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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 (Part 4)

Finding A Franchise Quarterback

How do you identify a franchise quarterback?

The consequences of the answer to this question are enormous. When the St. Louis Rams made Sam Bradford the first pick in the NFL draft, they essentially committed themselves to about $45 million in fixed costs, i.e., expenses that are not dependent on the activities of the team or business. In comparison, the NFL minimum salary for a rookie is $285,000, which is more than twice the median average salary of a lawyer in the United States ($110,000). In other words, if the NFL did not have roster limits, rather than sign Bradford, the Rams could have signed over 157 rookies at the minimum salary (or more than 400 lawyers).

According to SmartFootball, Miami President Bill Parcells observes 4 rules for drafting a quarterback. But if one strictly followed Parcells' rules, one would have passed on John Elway (he did not win enough in college) and picked Todd Blackledge. Because no proven rule for drafting quarterbacks exists and fixed costs are so high, some pundits have suggested that an NFL team should just never pick a quarterback with the first pick in the draft. However, if one follows that rule, one might miss out on a decade of production from Elway or Peyton Manning and 2 or 3 Super Bowl victories.

QC does not have an answer to this high-stakes paradox, but it does appear that the reason why it is so difficult to identify a franchise quarterback before the draft is that playing at the super-star level may depend a great deal on a prospect's memories. And the NFL does not have an adequate test for memories.

In a 2004 piece in the New York Times, Subconsciously, Athletes May Play Like Statisticians, David Leonhardt detailed how some scientists have used Bayesian analysis to conclude that the more uncertainty that a people face -- such as a quarterback trying to find a receiver under a heavy pass rush -- "the more they make decisions based on their subconscious memory and the less they depend on what they see." In other words, the past, not the present, drives the outcome. The past matters.

Leonhardt's researchers seem to have support from both science and anecdotal evidence from NFL quarterbacks. In January, Benedict Carey observed in an NYT story, Where Did the Time Go? Don't Ask the Brain, that the way the brain fixes the relative timing of events depends on memory. In one particular study, researchers found that relatively infrequent stimuli, like flashes or tones that last only moments, "tend to speed up the brain's internal pacemaker." If true, it would make perfect sense for defenses to want to pressure a quarterback, who is attempting to execute precisely timed play designs, into "hurrying" his reading of the defense and throws. A defensive coordinator might not be able to predict exactly what will happen if his defenders condense time and speed up the quarterback's "internal clock," but he can predict with 100% certainty that the result is likely to be worse for the quarterback (and better for the defense) than if "the game slows down" for the quarterback.

To thrive in the NFL, a quarterback has to not only acquire more knowledge than the defensive coordinators and players that oppose him, but also must be able to apply and execute that knowledge as if it were second nature. As NPR commentator Mike Pesca and former NFL star Phil Simms have observed, "quarterbacks don't often really think out their decisions."

"You take the ball, you get it, and man, you react, and you throw it. And you go, I don't know why I did that, but I did it, and let's just move on," Simms told NPR before New Orleans and its star QB, Drew Brees, met Indianapolis and its star QB, Peyton Manning, in the Super Bowl.

Like Elway, whose father Jack coached at the major college level, both Brees and Manning have deep football memories. Growing up, Brees said that he "worshiped" his grandfather, Ray Akins, the fifth-winningest high school football coach in Texas. The Super Bowl MVP also spent five summers attending two-a-day practices with his grandfather's high school teams.

Manning, of course, got his football memories directly from his father, Archie, who toiled for years as the Saints' signal-caller. It is those memories, perhaps, that not only set Peyton apart from Ryan Leaf, the colossal bust chosen by San Diego with the pick after Manning, but also all other NFL quaterbacks.

"Jim Caldwell, Peyton Manning's coach, threw out the term hyermnesia," NPR's Pesca noted before the Super Bowl. "It means having a nearly photographic memory."

"He has the ability to remember everything that he hears and sees and not only can he take the information in, but he can regurgitate it and he can utilize it ... in the heat of battle, under pressure, with the game on the line," Caldwell said.

Former teammate Adam Meadows has called Manning "a machine." Another former teammate, wide receiver Brandon Stokely, told NPR's Stefan Fatsis that he has never been around any player "who can remember and process information as quickly or thoroughly."

Indianapolis' opponents also have noticed Peyton's ability to remember. "It was like Peyton has a photographic memory or something," New York's Dwight Lowery said after the Colts carved up the Jets, 30-17, in the AFC Championship game. "He sees something or he double counts us and he automatically knows what is going on and where to go with the ball."

