To help preview the needs of the 2014 season, I have taken three
looks at Stanford's performance on offense, defense, and
through the lens of Football Outsiders' advanced statistics. Now,
it's time to view another crucial component of success, one that
is determined by a combination of performance in all three phases
of the game (though special teams likely has the greatest impact
here): field position.
A breakdown of Stanford's performance in the field position
battle throughout the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era is below. Here's
a key to Football Outsiders' advanced
field position statistics, which can be found on their
Football Outsiders Key
The field position data below is a function of all possessions in 2007-2013 FBS vs. FBS games, excluding first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores.
- FPA: Field Position Advantage, the share of the value of total starting field position earned by each team against its opponents.
- SFP: Starting Field Position, average distance in yards from end zone on offensive non-garbage possessions.
- Opp SFP: Opponent Starting Field Position, average distance in yards from end zone on opponent offensive non-garbage possessions.
- SFP Del: Starting Field Position Delta, the difference between offensive starting field position and opponent offensive starting field position.
- ShF: Short Field Drives, the percentage of offensive possessions started at midfield or on the opponent's side of the field.
- Opp ShF: Opponent Short Field Drives, the percentage of opponent offensive possessions started at midfield or on the team's side of the field.
- LoF: Long Field Drives, the percentage of offensive possessions started inside the team's own 20-yard line.
- Opp LoF: Opponent Long Field Drives, the percentage of opponent offensive possessions started inside the opponent's own 20-yard line.
*Exceptionally good years of performance are noted in green; poor years in red
- What can we glean from these statistics? Well, for starters, Stanford performed best in the field position game in 2009. Then, after sputtering a bit in that department over the course of Andrew Luck's final two seasons, the Cardinal made their return to the nation's elite in field position prowess in 2012 and 2013 (columns on the left summarize these trends). Obviously, special teams are an integral component of field position success, so it should be noted that 2009 was special teams guru D.J. Durkin's final season on The Farm, while 2012 and 2013 both featured Pete Alamar at the helm of that unit. Both Durkin and Alamar are known for their maniacal-yet-intelligent attention to detail when it comes to maximizing the efficiency of return and coverage schemes, and the results are evident in the table. Excellent special teams coaching shines through.
- Also, not coincidentally, Stanford's two best seasons in the field position department -- 2009 and 2013 -- also happened to be the monstrous kick return years of Chris Owusu and Ty Montgomery. In both seasons, the Cardinal also did an excellent job holding opponents to poor starting field position (2009, in fact, saw the team ranked No. 1 nationally in that regard). In the case of 2013, Jordan Williamson's healthy leg certainly boosted the Cardinal; his directional kick-offs were excellent.
- Though Stanford's offense was ultra-powerful in 2009 (it ended up ranked No. 1 nationally in efficiency), there certainly was a pronounced need for the Cardinal to make up for a very leaky defense through excellence on special teams. Between our advanced statistical look at the program's special teams performance and this field position analysis, it's clear that the team did just that. Interestingly, 2010 and 2011 -- years that featured Luck in his prime and and a solid defense -- saw worse field position performance. Stanford improved again when Luck left and the offense regressed. It almost seems as if special teams performance might have relaxed a bit during Luck's BCS seasons, as if the Cardinal subconsciously knew No. 12 would take care of matters anyway. It was whipped back into shape after Luck left.
- Stanford's defense is losing considerable veteran talent heading into 2014, and while the offense may be counted on to pick up some of the slack by establishing greater consistency, the special teams unit must again do its part for the Cardinal to maintain success. Aside from doing a very solid job in the overall field position department, notice that Stanford also saw great success in creating short fields for its offense (obviously, much of this credit goes to the defense) and avoiding the donation of short fields to opposing offenses. There's obviously a significant correlation between field position and winning, and should the Cardinal's recent field position success continue, the team will start the 2014 season in an advantageous spot instead of being forced to swim upstream.
- If there's any place here that Stanford should shoot for significant improvement in 2014, it's the 'Long Field Drive' category. In 2013, 22.9 percent of the Cardinal's offensive drives started inside the team's 20-yard line. A lower percentage here is obviously better. Stanford ranked 89th nationally last season when it came to avoiding these challenging long drives. Improving this mark will likely require a combination of improvements in all phases of the game: The offense must push the ball forward more consistently, the defense must surrender fewer Methodical Drives (our defensive analysis piece revealed that these were a significant problem in 2013), and the return unit must find a way to wiggle out of as many inside-the-20 situations as possible. It appears as if the Cardinal has seen steady improvement ever since Alamar arrived before the 2012, so it's not far fetched to expect another step up in 2014 -- especially considering that the caliber of athleticism on the roster is as good as it's ever been.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!