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Just The Sports: 2006-12-24

Just The Sports

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The New York Giants And Injuries

Injuries are the price every football team has to pay for playing the sport, but the New York Giants seemingly have been decimated by them, losing two key players on both offense and defense for extended periods of time. Of course, not every injury is going to affect a team's future performance in the same manner so in order to gauge the true impact of a lost player one must employ splits of the team's statistics with the player and without the player. When the injuries occurred before halftime, I counted that game as being one the Giants played without the man who went down; after halftime, I denoted that game as being one the Giants played with the man.

Now that we have settled that issue, the first order of business is to talk about how the Giants offense was affected after losing two main cogs of their offense, possession receiver Amani Toomer and left tackle Luke Petitgout. Understandably, the losses of a wide receiver and a left tackle will affect the quarterback the most so Eli Manning's performances are the true key to answering the question of how much those two injuries played in the Giants struggling down the stretch.

If you thought that not having Amani Toomer to throw to would force Manning to overthrow Plaxico Burress even more than usual and would lower his completion percentage greatly, then you are not alone for I thought the same. However, that is not actually the case. Yes, Eli Manning's completion percentage dropped from 61.3% with Toomer and Petitgout on the field to 54.9% after they were injured, but it was not a difference of a statistically significant nature. Therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that his lesser completion percentage statistics are the result of anything other than random variation.

Furthermore, there is the matter of yards per pass attempt and yards per catch. Concerning yards per pass attempt, there are those of the gross variety and those of the net variety. When it comes to gross yards per pass attempt, Eli Manning has seen a statistically significant decline with Toomer and Petitgout off the football field (7.1 to 5.5). This statistical difference then disappears when looking at net yards per pass attempt, meaning that Manning, in the first eight games of the season, lost more gross yardage per pass attempt than he has in the seven games since. Interestingly, yards per catch was a statistically significant decline both for gross yards and net yards on pass plays.

Although it would be easy to assign all of these declines to the aforementioned injuries, it is more than likely a result of playing teams with tougher pass defenses in the second half of the season. In the first eight games, Manning and the Giants faced two teams in the top sixteen for pass defense under Football Outsider's metrics. For the next seven, they have faced only two teams not in the top sixteen when it comes to pass defense.

In addition, one would think that the loss of starting linebacker LaVar Arrington and starting defensive end/pass rush specialist Michael Strahan would have a negative impact on the Giants defense. If that is the case, Arrington would disappoint you because his loss has done nothing to make the Giants defense worse. Part of this could be because he only appeared in five full games before succumbing to injury and part of it could be attributed to the fact he has largely become overrated as a defensive player. On the other hand, Michael Strahan's Lisfranc injury hurt the Giants most on pass defense. Comparing the games Michael Strahan played to the ones he was injured during, Giants' opponents are significantly better in completion percentage (56.5% to 62.0%), gross yards per pass attempt (6.3 to 7.3), and net yards per pass attempt (5.5 to 6.9). Worth mentioning is the fact that the opponents' pass statistics improved while Strahan was absent, despite being a little worse in the passing game than the teams Strahan played. Obviously, Strahan is a lot more important than Arrington to the Giants' success.

For the offense, it is not so certain whether their poorer play in these last seven games has been the result of Amani Toomer and Luke Petite being out or playing better defenses than in their first eight contest. One thing is certain, though. The Giants have sorely missed Michael Strahan while he was nursing a foot injury.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Satire Short

O.J. Simpson, Hall of Fame NFL running back, has finally revealed the true extent of his labors to find the real perpetrators of the ghastly murders of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman, stating that he searched for the killers in 100,000 holes covering a little over 1,000 different golf courses. Simpson also noted that he began the search soon after he was acquitted in 1995 and finds it shocking that he has yet to find the killer on the 8th fairway or the 15th bunker, logical hiding places in his mouth. "For the first four or five years, I really thought I would find them," Simpson said. "Every time my caddy lifted the flag, I half expected him to turn to me and say, 'Here they are, O.J; here are the guys who killed your estranged wife and her lover.' But that never happened." While Simpson has publicly admitted he has ended the search for the killers, he has told his closest friends that he is prepared to play every golf course in the world to see that justice is done to the memory of Simpson and Goldman.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference Pt. II

While it has already proven that the majority of Western Conference teams are better than their Eastern Conference counterparts, there is still a couple questions that require an answer. Namely, it is time to uncover which divisions, both in the Western and Eastern Conferences, are the best when facing off against opponents from the opposite conference. Now, the answers will not shock the NBA fan world to any extent, but they are still worth revealing.