So, if a franchise quarterback is determined by his memories as much as by all his other observable talents, does Sam Bradford have the memories? Does Tim Tebow? Does Jimmy Clausen or Colt McCoy? Did any NFL team test any of them for memories? Does such a test exist? If memories are critical and one or all of these prospects do not have them, can they be developed on the job in the NFL?

Those are the $45 million questions.
(ARCHIVES; ARCHIVES2; ARCHIVES3)

 

The Price of Anarchy In Basketball

QC has one word for Brian Skinner's paper, The Price of Anarchy in Basketball, that was presented at the 2010 Sloan Sports Conference: Brilliant.

Quite simply, in QC's opinion, Skinner's paper is the most significant sports statistics paper that QC has ever seen.

On its face, as Rob Mahoney, wrote after the Sloan Conference in his Hardwood Paroxysm blog, Skinner's paper counterintuitively concludes that "a team's best play is sometimes to have their best player not shoot." But Skinner's paper also may demonstrate that coaching is more important in the NBA than most people realize.

Conventional wisdom holds that the NBA is a "player's league" where individual athletic talent reigns supreme. However, as Mahoney recognized, the 5-players on a team on a typical NBA basketball floor may not share the exact same goals. "Somehow, someone has to take all of those intentions and all of the production, potential, and talent that comes along with it, and figure out the best possible way to win basketball games," Mahoney wrote.

That someone, as Skinner recognizes, is the coach.

"When a coach diagrams a play for his/her players, he/she is essentially instructing them to move the ball through a particular pathway in order to reach a goal," Skinner wrote. "Different plays are like different roads: each one has a different efficiency that will generally decrease the more it is used." As Skinner notes, the reason that the law of diminishing returns applies to basketball plays (i.e., the more a play is used the less successful it is expected to be) is that "the defense will learn to anticipate their opponents' moves." For those old enough to remember the Detroit Pistons' "Bad Boys" Days, think the "Jordan Rules."

"The efficiency of a shot should depend on the play leading up to it," Skinner wrote. "A team that contents itself with making the highest-percentage play each time down the court and does not consider the game-wide implications of its strategy can pay a significant price of anarchy for its 'short-sighted' approach."

Swish.

But what is the "price of anarchy?" And what does the "price of anarchy" have to do with coaching? The answers can be found in Paul Romer's development of Growth Theory, the economic theory that is the foundation of QC's coaching statistics.

The "price of anarchy" is the difference between between an individual team's best interests--optimal efficiency--and an individual player's best interest--"short-sighted" efficiency or Nash equilibrium. According to Skinner, a team's optimum efficiency results when its star shoots "almost exactly the same fraction of shots as his teammates--about 20%." Thus, to achieve optimum efficiency, the team needs to "consciously choose not to have [its star] shoot on [approximately] 80% of possessions, even when he is their best option."

It is up to the basketball coach to design an offensive system that makes it as easy as possible for his players to make this paradoxical (i.e., difficult) choice.

Skinner's paper was inspired by recent discussions of the "price of anarchy" in traffic networks and made a formal analogy between a basketball offense and a simplified traffic network. "Since real-world traffic flow follows something much closer to the Nash equilibrium than the global optimum, it is fully possible that closing down a road can improve traffic. This phenomenon is called 'Braess's Paradox', and it has apparently been observed in a number of major cities like New York, San Francisco, and Stuttgart, where the closing of a major road was accompanied by almost immediate improvements in traffic flow."

"If the global optimum is to be maintained, there must be some kind of structure enforced upon the drivers," Skinner wrote. "That is the the drivers must be 'coached' into the global optimum, because it is against their immediate best interest."

Paul Romer's development of Growth Theory really began with a similar epiphany. The only difference was that the traffic that vexed Professor Romer was not on the highway, but in the ski lift line. This was just the kind of "puzzle" that young economists, like Romer and his co-author, David Barro, liked to solve said David Warsh in Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery.

"For a time they thought that the ski lift riddle must have to do with congestion, 'the tragedy of the commons,' the free use of a scarce resource," Warsh wrote. "They revisited a famous economic parable about a well-maintained narrow road (too many travelers) parallel to a poorly kept broad highway (too few), in which the solution was a tollbooth on the narrow road." But, gradually, Romer came to see the problem differently.

