What separates the smart NFL teams from the dumb ones? Here's how data makes all the difference

One of the greatest advantages an NFL team can have is being smarter than its opponent. Talent absolutely matters, especially at the quarterback position. But even teams at talent disadvantages can often even things out simply by utilizing better strategies that are more advantageous to winning. 

That's what Friday's episode of the Pick Six Podcast is all about. Host Will Brinson and John Breech are joined by the great Warren Sharp of the essential websites SharpFootballStats.com and SharpFootballAnalysis.com, who came on the show to discuss what separates the smart football teams from the not-so-smart ones, and his answer was pretty fascinating. 

"It's definitely in regard to how they're interpreting the data that they have in their possession because all the teams have data. It's how are you taking the data, analyzing it, and interpreting it to impact your decision-making on a game-planning basis and on a play-calling basis. Those are the two main things that we're going to notice through the course of 16 games. Certainly, some of the teams are using this information to help define their strategies: increasing their pass rate; increasing their pass rates on early downs; running when it's most opportune to run (against boxes that aren't quite as stacked); in situations where they're running out of spread formations; passing out of heavier personnel groupings. Those are some of the things that smarter teams are working on, as well as play-action and those types of things. 

"The dumb teams are kind of avoiding doing that. They're running the ball a little bit too often. They're not taking advantage of scouting their opponent to understand the strengths of their opponent and be willing to change their game-plan on a week-to-week basis to maximize the leverage they have in winning that particular game. Guys say, 'Well, this is our philosophy and we want to do what we do. We want to do what we're good at.' And so, inevitably, they never do enough to tweak their game-plan. And that's exactly why, for example, the Seattle Seahawks lost to the Dallas Cowboys in the playoffs and ultimately why the L.A. Rams lost to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. Because they weren't willing enough to tweak a few things and take advantage of some of the weaknesses of their opponent."

Sharp singles out the Seahawks and Packers as teams that could stand to improve by implementing more beneficial offensive strategies. Both teams, he notes, have excellent quarterbacks; but the Seahawks seem to be leaning even more into a run-heavy offense because that's just what they do, while the Packers have brought in coach Matt LaFleur to modernize the offense compared to what Mike McCarthy was doing over the past several seasons. Sharp also pointed to LaFleur's former team, the Tennessee Titans, who he believes could help out Marcus Mariota by leaning into more advantageous play-calling strategies. 

Beyond these data-focused strategies, Brinson and Breech spoke to Sharp specifically about how the Baltimore Ravens are orienting their offense around Lamar Jackson, which is a smart call despite its focus on the run game. Plus, the evolution of the NFL's analytics movement, how teams use running backs in the passing game, what to make of the Carolina Panthers, and some of Warren's favorite team bets of the 2019 season.

Listen to the full episode, and subscribe on Stitcher, Spotify and iTunes.

CBS Sports Writer

Jared Dubin is a New York lawyer and writer. He joined CBSSports.com in 2014 and has since spent far too much of his time watching film and working in spreadsheets. Full Bio

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