What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

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    What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    Over the past few days, I've been looking closely at NFL game stats to get a better understanding of what teams need to do to score points and prevent their opponents from scoring.  The conclusion is that the key to scoring points is being productive on your passing plays, while the key to limiting your opponent's scoring is preventing them from being productive on their passing plays.  While productivity in the run is not unimportant, it's impact on scoring is much weaker than the impact of productivity in passing. (I define the productivity of any play simply by the yards gained by the play.)

    In comparing runs and passes it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking simplistically that passes are always more productive than runs.  After all, passes average about 6.2 yards per play (taking into account sacks and incompletions), while runs average about 4.1 yards per play.  On average passes are therefore 50% more productive than runs.  It's not too surprising, then, that they seem to have a bigger impact on scoring.  Passes are what get you the yards, and yards gained do strongly correlate with points.  

    While it is clearly true that passing is on average more productive than running, it's important to look beyond averages.  The interesting thing about passes is that, while they average higher productivity than runs, more of them are complete duds.  About 45% of pass plays end up as incompletions or sacks after all.  To really understand what's going on we have to look deeper than the averages and start to examine how the distribution of both running and passing plays by productivity (i.e., by yards gained) looks. 

    Unfortunately this distribution data is impossible to find online, so I bit the bullet and went through the tedious process of looking through game summaries to collect the data myself.  My sample size is relatively small--I'd go crazy spending more than an hour or so collecting and recording the data--but it's reasonable:  What I did was look at the game summaries for the first 8 playoff games in 2013 and record the yards gained for every scrimmage play in the first halves of those 8 games. I only used the first-half data partly because I didn't want to spend the time to record all the plays in every game, but also because we all know that things often get weird in the second half as teams get away from their game plans either to protect a lead or try to catch up.  The first half is therefore probably more reflective of what the team intends to do, and so is probably a better set of data if you're interested in understanding what teams plan to do rather than what they are forced to do. Overall, my sample includes 497 plays, split between 260 passes and 237 runs.  Twelve teams are represented, four of them twice, so there's fair diversity in the data. 

    The Findings

    Running Plays

    • About 25% of runs (one in four) get just one yard or less
    • Another 25% get 2 or 3 yards, so about half of all running plays get 3 yards or less
    • 20% get 4 or 5 yards
    • 20% get 6 to 10 yards
    • Only 10% get more than 10 yards

    Passing Plays

    • About 45% of passing plays end up with zero or fewer yards
    • Another 15% get 1 to 5 yards
    • Another 15% get 6 to 10 yards
    • Another 15% get 11 to 20 yards
    • And the remaining 10% get more than 20 yards

    Looked at another way, you can determine the probability of getting the "needed" yardage by run or by pass.  Here's what those calculations show:

    • Need 1 yard. 85% chance if you run, 56% chance if you pass
    • Need 2 yards. 74% chance if you run, 54% chance if you pass
    • Need 3 yards. 62% chance if you run, 52% chance if you pass
    • Need 4 yards. 53% chance if you run, 46% chance if you pass
    • Need 5 yards. 39% chance if you run, 44% chance if you pass
    • Need 6 yards. 28% chance if you run, 40% chance if you pass
    • Need 7 yards. 23% chance if you run, 35% chance if you pass
    • Need 8 yards. 16% chance if you run, 32% chance if you pass
    • Need 9 yards. 10% chance if you run, 30% chance if you pass
    • Need 10 yards. 7% chance if you run, 25% chance if you pass
    • Need 15 yards. 2% chance if you run, 13% chance if you pass
    • Need 20 yards. <1% percent chance if you run, 7% if you pass

    The value of the run is evident here: in short yardage situations (one or two yards) it's far more reliable than the pass. At three yards, it's still got significantly better odds than the pass and at four yards it's got slightly better odds than the pass.  At five yards, the tide begins to turn, with the pass having marginally better odds. With more than five yards needed, the run's effectiveness drops off precipitously, leaving the pass with signficantly higher odds of success. 

    What It Means for Play Calling

    None of the above is too surprising, but it is interesting to see the actual numbers rather than just going with our gut sense of what's right.  The real interesting analysis, though, is determining what the statistics mean for strategy and play calling. 

    A major key to scoring is, as we saw in my earlier posts, gaining yards.  (Again, nothing surprising.)  Typical scoring drives need to get something like 60 or 80 yards overall and also need to be sustained by getting a minimum of 10 yards every three (or, if you're willing to go for it on fourth down, four) plays. 

    Advocates of running a lot will no doubt jump in here and say why not just run the ball all the way down the field.  Running plays average about 4 yards and you have a 50% chance of getting four or more yards, so the odds are that you'll get a first down every three plays. Fifteen to twenty 4-yard plays will get you to the endzone. This sounds nice, but it fails to account for the fact that about half your running plays get 3 yards or less and a full quarter get 1 yard or less. There is a way of calculating the exact probabily of going 80 yards with running plays alone, but I'd have to go back and re-read one of my statistic books to recall how to set up the problem and then do all the calcs.  I'm not going to bother.  All I'll say is that, because so many runs go for very short yardage, there's a high likelihood that in a 60 or 80 yard drive you are going to run into several third and longs where you are going to have to pass.  If you wait until third down to pass, you will become utterly predictable making it easy for the defense to defend you.  So every good play caller is going to mix in passes earlier than third down to utilize them when they are less predictable. 

