Packing the Stats: First Down Balancing Act

Packing the StatsThere has been some frustration among Green Bay Packers fans lately about the run/pass ratio from the offense on first downs. During the lukewarm win against the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, Mike McCarthy seemed to consistently call running plays on first down. Frustration with the predictability of the calls started to seep into the ever-watchful fans, and it became just another part of the team’s so-called “moral loss.”

Now, I have been slowly tracking a good number of statistics during the past eight weeks, most of which I haven’t even gotten into analyzing. One thing I do after each game is log every offensive play: the down, distance, yardage gained, how it was gained, who gained it, and the outcome. From there, I can gather a whole bunch of raw statistical information, a lot of which isn’t available on the popular NFL statistical websites.

One thing it has allowed me to track is the run/pass ratios on a down-by-down basis, which I have presented below. Now, in the following data, I have not accounted for plays in which penalties have been accepted, since a good number of times they are pre-snap penalties. This adds a little bit of error to the numbers, but it should be nothing of significance.

The first thing I want to show you is the total number of called runs and passes, as sorted by down and distance (click the image to enlarge):


2012 Run/Pass Ratios by Down and Distance

2012 Run/Pass Ratios by Down and Distance


If there was any doubt about which team we are analyzing, they are put to rest when we see just how much the offense is passing the ball. It’s no secret that Mike McCarthy trusts the arm of Aaron Rodgers more than his running game – and so he should. It’s their biggest and most reliable weapon.

However, there are some significant trends in the data. First and foremost, Mike McCarthy is actually pretty “balanced” when it comes to calling runs on first downs. In fact, the offense has passed the ball a few more times overall than they have run it in such situations.

The real “imbalances” come in later downs, as the offense tends to throw it more as the down increases. Running plays are only called 11.7% of the time on third downs, and if you take out the third-and-short distances, it drops to a measly 4.6%.



Packing the Stats: Rushing to Conclusions Follow-Up

Packing the StatsIn response to the low yards per attempt by Alex Green last weekend, we had some good discussion in the comments regarding my statistical research on how the rushing game affects the success rate of NFL teams in the past ten years. The data seemed to show that the number of attempts had a higher correlation with winning than average yards per attempt.

Some people agreed, bringing up the Packers’ success during the two halves of the Seahawks and Colts games when they committed to running the ball more. Others argued that this was more of a secondary outcome, in which winning causes increased attempts and not the other way around.

We even had some suggestions for further statistical research, such as parsing out big runs and even comparing correlations in the passing game.

Before continuing my future research, I wanted to do a quick aggregate of both total attempts per game and total yards per game. These two categories showed a higher correlation to winning than yards per attempt, so what if we looked at them together?

Below is a table that charts win percentage in relationship to both attempts and yardage. Take a look:

Rushing Statistics and Success Rate, 2002-2011

Rushing Statistics and Success Rate, 2002-2011

First and foremost, this was an outcome I did not expect at all. Logic told me that we’d see more of a “diagonal” relationship with win percentages. In other words, the higher the yards and attempts combined, the better the percentage.

But that didn’t happen at all. Instead, we see a reinforcement of the idea that total attempts matters more than anything else. If you look vertically across the chart, you’ll notice that the success rate is more consistent by column rather than by row or diagonally.

Honestly, one of the things that really stunned me was the 97.14% success rate where teams had only 60-79 yards and 30-34 attempts in a game. That’s at worst a 1.76 YPC and at best a 2.63 YPC.

I’d also like to note that most of these percentages are based on at least 100 games that match the criteria. So we’re not really looking at small sample sizes across the board.

I’m interested in hearing your comments. What do you make of this, and how does it apply to our ongoing conversation?



Packing the Stats: Rushing to Conclusions

Packing the StatsAfter Sunday afternoon’s 30-20 victory by the Green Bay Packers over the St. Louis Rams, I listened to Jason Wilde’s weekly appearance on ESPN Wisconsin’s radio show “Pack Attack.” The conversation immediately dove into a debate between Wilde, Bill Johnson, and Homer about the effectiveness of Alex Green’s rushing attempts. While he made 20 rushing attempts the entire game, Green only netted 35 yards for a 1.8 yards per carry average. His longest run was for 15 yards.

On one side of the debate was Jason Wilde, who maintained that making the attempts to run the ball was more important than their overall yards per carry. He posited that the defense’s linemen would have to account for a run, even if it wasn’t for significant yardage. That means they couldn’t just “pin their ears back” and go after the quarterback each down.

Opposing this idea was Bill and Homer, who both insisted that Green’s yards per carry was unacceptable and would need to get better in the future to ensure offensive success. They claimed that if the running game isn’t making traction, then the defense doesn’t really have to worry about it, period. (Jason Wilde eventually called them “stubborn” in their opinions.)

So which matters more – yards per carry or total rushing attempts? This really piqued my interest from a statistical standpoint, and I decided to head over to Pro-Football-Reference.com to being my research. My sample data was all games (regular season and postseason) within the past ten years (2002-2011) that matched the rushing criteria below.

(You can download the complete Excel file here: rushing_stats.xlsx)

60-79 212 513 1 29.20% 726 30.40% 23
80-99 342 527 0 39.36% 869 68.60% 35
100-119 435 427 0 50.46% 862 61.30% 31
120-139 393 291 0 57.46% 684 75.00% 20
140-159 352 189 0 65.06% 541 61.10% 18
1.0-1.9 42 77 1 35.00% 120 33.30% 3
2.0-2.9 322 363 0 47.01% 685 65.20% 23
3.0-3.9 786 768 1 50.55% 1555 64.00% 50
4.0-4.9 746 745 1 50.00% 1492 52.50% 40