You’ve got to love a good streak.
The New Orleans Saints are in a rebuild mode and it doesn’t look to be going well. They haven’t been able to turn their draft picks into solid contributors and their defense has become atrocious. Now, their quarterback is playing cat and mouse games as he tries to work through a bruised rotator cuff and the Cowboys are wondering if they’ll be facing the former Super Bowl MVP or Checkdown McCown.
The Saints have lost six in a row at home, while Dallas has won a ridiculous 10 straight regular-season road games. Still, the Saints are sitting at 0-3 and there isn’t a team that will get their crowd more into the game than the Dallas Cowboys with a backup quarterback.
Basic statistics will tell you that the Cowboys offense had a good game against Atlanta. Plenty of rushing yards, a QB with a pristine YPA… but we’re not here to be basic, are we?
In this Week Four 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.
DVOA and Mean Wins were not huge fans of the Cowboys performance against the Falcons last Sunday. Dallas lost over 1.5 games from their projection; in other words they were counted to win that game, and they looked so bad blowing that lead, it also reduced their chances of winning other games as the season progresses. The interesting tidbit is that their “with Romo” DAVE Rating increased, and sports a huge lead over “whole” Eagles and Giants squad… but will he return with things still to play for?
I would assume that based on the size of the loss to Atlanta compared to our NFC East bretheren is why they have higher percentages to advance in the playoffs than Dallas, despite Dallas having a higher percentage chance to be the only team from the division to qualify for the postseason.
|Off Yds / G||Off Pts / G||Def Yds / G||Def Pts / G|
New Orleans Saints
|Off Yds / G||Off Pts / G||Def Yds / G||Def Pts / G|
Here we get our first look at the differences in the seasons of the two teams. Dallas is a Top 10 team in both Total Offense and Total Defense, and a in the top half of the league in scoring. Meanwhile, the Saints are a top half team in Total Offense, but at the bottom of the league in Total Defense, offensive and defensive scoring.
____Third Down Conversions____
Dallas’ third down conversion percentage is completely unacceptable. If you are looking for the biggest change between 2014 and this year, look no further. Dallas spent the large majority of last season as the best third down conversion team in the league, and now they’re in the bottom third. This, can partially be traced to their difficulty in getting into advantageous third down situations, settling for 3rd and long due to early down failures much more often than last year.
However, Dallas is also struggling in third and short situations. They are just 6 of 14 in situations where they are 3rd and 3 or less, 42.9%. In 2014, they converted 59.2% of these opportunities.
Here we see that both teams struggle to get off the field when given the opportunity. Atlanta was a gaudy 9 for 14, 64% in converting their third down opportunities. This was the prevailing theme of the second half blowout, as Dallas had numerous players logging far too many snaps for a team that prides itself in defensive rotations.
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.”
Early season volume stats are prone to wild swings, but the Cowboys are in the wrong half of the league here. -3 turnover margin and breaking even on the big plays is not a recipe for success. Last year, Dallas struggled in the Toxic Differential rankings until the second half of the season; mostly due to the gigantic hole they fell into during Week 1 against the 49ers. Here’s a look at the Toxic Event Ledger from the Cowboys-Falcons game.
|DAL||1 1-10-DAL 20 (15:00) J.Randle left tackle to DAL 48 for 28 yards (R.Alford).||DAL +1|
|DAL||1 1-10-ATL 37 (14:03) J.Randle right end for 37 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Randle orginally ran off tackle before changing course and running||DAL +2|
|DAL||1 1-10-DAL 42 (11:09) J.Randle right end to ATL 38 for 20 yards (R.Allen).||DAL +3|
|ATL||1 2-10-ATL 46 (5:42) D.Freeman right end pushed ob at DAL 38 for 16 yards (N.Hayden)||DAL +2|
|ATL||2 1-10-DAL 19 (6:03) B.Weeden pass short left intended for J.Witten INTERCEPTED by W.Moore [N.Stupar] at DAL 34. W.Moore to DAL 23 for 11 yards (Z.Martin).||DAL +1|
|DAL||2 1-10-DAL 20 (2:18) (Shotgun) B.Weeden pass short left to C.Beasley pushed ob at DAL 35 for 15 yards (R.Allen).||DAL +2|
|ATL||"2 1-10-ATL 42 (:28) (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass short middle to D.Freeman to DAL 23 for 35 yards (B.Carr). Pass complete on runner sneaking out of the backfield.|
|ATL||3 3-3-DAL 45 (7:16) (Shotgun) M.Ryan pass deep right to J.Jones for 45 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Pass complete on a "post pattern."||EVEN|
|ATL||3 1-10-ATL 11 (3:09) D.Freeman right guard to ATL 27 for 16 yards (J.Wilcox).||ATL +1|
|ATL||3 3-6-ATL 46 (:26) (Shotgun) M.Ryan scrambles up the middle to DAL 36 for 18 yards (S.Lee).||ATL +2|
|ATL||4 2-6-ATL 42 (8:51) D.Freeman right end to DAL 41 for 17 yards (S.Lee)||ATL +3|
Once again, the ebb and flow of the Toxic Events crystalizes the roller coaster of the game. Once the big plays stopped for Dallas and swung in Atlanta’s favor, the story of the game was written. This is an interesting theme that appears to have carried over from 2014 and is starting to paint a picture that slow and methodical is a recipe for being beaten.