    Once we start mixing in passing plays, we end up with a different issue: 45% of them are going to be complete duds and 60% of them are going to get 5 yards or less. This means on many sequences, you're going to have to pass at least twice to get the needed yardage. The advantage of passing plays, though, is that a full 40% of them are going to get 6 or more yards and 25% (one in four) are going to get in one single swoop the full 10 yards you normally need for a first down.  Nearly half your passing plays are going to be for no yardage or short yardage, but the other half are going to move you down the field at a good clip. 

    In actuality, most scoring drives are in the 8 to 12 play range, which means teams are averaging about 7 or 8 yards per play on scoring drives--and the only way they're reaching those averages is by being productive in their passing game.  They don't necessarily need to pass a lot, but when they do pass, they typically need to get good yardage. Runs at 4 yards per play on average (and with shorter yardage fully 50% of the time) generally don't allow you to sustain drives.  While you mix them in for variety in early downs and in shorter yardage situations in later downs, you generally can't rely on them as your primary way of advancing the ball.  You need to be good at passing.  And as I showed in an earlier post, where Super Bowl champions excel in the playoffs is (1) in being productive when they pass and (2) preventing their opponents from being productive when their opponents pass. A great running game never hurts . . . but it's efficiency in the passing game that gets you your points and effectiveness in pass defense that prevents your opponents from getting their points.  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     
  2. You have chosen to ignore posts from prolate0spheroid. Show prolate0spheroid's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    One thing that we all know, but that becomes much clearer as you look at the data is how situational play calling has to be.  The idea that an offensive coordinator or head coach can determine ahead of time run-pass mix is crazy.  Sure, you can go into a game with a plan and the hope that you'll be able to execute it.  But a lot of your play calling is going to be dictated by what happens on each down.  (It's also going to be affected heavily by what the defense does, but the stats don't tell us about that.)  Short yardage on first down (which is a high probability regardless of whether you pass or run) is going to force more passing later in the series, unless you want to take big chances hoping you can buck the odds and get longer yardage by running rather than passing. To be able to run a lot on a drive, one or both of two things have to happen: first you need to get good yardage on your runs, with a fair number of your runs getting 5 or more yards; second, you need a pretty good completion percentage when you pass, so that you aren't forced into the situation of having to pass two or three times to get longer yardage when you need longer yardage.  This second fact may not be obvious to those who want to run a lot:  Running a lot requires efficiency in passing.  In a 60 or 80 yard drive you will inevitably find yourself in some long yardage situations, and hitting your passes at a high rate in those situations is absolutely necessary to allow you to continue to run and not have to pass repeatedly to try to get the required yardage.  If you can't execute on your passes, you're not going to be able to run more, because you'll be in lots of long yardage situations on second and third downs where the odds of getting the needed yardage by running are relatively small and where you are going to be forced to continue to throw. If you want to be a run-heavy team, you really need to get a good percentage of long-yardage runs and you have to be very efficient when you do pass.  If you don't do these things, you aren't going to move the ball well and you aren't going to score a lot, which means you will win only if your defense is very, very good. It really should surprise no one that the teams that run a lot and win (teams like SF and Seattle this year) also tend to be known for their defense.  They also are fairly efficient passing teams in addition to being good running teams. Running a lot can work, but it needs the right context to be successful and part of that context is (1) being able to get a good percentage of long runs when you do run, (2) being efficient in the passing game with a good completion percentage, lower sacks, and good net yards per pass play, and (3) having a good defense.  

     

     

      

     
  3. You have chosen to ignore posts from PatsEng. Show PatsEng's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    Pro - you keep forgetting about being unpredicatable. It's something stats can't account for but if you play strictly by the numbers (in your case under 4yrds run over 4yrds pass) then you will never get anywhere because teams load up. Not to mention how many of those big plays came off of play action which is setup by the run. I would actually love to see what would happen to those numbers if you were somehow able to subtract play action setup by the run. Why is it teams that setup the pass with a strong run game tend to succeed over the years while those with dominant passes but weaker run games dominant in the regular season but in the playoffs they tend to faulter? It's mainly because the better D's in the league can force them into a 1 dimensional game and key in on that one dimension.

    It's bad to go to one extreme or the other. If you want to be successful you have to have some form of balance and unpredictability. Sometimes you have to run on 3rd and 8th to show them that you will. Sometimes you have to pass on 2nd and 1. But you have to keep a balance.

     
  4. You have chosen to ignore posts from ghostofjri37. Show ghostofjri37's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

     

    Play calling in the case of NE is never easy to understand. They game plan differently every week depending on what they feel the opponents weakness is and what they expect the opposition is going to give them. They run a variety of plays out of different personnel groups and they constantly change those groups during drives based on what they see the defense giving them. Brady has carte blanche to stay in certain groups and formations if they catch the opponent in what they consider favorable match-ups. It's not like they are the Broncos and play a high percentage of the game in a 3 wide, 1 TE 1 back grouping. The Pats mix it up pretty well... I believe they were roughly 50% 3 wides, 25% 2 backs and 25% 2 TE's. i think it would be interesting to understand what they ran out of these groupings and what the down and distances were.

