NFL Analysis: Jets Plan of Attack vs. Patriots


It might be a little late in the season for stuff like this, but better late than never.

Often we can learn a lot by taking information we already have and graphing it. In this case, I've taken each team's Success Rate (SR) stats for running and passing and plotted them against each other.

As you might recall from a post early in the season, SR is one stat where passing and running actually correlate, suggesting that "success" is the component of performance that coaches try to optimize.

Simply put, from the perspective of game theory, it's how we can tell that running "sets up the pass" and vice versa. SR for both running and passing is also a reliable predictor of team success, i.e. winning.

If we plot each team's pass SR by its run SR for 2010, we should expect to see a correlation, represented by a diagonal trend. The better teams will be on the top and right, while the worse teams will be on the bottom left. Also, we would not expect to see many teams that are very good in one aspect, either running or passing, but not any good in the other.

Here is the plot for 2010 offenses. Running success is the x-axis, and passing success is the y-axis.

You can see NE far out on the top right. They're good at both and are very balanced. We think of NE as a passing offense, but they're running game is actually more successful compared to the rest of the league. Teams such as IND, NO, GB and SD could pass well but were average at running. ARZ could run the ball fairly well, but had no passing game. CAR could do neither well.

Now let's look at defenses. This is the same general idea, and we can see the diagonal trend indicating the correlation. The better teams are up and to the right.

PIT and BLT appear to be the top defenses in terms of SR, but they're both slightly better and stopping the run than the pass. MIA, OAK and NYG were both more effective against the pass than the run. Teams like NYJ are more balanced. I was surprised that the CHI defense wasn't among the league elite this year. SF appears to have been far too focused on stopping the run in 2010. IND and HST were ineffective in both categories.

And look who else is in the bottom left quadrant: NE. This does not necessarily indicate overall weakness as much as it indicates strategy. NE's doctrine might simply be to not give up the big play. Still, no matter what a team's defensive doctrine may be, it's better to be in the top-right quadrant of the graph than the bottom-left.

Either way, this suggests the way to slay NE is death by a thousand cuts. A steady, short-game, ball-control game-plan would likely work well. It would take advantage of NE's propensity to allow modest yet successful plays while minimizing the risk of turnovers. It might also chew up a lot of clock, minimizing the number of total possessions, which is usually helpful to the underdog.

Nothing groundbreaking, I just think this is a handy way to look at information. Perhaps next season I'll add automatically generated graphs like this (for any stat) where you can visualize where teams stand in various dimensions of performance.


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