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Just The Sports: 2006-09-03

Just The Sports

Friday, September 08, 2006

Willie Parker's Night

As of last night, the first NFL game is in the gamebooks and Willie Parker is right now the NFL's leading rusher, finishing the night with 115 yards on 29 carries. Those numbers don't tell the whole story of his night so let's look beneath them a little bit. Overall, he gained a successful amount of yardage on 12 of those runs for a success rate of 41.3%. Nineteen of his runs were up the middle or off-guard, seven were around the left end, two were around the right end, one was off the left tackle, and he did not run right tackle at all during the game.

The first half was the worse half for the Pittsburgh running game even though Parker ended up with a higher yards per carry than he had in the second half (4.4 to 3.6). Really the only reason the yards per carry average was that high was because of his 32-yard run off right end. Take that run away and Parker only had 2.1 yards per carry in the first half. This low average is reflected in the fact he only had four successful runs out of thirteen rushes, two out of 8 on runs up the middle.

It was the second half where Parker and the Steelers got on track in their running game with Parker having successful runs on eight of his sixteen carries with the successful yardage being more evenly distributed. His most marked improvement came on runs up the middle where he had five successful runs on eleven carries, which is very important since Pittsburgh prides itself most on the ability to run up the middle. Had Parker continued to fail in these runs, perhaps there would have been another victor in this game.

*Successful running plays are defined as 40% of yardage on first down, 60% on second down, and 100% on third or fourth down. When the running back's team has a lead in the first quarter, it's 30% on first down, 50% on second down, and the same for third or fourth downs.

SEC Defenses

I have long been of the opinion that SEC defenses are overrated and that a large amount of their success is a result of the teams in the conference having little to no offensive imagination. Part of this thinking is based on the fact that an offensive guru like Steve Spurrier or David Cutcliffe or even Al Borges can basically run roughshod over the vaunted SEC defenses, but I did not know for sure so I went and looked at the box scores of the teams from 1995-2005, minus a handful of box scores that I could not find. Then I split up the data into non-conference and conference opponents because of my two hypotheses. In the data set, there were 471 non-conference games and 1,029 conference games

The first hypothesis was that if these defenses were so spectacular, then their defensive prowess would extend to their non-conference opponents and that they would perform even better defensively since these non-conference opponents would probably not be used to facing an SEC defense. The second hypothesis had to do with the offense and tested whether the SEC offenses exploded against non-conference opponents after leaving the suffocating SEC defense.

As for the first hypothesis, SEC defenses did perform better against non-conference opponents. They, on average, gave up 4.9 less points, 18 fewer passing yards, and 17.1 fewer rushing yards than when they faced fellow conference foes. Also, these defenses held their non-conference opponents to a lower completion percentage, yards per catch, yards per rush, and yards per passing attempt.

The offenses did also do better against non-conference teams. In these games, the offenses scored on average 7.5 more points, passed for 23.4 more yards, and rushed for 27.6 more yards. As is to be expected, they completed a higher percentage of passes and had a higher yards per catch, yards per rush, and yards per pass attempt.

Now, the two hypotheses could have been laid to rest there, but most of the non-conference foes that any major conference schedules are absolute jokes and of course these teams could be expected to beat up on the weakest teams in the country. Therefore, I took out all the non-BCS non-conference foes. I included Notre Dame in the BCS teams and also applied the definition of BCS teams retroactively (i.e, Louisville is included). Doing so left me with 183 games.

After I did that, the difference was erased completely. The SEC defenses gave up 1.6 more average points against their BCS non-conference opponents than against their intra-conference adversaries. The defenses did allow a slightly lower completion percentage and on average gave up .6 fewer passing yards, but gave up 9.9 more rushing yards. Every other stat I looked at was basically the same.

Like the defenses, the offenses performed incrementally better in some categories and identically in other categories. On average, they scored .7 more points against BCS non-conference teams and passed for 20.9 more yards while rushing for 4.3 fewer yards.

The question now is how these numbers stack up to the other major conferences around the country, but since I only looked at one conference, I can only give you the numbers for this one conference, but SEC defenses are what they are when facing comparable foes, giving up around 24 points (+/- 13 points), allowing 209-210 passing yards (+/- 90 yards), and 139-149 rushing yards (+/- 78 yards) a game. The numbers in parentheses are one standard deviation away from the averages.

On a different note, I also ran the correlations to see which statistics points are mostly tied to, for all opponents regardless of BCS conference affiliation. When SEC teams are on offense against non-conference foes, the stats' correlation are in this order: yards per passing attempt, yards per rush, rushing yards, completion percentage, passing yards, yards per catch, pass completions, rushing attempts, and pass attempts.

