"Clutch" Defenses in 2011

Tonight the two most 'clutch' defenses of 2011 face off. One way to measure which defenses have been most 'clutch' is to take the difference between their actual Win Probability Added (WPA) and their expected WPA given their Expected Points Added (EPA). WPA accounts for the leverage of score and time while EPA ignores that leverage. A plot of each defense's Win Probability Added (WPA) against his Expected Points Added (EPA) creates a baseline expected WPA for each defense.

Next, we can measure the difference between each defense's expected WPA and his actual WPA. This difference could be considered clutchitude. The graph below illustrates this concept. The vertical red line is the difference between the WPA and the expected WPA of a very un-clutch defense this season--the Carolina Panthers.

Note that this is not a claim that 'clutch' is a permanent or reliable quality of any team or player. It is only a recognition that some squads have performed better or worse in high leverage situations than they have in other situations so far this season. We might expect the squads at the top of the list to regress toward the mean over the remainder of the season. In other words, they might be considered as 'over-performing.' Likewise, the squads at the bottom of the list might be expected to regress upward.  For example, the Jets' #27 ranking does not imply they do not play well under pressure. It only means that their best play has tended to be in low-leverage situations to date.

These numbers are through Sunday afternoon of week 8. Keep in mind negative WPA and EPA numbers are good. On this list, a Positive 'clutch' number means the squad has won more than expected--that is, the team has tended to over-perform in high-leverage situations.

RankTeamEPAWPAExp. WPA'Clutch'
1 SD22.4-0.330.610.94
2 KC35.00.140.920.78
3 GB28.2-0.010.750.76
4 CIN-14.9-1.00-0.280.72
5 TB52.10.631.330.70
6 STL74.41.271.870.60
7 ATL24.80.110.670.56
8 TEN20.10.030.560.53
9 SEA-0.7-0.310.060.37
10 SF-24.4-0.88-0.510.37
11 IND81.61.692.040.35
12 NYG14.00.180.410.23
13 DEN30.40.710.810.10
14 ARI62.41.541.580.04
15 CHI8.
16 DET-47.7-1.04-1.07-0.03
17 NE64.71.681.63-0.05
18 CLE2.80.220.14-0.08
19 WAS15.40.540.45-0.09
20 DAL-16.6-0.23-0.33-0.10
21 JAX-7.6-0.01-0.11-0.10
22 PIT-3.90.17-0.02-0.19
23 NYJ-30.7-0.33-0.67-0.34
24 OAK66.42.031.68-0.35
25 BAL-70.9-1.27-1.63-0.36
26 MIA57.21.881.45-0.43
27 PHI45.91.721.18-0.54
28 BUF21.01.300.58-0.72
29 NO33.81.690.89-0.80
30 HOU-6.70.73-0.09-0.82
31 CAR70.12.681.76-0.92
32 MIN48.72.381.25-1.13

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7 Responses to “"Clutch" Defenses in 2011”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I've always found it confusing that, for the defense, negative WPA and EPA are good. That seems like it would refer to the WP and EP added by opposing offenses at the defense's expense.

  2. Brian Burke says:

    I agree. There's an argument to be made either way.

    One observation I'd make here is that GB's lowly defensive ranking probably underrates their defensive strength. This table suggests they are indeed letting up in trash time, which hurts their overall numbers.

    On the other hand, the table suggests NE's low defensive ranking is more deserved.

  3. Ian B says:

    I'm not sure I agree with your interpretation of what your clutch stat indicates, Brian. I don't think it means that the teams at the top of the table are letting up, I think it just means that they've been lucky. The fact that there are a ton of crappy teams (that wouldn't be letting up) at the top of the list supports that. Basically I think this is an explanatory stat rather than a predictive one (e.g. GB's defense will perform better when it counts).

    This is probably already in the cards, but I'd love to see this for offenses.

  4. Brian Burke says:

    I think we're all on the same page here.

    "Note that this is not a claim that 'clutch' is a permanent or reliable quality of any team or player. It is only a recognition that some squads have performed better or worse in high leverage situations than they have in other situations so far this season."

  5. Tarr says:

    I've always more-or-less regarded EPA as the predictive stat and WPA as the descriptive stat. This is a nice way to make that more explicit, and to measure the difference between "how well have they played" and "how good have their results been".

  6. Jim Glass says:

    With SD and KC ranked #1 and #2 in clutchitudiness, it's no wonder their game went to OT!

  7. Maxva says:

    Check weekly NFL Power Rankings details here and also check results, salaries and more in the below links

    NFL Power Rankings 2011
    NFL Results 2011
    NFL Salaries 2011

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