     

    I guess in the case of NE there are way too many variables to understand their rationale behind what the numbers say.

     

    My only criticism with some of the play calling would be they try and get to cute at times in some of their 3rd and short yardage situations.

     

     

     
  5. You have chosen to ignore posts from PatsEng. Show PatsEng's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to ghostofjri37's comment:

     

    Play calling in the case of NE is never easy to understand. They game plan differently every week depending on what they feel the opponents weakness is and what they expect the opposition is going to give them. They run a variety of plays out of different personnel groups and they constantly change those groups during drives based on what they see the defense giving them. Brady has carte blanche to stay in certain groups and formations if they catch the opponent in what they consider favorable match-ups. It's not like they are the Broncos and play a high percentage of the game in a 3 wide, 1 TE 1 back grouping. The Pats mix it up pretty well... I believe they were roughly 50% 3 wides, 25% 2 backs and 25% 2 TE's. i think it would be interesting to understand what they ran out of these groupings and what the down and distances were.

     

    I guess in the case of NE there are way too many variables to understand their rationale behind what the numbers say.

     

    My only criticism with some of the play calling would be they try and get to cute at times in some of their 3rd and short yardage situations.

     

     



    I agree but at times the Pats tend to give up on the run too quickly if it doesn't immediately show results or they tend to mix the RBs too much and not let them find a groove. They have been greatly improving in recent years mixing it up but still have some tendencies that drive us nuts (ie 3 straight passes at the goal line at times). I will add I remember in OB's day that he followed Pro's stats to the T. You could predict within a high certainty what he was going to do well before he did it based solely off of stats similar to what Pro posted. My mother had no issue predicting what OB was going to run and it was clear teams with better Ds had zero issue stopping it. So, playing it straight by the numbers (as if it were money ball) didn't work then and certainly won't work now either.

     
  6. You have chosen to ignore posts from prolate0spheroid. Show prolate0spheroid's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    Pro - you keep forgetting about being unpredicatable. It's something stats can't account for but if you play strictly by the numbers (in your case under 4yrds run over 4yrds pass) then you will never get anywhere because teams load up. Not to mention how many of those big plays came off of play action which is setup by the run. I would actually love to see what would happen to those numbers if you were somehow able to subtract play action setup by the run. Why is it teams that setup the pass with a strong run game tend to succeed over the years while those with dominant passes but weaker run games dominant in the regular season but in the playoffs they tend to faulter? It's mainly because the better D's in the league can force them into a 1 dimensional game and key in on that one dimension.

    It's bad to go to one extreme or the other. If you want to be successful you have to have some form of balance and unpredictability. Sometimes you have to run on 3rd and 8th to show them that you will. Sometimes you have to pass on 2nd and 1. But you have to keep a balance.



    Eng, I'm not advocating playing exactly by the odds.  You do have to mix things up.  Predictability, though, isn't as straightforward as not playing by the odds.  It's about showing clear trends in your playcalling.  A team that bucks the odds consistently is just as predictable as one that plays the odds consistently.  And predictability isn't just about whether you run or pass.  It's also about the types of runs or passes you choose in different situations.  Varying what you do is important.  So is execution . . . if you can't do something well, doing it just to be unpredictale may not help you.

    Play action can be predictable too, if there's a clear pattern to how and when you call it. A team that regularly sets up play action passes by establishing the run early can be quite predictable. The defense will see on film the tendency to run early and then switch to the play action pass and will be prepared for that.  Play action is really about deception (just as other plays are about power, speed, or mismatch), not unpredictability. You can utilize lots of deceptive plays (play action, draws, shotgun runs, etc.) and still be predictable if you show strong trends in calling plays.

    Also, it's important to realize that coordinators sometimes want to be predictable and show a trend in order to break it sometime later--in the same game or in future games.

    As far as the statement I highlighted, I think we would have to establish that's really true first. Certainly it's better to be good at both run and pass, but there have been plenty of teams that have won Super Bowls passing 55% of the time or more through the playoffs.  In fact, in the past 15 years six Super Bowl champions passed at least 55% of the time in the playoffs, while only three ran that often. The remaining six were more balanced. You also have to factor in defensive strebgth because games aren't won or lost on offense only.  A lot of the strong running teams are also strong defensive teams. Teams with weaker defenses tend to go far in the playoffs only if they pass very well, and that may skew your sample a bit.

     

     

     
  7. You have chosen to ignore posts from prolate0spheroid. Show prolate0spheroid's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to ghostofjri37's comment:

     

    Play calling in the case of NE is never easy to understand. They game plan differently every week depending on what they feel the opponents weakness is and what they expect the opposition is going to give them. They run a variety of plays out of different personnel groups and they constantly change those groups during drives based on what they see the defense giving them. Brady has carte blanche to stay in certain groups and formations if they catch the opponent in what they consider favorable match-ups. It's not like they are the Broncos and play a high percentage of the game in a 3 wide, 1 TE 1 back grouping. The Pats mix it up pretty well... I believe they were roughly 50% 3 wides, 25% 2 backs and 25% 2 TE's. i think it would be interesting to understand what they ran out of these groupings and what the down and distances were.