When SEC teams play offense against conference opponents, the correlations go like this: yards per passing attempt, rushing yards, passing yards, yards per rush, completion percentage, yards per catch, rushing attempts, pass completions, and pass attempts.

For the games for SEC defenses against non-conference teams, the opposing offenses points are correlated in this order: yards per passing attempt, passing yards, rushing yards, yards per catch, yards per rush, completion percentage, rushing attempts, pass completions, and passing attempts.

When SEC defenses play intra-conference rivals, the correlations are as follows: yards per passing attempt, rushing yards, passing yards, yards per rush, completion percentage, yards per catch, rushing attempts, pass completions, and pass attempts.

I never really answered my original question of whether SEC defenses are overrated, but I no longer think the defenses are a result of no offensive imagination within the conference since the defenses perform equally well in and out of conference unless their foes have no offensive imagination either.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Not Sports-Related

Today there is really nothing I want to write about sports-related so going back to my college roots, where I wrote satirical articles for a magazine, I have decided to pen one, inspired by the death of Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and the obligatory sentiment of, "at least he died doing what he loved," which got me thinking about why we don't apply that logic to other deaths. Well, I did. Hope you enjoy.

Heroin Addict Dies Doing What She Loved

The death of twenty four year old Lauren Metzger by drug overdose shocked no one in the small community of Bladenboro, North Carolina. Her drug exploits were much discussed by the residents, sometimes to the ridicule of Metzger, though always with a tinge of respect.

Metzger, before her untimely demise, was one of the most knowledgeable experts on illicit drugs in the area, able to counsel those who were just getting into drugs and inform them which dealers could be trusted and how best to avoid compromising the sterility of needles. At the age of fourteen, Metzger smoked her first marijuana joint and quickly gatewayed into ecstasy, cocaine, and LSD before finally settling on heroin. It is this drug she became best known for.

"If I were to asked to describe Lauren in one way, I would say it was her deep, unabashed love for heroin," brother, Paul, said. "A lot of drug addicts simply pay lip service to the drugs they abuse, but Lauren was so genuine in her drug use. Heroin wasn't just a drug she did; heroin was who she was. Even when her veins collapsed, Lauren didn't let that deter her. That's just the type of addict she was."

Friend Lisa Pope, who was with Lauren when she OD'd, expressed similar sentiments when talking of Metzger. "After freaking out and rushing about and finally finding the phone to call the ambulance, I was just shocked that this sort of thing could happen to Lauren," she said. "We both knew the risks involved, but silly as it sounds, I thought Lauren would live forever as a heroin addict. She just seemed so invincible. I know I'll never forget her and the heroin lessons she gave me."

The Metzger family plans to establish a foundation for other heroin addicts who need a place to come together and share their love of heroin.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I'm Out of Peter King-Themed Headlines

No intro today. Let's just get straight to the idiocy of Peter King.

2. * New York Giants, 10-6: Everything's on Eli Manning's shoulders. Agreed. But the awful way he finished '05, in the playoff embarrassment to Carolina, should not make moot how he started it. One of the most amazing stats of last seasons was that Eli threw for 15 more yards than his brother.

Even more amazing is that it only took Eli 104 more passing attempts to get those 15 more yards. Way to go, Eli.

1. Detroit, 10-6

This is ludicrous only because he thinks Detroit will actually win 10 games. There's no reason to think Chicago won't win the NFC North division for the second year in a row. The whole division will have ridiculously easy schedules, but Chicago's will still be the easiest.

I believe Adam Vinatieri will be OK and will win a game or two the Colts would have lost in the past, and I believe they'll make up for the loss of outside 'backer David Thornton, a Tony Dungy favorite, with Gilbert Gardner, who had an impressive and stout preseason.

Vinatieri will only help the Colts win a game or two they would have lost if he is given the opportunity to do so. Maybe none of the Colts games this year will even come down to a last-second field goal and Vinatieri will turn out to be no less valuable than any other kicker in the league.

2. * San Diego, 10-6. I really loved the defense -- until Steve Foley got shot three times after being chased by a cop Saturday night. Foley's a physical, 265-pound pass- and run-stopping fiend who was perfect in Marty Schottenheimer's heavy defense, and now we don't know if he'll play this year.

For someone Peter claims to be a pass and run-stopping fiend, Steve Foley was involved in very few of San Diego's defensive plays. According to the game charters at Pro Football Prospectus 2006, Foley was involved in 5.2% of San Diego's plays, ranking him 101 of all the NFL's defensive players. Foley probably would not have had much of an impact this year, either, given how deep the Chargers are at linebacker.