After his ski lift paper was published, Romer began to receive letters from other prominent economists, including Tyler Cowen, who believed that Romer had done little more than re-state the "economic theory of clubs." Pursuant to this theory, which was mainly about congestion, a hybrid group of goods existed called "club goods." As Warsh described it in Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations:

"Clubs were groups that shared something valuable exclusively among their members--swimming pools, golf courses, ski mountains, toll roads, trade associations, and so on. [Query: A team's possession of the basketball?] Club goods depended critically on excludability to make them work. The exclusion mechanism could be a guard, a gate, a fence, a ticket office, a checklist maintained by a greeter at a door--anything that served to let members in and keep nonmembers out." [Query: An NBA coach's play design?]

According to Warsh, club theory became the standard treatment for any number of problems: schools, highways, information networks, communication systems, national parks, waterways, and the electromagnetic spectrum. The distinctive characteristic about "club goods," as Nobel Prize winner James Buchanan saw it, was that these goods "weren't used up" in consumption. Unlike a "rival good," such as the driver's seat behind the steering wheel of a car or a seat on a ski lift that can be used only by a single person, these "club goods" were "non-rival" and available to all without mutual interference.

Think of it like this: The steering of a car cannot be shared, but the road that a car drives upon can be shared. Obviously, if two people are attempting to steer one car in one direction, the likelihood that the car will crash is probably pretty high. But if each person drives his or her own car responsibly upon one road, the likelihood of a crash is probably pretty low.

In short, a "rival good" is something that only one person can use at one time. A "rival good" cannot be shared. In contrast, a "non-rival good" is something that can be shared. In addition, a "non-rival good" is something that lends itself to copying. A basketball play lends itself to copying. Furthermore, because the rules of basketball permit passing, a basketball possession can be shared, although a shot cannot be shared. Thus, while a shot is a "rival good," a basketball possession, like a play, is a "non-rival good."

The corrollary to the rule that a non-rival good can be shared is that a non-rival good also can be partially excludable. A musical score is a non-rival good because it can be copied and shared. But it is also possible, under certain circumstances, for the composer to partially exclude others. For example, Warsh observed, "the opera's of Puccini were rehearsed without their arias, lest newspaper reporters memorize the melodies, write them down in musical notation, and tip them to the eager public."

Like Puccini, a smart basketball (or football) coach would like to keep his best non-rival plays as secret as possible until the moment they become most valuable. But this is inherently difficult in the NBA. As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban pointed out at the Sloan Conference, "in basketball, the coach stands up and yells out the play. You know exactly what the play is."

While a coach may not be able to exclude the opposition from knowing the play, he may be able to partially exclude the defense from knowing which players will be involved in the play. If he can do so, he will have manufactured some valuable excludability for the team. Distributing shots evenly among the 5 players on the floor excludes the defense from knowing which player will be the key component of the play to the maximum extent possible. Thus, such distribution should provide a team with maximum excludability with respect to its plays.

Skinner appears to capture this intuition when he observes that "the true optimum performance for this offense can be found not by considering the best way to run each individual play, but by considering every option simultaneously and optimizing the total performance with respect to the frequency that each option is run."

NFL history backs up Skinner's intuition. What made the greatest football coaches in NFL history--Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh--so great was essentially what Skinner says in his paper: The ability to simultaneously analyze total performance that results from the interaction of plays and players. According to biographer David Maraniss' sources, what made Lombardi so valuable was "his uncommon ability to notice several events simultaneously along the line of scrimmage as though they were happening in slow motion and isolation."

Similarly, in an interview with Fox Sports, Bill Walsh said, "Fortunately, in my case, I can envision 11 men at one time. I can still see it. That was at the height of my career."

The question is: Will decision-makers in the NBA build on Skinner's foundation to help their coaches see the game of basketball the way Lombardi and Walsh saw the game of football? The answer is not obvious. Walsh once said that he thought that others did not pick up on what he was doing in the West Coast Offense until the results could not be ignored because the concepts were complex and the NFL is probably thought of as more of a "coach's league" than the NBA. In Skinner's case, even the NBA faithful have been quick to doubt. Even Hardwood Paroxysm characterized Skinner's study as "deeply theoretical, lacking in obvious applications, and definitely limited and assuming in a lot of respects."

QC mostly disagrees. Skinner's study contains obvious applications to coaching NBA basketball.

Dallas' Mark Cuban may agree. Before the 2008-2009 seaon, Cuban used advanced statistics to evaluate candidates for the Mavericks' vacant coaching position. Although QC is certainly no expert in the area of NBA statistics, it seems that the adjusted plus-minus metrics that Cuban used to evaluate coaches are built on the same foundation as Skinner's theory: The quantitative anlaysis of the simultaneous interaction of a combination of players, rather than the evaluation of a player's individual ability. According to Jared Wade of Hardwood Paroxysm, Cuban "found that Carlisle was the NBA coach who had the greatest positive affect on the plus-minus rankings of those players who joined new teams. 'It was Rick by a long shot,' Cuban said."

