Blog Entry

Football Statistics

Posted on: September 24, 2008 10:34 pm
Edited on: September 25, 2008 8:16 am
It's surprising how something so simple to me is misinterpreted by individuals that claim to understand football.

I frequently run into discussions with people who only see the world through statistics. To some, a quarterback is only as good as his passer rating - yet at least 95% of football fans have no idea what the passer rating is.

I have to believe that the reason for this has to do with the society we live in. People are so quick to make rash decisions based off hard facts and numbers. It's how we're socialized from birth. The way most people interpret the world is through quick pieces of data - which almost always never tell the entire story.

The Bengals defeated the Jets by 17 points?
It must have been a blowout.

The Titans allowed 4 sacks to Vince Young?
That offensive line is terrible.

Derek Anderson threw 3 interceptions against the Ravens?
He obviously cost us the game.

People are generally incapable of going beyond the numbers. For whatever reason, we always need to quantify things with tangible statistics. Grade point averages...quarterback passer ratings...sales figures... These things do not provide an accurate picture of reality, yet because of their convenience they are used as benchmark figures for performance.

Quarterbacks in the NFL are the only players burdened with the unfortunate responsibility of answering to statistics. Incompletions, interceptions, and of course the famed passer rating are there to judge quarterback efficiency and effectiveness. These stats are a way for uninformed fans to relate to the game, and I have no problem whatsoever with that.

My only problem comes in evaluating the other 91% of the team.

What statistics are there for offensive linemen?
How about wide receivers?
Or tight ends?

The wide receivers, tight ends, and half backs are all quantified with receptions, yards gained, and fumbles lost. These measurable statistics neglect the most fundamental part of football - blocking. What makes Hines Ward, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, Brian Westbrook, and a host of others skill position players so good is their ability to block. Thanks to a lack of attention to detail, skill position players who were known for their blocking are lost within the pages of history.

Was Andre Reed a great blocker?
How much effort did Webster Slaughter give on every play?
What kind of football player was Thurman Thomas?

The answer to all of these questions is a resounding "I don't know." As records are kept now, it will be impossible for me and those who come after me to truly understand the amount of grit and determination a given player exerts over the course of his career.

This lack of depth and knowledge is twice as important for offensive linemen whose entire game is based upon blocking. Sure there is the "pancake" statistic, but that statistic in addition to being wildly inaccurate is not used by the mainstream media and therefore useless. Football is more than the quarterback. It takes 11 men working in unison to score points, and it is irresponsible to place so much of what happens on the field on one person.

My rant has gone on for too long now, so I'll conclude with the following:

What I'd like to see from the NFL is for it to introduce some way of accounting for blocking.

If a guy gets beaten, I want it recorded.
If a football player makes a key block for a touchdown, let's hear about it.
If a man holds his assignment, give him credit for it.
If a nose tackle takes on a double team, why not make note of it?

I know that it would be quite difficult to create working definitions for the scenarios I outlined, but the NFL needs to start somewhere. When one blocker's poor play only shows up as an interception for the quarterback, there is a serious problem with how things are measured. Offensive linemen, backs, and receivers hold little credibility in the world of statistics - and that is a serious problem.

Our faulty system of measurement and more importantly assessment may end up running a good football coach and quarterback out of Cleveland. While it may be too late for those two, the NFL should put a system of quantification in place to prevent any future occurances like this one from ever happening again.
Category: NFL

Since: Aug 9, 2007
Posted on: September 27, 2008 11:10 am

Football Statistics

Very nice blog.  Well written.   Also, congrats on your Willie Parker piece in the NFL Member Mayhem contest.

The stats question is one that is causing blindness down here in Atlanta as well.  Last season, we used our first round draft pick to select Jamaal Anderson as the replacement for defensive end (and sack machine) Patrick Kerney.  Anderson had changed positions in college and left early to enter the draft.  The scouting reports on him all said he'd have great upside but that he'd need more time to develop than some of the other defensive end prospects on the board.

The defensive coordinator here during last season's Reign Of Terror (those 13 games when some guy on an extended layover from Louisville to Fayetteville did more to hurt Atlanta than General Sherman) employed a scheme calling for heavy reads from the defensive linemen.  Anderson was in way over his head just trying to learn the system.  He struggled badly, ending the year with zero sacks.

Fans on the Falcon message board and in the general community can't seem to get past that one statistic, and no matter what he does this season he is being considered a failure because he still doesn't have a sack.  

Never mind that he's playing defensive tackle on every passing down.  Never mind that he frequently drops into pass coverage.  Never mind that when the team goes into a 3-4 package, he plays the nose tackle position (walking into double teams - at a defensive end's playing weight).   He's playing roles that don't offer opportunity to pressure the QB, yet fans insist he's a failure because a defensive end drafted in the first round should be a sack monster. 

The kicker is that he's playing well recently, but the fans refuse even to consider it possible.   He has racked up nine solo tackles in the last two weeks (including two downfield tackles that prevented third downs from being converted to first downs) to lead all Falcon defensive linemen in stops.    But the stat-obsessed fans don't even care about that statistic.  

John Abraham had three sacks in those two weeks.  They were his only three tackles.  But that's enough to make him the local hero, while Anderson's mere nine tackles makes him almost worthy of being our water boy.   

Since: Jan 3, 2008
Posted on: September 25, 2008 12:08 pm

Football Statistics

SirCheeks, once again you amaze me with your logic.  I agree, there are too many untangables that cannot be officially recorded. 

Football is no baseball.

Hoya, extremely funny post.

Since: Jan 2, 2008
Posted on: September 25, 2008 3:26 am

Football Statistics

Great blog.

I agree with blocking totally.

Okay this will sound stupid.....but when playing Madden, if you run off-tackle and your WR doesn't block well he gets tackled easy for a loss.

If your WR can't block off-tackle runs are almost impossible.

Since: Mar 12, 2007
Posted on: September 25, 2008 2:45 am

Football Statistics

I agree with 63% of what you said.

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