     

    I guess in the case of NE there are way too many variables to understand their rationale behind what the numbers say.

     

    My only criticism with some of the play calling would be they try and get to cute at times in some of their 3rd and short yardage situations.

     

     



    I agree but at times the Pats tend to give up on the run too quickly if it doesn't immediately show results or they tend to mix the RBs too much and not let them find a groove. They have been greatly improving in recent years mixing it up but still have some tendencies that drive us nuts (ie 3 straight passes at the goal line at times). I will add I remember in OB's day that he followed Pro's stats to the T. You could predict within a high certainty what he was going to do well before he did it based solely off of stats similar to what Pro posted. My mother had no issue predicting what OB was going to run and it was clear teams with better Ds had zero issue stopping it. So, playing it straight by the numbers (as if it were money ball) didn't work then and certainly won't work now either.



    I'm not sure I agree the Pats give up on the run or mix backs too much.  I also don't think they were as predictable as people perceive under O'Brien.  I used the play predictor the Globe had online for a while too and drew different conclusions than you did about O'Brien's playcalling.

     

     
  8. You have chosen to ignore posts from NoMorePensionLooting. Show NoMorePensionLooting's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    I vote yes

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    I think reducing playcalling down to run or pass is in some sense inadequate.  A pass can be anything from a deep post to a screen.  A run can be anything from a toss to a draw.  The percentages for those different types of plays are not the same.  Who's to say a swing pass to the RB couldn't be as effective "on average" as a typical I formation power play on 3rd and short.  Does anyone think all those passes to Welker on 3rd and short over the years didn't work 45% of the time?

     
  10. You have chosen to ignore posts from PatsEng. Show PatsEng's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     

    I'm not sure I agree the Pats give up on the run or mix backs too much.  I also don't think they were as predictable as people perceive under O'Brien.  I used the play predictor the Globe had online for a while too and drew different conclusions than you did about O'Brien's playcalling.

     



    I got into the same discussion with Babe then Boston.com did the work for me. This was the play predictor under OB:

    http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/multimedia/patriots_play_predictor/

    There is a clear trend that comes out once you got past 1st down. The trend basically follows the numbers you posted. The most shocking comes on 3rd downs where unless there was 2 or less yards you could defend against the pass exclusively and be right the vast majority of times

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     Why is it teams that setup the pass with a strong run game tend to succeed over the years while those with dominant passes but weaker run games dominant in the regular season but in the playoffs they tend to faulter? 




    As far as the statement I highlighted, I think we would have to establish that's really true first. Certainly it's better to be good at both run and pass, but there have been plenty of teams that have won Super Bowls passing 55% of the time or more through the playoffs.  In fact, in the past 15 years six Super Bowl champions passed at least 55% of the time in the playoffs, while only three ran that often. The remaining six were more balanced. You also have to factor in defensive strebgth because games aren't won or lost on offense only.  A lot of the strong running teams are also strong defensive teams. Teams with weaker defenses tend to go far in the playoffs only if they pass very well, and that may skew your sample a bit.

     

     



    % of run verses pass doesn't indicate strength of one or the other. You can pass 55% of the time and still have a strong run game but look at teams like Pitt, Sea, 49ers, Giants, Ravens, heck even the Pats in the early 00's. All of them used the run to setup the pass. How many times were we blown away in the 00's about the way the Pats effectively used play action and screens. We weren't a high flying team we played chess and set other teams up by grinding them down and making them think one way then doing the other. That's why you can't use straight stats because straight stats don't indicate how one was used verses the other, in what situations each was used, and most importantly what effect one had on the other.

 
  • You have chosen to ignore posts from mellymel3. Show mellymel3's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    The Pats use their method of passing attack because it gives them unpredictability on virtually every play depending upon the ability of the Receivers and QB to read the defense and make appropriate adjustments...that's the nature of their entire offensive philosophy...it's geared towards Off. Efficiency in specific down and distance situations while still maintaining the element of surprise depending upon what's available to them AND the known weaknesses of an opponents D.....

    Most teams enter a game with scripted play calls with "variations on a theme", again, down and distance situations against specific defensive formations....they will include both runs and passes and NE, like several teams with great QB's (Denver, NO, SD, Indy), allows the QB to make far more adjustments given specific formations than do other teams...it's the maximum way to achieve off. efficiency while still maintaining surpirse to the greatest degree possible.

    The issue for most teams, both on Off and Def, is that tendencies can easily be identified by examining formations used for down and distance versus specific formations, both on Off. and Def....all teams do this and it's included on the charts you see teams using on the sidelines during games as well as the wrist bands utilized by QBs...the issues to keep in mind is how often a given team goes against type, identifies their own tendencies and mixes things up to fool the opposition....all of this is reducable to numbers and stats....