Cuban's findings suggest that Skinner's conclusion may be correct:

"If a team could be fully aware of the efficiencies of all of its plays and players (its "skill curves"), then it could easily determine the exact best way to allocate shots, passes, drives, etc."

Well, making this determination probably cannot be made "easily." But it seems to QC that the return on the investment in the effort would be worth it and Skinner has provided a map for the drive.

(ARCHIVES; ARCHIVES2; ARCHIVES3)

 

SUPER BOWL THOUGHTS

Gregg Williams, you clever liar.

All week long, New Orleans' defensive coordinator told everyone that would listen that his defense was going to try to physically harass, perhaps harm, Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning. But when Super Bowl 44 arrived, Williams' defenders hardly touched Manning and played coverage.

Williams' defensive design was the key to the Saints' 31-17 win over the Colts. Statistically, from a play design differential perspective, this was the closest Super Bowl in history. New Orleans had a microscopic .0029 play design advantage over Indianapolis, which was even closer than the razor-thin .0049 play design advantage that the New York Giants held over Buffalo in their 20-19 win in Super Bowl 25.

Rather than try to storm the castle with all out blitzes against Manning, Williams had weakside LB Scott Shanle shadow Colts' TE Dallas Clark for much of the Super Bowl, conceded Indy a running game, tried to take away everything else, and patiently waited for an opportunity to receive one back-breaking turnover. Williams' design worked perfectly. Clark caught 7 passes for 83 yards (12.3 yards per catch), which was probably a little more generous than Williams had hoped, but 45 yards came on only 2 passes. On Clark's other 5 catches he averaged only 7.6 yards per catch, a number that Williams and the Saints could live with quite nicely.

At the end of the game, Manning's statistics (7.622 QCYPA and 1 devastating interception) were virtually identical to his statistics in a 23-21 loss to Jacksonville in 2008 (7.621 QCYPA and 1 devastating interception), when Williams was the defensive coordinator of the Jaguars. On ESPN's NFL Matchup Show the morning of the Super Bowl, Merril Hoge diagrammed how Williams' combination of gut pressure and man-to-man coverage led to a Rashean Mathis interception and 61-yard return for a touchdown. Hoge speculated that Williams frequently would show Mannaning such a design in the Super Bowl.

But Williams saved the design for when New Orleans really needed it. As Manning was driving the Colts toward a tying score deep in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, Williams called for the design and cornerback Tracy Porter intercepted Manning and ran 74 yards for the clinching touchdown.

Bill Belichick's game plans are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to memorialize his play designs that lead to victories over Buffalo in Super Bowl 25 and St. Louis in Super Bowl 36. Gregg Williams' game plan for Super Bowl 44 deserves to be in the Hall of Fame as well. (ARCHIVES; ARCHIVES2; ARCHIVES3).

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Should Gregg Williams' defensive game plan go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

Contact QuantCoach

SUPER BOWL PREVIEW

Indianapolis v. New Orleans
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 2nd; New Orleans 3rd
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 7th; New Orleans 2nd
TURNOVER MARGIN: Indianapolis T9th (+2); New Orleans 4th (+9)

On one hand, the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints could not be more alike. On the other hand, the teams could not be more different.

There is barely any statistical difference between the teams. At full strength, with their starting quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Drew Brees executing play designs, Indy ranked 2nd in play design differential and 3rd in player productivity differential during the regular season. New Orleans ranked 3rd and 2nd in those categories. When you analyze these teams based on the results, the differences are imperceptible. But when you analyze the Colts and the Saints based on the process that produces the results, the differences are striking.

The Colts are directed by the quintessential Type A quarterback, Manning, a franchise savior who gives instructions to his coaches more often than he takes them. To QC, Manning's defining characteristic is that he is truly a dinosaur. Manning has more in common with the virtually extinct species of tyrannosaurus fieldus generalis that included Norm Van Brocklin and George Blanda than he does with his contemporaries. As with those dinosaurs, who "would even spit at guys" according to John Madden, one crosses P-rex at one's peril.

As you would expect from a franchise that is dominated by a star player and the personnel man who selected him as the first pick in the 1998 NFL draft--president Bill Polian--the Colts are a collection of stars. Like Manning, all of Indy's top skill players--WR Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark, and RB Joseph Addai--were 1st-round draft picks. Like Manning, every down that every one of them has played in the NFL has been for the Colts.

