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Statistical analysis: Don't fear the Colts, and other notes

Statistical analysis

If there is one statistic that's most indicative of how well a team is doing and most predictive of how it will do, it's Net Yards per Pass Attempt (YPA).
Net YPA factors includes sack yards and values efficiency rather than accumulating lots of yards in garbage time. Quarterback Donovan McNabb and the Redskins offense rank sixth in the NFL at 6.9 YPA. The defense ranks 17th at 6.3 YPA. The league average is 6.2 YPA. (Ignore the official NFL passer rating. It's an epically useless and arbitrary statistic. I can understand many fans' skepticism about stats due to abominations like passer rating.)

I realize this sounds completely insane, but...
Coach Mike Shanahan should have gone for it on 4th and 2 on the Green Bay 27 with a minute to play in regulation. Field goals from that range are good 70 percent of the time, and conversions for two yards are successful 60 percent of the time, but that's only part of the story. Even if the tying field goal is good, it leaves more than a minute for Aaron Rodgers to put his team in field-goal range. In the modern NFL, this is more than enough time to move 40 or so yards against a defense to attempt a field goal. Sure enough, that's exactly what happened. A fourth-down conversion takes away that possibility and gives the Redskins the opportunity to seal the win with a touchdown and still keep the field goal as an option. When all the numbers are crunched, going for it would have given the Redskins a 41 percent chance of winning, and kicking the field goal gave them a 23 percent chance.

The Redskins found their deep ball this year.
Anthony Armstrong's long touchdown reception to bring the score within three points Sunday was only one example. The NFL classifies deep pass attempts as those that are more than 15 yards in the air. During the Jim Zorn era, only 13 percent of the Redskins' pass attempts were deep, while the league average is 19 percent. So far this season, Kyle Shanahan's offense has attempted 20 percent. League-wide, pass attempts are more lucrative than running plays in most situations, even accounting for the risk of sacks and interceptions. The advantage of passing comes exclusively from deep attempts. Even incomplete deep throws help stretch the defense and often draw interference calls, and interceptions are normally no worse than a long punt.

Clay Matthews's injury last Sunday made an enormous impact.
Matthews not only leads all NFL linebackers with 8 sacks and 54 sack yards, he also leads the league with 13 quarterback hits. He had already sacked McNabb twice when he left the game in the third quarter. At that point, Matthews had just defended a critical third-down play to stop a Redskins drive. The Packers lead 13-3, giving the Redskins only an 18 percent chance of winning. Before the injury, the Redskins' passing game registered -4.5 Expected Points Added (EPA) compared to +6.4 EPA after he left. I realize stats like EPA can be a little abstract for some fans, so you might think of it this way: Losing Matthews effectively cost the Packers as much as 11 points.

Don't fear the Colts.
Sure, Peyton Manning can carve up any defense. So far this year he averages 7.2 YPA along with a 0.9 percent interception rate, both third best in the league. But keep in mind that McNabb's no slouch himself. His 6.9 YPA is fifth best, and his interception rate is 1.8 percent, seventh best. (The NFL average interception rate is 3.2 percent.) The Colts' vulnerability is their defense, particularly against the run. They allow a 49 percent success rate against the run, third worst in the league (average is 41 percent). The Colts' pass defense is closer to the middle of the pack, but if the Redskins' offensive line can hold up, this game could become a shootout. The Redskins should take their shots down the field with play action on first down to keep the middle linebacker from dropping into deep Tampa-2 coverage. They should also run right at the Colts' pass rushers on third and mid-to-long distances to keep them honest, a tactic that can be surprisingly effective. On paper this looks to be a matchup between fairly even teams, and the Redskins have an edge playing at home.


Brian Burke is a former Navy pilot who has given up his F/A-18 for the less dangerous hobby of football analysis. He is the creator of Advanced NFL Stats, a Web site about football, statistics and game theory.

By Brian Burke  | October 15, 2010; 6:04 AM ET
Categories:  Statistical analysis  
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Comments

scottcampbell1975

"I really can't stand Bush as he has done more to damage true conservatism.."

