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Just The Sports: 2006-11-26

Just The Sports

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Notre Dame Defense Pt. II

To criticize Notre Dame's 2006 defense for not creating as many turnovers as the 2005 version is to show a complete misunderstanding of what goes into a defense creating turnovers. The truth is that the reason why Notre Dame has fewer turnovers this season has nothing to do with a lack of skill on the part of the players, but has to do with the differing game situations the defense has found itself in.

Concerning interceptions, since Notre Dame had 13 interceptions last year to 10 this year, the casual observer of the game, or most sports writers, will say that Notre Dame's 2005 defense must have been better at catching opposing quarterbacks' passes. However, it only appears that Notre Dame in 2005 was better. As I mentioned yesterday, Notre Dame has faced fewer pass attempts per game in 2006 than in 2005 (25.4 per game to 34.2 per game) so when you factor in the number of pass attempts faced, you find that the two teams are really almost identical in terms of interception passes. This season Notre Dame has an interception for every 30.5 passing attempts and last year the defense had an interception for every 31.5 passing attempts.

As for fumble recoveries, what we are really witnessing is a regression to the mean for Notre Dame. Recovering fumbles is not a repeatable skill and with the usual recovery rate hovering around 50%, Notre Dame in 2005 was extremely lucky when recovering nine fumbles in eleven chances for a recovery rate of 82%. Fast forward to 2006 and Notre Dame's defense has recovered seven fumbles in twelve chances for a recovery rate of 58%, which is a lot closer to a team's expected fumble recovery rate, so to blame Notre Dame this year for not being as lucky as they were last year is to show your ignorance to the world.


Friday, December 01, 2006


Apologies to those who do not have ESPN Insider and cannot view this link, but suffice it to say that John Hollinger's latest article merely vindicates what I said immediately after the Chicago Bulls signed Ben Wallace.

If you wish to refresh your memory, merely follow the White Rabbit and allow yourself to be amazed by my prescience. All of those NBA teams who are looking for a competent GM, shoot for an e-mail. The address is in my profile.


Notre Dame Defense Pt. I

After I read this article by Adam Rittenberg, I began to wonder whether Notre Dame's defense of this season is any worse or better than the defense Notre Dame put on the field last year when they also lost two regular-season contest. Doing a complete, comprehensive comparison of two defenses requires more effort than I am able to put in since it requires me to watch every single play of every single game and then analyze them each fully. Still, I think the job I did is complete enough to answer my original question even if there is ambiguity in the answer.

On the outside, there is no reason to suggest the Notre Dame's defense of 2006 is that much different from last year when they were also seen as the weak link of the teams and what has kept Notre Dame from being a championship team. As Charlie Weis states in the article, this year Notre Dame has given up less total yards per game as well as less points per game. For the simple fact that those differences are not significant at the 95% confidence level, there is no reason to get too excited about them, but whatever Weis needs to do to instill confidence in his defense is worth it. As for the other usual statistical suspects, again there is no evidence that one defense has been superior to the other.

In fact, the only difference between the two teams has been the kinds of offenses they have had to face. Last year, Notre Dame played opponents with pass-happy offenses as seen by the fact they were thrown against an average of 34.2 times per game. Conversely, this year, Notre Dame's opponents have averaged 25.4 pass attempts per game, helped in large part by the subtraction of BYU, Tennessee, Washington, and Pittsburgh from the schedule for Georgia Tech, UNC, Air Force, and Army. Interestingly enough, those fewer passing attempts per game have not translated to teams having more rush attempts per game against 2006 Notre Dame's defense; the defense has simply not been on the field for any more plays this year.

However, beneath the surface, there is evidence in support of and contrary to the notion that 2006 has been worse than 2005 defensively. First, let's address where the 2006 defense is worse and that is in success rate allowed to opponents both in the passing and rushing game, an indication of how well teams have moved the ball down the field. Against Notre Dame last season, opponents were successful passing the ball on 38.7% of the plays while this season the opponents have been successful 40.9% of the time they threw the ball. For rushing, the numbers are 46.3% success rate in 2005 compared to 50.1% success rate this season.