In Indianapolis, the personnel is the system. Manning has as much football knowledge as any coach in the NFL and unlike those coaches he also gets to play in the game. As New York Jets' defensive designer Rex Ryan learned in the AFC Championship Game, you are not going to beat Manning by out-scheming him anymore. He simply has too much knowledge. Moreover, because so much knowledge and its cousin, deception, is hidden away inside Manning's mind where it cannot be viewed by the prying eyes of opposing coaches, the Colts do not have to bother with much overt research of defenses through such tools as motion or multiple formations.

"Watching Indianapolis is like watching a factory play football," observed ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook. "The Colts are methodical, predictable, disciplined, mechanical. They don't run trick plays. Their offense hasn't shown a new formation, or even a new play, in months. Their defense rarely varies its fronts. The Colts win because no NFL team has better offensive timing, defensive discipline and overall precision. Review film of the Colts and you know exactly what they are going to do -- the question is, can you stop them?" (Sounds like the Lombardi Era, the NFL's pre-Super Bowl cretaceous period.)

While Indianapolis' stars are the system, New Orleans' system is the star. No team in the NFL has more formations and play designs than Sean Payton's Saints. ESPN's Ron Jaworski has commented on the NFL Matchup Show that the Saints designs are so varied that an opponent cannot chart New Orleans' offense, it can only prepare for the concept of the Saints' offense. Brees is a classic Type B quarterback who can be counted on to faithfully execute Payton's play designs and instructions.

In sharp contrast to the Colts, not a single first-line performer in the Saints' attack was a New Orleans 1st-round draft choice. Brees and RB Pierre Thomas were signed as free agents. Wide receiver Marques Colston was a 7th-round pick and tight end Jeremy Shockey was acquired in a trade. Candidly, just about any other team in the NFL could have obtained any or all of these players if it had simply thought to do so.

QC thinks Brees and the Saints will give the Indianapolis defense fits. While the Colts' defense is good and has been dominant against lesser NFL teams, Indy's defense still misses CB Marlin Jackson who was lost for the season to a knee injury before a mid-season game with Houston. Prior to Jackson's injury, the Colts were holding opponents to less than 5.00 QCYPA and player productivity below The JaMarcus Cable (<2.00 HY). In addition, even with a totally healthy Dwight Freeney, the Indy pass rush is a little below average (.391 QCAPY; 19th in NFL) and not at the level of Minnesota (.594 QCAPY; 1st in NFL) or even Dallas (.468 QCAPY; 12th in NFL). Ace pass-rusher Freeney will be hobbled by a bad ankle and New Orleans ranked 5th in the NFL in pass protection (.248 QCAPY) so expect Brees to have a big day and the Saints to score.

Assuming New Orleans does not turn the ball over or have special teams breakdowns, the Saints look to be in good shape. New Orleans will be even more formidable, perhaps unbeatable, if it also gets a big special teams play from returners Reggie Bush or Courtney Roby. But Easterbrook's question still lingers:

How can the Saints stop Manning?

What QC heard from Saints' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams during Super Bowl Week sounded incredibly scary. That is, it sounded incredibly scary, if you are a New Orleans fan.

According to one report, Williams has a "big ego," some former associates say. "I've never been real bashful about letting people know what I think and that I have a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about," Williams himself has said. Williams started Super Bowl week by saying he wanted his defenders to get some "remember me" shots on Manning. Later, after the testosterone really started to surge, the defensive coordinator opined that, according to the Book of Buddy (Ryan), "all great defenses have to be feared."

To QC, Williams looks a bit like a pompous version of Muldoon the hunter just before he gets ripped to shreds and eaten by a velociraptor in the movie Jurrasic Park. Williams past experience with Manning pretty much mirrors Muldoon's experience with the raptor pack. Statistically, he has been eaten alive.

This hardly makes Williams unique. Already this year Manning has humbled two of the NFL's top defensive play designers, New England's Bill Belichick and New York's Rex Ryan. As demonstrated by the Colts' best in the NFL pass protection (.150 QCAPY; 1st in NFL), Manning is almost impossible to hit. And, don't forget, Indy's Polian has a record of ensuring that the NFL's officials look out for his guys. Ask former Bengals' coach Sam Wyche.

Like velociraptor, Manning and his raptors, er receivers, are pack hunters that use highly coordinated attack patterns. And they will be out in force on Super Bowl Sunday.

However, like most other dinosaurs, Manning doesn't want to be fed, he wants to hunt. So what Williams should do is show a little respect and feed Manning.