Bush's failures as a conservative are why so many people have gone so far right to faux-libertarian Tea Party ideals.

George Bush talked conservative, did a lot of things that ran opposite the philosophy.

The tax cuts were fine.

But not while starting two wars.

The relaxed business regulation was okay.

But it didn't mean you don't check in from time to time to see what the bankers are doing with the public's money.

Bush did a heck of a job of helping African countries fight AIDS while putting in place scientists in America who denied research that didn't add up to what was in the bible.

It didn't help that Bush singular scandal was a dumb rapper who freely uses the N-word stating that he hated black people.

Torturing terrorists, though unfortunate, was the only thing to do given the gravity of the situation.

It doesn't help, though that Bin Ladin is still free.

And of course, we all hate the gubbermint right up until the hurricane/storm/crime wave/financial crisis hits.

Then we expect competence in the form of quickly delivered blue roof tarps and a well-regulated TARP.

And in so many ways, the Bush crowd couldn't pass that test either.

I'm more inclined to give Obama his four years before passing judgement on what he's done so far.

It's easy to hate the bus driver Obama half way through the trip, so I'd rather see the result of his policies before throwing bricks his way.

Christ, he's been in office only 18 months with a frightened Democratic Party and snarky John Boehner on the other side, and some folks have already doomed him to failure.

I guess they can do so after living through it for the previous 8 years.

'Cuz the Bush ride certainly did come to a crashing halt.

Posted by: MistaMoe | October 15, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

This "statistical analysis" stuff is FIRST class bullsh*t...

Posted by: brownwood26 | October 15, 2010 6:56 AM | Report abuse

It's all well and good to say we should have gone for it on fourth and to based on league averages, but the Redskins have been inept in short yardage this year. We run some poorly we don't even threaten play action on third and two, allowing the other team to play tight man coverage and forcing an incompletion. I know the coaches are really smart, but that doesn't make sense to me.

Posted by: crashinghero | October 15, 2010 7:04 AM | Report abuse


first politics and now FA. you guys trying to ruin me first cup of coffee ?

Posted by: hessone | October 15, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

C'mon Moe...you're better than this, dude. Politics on the blog? Really?

Posted by: brownwood26 | October 15, 2010 7:19 AM | Report abuse

This "statistical analysis" stuff is FIRST class bullsh*t...

Posted by: brownwood26 | October 15, 2010 6:56 AM

It sure beats the politics. Moe -- your politics is no more interesting than anyone else's up here. And statistical analysis proves that you're all zeroes. Bring your football stuff. Bring your humor. But leave the politics for the late nighters.

Posted by: beep-beep | October 15, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Repost I got beeped!!!!

Theres nothing wrong with FA's as long as it's done right. No old superstars go with young FA's who fit a specific need. Keep all draft picks and try to trade down for more, or trade someone on the current team for draft picks if possible and that player does not fit the scheme.

FA's is a good tool just not the way it's been used here in the past, let's hope we can get some good young players to fill needs on this team.

NO F_cking POLITICS!!!!!!!

Posted by: Flounder21 | October 15, 2010 7:25 AM | Report abuse

Yeahhhhhh..... I still fear the Colts.

Posted by: Rypien11 | October 15, 2010 7:34 AM | Report abuse


FA's is a good tool just not the way it's been used here in the past, let's hope we can get some good young players to fill needs on this team.

FA's are good to add after you build a nucleus through the draft. draft down, draft up, trade for draft picks. DRAFT first then add through FA's or a possible trade that rounds out your team

Posted by: hessone | October 15, 2010 7:37 AM | Report abuse

Agreed, Flound...FA is fine by me as long as we're not building this thing exclusively that way and as long as we're getting the RIGHT guys. Seems to me, David Harris is a good get if he actually hits the market.

Posted by: brownwood26 | October 15, 2010 7:41 AM | Report abuse

FA's are good to add after you build a nucleus through the draft. draft down, draft up, trade for draft picks. DRAFT first then add through FA's or a possible trade that rounds out your team

Posted by: hessone | October 15, 2010 7:37 AM

You can't build through the draft when you've already traded away your third and fourth round picks. And, free agency is before the draft on the NFL calendar.