____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!
_PRIMARY DIFFERENTIAL RANKINGS_
We all know that it is a passing league, while running the football undoubtedly has an effect on the passing game, and more importantly how the opposition defends it. In the end, though, passing success is what leads to team success.
There are generally two stats that are easily calculated that seem to have a high correlation to predicting future success; Passer Rating differential and Adjusted Net Yards Per Passing Attempt differential. Both are calculated by simply finding the difference between what your offense achieves in each category and taking away what your defense gives up. Teams with the larger differentials are more likely to have future success (read: wins) than those teams with smaller, or negative differentials.
In statistics, this relationship between wins and PRD is called a correlation. The strength of the correlation is measured by the "correlation coefficient". The correlation coefficient measures the relationship between two variables. This coefficient is often referred to as "r²" and is expressed as a number between 1 and -1. The closer the r² number is to 1 or -1, the stronger the relationship between the two variables. The closer it is to zero, the weaker the relationship.
R² between PRD and wins in 2013 was 0.71, an astonishingly high correlation. It is almost as good as scoring differential (0.89) at predicting the W/L record of an NFL team.
PASSER RATING DIFFERENTIAL
|Rank||Tm||G||Off Rating||Def Rating||Differential|
|2||Green Bay Packers||3||135.4||79.2||56.2|
|4||New England Patriots||3||119.6||90.2||29.4|
|10||San Diego Chargers||3||104.3||87.6||16.7|
|11||New York Jets||3||78.4||66.5||11.9|
|13||New York Giants||3||97.9||90||7.9|
|17||St. Louis Rams||3||86.6||94||-7.4|
|24||Kansas City Chiefs||3||86.4||101.9||-15.5|
|26||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||3||77.9||100.3||-22.4|
|30||New Orleans Saints||3||85.4||119.6||-34.2|
|31||San Francisco 49ers||3||71.1||111.6||-40.5|
Now we’re getting somewhere. Notice the high correlation of passer ratings for teams at the bottom and top of these rankings to actual records. Teams that betray their records, like the Giants, had two wins slip out of their hands. Dallas is clearly superior to New Orleans in the passing game, with the obvious caveat of who is lining up at quarterback and the risk associated with earning these ratings.
Adjusted Net Yards Per Pass Attempt, or ANY/A, comes in third when it comes to correlating to victory with an R2 coefficient of 0.69. What exactly is ANY/A?
ANY/A: Adjusted net passing yards per attempt = (Passing Yards + (Passing TDs)*20 - (INTs thrown)*45 - Sack Yards) / (Passing Attempts + Sacks)
It’s basically a formula that takes into account sacks and interceptions in qualifying how efficient a team is in the passing game. Here’s how the team’s square up in this metric.
|Rank||Tm||Off ANY/A||DEF ANY/A||Differential|
|2||Green Bay Packers||10.1||5.2||4.9|
|4||New England Patriots||9.1||5.7||3.4|
|8||St. Louis Rams||6.5||5||1.5|
|13||New York Giants||7.6||6.5||1.1|
|14||New York Jets||5||4.5||0.5|
|15||San Diego Chargers||7||6.6||0.4|
|17||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||6||6.6||-0.6|
|25||Kansas City Chiefs||5.3||7.1||-1.8|
|31||New Orleans Saints||6||10.6||-4.6|
|32||San Francisco 49ers||3.8||8.9||-5.1|
Again, we see that Philadelphia’s success has so much to do with their special teams prowess. When that isn’t clicking, they tend to look closer to last week than their good weeks.
______WEEK 4 DVOA RANKINGS______
DVOA is a metric, devised by Football Outsiders, which measures success on each play as compared to league average based on "a number of variables including down, distance, location on field, current score gap, quarter, and opponent quality.” The metric is outputted in “percentage points better than average”.
|COWBOYS||Offense DVOA||Defense DVOA||ST DVOA||Total DVOA|
|SAINTS||Offense DVOA||Defense DVOA||ST DVOA||Total DVOA|
Suffice to say, DVOA is not a fan of the Saints effort thus far, and is lukewarm on the Cowboys. The rankings speak for themselves in indicating that this is a matchup that theoretically Dallas should be able to secure a win in.