    What the summary stats do not adequately analyze is the QUALITY of the off. or def. a specific team is competing against...also, it must be noted that the relative quality of opponent over the course of the season to get you into the playoffs is taken for granted, ie, the summary stats you site are certainly worthwhile yet are skewed in the direction of the best playing against the best where regular season opponents might  change their game planning approach at different times of the year (example, new QB just out of college, slowly introducing parts of the passing game) and against stronger or weaker opponents and game plans designed or customized to account for these factors.

    Thanks for taking the time yet again....a great effort producing interesting information....I'm sure the results reflect accurately the summary outcomes for ALL games...I merely site some ways a more complete analysis might be made slightly more meaningful in it's true predictability...

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     

    I'm not sure I agree the Pats give up on the run or mix backs too much.  I also don't think they were as predictable as people perceive under O'Brien.  I used the play predictor the Globe had online for a while too and drew different conclusions than you did about O'Brien's playcalling.

     



    I got into the same discussion with Babe then Boston.com did the work for me. This was the play predictor under OB:

    http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/multimedia/patriots_play_predictor/

    There is a clear trend that comes out once you got past 1st down. The trend basically follows the numbers you posted. The most shocking comes on 3rd downs where unless there was 2 or less yards you could defend against the pass exclusively and be right the vast majority of times



    Other than passing regularly on third and long, I don't see the playcalling being that predictable.  I also wouldn't expect them to run that much on third down with BJGE and Danny Woodhead as the backs.  Some of the third down numbers are weird too, because they total less than 100% and I don't believe they punted or kicked FGs on third down much.  So reliability of the data is questionable, I think.

     

     
  • You have chosen to ignore posts from prolate0spheroid. Show prolate0spheroid's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to pcmIV's comment:

    I think reducing playcalling down to run or pass is in some sense inadequate.  A pass can be anything from a deep post to a screen.  A run can be anything from a toss to a draw.  The percentages for those different types of plays are not the same.  Who's to say a swing pass to the RB couldn't be as effective "on average" as a typical I formation power play on 3rd and short.  Does anyone think all those passes to Welker on 3rd and short over the years didn't work 45% of the time?



    Very much the truth. Of course, breaking things down that fine requires even more work.  It would be great if there was a database publically available.  I bet the Pats have that data, though . . . 

     
  • You have chosen to ignore posts from PatsEng. Show PatsEng's posts

    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     

    I'm not sure I agree the Pats give up on the run or mix backs too much.  I also don't think they were as predictable as people perceive under O'Brien.  I used the play predictor the Globe had online for a while too and drew different conclusions than you did about O'Brien's playcalling.

     



    I got into the same discussion with Babe then Boston.com did the work for me. This was the play predictor under OB:

    http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/multimedia/patriots_play_predictor/

    There is a clear trend that comes out once you got past 1st down. The trend basically follows the numbers you posted. The most shocking comes on 3rd downs where unless there was 2 or less yards you could defend against the pass exclusively and be right the vast majority of times



    Other than passing regularly on third and long, I don't see the playcalling being that predictable.  I also wouldn't expect them to run that much on third down with BJGE and Danny Woodhead as the backs.  Some of the third down numbers are weird too, because they total less than 100% and I don't believe they punted or kicked FGs on third down much.  So reliability of the data is questionable, I think.

     



    So you don't see on 2nd down that (with exception of 8 to go) that there is a direct slide scale for what they are going to do? I'm guessing you didn't play around with the yard markers either. It's an extremely predictable pattern that forms and one a high school coach should have little issue figuring out.

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     Why is it teams that setup the pass with a strong run game tend to succeed over the years while those with dominant passes but weaker run games dominant in the regular season but in the playoffs they tend to faulter? 




    As far as the statement I highlighted, I think we would have to establish that's really true first. Certainly it's better to be good at both run and pass, but there have been plenty of teams that have won Super Bowls passing 55% of the time or more through the playoffs.  In fact, in the past 15 years six Super Bowl champions passed at least 55% of the time in the playoffs, while only three ran that often. The remaining six were more balanced. You also have to factor in defensive strebgth because games aren't won or lost on offense only.  A lot of the strong running teams are also strong defensive teams. Teams with weaker defenses tend to go far in the playoffs only if they pass very well, and that may skew your sample a bit.

     

     



    % of run verses pass doesn't indicate strength of one or the other. You can pass 55% of the time and still have a strong run game but look at teams like Pitt, Sea, 49ers, Giants, Ravens, heck even the Pats in the early 00's. All of them used the run to setup the pass. How many times were we blown away in the 00's about the way the Pats effectively used play action and screens. We weren't a high flying team we played chess and set other teams up by grinding them down and making them think one way then doing the other. That's why you can't use straight stats because straight stats don't indicate how one was used verses the other, in what situations each was used, and most importantly what effect one had on the other.



    Yes, but then we have to define how to measure strength.  I tend to like yards per carry, but even that isn't perfect, since a one-yard TD run hurts YPC, but is still a good run. In reality, the past 15 Super Bowl champs had surprisingly low YPCs of 3.6, while their playoff opponents had YPCs of 3.9.  

    The fact is stats (at least as we have them without full detail) aren't perfect, but I still prefer them to just subjective impressions.  For instance, I'm not sure I buy that the 2000s' offenses were better than (the higher scoring) the 2010s offenses. 