Branch wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver, which is his right. But he hasn't performed like one -- other than in two magnificent Super Bowls -- in his four years. His average season: 54 catches, 686 yards, 3.5 touchdowns.

Slow down, Peter. Those seemingly low numbers are not entirely Branch's fault. In 2002, Branch was but a rookie receiver and the Patriots were not yet ready to treat him like a #1 wide receiver. This is evidenced by David Patten being throw the ball 120 times and Branch only being thrown the ball 68 times. To his credit, Branch had a much higher catch percentage than Patten (63% to 51%).

His second year in the NFL, 2003, was his first year of being the #1 receiver for the Patriots and he did not let them down, ranking 14th in DPAR (19.3) and 18th in DVOA (23.4%) even though his catch percentage went down.

For 2004, Branch only appeared in 9 games so of course he was not going to see or catch many passes that year. He still had fifth best value per play over average of wide receivers who were thrown at least fifty passes.

Last year, Branch was fully healthy and was 12th in DPAR (27.9) and 13th in DVOA (19.5%), which says to me, #1 receiver. His catch percentage was also high while being thrown the ball a lot, something he struggled with in 2003.

6. I think it's nice to see that Denzel Washington will have a team to root for this fall. His son, John David Washington, a small-college running back, has made the Rams' practice squad.

Thank goodness for that. I hate to think what Denzel Washington would have done this NFL season had his son not made the squad for a team. He probably would have worried so much about not having a team to root for that he would have wasted away to Carson Daly-manorexic levels.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Not Really An Upset

Those who have decided to call Tennessee's win over California an upset and get overly excited about the Volunteers need to slow down just a bit. There is no such outcome as an upset in the first week of the football season because no one really knows how these teams will play once they face plays in a different-colored uniform. All that anyone can go on is how good he or she thinks a team is and that is worth very little at the end of the day. The prudent thing would be to hold off on even ranking teams until they play a significant portion of their schedule, but then television networks would be unable to hype up their games endlessly so I know that will never happen.

But I did have another point to this post so let me go ahead and get to it. In 1999, the first week of the season, No. 3 Arizona faced No. 4 Penn State in what was supposed to be a close game. Penn State demolished Arizona by 34 and one could have called that an upset, but one by closer ranked opponents. Well, by the end of the season, this blowout win looked a lot less impressive since Arizona finished the season with a 6-6 overall record and 3-5 in the Pac-10 Conference. Penn State did win 10 games that year while losing only three, but they only went 5-3 in the conference losing their last three Big 11 games.

California in 2006 have a similar problem than Arizona in 1999 and that is not having a clear-cut starting quarterback. Nate Longshore played poorly and Joe Ayoob led the Golden Bears to 18 points, but they came late in the game when Tennessee may have been sitting out a lot of their starters. While Arizona was on the slippery slope from being ranked #3 in the country to not being ranked at all, they split time between their two quarterbacks for most of the season. Smith was the leading passer for 8 of Arizona's 12 games, but it was practically even between he and Ortege Jenkins in a couple of those games demonstrating the coach was not really sold on either one. If California has a similar quarterback struggle, they might find themselves suffering the same fate as Arizona so let us all reserve judgment on this game until the end of the season when we can see how good both of these teams turned out to be.

Calvin Johnson and Jeff Samardzija

The much-anticipated Notre Dame-Georgia Tech game also featured two of the country's best wide receivers, Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech and Jeff Samardzija of Notre Dame. Since I had nothing better to do with my time, I decided to chart their performances to see how they matched up with each other.

Calvin Johnson was the intended target for eleven passes in the game; of those eleven passes, he caught seven for 111 yards and one touchdown. The incompletions were not entirely his fault as he was overthrown on two of them and one was low and away, but one pass that he did have in his hands was jarred loose by a Notre Dame defender. That is probably the only criticism one can make of Johnson in the game as each of his seven receptions gained the necessary down-dependent yardage to help the Georgia Tech offense move down the field, helped along by the fact his receptions averaged 10.9 yards more than the minimum amount needed for a successful play.

Jeff Samardzija had a similar game as he was also throw eleven passes, including two in the end zone. He managed to catch six of those balls for 88 yards. Like Johnson, the missed passes were more about the passes being uncatchable than any deficiency on his part. Samardzija also had a high success rate, with five of his receptions gaining meaningful yardage while he averaged 10.5 extra yards per reception, although the vast majority (96.1%) of those extra yards came on two catches. Had his 24-yard catch not come on the same play as a holding penalty, his night would have been even more helpful to the Irish's cause.

Note: I went by the play-by-play data for the yardage and not the box score. If the play-by-play data changes, I will change the yardage totals accordingly.