Feeding Mannnig was the strategy of former Houston defensive coordinator Richard Smith when the Texans met the Colts for the first time this season. When Manning came to the line and surveyed the defense, he probably could not believe his eyes. Smith had rookie strong-side linebacker Brian Cushing locked up in man-to-man coverage with Manning's key receiver, TE Dallas Clark.

Manning as much as said, "Well, if you're just going to feed me, why hunt?" He targeted Clark 16 times that day and the sticky-fingered tight end caught 14 of those balls. Cushing did not intercept a pass and only defensed one other pass, but Clark's receptions only netted 119 yards, an average of 8.5 yards per catch, as Cushing contributed 12 tackles, including 10 solos. For the game, Manning's QCYPA was a below average 6.196 and the Colts' player productivity was a pedestrian 2.76. It was one of Indianapolis' most inefficient offensive performances of the season. Indy only escaped Lucas Oil Stadium with a 20-17 win after Houston's Kris Brown missed a 42-yard field goal in the final seconds.

As ESPN's Ron Jaworski has observed, the Colts' timing on offense runs through Clark, not Manning. Thus, if New Orleans can disrupt Clark (rather than stop Clark), it will disrupt Manning even if the Saints cannot get any "remember me" hits on the quarterback. This is virtually the same strategy that Belichick and the Patriots used to upset another unstoppable passing offense, Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams, 20-17, in Super Bowl 36. With respect to that game, Jaworski obeserved in David Halberstam's The Education Of A Coach that instead of going after Warner with the blitz, the Patriots went after running back Marshall Faulk:

"'I've never seen anything like it,'" Jaworski told Halberstam. "'One of their defensive ends or linebackers, usually [Willie] McGinest or [Mike] Vrabel, wouldn't care about Warner. He would go after Faulk and drill him. No matter where he was! It was brilliant! Here's the key: The Rams rely on timing and rhythm, but everyone thinks that rhythm runs through Warner. Belichick and [defensive coordinator] Romeo Crennel decided that the Rams rhythm depended on Faulk. So they hit him and kept hitting him.'"

If, like Jaworski, Williams realizes that the Colts' rhythm runs through Clark just as the Rams' rhythm ran through Faulk, New Orleans' strong-side LB Scott Fujita could be a key player in this game. Fujita was the first defensive player that Payton acquired after he took over the Saints. Fujita was injured and missed New Orleans' games with Miami, Atlanta (twice), and Washington when their defense yielded between 23 and 34 points. At 6-5, 250 pounds, Fujita, who began his college career at California as a safety, is big enough and fast enough to do a reasonable impersonation of Cushing. A former Academic All-American, Fujita also probably is smart enough to match-up with Clark. Thus, it will be interesting to see how Fujita fits into Williams' defensive design.

It may be counterintuitive, but QC believes that the Saints are more likely to win if Clark catches 12 passes for 100 yards (8.3 per catch) than if Clark catches 4 passes for 60 yards (15 yards per catch). If Clark catches a few passes for high average, that probably means the tight end is getting deep down the middle of the field, bi-secting the secondary, and leaving it vulnerable to attacks on the flanks from raptors Wayne and Pierre Garcon. Clark is a great player--he was QC's NFL MVP--but, he is less dangerous with the ball in his hands than he is creating opportunities for Indianapolis' wide receivers.

Once before a game in Washington, former San Francisco coaching legend Bill Walsh casually advised Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman to "watch the tight end tommorrow." In the Super Bowl, QC will be watching Clark and Fujita. If Clark is getting free releases from the line of scrimmage when he is lined up tight next to a tackle and Fujita is blitzing Manning in pursuit of "remember me" shots, it probably will be a long evening for the Saints. How Williams designs his approach to Clark will be critical.

If Williams shows a little respect and feeds Manning short passes to a disrupted Clark, then New Orleans has a great chance to win. But if Williams does not show P-rex such respect, the Saints' defenders will still be alive when Manning and his receivers start to eat them. (ARCHIVES; ARCHIVES2; ARCHIVES3)

QC's GUESS: Indianapolis Colts

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Will Gregg Williams design a defensive game plan that will disrupt Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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Designing A Super Bowl Game Plan

How in the heck can a head coach be expected to design a game plan for the Super Bowl?

The Super Bowl is the ultimate test for a play designer. In the first 15 years of the Super Bowl, the better designed team won every time and the better designed team won 30 of the first 31 Super Bowls. Overall, in 43 Super Bowls, the better designed team has won 38 times and 4 of the defeats resulted from play-making failures (i.e., turnovers), not play design failures. That is an outstanding .884 winning percentage. But the paradox of the Super Bowl is that the circus-like atmosphere is about as difficult a design environment as one could conjure up if one were intentionally trying to thwart a designer.