     

     

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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     

    Yes, but then we have to define how to measure strength.  I tend to like yards per carry, but even that isn't perfect, since a one-yard TD run hurts YPC, but is still a good run. In reality, the past 15 Super Bowl champs had surprisingly low YPCs of 3.6, while their playoff opponents had YPCs of 3.9.  

    The fact is stats (at least as we have them without full detail) aren't perfect, but I still prefer them to just subjective impressions.  For instance, I'm not sure I buy that the 2000s' offenses were better than (the higher scoring) the 2010s offenses. 



    That's the thing is that unlike sports like baseball where stats can be king because of the limited number of variables inherent in the sport stats are extremely misleading in football. Such as a prime example being A. Smith. You look at his stats and say he was a horrible RB, yet I would argue we had a strong run game in those years by how Smith was used and the effectiveness of his runs. Heck even Woodhead was an extremely effective 3rd down scat back and those draw plays of 3rd and 6th he picked up caused D's to put an extra player in the box to watch him. There are a lot of things that stats in the NFL don't show, such as the effect of a pass rusher who causes other players to get sack numbers but themselves don't get high numbers, or even the effect of a blocking TE on the running game. There are just too many variables to point to one conclusion or the other unless it's so disproportionate it's clear as day (ie 0 runs in a quarter and the amount of 3rd and outs). Football is heavily situational and yet you can't go to one extreme or the other without it failing (in other words you can't throw the ball 90% of the time against the worst pass D team in the league). That's why you can't point to hard stats and there is no golden ratio, however, there is a range where it's most effective provided you keep a certain amount of unpredictabilty (something that can't be measured in stats). Hence why it can only be evaluated in the moment and not after it using stats from 32 different teams from 512 different games because there is no correlation within those stats.

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     

    I'm not sure I agree the Pats give up on the run or mix backs too much.  I also don't think they were as predictable as people perceive under O'Brien.  I used the play predictor the Globe had online for a while too and drew different conclusions than you did about O'Brien's playcalling.

     



    I got into the same discussion with Babe then Boston.com did the work for me. This was the play predictor under OB:

    http://www.boston.com/sports/football/patriots/multimedia/patriots_play_predictor/

    There is a clear trend that comes out once you got past 1st down. The trend basically follows the numbers you posted. The most shocking comes on 3rd downs where unless there was 2 or less yards you could defend against the pass exclusively and be right the vast majority of times



    Other than passing regularly on third and long, I don't see the playcalling being that predictable.  I also wouldn't expect them to run that much on third down with BJGE and Danny Woodhead as the backs.  Some of the third down numbers are weird too, because they total less than 100% and I don't believe they punted or kicked FGs on third down much.  So reliability of the data is questionable, I think.

     



    So you don't see on 2nd down that (with exception of 8 to go) that there is a direct slide scale for what they are going to do? I'm guessing you didn't play around with the yard markers either. It's an extremely predictable pattern that forms and one a high school coach should have little issue figuring out.



    Actually, I think it's good they tend to pass more when they have more yards to gain.  If you did something else, more of your drives would stall out.  So the sliding scale is a good thing, not a bad thing. The goal isn't to be 50-50 in dvery situation or to be completely random.  You still need to consider how you're most likely to get the yards you need for a first down. 

    As far as the variety on their plays, at almost every distance on second down they called the "minority" play at least one-third of the time.  The exceptions were on second and one, when they passed a quarter of the time, and on second and seven, second and nine, and second and 11+).  On second and eight, they had nearly a 50-50 split! when you run a play three or four times out of ten, the defense can't ignore it.  So no, I see no problem here.

     

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     

    Yes, but then we have to define how to measure strength.  I tend to like yards per carry, but even that isn't perfect, since a one-yard TD run hurts YPC, but is still a good run. In reality, the past 15 Super Bowl champs had surprisingly low YPCs of 3.6, while their playoff opponents had YPCs of 3.9.  

    The fact is stats (at least as we have them without full detail) aren't perfect, but I still prefer them to just subjective impressions.  For instance, I'm not sure I buy that the 2000s' offenses were better than (the higher scoring) the 2010s offenses. 



    That's the thing is that unlike sports like baseball where stats can be king because of the limited number of variables inherent in the sport stats are extremely misleading in football. Such as a prime example being A. Smith. You look at his stats and say he was a horrible RB, yet I would argue we had a strong run game in those years by how Smith was used and the effectiveness of his runs. Heck even Woodhead was an extremely effective 3rd down scat back and those draw plays of 3rd and 6th he picked up caused D's to put an extra player in the box to watch him. There are a lot of things that stats in the NFL don't show, such as the effect of a pass rusher who causes other players to get sack numbers but themselves don't get high numbers, or even the effect of a blocking TE on the running game. There are just too many variables to point to one conclusion or the other unless it's so disproportionate it's clear as day (ie 0 runs in a quarter and the amount of 3rd and outs). Football is heavily situational and yet you can't go to one extreme or the other without it failing (in other words you can't throw the ball 90% of the time against the worst pass D team in the league). That's why you can't point to hard stats and there is no golden ratio, however, there is a range where it's most effective provided you keep a certain amount of unpredictabilty (something that can't be measured in stats). Hence why it can only be evaluated in the moment and not after it using stats from 32 different teams from 512 different games because there is no correlation within those stats.



