There will only be one…
Early in the 2015 Regular Season, teams have worked their way to a virtual tie atop their respective divisions while seeking confirmation their hot starts are for real. In the NFC, five teams have achieved an undefeated 2-0 record, including Sunday foes, the Atlanta Falcons and the Dallas Cowboys. The two teams couldn’t have reached these heights any more similarly, as both have faced off against the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants in the season’s first two weeks. Both teams overcame late, double-digit deficits to rally against the Giants. Both teams dominated Philadelphia early on, though Atlanta allowed them to comeback and take a late lead while Dallas kept their foot on the Eagles’ throats.
The Cowboys and Falcons have taken entirely different paths, however. Dallas was considered a Super Bowl contender, despite losing two key defensive starters to matching four-game suspensions. Injuries started to pile up as the team lost their best corner in preseason, their star receiver in Week 1 and their franchise quarterback in Week 2. Still, they managed to escape with wins and their public perception has shifted to survival while their stars are hindered.
Atlanta on the other hand had been seen as a disappointment in recent years, bringing on a new coach in the offseason hoping for a turnaround. It appears to have come earlier than most pundits expected and there appears to be a path to the playoffs in front of them even if they aren’t true “2-0” material.
We all know the infamous take originally attributed to Henry Du Pré Labouchère, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." In sports, though, statistics are how we measure performance beyond just the wins and losses. In football, where sample sizes are so small, and the mean so cluttered, it behooves us to try to analyze things that have a higher correlation to winning than previous wins.
Fortunately, over the past several years, many statisticians a million times smarter than the author of this piece have spent countless hours devising formulas that they use to judge the quality of teams beyond the normal statistical measures. These advanced metrics allow us a glimpse into which teams are winning based on quality play, which ones are winning because of inept opponents and which ones have a horseshoe crammed up their chimneys.
In this inaugural 2015 edition of the Advanced Stats Notebook, we take a look at the early-season indicators on just how good each of the teams has looked.
______DVOA Playoff Odds______
Mean Wins is Football Outsiders current projection for how each team will finish the season.
DVOA stands for Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average. It basically measures how much better a team (or player) is than the average team (or player) against the same opponent in the same game situations. As the season progresses, Weighted DVOA puts more weight on the team’s recent performance, rather than weighing all games equally. Which makes sense, in regards to future success, how a team has played over the last six games is much more important than how they played Week 1. For now though, the sample size is what it is.
Dallas’ W-DVOA made a huge jump, +5.0% after defeating the Eagles. As we move further along in the season, Week 1 becomes less and less influential in describing the team that is playing now. In two weeks, that game’s DVOA will be “weighted” at only 9%, While Weeks 14-17 will be weighted at a full 100%.
|Off Yds / G||Off Pts / G||Def Yds / G||Def Pts / G|
|Off Yds / G||Off Pts / G||Def Yds / G||Def Pts / G|
Though neither team is close to maximizing opportunities, Dallas’ drastic difference in scoring and yards per game rankings is probably a direct reflection of the team’s turnover issues over the first two games. Atlanta, which is +1 on the season in turnovers, scores a point for every 15.94 yards. Dallas, -2 in turnovers, averages a point for every 16.91 yards. For reference, the Cardinals lead the league in scoring, and average a point every 9.2 yards.
____Third Down Conversions____
Dallas’ third down conversion percentage is middle of the pack in the early going of 2015, a far cry from 2014 when they led the league in conversion percentage almost week in, week out. Meanwhile Atlanta maintains their Top 10 ranking they occupied last season.
Now on the flip side, Dallas has down a good job getting off the field and ending opponent’s drives, while Atlanta has struggled a bit in getting their defense the requisite rest. It will be a battle of relative strengths.
Toxic Differential is a metric that started with Super Bowl winning head coach Brian Billick when he was the offensive coordinator during the Randy Moss era in Minnesota. It’s used to measure a team’s ability to create and prevent both turnovers and explosive plays. Toxic Differential is calculated by adding together a team’s turnover differential (takeaways - giveaways) and its big play differential (big plays for - big plays against). Various sites have various definitions for what constitutes a big play. As they have the most comprehensive ranking, we’ll roll with SportingCharts.com’s definition of 10+ yards on a running play and 25+ yards on a pass play. As SportingCharts says, “Over the last 10+ seasons, a majority of teams that have won the Super Bowl finished the regular season in the Top 10 for Toxic Differential.”
Want to know how Dallas was able to dominate Philadelphia this past Sunday? Here’s a look at the Toxic Events when using 25 yards as the cutoff for a “big” passing play.
|DAL||2Q 2-2-PHI 20 (:37) (No Huddle, Shotgun) T.Romo scrambles right end ran ob at PHI 8 for 12 yards.||DAL +1|
|DAL||3Q 4-10-PHI 32 (12:44) D.Jones punt is BLOCKED by D.McCray, Center-J.Dorenbos, RECOVERED by DAL-K.Wilber at PHI 26. K.Wilber for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN.||DAL +2|
|DAL||3Q 3-13-DAL 29 (11:07) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass deep right to L.Dunbar ran ob at PHI 32 for 39 yards.||DAL +3|
|PHI||3Q 2-11-PHI-33 (9:54) (Shotgun) T.Romo sacked at PHI 41 for -8 yards (J.Hicks). FUMBLES (J.Hicks), RECOVERED by PHI-F.Cox at PHI 39.||DAL +2|
|DAL||3Q 2-3-DAL-3 (5:28) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass short middle intended for Z.Ertz INTERCEPTED by S.Lee at DAL -7. Touchback.||DAL +3|
|PHI||3Q 1-10-PHI 32 (:16) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass short right to D.Murray pushed ob at DAL 46 for 22 yards.||DAL +2|
|PHI||4Q 3-10-PHI 39 (7:31) (Shotgun) B.Weeden pass short left to G.Escobar to PHI 35 for 4 yards (B.Maxwell). FUMBLES (B.Maxwell), RECOVERED by PHI M.Jenkins at PHI 36 for 34 yardS||DAL +1|
|DAL||4Q 1-10-DAL 30 (7:20) S.Bradford FUMBLES (Aborted) at DAL 30, RECOVERED by DAL-N.Hayden at DAL 32. N.Hayden to DAL 32 for no gain.||DAL +2|
|DAL||4Q 1-10-PHI-47 (4:40) (Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep middle intended for Z.Ertz INTERCEPTED by J.Wilcox at DAL 35 for 24 yards.||DAL +3|
|DAL||4Q 3-11-PHI 42 (4:20) (Shotgun) B.Weeden pass short right to T.Williams for 42 yards, TOUCHDOWN||DAL +4|
|PHI||4Q 2-4-PHI 47 (3:36) (No Huddle, Shotgun) S.Bradford pass deep right to J.Matthews ran ob at DAL 21 for 32 yards.||DAL +3|
Look at the ebb and flow of the toxic events. It took a while, but Dallas enacted the first three toxic events, with the first two on scoring drives. They then responded to each of the Eagles first event with one of their own, in the end zone on the Sean Lee interception to squash a scoring opportunity. Later in the game, when Philly forced a turnover, Dallas got it right back on the very next play, and then salted the game away with another forced turnover and a big passing play to seal the game.
____AIKMAN EFFICIENCY RATINGS____
I was first introduced to the Aikman Efficiency Rankings via O.C.C.’s article on Blogging The Boys back in September of 2014. In it, (available here) he references an interview that Tm Colishaw did with Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli. Marinelli stated that the only two stats he pays attention to are turnovers and the Aikman Efficiency Rankings. Let that sink in; if our DC holds it in such high regard, it should be part of The Notebook!