Think about it. Most great designers, no matter the substance of the design, probably work best in quiet isolation where they can focus their mental energy on the problem at hand. For instance, Sir Isaac Newton designed the elegant solutions of the calculus in the quiet of his mother's house after the unversity was closed due to the raging of the plague in England.

The Super Bowl has its own form of raging plague of distractions, now known as "hype." Mike Tanier recently wrote in the New York Times that as far back as 1972, when not denouncing the game’s cultural impact, journalists complained about the two-week buildup before kickoff as being the “most trite, most overpublicized and most overglamorized short period in our calendar year.”

If there is one thing that football coaches detest, it is a distraction. But Super Bowl Week has nothing but distractions. Some coaches have thrived, while others have not. Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh were a combined 8-0 in the Super Bowl. Bud Grant and Marv Levy were a combined 0-8.

Anecdotally, these figures suggest to QC that a team plays with the design it brought to the Super Bowl and one should not expect a coach to come up with a brand new design in the Super Bowl's circus atmosphere. After all, this is not your mother's house. (ARCHIVES; ARCHIVES2; ARCHIVES3)

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Is superior play design the reason Chuck Noll and Bill Walsh were unbeaten the Super Bowl and Bud Grant and Marv Levy were winless? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

Contact QuantCoach

Magic Stat

Last week's Wall Street Journal looked at the predictive value of 10 different football metrics for picking the winner of the Super Bowl and found that the best predictor, big-game experience, identified the Super Bowl winnner only 64% of the time. Likewise, Cold Hard Football Facts examined 20 different metrics in its quest to identify a "magic stat" that could be used to identify the future Super Bowl winner and concluded that no such metric exists.

Likewise, QC cannot identify a magic stat that can tell the future. In 43 Super Bowls, the team entering the game with superior play design (HA) is 30-13, a .698 winning percentage. The figure is not exactly magic.

However, while a magic stat clearly does not exist, the reason a magic stat does not exist is clear: Turnovers. In 43 Super Bowls, only three teams (Baltimore in Super Bowl 5, Pittsburge in Super Bowl 14, and Pittsburgh in Super Bowl 40) have managed to win the Super Bowl while committing more turnovers than their opponents.

Teams that have won the turnover battle in the Super Bowl are 31-3 all-time, a cool .912 winning percentage. This mark is even a little better than teams that have been better coached and more productive in the Super Bowl, who are 38-5, a .884 winning percentage. Teams that are better coached, more productive, and at least break-even on turnovers are 35-1, a .972 winning percentage.

While turnover margin is highly descriptive of past Super Bowl winners, a team's turnover history in the regular season is not nearly as accurate as a predictor. The Wall Street Journal found that the team entering the Super Bowl with the better regular season turnover margin won the Super Bowl only 61 percent of the time, a number that contains even less magic as a predictor than QC's play design differential statistic. As QC's 10th Commandment details, advancednflstats.com has found that turnovers such as interceptions are the least enduring, least predictive football statistic.

Super Bowl 18 is the ultimate example of the predictive unreliability of turnovers. That year, the Washington Redskins entered the game with a plus-43 turnover margin, by far the best ratio of any Super Bowl team ever. Their opponent, the Los Angeles Raiders, came in with a minus-13 turnover margin, the worst ratio of any Super Bowl team ever. But in the Super Bowl game itself, none of this mattered as the Redskins committed 1 more turnover than the Raiders--a killer interception that linebacker Jack Squirek returned for a touchdown.

So what will all this mean when the Colts meet the Saints in Miami?

If neither Indianapolis nor New Orleans becomes generous and provides the other with a turnover advantage, the game should be extremely close. During the regular the season, the Colts' play design differential advantage over their opponents exceeded the Saints' advantage over their opponents by only .003. If one considers only data that was generated while Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were directing their respective teams, the play design differential is an infinitesimal .0009 margin in favor of Indy.

With Manning and Brees under center, the play design differential between the two teams is the smallest ever between teams preparing to face each other in the Super Bowl. If all the data generated by the teams is considered, the difference between the teams is the second smallest difference between Super Bowl opponents.

In Super Bowl 25, Buffalo entered the game with a tiny .0016 play design differential advantage over the New York Giants. In that game, each team committed 1 turnover and the game turned out to be the closest Super Bowl in history, with the Giants prevailing 20-19 after Buffalo's Scott Norwood missed a last-second field goal. Consistent with what one would expect from such evenly matched teams and a 1-point margin of victory, New York's .0049 play design differential advantage over the Bills is the smallest in Super Bowl history.

