Talking Analytics, PFF & Cleveland Browns With John Kosko

With the Browns being the "analytics" team and the rise of Pro Football Focus in the media, we talk to PFF's Browns Media Correspondent.

When the Cleveland Browns hired Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, the word "analytics" became a buzzword. Media has tried to use it to describe every move the team makes. Fans used it to either explain their frustrations with the team or to explain away the poor record and decisions they couldn't understand.

In the end, this popular meme seems most appropriate when someone uses the word analytics:

Even before the Browns move, Pro Football Focus had started to become popular and, seemingly, the most accessible way for fans to get a feel for how teams analyze players and plays with numbers. Many ended up substituting the word "analytics" to describe what PFF does.

Again it seemed like people, including myself, not understanding either the word and/or what PFF is.

So why not go to the source?

At the NFL Combine, I had the opportunity to meet and chat with PFF's John Kosko. (Follow him here on Twitter)

John wears multiple hats for PFF, along with being trained in the culinary arts, including Analyst, Data Manager and Browns Media Correspondent.

Over lunch, John and I talked Browns, analytics, PFF, media, quarterbacks and the Combine experience. John was kind enough to then answer some specific questions that should help fans get a better understanding of analytics, what PFF does and a little bit of his thoughts on the Browns:

1) How would you describe what PFF does in the simplest terms to grade/judge players?

We grade every player on every play on a -2/+2 scale in .5 increments. What we grade is whether the player executes his assignment and how well he does that. We do this for every NFL and FBS game.

An expected play typically earns a zero grade.

As an example, a screen pass to a HB underneath the coverage is expected to be on target every time. That is an easy throw and will get a zero grade if completed, regardless of the end result of the play (HB breaks 3 tackles and takes it to the house). If he misses on the throw, the QB will be downgraded depending on the severity of the throw.

2) Would you, or PFF, say this fits in with "analytics"? Why or why not?

At our core, PFF is not an analytics company.

We chart over 200 different data points on each play such as player participation, play by play charting, and several other more detailed data points that happen on a given play such as dropback depth of the QB, time to throw, specific location of the throw.

Those can obviously be compiled to create stats and data on all these plays and players.

The definition of analytics is "the systematic computational analysis of data or statistics" or "information resulting from the systematic analysis of data or statistics" according to any dictionary. So the data we chart can be used in analytics but the data itself is not analytics. We will use our data and do analytically research or studies from it and the normalization of our grades has a bit of analytics to it.

3) From what is known, what does an analytics department in the NFL do? (Specifically the Browns)

Each one is different but at their basic core, they interpret data to help them win football games.

I can't speak for what the Browns do specifically as I don't work in that building. I know that their analytics department is one of the best in the NFL. I can assume that they are utilizing every piece of data and information they can to do analytical studies to find trends, tendencies, advantages, etc.

4) That you know, are the Browns unique in their "analytics" approach?

Not necessarily.

They use their data and analytics to help them make better-informed decisions and that's what each team uses analytics for. Look at the Patriots and how they've operated over the years to create a roster and a perennial top team. They benefit from having Tom Brady as a QB but teams such as the Colts (with Peyton Manning) and the Packers (both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers) can't match the success the Patriots have had the past 17 years because they've built a system based on data/information/knowledge on how to build a team.

Packers GM Ted Thompson sticks to his guns in building almost exclusively through the draft while rarely signing big name free agents. Belichick is a draft trade master and has done a fantastic job adding picks while also making more free agency moves. This isn't by chance and there is a specific reason to their methods.

The Browns are unique in how they interpret the data and decision making perhaps but not in the fact they use analytics.

5) Finally, looking at the Browns, what do you see as their on the field strength/hope & biggest area of concern?

Their biggest strength is now the offensive line after the first wave of free agency. They have two top 10 guards in Zeitler and Bitonio (when healthy), a center that has graded extremely well when given the opportunity in JC Tretter, and obviously Joe Thomas. RT is still a question mark but Shon Coleman is a player that graded really well in college and in his limited snaps as a rookie.

Their LB group is also a strength with Chris Kirksey and Jamie Collins.

The biggest area of concern is still quarterback as there is still no clear answer. I am a Cody Kessler fan but he needs to show better pocket awareness, be able to protect himself, and read the field better. His arm strength isn't great but it's good enough and an offseason to improve his mechanics and strength will only help. The Browns should look to add a QB in the draft and probably a veteran via free agency.

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Big thanks to John for taking some time to answer these questions.

Analytics, PFF and what the Browns do are all far more complicated than what can easily be explained in a short interview but it is interesting to get a behind the scenes look.

Make sure you follow John on Twitter and follow up with him on any questions you may have.

Thanks again John!


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