minnesota.

Last Week: 5-0 ATS
Season: 5-0 ATS

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The Browns Doctor Is In: Week 1 Therapy Session

In 1968, the Steelers went 2-11-1. They fired their HC and hired a new HC.

And promptly went 1-13. But that coach was Chuck Noll. It all worked out in the end.

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After Cleveland lost its first game of the season, 29-10, a cry went up that the Browns are again on the wrong path because they traded the pick that became Eagles' QB Carson Wentz. The most noise came from NFL Radio analyst Pat Kirwan, who called for the Browns to "shut down the Moneyball experiment" and opined that Cleveland executive Paul DePodesta "doesn't know what he's talking about" because he told the media Cleveland did not rate Wentz as a potential Top 20 NFL QB.

QC is here for you Browns' fans.

Not only does QC have a significant wager on Cleveland winning 4 or more games, but QC is a steadfast believer that Hue Jackson is the man to turn the Browns into a consistently competitive team.

If you analyze Cleveland's loss to Philadelphia carefully using coaching statistics, you can see it was not as bad as it looked. That does not mean the Browns' performance was good. It was not. But it was not as bad as it was in 2015. In other words, although Week 1 may have looked a lot like the same old, same old, the Browns got a little better in Philadelphia. And for much of the game it looked like they would get a lot better.

Until C Cameron Erving sailed a snap over Robert Griffin III's head to give the Eagles a safety, Cleveland trailed only 13-10. At that point in the game, Wentz was completing only 50% of his passes (11-22-142-TD) and averaging a Trevor Siemian-esque 6.7 QCYPA. On the other side of the ball, RG3 also was completing 50% of his passes (9-18-176), but he was averaging 9.7 QCYPA and trailed only because a Philly LB tipped a pass that was aimed at a streaking Cory Coleman and turned what might have been a big play into a turnover.

It was not until after the safety that Cleveland collapsed. It was not until after the safety that Wentz caught fire (11-15-136-TD) and averaged 9.5 QCYPA. With the second half lead, the Eagles' pass rushers zeroed in and the Browns lost more yards on sacks (22) than they gained passing (8). Moreover, they lost RG3 indefinitely to a shoulder injury. That will hurt in more ways than one going forward.

Still, there were some bright spots. Pro Football Focus graded NT Danny Shelton as one of the 7 best interior DLs on Sunday. Morevover, PFF graded rookie DE Carl Nassib's performance as the 4th best of any rookie. Both Shelton and Nassib (and other young defensive players like Emmanuel Ogbah) are likely to get better in an area that contributes significantly to NFL success.

When QC backed the Browns before the NFL Draft, he did so on the expecatation that Hue Jackson's designs would make Cleveland competitive just as they did when took the wheel in 2010-11 in Oakland, another perenially non-competitive NFL team. With the Raiders, Jackson designs elevated a team that had been about 7% worse designed than it opponents and -13 TO to less than 1% worse designed and -2 TO. The Raiders won 8 games.

How did Hue do it in Oakland?

He cranked up variance. He stretched the field with a high risk/high return vertical passing game and opened up running lanes for backs Darren McFadden and Michael Bush. Such a high-risk design sometimes results in some pretty ugly losses. But by increasing variance, an underdog increases the chance that the outcome will be determined by fewer plays that contain more leverage as opposed to more plays that contain less leverage. For over a half, Hue's designs kept the Browns in the game and well within striking distance of a win.

Concededly, it will be harder for Cleveland to execute Hue's high variance designs without RG3, who could threaten a defense with his legs and throw deep. Still at the end of the game on Sunday, the Browns were about 4% worse designed than Philadelphia. That's not good, but it is better than the NFL-worst 5.83% worse designed figure at which Cleveland stood at the end of 2015.

And the goal for the Browns this season is simply to get better. If you evaluate Cleveland's performance against that simple standard, Week 1 was a small step forward for the Browns.

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While the Steelers record in their first year under Chuck Noll in 1969 was not as good as their record had been the previous year, Pittsburgh did get better. In 1968 under Bill Austin, the Steelers were 7% worse designed than their opponents and -14 TO. In 1969 under Noll, the team improved almost 3% and finished 4.18% worse designed and -8 TO. Even with teams that finish as dynasties, the first steps forward often are so small they are difficult to see.