Posted by: beep-beep | October 15, 2010 7:44 AM | Report abuse

Yeah Moe, No politics unless you're saying something pfunk, beep or scamp agree with.

Posted by: mack1 | October 15, 2010 7:49 AM | Report abuse


brown, you want to aquire DHarris so he can play with who, PDaniels, ACarter, and LFletcher ? You think DMcNabb is the bridge to a "younger" team ? Stop adding old veterans and don't add good players until we have a strong foundation built through the draft or your operating the same way you have for the last decade. of course I want a winning team, but the first step is finding out what you have, going on right now, build up draft picks, draft decent players, compliment those players by FA's or a trade. unless you want to WIN NOW, like we have for the last ten years, then add FA's out the ying yang.

ask yourself a question and be honest, when AH was a free agent, did you want the Redskins to sign him ? I bet most posters mouths were watering thinking about AH in a Redskins uniform.

Posted by: hessone | October 15, 2010 7:56 AM | Report abuse


You can't build through the draft when you've already traded away your third and fourth round picks. And, free agency is before the draft on the NFL calendar.

look to the north beep. NE is stockpiling draft picks, so don't tell me it can't be done. you have to will your way to do it and it takes time and patients. unless you want to WIN NOW.

Posted by: hessone | October 15, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

This guy is such a NERD, he even looks like a NERD!

Posted by: monk811 | October 15, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse

Yeah Moe, No politics unless you're saying something pfunk, beep or scamp agree with.

Posted by: mack1 | October 15, 2010 7:49 AM

Yeah Moe, No politics.

There, mack1, fixed it for ya.

Posted by: beep-beep | October 15, 2010 8:06 AM | Report abuse


beep and repost

Posted by: hessone | October 15, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

I'm curious as to what defines a successful run. Obviously, it is more than 1 yard, based on the averages. But what about 4 yards? What about a 1 yard 1st down? Lou holtz once said his favorite thing to hear was 2 and 6, because if he can get 4 yards running on first down, he only needs 3 yards per play for the first.

These could be interesting stats, but some explanation (or at least links to explanations) would make the whole thing a lot more believable.

Posted by: salparadise661 | October 15, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

This guy is such a NERD, he even looks like a NERD!

Posted by: monk811 | October 15, 2010 8:06 AM

I prefer when the NERD posts around noon...this is too much for PlayAction at 8:30 in the morning.

Posted by: PlayAction | October 15, 2010 8:31 AM | Report abuse

Great analysis! I hope the game is not a shoot out and we control the clock with run game. The shoot out with Houston did not end well as the Skin defense seems to play soft when they have points to defend.

McNabb's error free ways and long throw ability makes up for the occassional inaccurate throws. A good run game, mistake free long throws and great defence is the best way to win; ask Pittsburg.

Posted by: SeedofChange | October 15, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

This "NERD" flew fighter jets to keep you and your loved ones safe....I think the deserves a little respect.

Posted by: Searchingforstanley | October 15, 2010 9:15 AM | Report abuse

I'm not particularly afraid of the Colts. If our defense continues to progress, this is a very winnable game. I'm cautiously optimistic. I guess that's what two consecutive wins does for you.

And I'm so sorry, but I cannot let this slide:

"Torturing terrorists, though unfortunate, was the only thing to do given the gravity of the situation."

This is a terrible thing to say Moe. Think of our troops who become prisoners when you say things like this. The only flimsy defense we have against our troops being tortured is us not doing so. It ain't much but its all we've got. That and our honor.

Posted by: AhhYes | October 15, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

YPA
I love it when stats guys try to turn foobaw into baseball; where stats rule. His linked article is very interesting, but I'd still love to see his picks this season vs. mine. I just always seems you're using stats to explain what happened and then stating it was because of the stats. Still interesting, though.

