Introducing MAPS©: A New CF.C Football Metric

DOING THE FOOTBALL 101's for the last 10 years on Cougfan.com has led me to become very well versed in football statistics. Yet as familiar as I am, it is still surprising to me how misleading and confusing many of those stats are. And this is especially true with defense. And so I came up with a new football metric to measure the Cougar D in comparison to the Pac-12: MAPS©.

Has anyone seriously and successfully calculated a defense's impact beyond the raw yards and points reflected in the box scores? If they have, I haven't seen it.

How many times have you seen a defense forced to play red zone defense after a turnover, without giving up a first down? That valiant stand turns into an opponent field goal, and those points get credited against the defense and no differently than if they had just given up a 10-play scoring drive.

And how often have you seen a defense make a play that puts the offense in scoring position? The offense gets the glory -- from an opportunity created by the D. Heck, in the case of a pick-six, kickoff or punt return for a touchdown, the offense essentially receives default credit in many season statistics -- for scoring points it had nothing to do with.

So what if we looked at the scoreboard in more than just a one-dimensional view, and assigned credit where credit was due?

The result is MAPS©, short for Modified Aggregate Points Scored.

IN ESSENCE, MAPS© credits the defense for points either scored directly or ones they helped set up by putting the offense in advantageous field position. In conjunction, it decreases the offense's official point totals by deducting offensive mistakes resulting in scoring opportunities for the opponent, as well as for not capitalizing on good opportunities received. It factors in the importance of field position in the analysis of performance. MAPS© calculates that value and assigns it to the side of the ball responsible for putting the ball there in the first place.

MAPS© determines how much the offense and defense contribute separately to the scoreboard -- the number won't always be an exact representation of points scored, but it's a rough apples-to-apples. But more importantly, it assigns value to a defense's play when called for. Positive numbers are good. Negative numbers are bad. Most defenses can be typically expected to yield a negative, but not necessarily and on a good day, a defense can easily be a net contributor to the team's point production.

The MAPS© ratings for the Pac-12 through four weeks including byes, with derived contribution levels:







Here's how it works:

The defense adds back to the official scoreboard:
All defensive touchdowns surrendered by its own offense.
All defensive touchdowns the defense scored on its own.
Any safeties or blocked field goals returned for touchdowns by either team.
All kick/punt return TDs by the defense's team.
+2 points for any series the defense was forced to start on its own half of the field.
+2 points for any series it gave the offense the ball back on the opponent's half of the field.
+5 points for any series the defense was forced to start inside its own 30-yard line.
+5 points for any series it gave the offense the ball back inside the opponent's 30-yard line.
+5 points for any defensive series played in overtime.

The offense deducts from the official scoreboard:
All defensive touchdowns it was directly responsible for.
All touchdowns scored by its own defense and special times.
All safeties.
-2 points for any series where the offense took over on the opponent's side of the field.
-2 points for any series where the offense gave the ball up on its own half of the field.
-5 points for any series where the offense took over inside the opponent's 30-yard line.
-5 points for any series where the offense gave the ball up inside its own 30-yard line.
-5 points for any offensive series played in overtime.

THE TABLES ABOVE offer plenty of intrigue. WSU's defense's MAPS© score is second-best in the conference through four weeks. This means the Cougar defense actually scored or set up more points than it surrendered in three out of the four contests, winning all three of those games in the process. They even performed well enough against USC to overcome a substantially negative offensive MAPS© score (-8). There, WSU had an aggregate team MAPS© score of +3. Interestingly enough, that's the exact amount they beat USC by in Los Angeles.

USC likewise had a strong defensive effort that day, generating a +8 MAPS© score. WSU's defense was coincidentally 3 points better, and I think the result of the game followed suit.

The bad news is WSU's offense has not been overly strong in the MAPS© through four games. Connor Halliday's interceptions are the biggest drag on the offensive MAPS©. Reducing the number of picks is essential to not only raising the MAPS© but in winning conference games going forward.

The other thing that really stood out for this week -- how average Stanford's MAPS© numbers are. It's reflective of Stanford's lack of a blowout win over a weak opponent. Stanford seems comfortable playing close games.

It should be noted that WSU's defensive MAPS© is dramatically improved from last year's figure, a -24.16. Some of this can be chalked up to strength of schedule, but not all of it. The Cougs opened 2012 with fairly easy contests against Eastern, UNLV, and Colorado but never managed a defensive MAPS© higher than 11 in any of those games.

THE GENESIS FOR this statistical analysis was born last year after the UCLA game. The Cougs lost 44-36 in Pullman and after the game I overheard a number of fans lamenting "too many mistakes" and the comeback that fell "just short." But who made those mistakes? What triggered the comeback? A casual look at the box score would lead people to believe WSU had a very bad defensive day. UCLA's 44 points had to come from somewhere, right?

But what such a perusal would miss was that WSU gave up a blocked field goal for a touchdown, a fumble for a touchdown, a safety and another fumble in its own red zone, not to mention another blocked field goal and punt block. Most of the points WSU gave up that day came when the Cougar D wasn't not even on the field.

Indeed, WSU had four sacks, three takeaways and held UCLA to 1.9 yards per rush attempt. In the second half, they forced UCLA to punt four times, and delivered a key turnover deep in Bruin territory. The big plays generated by the Cougar D were nearly enough to make up for all the mistakes.

WSU Defensive MAPS© Report vs UCLA
44 UCLA Points Scored.
+7 for blocked field goal that UCLA returned for touchdown.
+5 for blocked punt UCLA recovered at the WSU 10 yard line.
+2 for safety on Connor Halliday.
+2 for UCLA drive that began at WSU 41 yard line.
+7 for Connor Halliday fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
+5 for blocked punt UCLA recovered at WSU 28 yard line.
+5 for UCLA fumble WSU defense recovered at UCLA 27 yard line.
WSU Defensive MAPS© score = -11 points

This yields a much more accurate representation than would the conclusion that UCLA simply scored 44 points against the Cougar D.

CF.C MESSAGE BOARDERS have already started to say this is the best looking Cougar defense since the 2003 vintage. MAPS© agrees – so far. The key will be maintaining this level of play through the conference season.

The 2003 Cougs finished with a +3 MAPS© rating, and they kept getting better as the season went along. It's the highest number I've calculated so far though I have several more WSU seasons to go through.

In ‘03, WSU generated a +34 defensive MAPS© score against No. 10 ranked Oregon in Eugene. WSU had 7 interceptions, 2 fumbled recoveries, 4 sacks, a safety, a blocked punt for a touchdown, a pick-six, and held the Ducks to a mere 1.8 yards per rush attempt. I doubt the 2013 Cougars have that kind of performance, but they do share one thing in common with the 2003 team.

They shut out Idaho.

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