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QC's Week 1 Thoughts

Although QC does not statistically separate play-calling from play design, QC’s hunch is that play design usually contributes more to winning than play-calling, although not always. For example, in Denver’s 21-20 win over Carolina that opened the 2016 NFL season, both Broncos TDs were the result of exquisite play calls by HC Gary Kubiak. First, Kubiak stunned the Panthers by calling on FB Andy Janovich on 3rd-and-1 in Q2 and the rookie burst 28-yards through a deserted Carolina secondary for a score. Second, Kubiak caught the Panthers bringing heavy pressure in Q3 with a perfectly timed screen pass to RB C.J. Anderson. But for every game featuring a brilliant play-call that you do see, there is at least a game where a coaching staff’s in-week play design—which is sometimes harder to detect visually on Sunday—provides the difference. For example, the Giants were more than 10% better designed than the Cowboys, which was just enough for New York to overcome a -1 TO disadvantage and win, 20-19.

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Here is a hat tip to Oakland HC Jack Del Rio for “selling short” and going for 2 points and the win in New Orleans after his team closed its deficit to 34-33 with less than a minute to play. Del Rio’s decision paid off in a 35-34 win after QB Derek Carr hit WR Michael Crabtree with pass in the corner of the end zone. Somewhat inexplicably, the advocates of aggressive risk buying in ESPN’s analytics department calculated that Del Rio should have kicked the PAT thereby playing the game “long” (i.e., for OT), rather than selling short and going for the 2-point PAT. On the other hand, analysts such as predictionmachine.com applauded Del Rio's decison to go for two, but opined that to make the right decision an NFL HC must understand: a) expected value; b) calculate his team was 49.7% likely to convert; c) calculate the Saints D was 58.2% likely to allow the conversion; and d) conclude his team was 55.3% likely to succeed and take the lead. That's too much work. When QC is late, pressed for time, and wants to know what time it is, telling him how a watch works is neither helpful nor appreciated. It's way too much information to process in the seconds in which the decision has to be made. Neither group seems to be familir with Brian Skinner’s paper entitled, Scoring Strategies for the Underdog: Using Risk as an Ally in Determining Optimal Sports Strategies. Notwithstanding the ponderous title, the 1-page paper is as succinct as it is informative. Skinner states: “An underdog should be willing to sacrifice from its expected final score in order to increase the variance. A favored team should be willing to sacrifice from its expected final score in order to reduce the variance.” In other words, if your team is the better team, then lengthen the game. But if your team is not the better team, then shorten the game. Del Rio played variance perfectly. Here, the Raiders entered the game +1.5 underdogs in Vegas. Moreover, in the Super Dome, Oakland was facing an infinitely productive QB in Drew Brees, who had not thrown a pick all day. Every team facing an infinitely productive QB who is not turning the ball over is an underdog no matter what the point spread closed at kickoff and should be seeking to shorten the game. Even if Carr’s pass to Crabtree had gone awry, Del Rio’s decision still would have been the right call. In a nutshell, Del Rio was selling all his inventory and going out of business at the very top of the market. If that sale was not enough to win the competitioin, so be it. Sticking around to compete longer against a more efficient competitor was not likely to change the outcome. As an aside, those holding Raiders +1.5 rationally were hoping Del Rio’s decision would backfire because the failed 2-point attempt would have sealed an Oakland cover. Because Carr and Crabtree executed the play and converted the PAT, those punters had to hold their breath until New Orleans K Wil Lutz came up short on a 61-yard field goal attempt as time expired. Of course, that brief period of anxiety was far better than the lengthier period anxiety that an overtime would have created. In the end, both the Raiders and their backers at the sports books came out with a “W” as a result of Del Rio’s savvy handling of variance.

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A personnel decision cannot be judged on one game. (Sorry Eagles fans. While Carson Wentz looked good against the Browns young D, master defensive designer Vic Fangio awaits in Chicago.) But Denver GM John Elway had to feel good when he went to sleep Sunday night when he compared the statistics of his QB Trevor Siemian (6.500 QCYPA, 1 TD, 2 Int) to the QB he let sign with Houston as a FA in the off-season, Brock Osweiler (6.714, 2 TDs, 1 Int). The Texans are paying Osweiler $12 million this year and have guaranteed another $25 million in coming years. The Broncos are paying Siemian $525,000 this year. So far, the return on the field has been about the same. Things did not go much better for other teams that recently handed their stating QBs significant money. The Jets fell to Cincinnati, 23-22, as Ryan Fitzpatrick averaged less than 6 yards per attempt (5.943 QCYPA). Buffalo lost to Baltimore, 13-7, as Tyrod Taylor’s production (1.74) did not even reach the JaMarcus Cable, the NFL’s equivalent of the “Mendoza Line” measure of offensive incompetence. Few pro personnel managers seem to consider "diminishing returns" when it comes to signing QBs. But, for at least 1 game anway, it looks like Elway not only recognized the return paying $12 million or more for Osweiler would diminish, but he acted on that recognition.