Going 4th it
You do realize there's an MIT paper that explains how it's statistically better to go for it on 4th no matter what. Again, does anyone account for reality?! lol.

Balls Deep
Well, yeah - bring in a competent OC & a top 5 (or so) QB - yeh.. your all-stars will begin to catch passes...

Valuing Matthews
This also happens to be my favorite 90's Central Florida alternative band. But I actually can't argue this. I agree - that was among the biggest events of the game. Now... how much does a Rogers concussion get us?

Holstered Colts
Hey, I love the optimism. And I know you need to go into Indy believing you're going to win to even have a shot. But I believe we're actually going to have to concentrate on the RUN here... I mean, it's not like they don't have game tape of us missing a million tackles...And if they get us concentrating on that exclusively- lookout 4 Peyton!

So, while I may agree or disagree with the contentions... this is probably the best post on RI I've seen this season.

Mucho Culo! Props. Hail to 'em.

Oh & Happy Friday, ThRedsters!

Posted by: DikShuttle | October 15, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

"The relaxed business regulation was okay.
But it didn't mean you don't check in from time to time to see what the bankers are doing with the public's money." posted by MistaMoe

You should consider reading Michael Lewis' "The Big Short" available at your local big box bookstore. That describes a Wall Street culture that could never be monitored by government types who 'check in from time to time.'

Those are some big-time thieves, buddy.

Posted by: Samson151 | October 15, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Balls Deep
Well, yeah - bring in a competent OC & a top 5 (or so) QB - yeh.. your all-stars will begin to catch passes...

Posted by: DikShuttle | October 15, 2010 9:38 AM

Also remember that we had no offensive line and an immobile quarterback, so we simply couldn't get the time to try a deep pass last season.

As far as the analysis, I enjoy it!

Posted by: ltblue14 | October 15, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Stat analysis is just another tool for making decisions. A way of knowing what the odds are so you can play them if you want. Clearly, coaches don't always follow them (witness Shanahan's FG). There are other considerations.

After Duke won the NCAA b-ball title, somebody asked Coach K why he was so determined not to go to overtime, as most coaches would have done. He said Butler was getting a lot of energy from the home crowd, and he just figured the Dookies would lose in OT. Not the percentage play, but as it turned out, the right one.

By the way, an MIT study demonstrates that anyone who claims stats are worthless BS has a 99.99% chance of being an idiot.

Posted by: Samson151 | October 15, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I thought the stats article was excellent. FGs are always praised by the announcers as the "smart" play, but in reality the smart play is going for it. Who goes for it the most? Belichick, the league's savviest coach. Of course, it helps to have a lot of job security, because your owner may not understand stats.

In the case of the Redskins FG, they actually did the right thing. Why? Because there is no way they had a 60% chance of making the first down. Their run game was atrocious, and do you really want to try to pass for it with their undersized receivers and GB's All Pro corners?

Posted by: Iamhumongous | October 15, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

I realize this sounds completely insane, but...
"Coach Mike Shanahan should have gone for it on 4th and 2 on the Green Bay 27 with a minute to play in regulation."


NO....what he should have done is call a running play right up the gut that would have carried minimal risk of lost yardage and kept the clock running...the result being either a. forcing GB to burn a timeout or b. with the time run off not have left them with the 1:10 they ended up with.

Posted by: dchandl3 | October 15, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

Let's not forget that if the Skins ran for it on the final 4th and 2 and did not convert, the Redskins best case would have been to get the ball back with no timeouts and have to drive 50 yards or so in less than 30 seconds just to get the chance to kick a long game-tying FG.

I don't blame Shanny for taking the 3 right away - effectively saying "My defense is playing pretty well today and they deserve a chance to make a stop".

Prior to that 4th and 2, the Redskins had to get two yards at three other points during the game (including a 4th and 2 to start the fourth quarter). The results of those three plays: Torain loses a yard on the ground and McNabb throws a pair of incompletions.

Say what you will about two-yard conversions working 60% of the time ... I don't think the Redskins got that memo.

Posted by: kevmikwa | October 15, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

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