Even though they are worse in success rate, in Notre Dame's 2006 defense's defense, they have been better at containing the extra yards teams get on their successful plays. Despite all of the big pass plays that have gotten so much publicity this year when all is said and done, teams are averaging 10.8 extra yards per successful play; last year, they averaged 12.6 extra yards per successful play. The 2006 version has also done a better job of keeping teams from getting close to successful yardage when they have failed plays (7.0 yards needed per failed play in 2006 to 6.5 yards needed per failed play in 2005). It is a similar story on running plays. This season, teams have only had 4.6 extra yards per successful play to 2005's allowance of 5.5 extra yards per successful play.

In the next installment, I will be discussing turnovers created in relation to the 2005 and 2006 teams.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Vince Young And Michael Vick

Those who continue to compare Vince Young and Michael Vick should immediately cease and desist because there is a clearly superior quarterback between the two. There are those who wish to compare the two because they are both black and can run, doing so is such a simplistic view of the two quarterbacks' characteristics that it has almost become embarrassing to witness.

The biggest difference between the two quarterbacks in college was the experiences both had as passing quarterbacks. By virtue of staying at the University of Texas longer than Vick stayed at Virginia Tech, it makes sense that Young attempted more passes than Vick in games where he was the featured quarterback; Young ended up throwing 54% more passes in college. Not only did Young throw more cumulative passes, he threw significantly more passes during individual games, averaging 22.1 passes in those games to Vick's 17.0 attempts per game. Those extra five passing attempts should not be underestimated in terms of how they help a player mature as a quarterback, especially when a player who averaged such a paltry amount of passes in college is then expected to average 26.1 passes per game against professional competition, which Vick has had to do when he has been the featured Falcons quarterback.

Young was also more accurate than Vick during college with a completion percentage of 62.9% compared to Vick's 56.2%. Surprisingly, Young was actually a better runner in college as well, mostly because he is more difficult to sack and sacks count against college quarterbacks' rushing totals. There is no area in which Vince Young is Michael Vick's inferior so it is not a difficult conclusion to reach that when all is said and done, Young will have ended up with career numbers that will be of a different nature from Vick's because he is a different quarterback.


Monday, November 27, 2006

A Revisionist History Lesson

The more I watch Michael Vick struggle to become even an average NFL quarterback, the more I have to wonder what the Atlanta Falcons ever saw in Vick to warrant trading up to take him #1 in the 2001 draft and then basically handing him the keys to the franchise with a 10 year, $137 million contract with $37 million dollars of it guaranteed. I understand what the Falcons saw in him as a football player: someone who won the genetic lottery hands down in terms of speed and agility and someone who was going to complete revolutionalize the game of football. But as a quarterback, for all his skill, Vick's resume on entering the league was severly lacking.

Since Vick redshirted his freshman season and the NFL draft eligibilty rules stipulate a player's high school class only has to be three years removed from graduation before he can become eligible, he only played significant time in twenty-one contests. In those contests, Vick registered a completion percentage of 56.2% with an extremely high 9.8 yards per pass attempt. Of course, the high yards per pass attempt were more a result of Vick only being able to throw deep passes than anything else. High yards per pass attempt with a low completion percentage over a quarterback's career should always serve as a warning sign to a team shopping for a franchise player.

What is most shocking about Vick's college career and what no one should underestimate is that he threw only 356 pass attempts in games where he attempted the most passes or threw for the most yards, not nearly enough to classify anyone as anything approaching a professional quarterback. His NFL completion percentage, in seasons where he was the starting quarterback and did not get injured, of 54.6% (not far off from his college numbers) demonstrate that point well. There are numerous appropriate times and places to learn how to be a real quarterback; the NFL is not one of them.

Meanwhile, the Falcons have languishing on the bench someone in Matt Schaub who is quickly becoming my favorite type of college quarterback/potential NFL starter. This type is someone who has started a number of college football games, though Schaub did not start as many as I would have liked, and has accompanying this game experience a high career completion percentage, which Schaub does with a 67.3% completion percentage and who was not pushed into starting right away by his NFL team. Just to demonstrate how much more advanced Schaub was over Vick as a quarterback when he entered the NFL, Schaub had 397 pass attempts in his senior season alone.

The prudent thing for the Falcons franchise to do would be to move Vick from quarterback to running back or any other position where he can succeed as a football player, thereby allowing Matt Schaub to lead the Falcons. Vick is not a quarterback nor will he ever be one, regardless of what he might say himself of wanting to pass more or what Jim Mora, Jr. says about being confident in Vick's abilities. If the Falcons continue to stubbornly refuse to admit their mistakes in handling Michael Vick, they are going to continue to retard the ascension of the franchise into an elite football team.

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