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Several HC had to endure the consquences of QC's 8th Commandment. The Jets Nick Folk missed a PAT and had a 22-yard FG blocked in a 1-point loss. The Cardinals Chandler Cantanzaro, the Panthers Graham Gano and the Saints Lutzall missed potential game-winning FGs (albeit QC grudingly will accept that 61-yards is too long to expect a K to succeed). Minnesota's Blair Walsh misssed 2 FGs and a PAT, but the Vikings stellar D erased those miscues, defeated the Titans and covered teh spread by scoring a pair of TDs.

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That New England only needed Cantazaro to miss that FG to beat Arizona, 23-21, demonstrates just how powerful HC Bill Belichick remains. The Patriots played on the road against the NFC co-favorite without their HOF QB (Tom Brady), All-Pro TE (Gronk), both starting tackles (Sebastian Vollmer and Nate Solder) and their two leading pass rushers from 2015 (Chandler Jones, who suited up for the Cardinals and Rob Ninkovich, suspended). Don't tell QC that play design is not the key to success in the NFL.

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The web site 538.com reported that the average margin of victory in opening games through Sunday night--5.1--points was the second lowest of any week of any NFL season since 1993. The reason for such close games is probably at least partially explained by the fact that the turnover margin in 10 of the 14 games was 1 or less and in 3 of the 4 games where the margin was 2, the team that lost the turnover battle fielded strong defensees and won the game (Patriots, Seahawks, Broncos). Only in Minnesota's 25-16 win over Tennessee was the TO margin 3. It's just one of those things. The certainty helped bettors almost get a rare collective win against the linemakers. But Belichick upset those plans too.

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QC's 5 Best Guesses: Week 1

Week 1 is always hard to handicap, but for some reason 2016 just looks even more difficult than usual. QC can't find a home favorite to like. Baltimore -3 over Buffalo? Eh, maybe. Rex Ryan's teams usually get worse not better, but the Ravens still seem old and brittle. Seahawks -10.5 over the Dolphins. It looks like a monster design mismatch with polished Pete Carroll/Darrell Bevell v. neophytes Adam Gase/Vance Joseph. But did you really have to throw the hook on top of the 10? Never mind. There also are some unexpected new QB starters that have sucked the value out of what for months looked like value plays. (QC's looking at you Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz.) So it goes. And here you go. Carpe diem. And remember: All Latin means "buyer beware."

1. Vikings -1.5 over Titans. Minnesota has been the best team ATS for the past few years and the Titans have been the worst. You'd think the latter would improve now that Ken Whisenhunt is gone. And the linemakers almost always pinch playoff teams when they face non-playoff teams in Week 1. This line sat at Minnesota -3 almost all spring and summer and had just nudged up to -3.5 when Vikings QB Teddy Bridgwater completely dislocated his knee in practice a few weeks ago. (QC saw something like this happen from the sideline once at a HS game. A few minutes later his head started to spin and he had to sit down to avoid passing out. It's freaky.) The irony is that Bridgewater nearly lost his leg without a finger being laid upon him when last year he was pummelled by opposing pass rushers and came through the season none the worse for wear. In 2015, the Vikings lost on average .7 yards every time they attempted to pass. That's bad. About .4 sack yards lost per attempt is about average. A play designer who likes deep routes like Norv Turner will incur a little more sack yards lost than average, but .7 yards lost per attempt is still way too many. To address this problem, GM Rick Spielman brough in to veterans, G Alex Boone and T Andre Smith. They are "Plan B" FAs (at best), but they are better than what Turner had to work with last year. Minnesota went 11-5 in 2015 despite being on average about 1.1% worse designed than opponents. That figure can be traced nearly exclusively to pass protection. So even though Bridgewater is out and hanger-on Shaun Hill will start at QB for at least a week until Sam Bradford is a little more familiar with the playobook, the Vikings should be OK. Tennessee is turning to Mike Mularkey to try to recover from the Whisenhunt era. He wants to pound the ball on the ground with DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry and take the pressure off of QB Marcus Mariota. But he will need all of Mariota's elusiveness and some trickery if the Titans are going to control the ball against a Minnesota defense that features swarms of fast and aggressive tacklers on every level. The Titans have been the darlings of the sharps in the pre-season. But QC can't pass on the Vikings with so much room for play design differential growth, particularly since linemakers provided a 2-point rebate to compensate for the loss of Bridgewater.