    I agree that you can't get the full picture with stats ina game as complex as football. I do think, however, you can get a valuable partial picture that is useful to challenge subjective impressions which may be even more misleading.

     

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to mellymel3's comment:

    The Pats use their method of passing attack because it gives them unpredictability on virtually every play depending upon the ability of the Receivers and QB to read the defense and make appropriate adjustments...that's the nature of their entire offensive philosophy...it's geared towards Off. Efficiency in specific down and distance situations while still maintaining the element of surprise depending upon what's available to them AND the known weaknesses of an opponents D.....

    Most teams enter a game with scripted play calls with "variations on a theme", again, down and distance situations against specific defensive formations....they will include both runs and passes and NE, like several teams with great QB's (Denver, NO, SD, Indy), allows the QB to make far more adjustments given specific formations than do other teams...it's the maximum way to achieve off. efficiency while still maintaining surpirse to the greatest degree possible.

    The issue for most teams, both on Off and Def, is that tendencies can easily be identified by examining formations used for down and distance versus specific formations, both on Off. and Def....all teams do this and it's included on the charts you see teams using on the sidelines during games as well as the wrist bands utilized by QBs...the issues to keep in mind is how often a given team goes against type, identifies their own tendencies and mixes things up to fool the opposition....all of this is reducable to numbers and stats....

    What the summary stats do not adequately analyze is the QUALITY of the off. or def. a specific team is competing against...also, it must be noted that the relative quality of opponent over the course of the season to get you into the playoffs is taken for granted, ie, the summary stats you site are certainly worthwhile yet are skewed in the direction of the best playing against the best where regular season opponents might  change their game planning approach at different times of the year (example, new QB just out of college, slowly introducing parts of the passing game) and against stronger or weaker opponents and game plans designed or customized to account for these factors.

    Thanks for taking the time yet again....a great effort producing interesting information....I'm sure the results reflect accurately the summary outcomes for ALL games...I merely site some ways a more complete analysis might be made slightly more meaningful in it's true predictability...



    Mel, all good points.  The issue with doing more sophisticated analysis is the lack of a truly comprehensive data set that is publically and easily available.  I believe teams have professionals dedicated to this kind of analysis now, which is one of several reasons I doubt the Pats' coaches are making high school mistakes in calling runs and passes as some seem to think.

     

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     

    Mel, all good points.  The issue with doing more sophisticated analysis is the lack of a truly comprehensive data set that is publically and easily available.  I believe teams have professionals dedicated to this kind of analysis now, which is one of several reasons I doubt the Pats' coaches are making high school mistakes in calling runs and passes as some seem to think.

     

     



    And yet here is proof that other teams picked up on it during a game!:

    http://espn.go.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/51796/have-formations-made-patriots-predictable

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     

    Mel, all good points.  The issue with doing more sophisticated analysis is the lack of a truly comprehensive data set that is publically and easily available.  I believe teams have professionals dedicated to this kind of analysis now, which is one of several reasons I doubt the Pats' coaches are making high school mistakes in calling runs and passes as some seem to think.

     

     



    And yet here is proof that other teams picked up on it during a game!:

    http://espn.go.com/blog/statsinfo/post/_/id/51796/have-formations-made-patriots-predictable



    Ray Horton is on his third job since he made those comments.  Meanwhile McDaniels who was calling that game went on to lead the number one offense in the NFL in both yards and points that year. Maybe Horton thought he saw things he didn't really see?  According to the article, after the Hernandez injury, the Pats ran on 6 out of 10 plays when Brady was under center and passed on 4 out of 10. That's not 50-50 balance, but it's also not complete predictability.  Throwing on 8 of 10 shotgun plays is more predictable, but the shotgun is not designed for unpredictability. It's designed to create advantages in the passing game. Running is an after thought and teams only recently have tried to expand their shotgun runs or adopt a pistol look which can improve runing success.  I was at that game by the way and the Pats finally started moving the ball in the fourth quarter when Brady went all shotgun passes and no huddle. Predictable, but effective.  Dicking around with the run early actually hurt them.

    If you want an example of brilliant, but absolutely predictable play calling, look at what McDaniels did in the first half against Denver in the same year. Almost every shotgun play was a pass and almost every under center play a run.  The key was to call whichever worked best against the Denver personnel--and stay in hurry-up so Denver couldn't change personnel.  It was absolutely clear what the Pats were doing.  They just dared the Broncos to stop them and didn't give the Broncos a chance to change their personnel to get better match ups. Everything was absolutelypredictable, but devestatingly effective.  

    This hurry up approach was the Pats modus operandi for a few years.  It worked given the personnel they had.  It was more predictable, but still very effective . . . until Gronk got hurt. 

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

    The fact is stats (at least as we have them without full detail) aren't perfect, but I still prefer them to just subjective impressions.  For instance, I'm not sure I buy that the 2000s' offenses were better than (the higher scoring) the 2010s offenses. 