Not surprisingly, the Western Conference division who has performed best against teams in the East is the Southwest division, the usual division suspect for NBA superiority by virtue of having both the Dallas Mavericks and the San Antonio Spurs call it home. Although the Southwest division is the best overall Western Conference division when playing Eastern Conference teams, this does it is the most offensively efficient division. That honor goes to the Pacific division, which has a 109.1 to 107.2 advantage over the Southwest, but the Southwest holds foes to a lower defensive efficiency relative to its offensive efficiency. Bringing up the rear is the mostly non-descript Northwest Division.

Concerning the Eastern Conference division who performs the best in contests versus the Western Conference teams it is the Central division, which again is not a complete surprise considering it contains the Detroit Pistons among other Eastern Conference elite teams. It stands to reason that the Eastern Conference teams that play the best against the Western Conference will have little to no problem when it comes to playing fellow Eastern Conference squads. Also, if this trend continues, then the safe bet would be to say that the franchise representing the Eastern Conference will hail from the Central Division. The Southeast and Atlantic divisions are second-best and third-best, respectively and have little reason to be proud of themselves.

By the way things are turning out, it says more about an Eastern Conference team to play Western Conference teams well than it does for a Western Conference team that is able to dominate Eastern Conference teams with ease.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Western Conference vs. Eastern Conference Pt. I

With two out of the last three NBA champions calling the Eastern Conference, it has seemed as if the balance in the NBA is, if not swinging completely in the Eastern Conference's favor, then at least equaling out after the Western Conference dominated the league between 1999-2003. That is, until this season began. While the league champion will not be crowned for many months to come and may still come from the East, twenty-nine games into the 2006-07 season, there is no doubt about which conference is the superior one and they have shown their superiority in commanding fashion, most notably in head-to-head matchups.

When playing an Eastern Conference team, of the fifteen Western Conference franchises, only two of them have a lower offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions than defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions). These two are the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trailblazers. Since the Grizzlies have been missing their star forward, Pau Gasol, for most of the season, there is a reasonable explanation for their failings while playing an Eastern Conference-aligned opponent.

Conversely, the Eastern Conference has only four teams who have the privilege of saying they have out-played the Western Conference teams on the schedule: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, and Milwaukee Bucks. The rest have been embarrassingly inferior.

As for what has led the Western Conference to the top of the NBA, it comes down mostly to how well the teams have shot from the field and from the free throw line and efficiency on the offensive side overall.. Cumulatively, Western Conference teams when playing against the Eastern Conference have a 54.8% true shooting percentage and score 107.6 points per 100 possessions; their Eastern Conference nemeses have a 52.7% true shooting percentage and score 104.0 points per 100 possessions. While the margin the Western Conference does not seem to be much, it is quite enough to of an advantage to be statistically significant.

If this disparity continues, the NBA may be forced to jimmy the schedule like the NFL does to make sure no team or conference is consistently great.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

From Frye To Anderson

When Charlie Frye went down with a hand injury against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 13 of the season, the Cleveland Browns were not only trading in their starting quarterback for a back-up who had never attempted to complete a pass attempt in an NFL regular season contest. The Browns were also trading away a quarterback in Frye, who in college completed almost 64% of his pass attempts, for someone in Derek Anderson, who while at Oregon State barely completed over half of his collegiate throws. Since it is highly unlikely for a quarterback who throws a large number of passes in the NFL to exceed his college completion percentage, the Browns were handing the keys to their offense to a less accurate version of Michael Vick with zero of Vick's running ability.

Amazingly enough, Derek Anderson, despite never throwing a regular season pass, played competently in the first three games in which he saw extended action, completing 62.2% of his passes and throwing five touchdowns to four interceptions. At least, until today where he connected on only ten of his twenty-seven pass attempts, being intercepted four times with one of the interceptions being returned for a touchdown, thereby allowing everyone to see what regression to the mean looks like in its most purest form.

Fortunately for the Cleveland Browns, the quarterback change did not affect their season as they were headed for a full off-season before Frye was injured. While Frye still has his warts, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in his short career, he is still the best quarterback on the Cleveland Browns roster since there is no way Anderson or Ken Dorsey will be able to out-play him over the long run.