In response to PatsEng's comment:
I'm not sure you can rely on those ToP numbers on O right now though. The Pats have been running the no huddle quicker then ever before with a higher frequency so that drops their ToP per series number. However, they have also had long drawn out plays that bring the number back up and help to close out games at times. True the O is on the field for the same amount of time but if say the D is only given on average 4 mins (ST's and stoppages in game included) on every down as compared to being given say 2.5mins on one drive then 6.5mins the next drive that those longer breaks worked in with the shorter breaks can actually keep them fresher then a sustained amount of time after every break. I link it to if you need 45s to catch your breath but you are only given 30s consistently then you'll never catch your breath. However, if you are given 10s one time and 50s another time then you don't build up that lack of rest and can actually catch your breath every so often
Good point Eng, and I tend to agree with you that a few longer periods of rest are more valuable to the D than a lot of short ones. I haven't done a careful analysis of the distribution of long and short drives this season and last (it's a lot of data to pore over), but on a cursory look, I do think the Pats have had a few more 5 and 6 minute drives in the first five games this year than they did in their first five games last year. A lot of their scoring drives last year were more like four minutes than five or six minutes.
One has to be careful when making claims about the rest time the D gets, however, based on stated drive times. There are a number of factors that need to be accounted for and the analysis isn't quite as straightforward as it may seem on the surface. A few points to consider if you (or me or anybody) are going to try to do the analysis:
- You've got to keep in mind that actual time passed and game time passed are two different things. The rest the defense gets is based on actual time passed, not game time passed.
- If the clock doesn't stop during a drive, then game time passed will equal actual time passed. If the clock stops during the drive, however, the actual time passed during the drive will exceed the game time passed.
- The clock stops during a drive when there's an incompletion, when the play goes out of bounds, when there's an official or team time out, or when possession changes. Generally, the clock stops more frequently in drives with a higher percentage of pass plays than in drives with a higher percentage of running plays. The obvious reason for this is because incomplete passes stop the clock. A less obvious reason (which I believe to be true, though I've never done the analysis to prove it) is that pass plays are a little more likely to end out-of-bounds than running plays, just because it's easier to get the ball to the sideline on a pass play than on a run.
- The consequence of the increased clock stoppage on passing drives is that if two drives use up the same amount of game time, but one is a run-heavy drive and one is a pass-heavy drive, the pass heavy drive is likely to eat up more actual time. In other words, if you have two drives that are both three minutes long in game time, the pass-heavy drive is likely to take up more actual time (and therefore give the defense more rest). This is counterintuitive, but it's true.
- The fact is, however, that pass-heavy drives tend to take up less game time than run-heavy drives. There are two reasons for this. The first is that most of the transition time between plays counts as game time in drives that are run-heavy (because the clock doesn't stop) while some of the transition time in pass-heavy drives doesn't count as game time because the clock is stopped during it. The second (and in some ways even more important) reason pass drives tend to be shorter than run drives in game time is that pass plays average more yards (even when incompletions are accounted for, I believe) than run plays. This means that if two drives cover the same total yards, the pass-heavy drive will likely take fewer plays than the run-heavy drive.
- It's worth pointing out that the primary reason run-heavy drives take more game time than pass-heavy drives is because of the transition time and the average yardage per play resulting in more plays for the run-heavy drive. The actual length of a pass play from snap to incompletion or tackle is usually equal to or longer than the actual length of a running play from snap to tackle. From snap to tackle on a typical running play is 3 or 4 seconds. Passing plays if incomplete take roughly the same amount of time (3 or 4 seconds). If a pass is complete it likely eats at least 5 or 6 seconds from snap to tackle.
- Finally, while pass-heavy drives tend to take less game time than run-heavy drives of equal yardage, it's not completely clear whether they take less actual time. The passing plays (from snap to tackle) often take more time than the running plays. The transition time (actual time) between passing plays may also be as long as the transition time between running plays (even if the clock is stopped during the passing play transition and therefore not counting as game time). What tends to shorten the actual time used in a pass-heavy drives is the longer average yardage per play, which in turn reduces the number of plays needed to cover the same yardage.
Getting back to the Pats for a moment, given that their offensive drives are averaging 2:40 minutes (in game time) this year, just as they did last year through five games, a few things are clear:
- Since they were passing more last year, the actual time spent on their drives likely would have been longer (on average) last year because some of the transition time between plays wouldn't have been included in the 2:40 (because the game clock was likely stopped more during transition time) while this year the 2:40 would include most transition time (because the game clock is likely running during the transition time). This would have meant, on average, that the defense was getting more rest during the Pats' offensive drives last year than this. However, your point about the average drive length being less important than the number of long drives would still be true--and it's possible that this year's offense is mounting more long drives.
- If the Pats really have mounted more long drives this year but their average drive length is still the same, then they either have had more short drives to balance out the long drives or they are actually running more drives.
- In fact, it seems like they are running more drives this year than last (though I haven't added it all up). Given that the average time per drive is the same, the only way they can run more offensive drives is if the defense is keeping their opponents' drives shorter.
- This in fact seems to be the case. The defense seems to be getting itself off the field sooner, which gets to my original point that the improved TOP stats are at least in part due to the defense playing better rather than a change in the offensive approach.