Deadspin/Slate Roundtable: Passing in 2011

Here's a second post in the roundtable series at Slate and Deadspin. This one encapsulates and updates my recent look at the causes of the passing explosion in 2011. It's a little more readable and entertaining than the original graph-filled post.

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8 Responses to “Deadspin/Slate Roundtable: Passing in 2011”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Some guy on deadspin brings up an interesting question:

    "You say the number of long pass attempts is actually down, but what is the completion percentage on those long pass attempts? Just curious."

    But I would imagine if long pass completion percentage was higher then teams would logically be attempting many more long passes, not less. Then again, NFL coaches aren't really what I would call "logical".

  2. Chuck says:

    by definition, a screen pass is caught behind the LOS making down field blocks before and while the ball is in the air legal. your example regarding the pick by a wr is not a screen play by definition. does the nfl track screen play frequency? can you track catches by RBs? RBs are more likely to catch check downs and screens.

  3. Jeff Fogle says:

    A little concerned about blanket statements being proposed (lockout, kickoffs, screen passes)when we're seeing such varied results across the league. The average is up 24 yards per game...but team-by-team results are all over the place. Nine teams have lower passing yardage this year (with 3 being connected to rookies Dalton and Gabbert...and then Painter taking over for P. Manning). Of the improvers, a couple are way off the charts (Carolina up almost 170 yards per game, Pats up about 125).

    So, it's not like "everybody" is up 25 yards per game because of a unifying influence like touchbacks or a league-wide use of screens.

    Might be interesting to focus on what the biggest movers are doing most effectively (Carolina, New England, Dallas, Tennessee, Green Bay, New Orleans)then see if that's something the stragglers are unable to do.

    Also worth considering as minor contributors:

    *The QB position as a composite was upgraded in the offseason...with new plusses (Newton, Kolb, better health for some starters) outweighing new minuses (Dalton/Gabbert/Painter). If nothing else changed...and this position was upgraded in composite...then passing yardage should go up some (not suggeting this by itself would explain the phenomenon).

    *Defenses have made a different choice about how they're defending certain pass plays in the middle of the field...so that the numbers we're seeing have been influenced by a strategy choice rather than offenses imposing their will.

    *NFL defenses save their best efforts for divisional games because those carry the most priority in the standings (win your division, go to the playoffs). Only 20 of 77 games so far have been divisional games---26%, compared to 38% of a full schedule)

    Possibly a brew here of many influences that involve offensive strategies, defensive choices, game prioritization, and a composite upgrade at the position. May not be "one" thing.

    Brian, do you have a handy way to compare passing yardage in divisional vs. non-divisional games? Or, something that would provide deeper focus on what the extreme teams are doing specifically?

  4. Jeff Fogle says:

    Went through and did some divisional stuff by hand just with passing yardage by game. Of the 32 NFL teams, only 8 have passing averages larger in divisional games than in non-divisional games to this point. Three of those are New England-Buffalo-Miami, with the latter two being involved in shootouts against NE's poor pass defense.

    Of the rest of the league:
    21 clearly higher averages in non-divisional
    2 slightly higher averages in non-divisional
    1 St. Louis, who hasn't played any divisional games yet

    The 21 with higher passing averages to this point (granting we're talking about very small sample sizes...with many teams only playing one divisional game to date). Non-divisional averages listed first. I rounded up to the nearest yard to save typing time....and I did these by hand so there might be an error here or there...

    Oakland: 250 to 99
    Carolina: 335 to 219
    Dallas: 358 to 250
    Philly: 301 to 199
    San Diego: 332 to 235
    Seattle: 241 to 147
    NYJ: 237 to 158
    Cincinnati: 227 to 155
    Tampa Bay: 245 to 180
    NYG: 294 to 236
    San Francisco: 198 to 124
    Houston: 278 to 217
    Green Bay: 339 to 292
    Cleveland: 246 to 202
    Indianapolis: 213 to 172
    Tennessee: 278 to 249
    Baltimore: 241 to 215
    New Orleans: 335 to 313
    Pittsburgh: 268 to 246
    Denver: 208 to 193
    Detroit: 289 to 276

    So, I think there's a chance that some of what we're seeing may be a reflection of defenses backing off a bit in non-divisional games, defenses bring more intensity in divisional games, or offenses getting more conservative and running clock in divisional games...during a quirk in the schedule when we've had a slighter than realized percentage of divisional games.

    I guess I left out great weather as a possibility in the earlier post. Definitely a chance for divisional games in the Midwest and Northeast to help inspire a regression later in the season. But, even a team like San Diego in great conditions this year went 212 and 258 in divisional games, 295-330-372 outside the division. Can you tell which of Cam Newton's non-divisional games were played in a monsoon...out of 403, 404, 158, and 374? He only had 219 in his only divisional game vs. the Saints.

    A possible influence anyway...

  5. Brian Burke says:

    There are many fewer divisional games than non-divisional games. So divisional games will have a wider distribution (higher variance). It's not unlikely at all to see a large difference in one direction or another (two-tailed), particularly at this point in the season.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Brian, I love the idea that the yardage increases are changed by the kickoff rule changes,mainly because it is the simplest explanation (true or not). Do you plan to look into this? I would have thought it would be fairly straightforward - if the theory is correct then the YPC and YAC should be same as in the past, provided we are only looking at situations with the same distance to the goal line.

  7. Chuck says:

    would be interesting to exam average drive start after a kickoff compared to years past.

    fyi, i keep hearing football people say the tackling is atrocious. They say the combination of short preseason and new no pads practice rules are to blame.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Based on football outsiders drive stats teams are starting their drives about 1.8 yards further away on average than before.

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