So, if you are like QC and all you want to see is a closely contested, well-played game, root against turnovers. And if you are looking for a hot tip on a magic stat, here it is: Root for turnovers and bet on the team that commits the fewest turnovers. Just don't ask QC which team that will be. (ARCHIVES; ARCHIVES2; ARCHIVES3; ARCHIVES4)

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Does a "magic stat" exist that can predict the winner of the Colts vs. the Saints in the Super Bowl? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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QC's 2009 Season-End Awards

As you probably have figured out if you have been following QuantCoach.com this football season, QC's separating the contribution of plays to football success from the contribution of players makes this site a little different. Thus, it should come as no surprise that QC's season-end awards are a little different.

Since these are the first QC season-end awards, please keep a couple things in mind. First, QC honors plays with the same level of respect that others honor players. In The Score Takes Care of Itself, the great Bill Walsh wrote that plays (i.e., ideas) should be treated with the same respect as players and held to the same Standard of Performance. "Each one was something special, with its own special introduction and personality," Walsh wrote. "Other teams might use just a number to identify a play. My plays were never just numbers to me, and I didn't want them to be just numbers to our team. They were distinct entities with personality, character, and potential of their own. Never a number. They were my children, and I bragged about them like a proud parent."

Second, QC considers coaches, assistant coaches, and quarterbacks for coach of the year honors. Other than rookies or first-time starters, quarterbacks are not considered for player of the year honors.

Here are QC's 2009 season-end awards:

GAME PLAN OF THE YEAR
New Orleans' Offensive Game Plan Versus New England

While football coaches preach taking one game at a time, Saints' head coach Sean Payton must have spent more than a week thinking about how to attack the Patriots. In combination with QB Drew Brees' flawless execution of his instructions, New Orleans' put on the finest single-game passing performance the NFL has ever seen.

COACH OF THE YEAR
San Diego's Norv Turner

Largely due to Turner's offensive designs, the Chargers led the NFL in play design differential (.0652), player productivity differential (9.56), and QCYPA (8.917). How efficient were Turner's designs? Consider this. Indianapolis and Peyton Manning passed for 99 more yards than San Diego and Philip Rivers, but needed 82 more pass attempts to gain those 99 yards. If the Chargers had thrown the ball 82 more times, they only would have had to average 1.207 yards per attempt to match the Colts' efficiency. No wonder the Chargers won 11 games in a row to close out the regular season.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Indianapolis' Dallas Clark

For QC, this was an easy choice. At the halfway point of the season, Indianapolis president Bill Polian called Clark the team's MVP. On NFL Matchup, ESPN's Ron Jaworski noted that the Colts' offense runs through Clark. He destroyed Miami Week 2 and New England in Week 10. His one-handed touchdown catch against Baltimore was one of most stylish grabs of the season.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Houston's Brian Cushing

The Texans' young linebacker put up outstanding numbers in tackles, interceptions, sacks, and passes defensed. But what really impressed QC was that Houston put him in man-to-man coverage on Clark in Week 9. Indy's Peyton Manning took one look at that matchup and probably thought, "You're joking, right?" Manning went to Clark 16 times and completed 14 passes. But here's the thing. Clark averaged less than 9 yards per catch and Manning's QCYPA for the game was a below average 6.1.

SPEC TEAM PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Cleveland's Josh Cribbs

Cribbs two 100-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns flat out beat Kansas City. In addition, his kickoff and punt returns keyed the upset of Pittsburgh and his contributions on offense were instrumental in the Browns ending the year on a 4-game winning streak.

PATIENT OWNER OF THE YEAR AWARD
Dallas' Jerry Jones

Before the season began, the Sporting News said it was "bad news for Cowboys' fans" that Jones was retaining head coach Wade Phillips. After Dallas suffered a tough, last-second, 2-point loss to the New York Giants in the grand opening of the new Cowboys Stadium, the Dallas Star-Telegram said that all that needed to be done was than everyone needed to be fired, starting with Phillips. But Jones stuck with Phillips and his staff and was rewarded with a NFC East Division championship, a playoff win, and stability and confidence for a young team that should be a major factor in 2010.
(ARCHIVES; ARCHIVES2; ARCHIVES3)

YOU MAKE THE CALL: TRUE or FALSE
Was San Diego's Norv Turner the best play designer in the NFL in 2009? (Use Twitter or the headset to send TRUE or FALSE and your reasons to QuantCoach. Please let QC know if we may post your tweet/message on The Chalkboard.)

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