2. Buccaneers +2.5 over Falcons. Despite the fact Atlanta (8-8) won 2 more games than Tampa Bay (6-10) in 2015, the Falcons were just .58% better designed and +2 TO better than the Bucs. Atlanta QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones are a dynamic combination, but there is a lot more upside in the Jameis Winston/Mike Evans combo. The Georgia Dome has not been kind to Tampa over the years. But on most of those occassions Dirk Koetter and Mike Smith were designing plays for the home team. They will be performing those duties for the visitors this time. Winston is a massive talent, but he's an emotional-type in the Phil River model. QC prefers ice-water-in-the-veins coolness from a signal-caller. Winston may struggle early and give the Falcons some turnover subsidies. But the team with Mike Smith on the sidelines usually wins the turnover battle and Winston has more than enough moxie to pull the Bucs out of a hole even if he is the one that dug it.

3. Jets +2.5 over Bengals. QC is no fan of NY QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. He will always throw too many INTs. But Jets OC Chan Gailey loves him (must be getting a kickback on those mega-buck contracts Fitz signed in the Big Apple and Buffalo) and its Gailey's opinion that matters, not QC's opinion. On the other hand, QC is very fond of the defensive designs of Todd Bowles, who has a speedy new ingredient at his disposal in rookie LB Darron Lee. Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton will be without (in order of importance): 1) OC Hue Jackson; 2) TE Tyler Eifert; and 3) WR Marvin Jones. Dalton will be fine in the long run and QC thinks the Bengals are still the best team in the AFC North. But he also cannot pass up a non-playoff home team with a crafty defensive play designer with 2.5 points already in his pocket.

4. Jaguars +5.5 over Packers. Believe it or not, Jacksonville was .15% better designed than Green Bay in 2015. The reason the Jags were 5-11 and the Pack was 10-6 was a difference of 15 turnovers (Jacksonville was -10 TO; Green Bay +5). That's about +1 TO per game. Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rogers will need at least that margin to cover 5.5. This is another non-playoff team v. playoff team so you can assume the line is inflated a point and a half or two. Most people seem to think that the return of WR Jordy Nelson automatically will restore the Green Bay vertical passing game. QC is not so sure. The Packers pass protection crumbled in 2015 and with it Aaron Rogers' rock-solid self-assurance. Unless rookie T Jason Spriggs can grow up fast, GM Ted Thompson did not do much to improve that area. Meanwhile, Jacksonville took big action to improve its pass rush and pass coverage with the addition of master D play designer Monte Kiffin, DLs Malik Jackson and Dante Folwer (returning from an injury), LB Myles Jack, and a whole new secondary led by DB Jalen Ramsey. Kiffin is the father of the Tampa-2, which usually slowed Rogers when Lovie Smith deployed it in Chicago because it is a conservative coverage scheme that keeps receivers in front of defenders. To play it well, a designer needs fast, sure tacklers. Tackling is more instinct than acquired skill and the Jaguars loaded up on that instinct in the off-season. If you are looking for a Week 1 straight up stunner, this is a good place to look.

5. Raiders +1.5 over Saints. Here's the straight dope: New Orleans HC Sean Payton is hell on defensive coordinators. Since taking over in New Orleans 10 years ago, Payton has gone through DCs Gary Gibbs, Gregg Williams, Steve Spagnuolo, and Rob Ryan like Brett Favre on a riding mower. Now comes Dennis Allen who candidly is probably not as good as any of his predecessors. QC is slack-jawed amazed every time some talking head starts extolling the virtues of Allen. Other than generating a little pass rush in Denver, every defense Allen has ever designed has been bad. GM Mickey Loomis tried to improve the situation by drafting DL Sheldon Rankins and signing some "Plan B" FA's. But Rankins broke his leg and New Orleans is still so thin that recent signees G Jahri Evans and OLB Paul Kruger may start Week 1. That's thin. Payton and QB Drew Brees still may be able to keep up in shoot-outs, but QC has not heard anything very positive about new TE Coby Fleener and mainstay WR Marcus Colvin is gone and will have to be replaced by rookie Michael Thomas. Last year, the Raiders started moving in the right direction under Jack Del Rio after three lost years under Allen. QB Derek Carr has been good in the red zone and GM Reggie McKenzie has built a rock solid G-C-G core (Gabe Jackson-Rodney Hudson-FA Kelechi Osemele) that reminds QC of the cores Payton featured in the Saints' salad days. With that strength up front, RBs Latavius Murray and rookie Deandre Washington could find a lot more room to run. On defense, the secondary received a massive upgrade in CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson and S Karl Joseph. All kinds of help for extraordinary pass rusher Khalil Mack is also on hand led by Bruce Irvin. Finally, the +1.5 price is certainly right for a team that is ascending against a team that is in clear descent.

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