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
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).
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
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
In a 2004 piece in the New York Times, Subconsciously, Athletes May Play
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
Mike Pesca and former NFL star Phil Simms have
observed, "quarterbacks don't often really think out their
"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
Simms told NPR before New Orleans and its star QB,
Drew Brees, met Indianapolis and its star QB, Peyton Manning, in the Super
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
"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
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
Indianapolis' opponents also have noticed Peyton's ability to remember.
"It was like Peyton has a photographic memory or something," New
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
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
Those are the $45 million questions.
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
"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."
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
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)
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
"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
After his ski lift paper was published, Romer began to receive letters from
other prominent economists, including
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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,
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.
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
SUPER BOWL PREVIEW
Indianapolis v. New Orleans
PLAY DESIGN DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 2nd; New Orleans 3rd
PLAYER PRODUCTIVITY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS: Indianapolis 7th; New Orleans
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
"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
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
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
QCAPY) so expect Brees to have a big day and the Saints to
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
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
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
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'
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;
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.)
Designing A Super Bowl Game Plan
How in the heck can a head coach be expected to design a game plan for the
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
Mike Tanier recently wrote in the New York
Times that as far back as 1972, when not denouncing the games
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.)
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
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
details, advancednflstats.com has found that turnovers such
as interceptions are the least enduring, least predictive football
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
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
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;
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.)
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
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
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