     

    Higher scoring doesn't tell a full story though, because it doesn't give context to the offensive opportunity to score - offenses with superior defenses tend to get more opportunities to score. There is PPI (points per play) but that doesn't give context to the style of offense that a team runs - play action/deep strike offenses run less plays for instance. 

     

    I think the stat for being "strong" at something is the "ppd" (points-per-drive) stat, which measures an offenses ability to convert "drives" into points. It basically eliminates the advantage a team that runs more plays might have (whether they run those plays because their defense is efficient at getting them back on the field, or because they run plays in faster succession). PPD also, then, negates the effects of whole offenses that rely on running or passing more than one or the other because it increase the value to the team of an incomplete pass before a big completion, or a 1 yard TD plung by a runner, or a quick 2 yard slant for a TD, etcetera.

    It is a broader analysis than simply looking at "runs" vs "passes" and is best when looking at an offense that is characterized in one fashion or another.  

    Also, outside of the 2004 offense, none of them were close to as good as the offenses feilded in the 201x era. That includes playoff performances. Those teams merely had a lot of chances to score, but did so with much less scoring efficiency.

    Even considering that, I don't think any fair comparison can even be made, though, given the injuries these later teams have sustained late in the season. 

    If Corey Dillon, or Deion Branch had been injured heading into those games I don't believe New England would have come away with wins. 

     

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    I like points per drive as an overall stat for determining an offense's effectiveness (and points given up per drive as an overall stat for determining a defense's effectiveness).  The one thing I'd like to do with that PPD stat, though, is adjust it for length of drive.  If you get the ball on your opponent's 20 and score 3 points, those 3 points should not be weighted as heavily as 3 points scored when you got the ball on your own 10 yard line.  In a way, the 3 points scored when the drive started in easy field goal range were probably earned more by your defense or special teams than by the offense, so the offense shouldn't get quite so much credit for them as for 3 points scored at the end of a 70 yard drive. 

     
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    Re: What the stats say about play calling: run or pass?

    In response to PatsEng's comment:

    In response to prolate0spheroid's comment:

     Why is it teams that setup the pass with a strong run game tend to succeed over the years while those with dominant passes but weaker run games dominant in the regular season but in the playoffs they tend to faulter? 




    As far as the statement I highlighted, I think we would have to establish that's really true first. Certainly it's better to be good at both run and pass, but there have been plenty of teams that have won Super Bowls passing 55% of the time or more through the playoffs.  In fact, in the past 15 years six Super Bowl champions passed at least 55% of the time in the playoffs, while only three ran that often. The remaining six were more balanced. You also have to factor in defensive strebgth because games aren't won or lost on offense only.  A lot of the strong running teams are also strong defensive teams. Teams with weaker defenses tend to go far in the playoffs only if they pass very well, and that may skew your sample a bit.

     

     



    % of run verses pass doesn't indicate strength of one or the other. You can pass 55% of the time and still have a strong run game but look at teams like Pitt, Sea, 49ers, Giants, Ravens, heck even the Pats in the early 00's. All of them used the run to setup the pass. How many times were we blown away in the 00's about the way the Pats effectively used play action and screens. We weren't a high flying team we played chess and set other teams up by grinding them down and making them think one way then doing the other. That's why you can't use straight stats because straight stats don't indicate how one was used verses the other, in what situations each was used, and most importantly what effect one had on the other.



    Running has almost no effect on PA ability. This has already been studied to death. The best PA teams are simply the best PA teams (usually the teams with the best QBs). The worst PA teams tend to (ironically) have the best running offenses oftentimes. 

    No one is "selling the run" by running. PA, like any trick play, is "action." It's acting in short. And I'm not even talking about the fake, because most players aren't even watching the QB. PA starts with the offensive line and what they are doing. If they are run blocking to start the play, every single defender is going to start thinking it is a run unless they are well coached or saavy. 

    Second, randomness, true randomness, is not the penny-ante "alternation" people here seem to think it is. 

    Scientific randomness involves long strings of repetition. Over the course of a game, if you have more or less ideal situations where you aren't forced to pass or run because of a situation, you might have 10 consecutive passes and it would be more "random" than alternating pass and run. 

    False, induced "balance" that people talk about on this board looks like this:

    rprp rpprr rpprp rprrp rpprr

    True randomess might look like this:

    prrpp ppppr rrrpp rprpr ppppr

    or even over the course of a 70 play game, like this:

    rrrrp rrrpp ppppp ppprp rprpr

    If you don't believe me, truly flip a coin about 200 times or so. You might not even get 50/50 heads and tails. Balance in chance and unpreditability occur only over intensely large samples. 

    And unpredictability on offense will often be doing one thing a bunch of times in a row. 

    Lastly, opponents aren't obsessively looking for "run or pass" the way people on this forum think they are. They are worreid about the tendency of New England to, for instance, run a particular route concept in a particular situation. It is the NFL we are talking about here. Each week teams line up in a situation where the opponent knows that are going to run or pass and they run it or pass it and still have success. There are myriad options to do within each frame. Teams are worried about that. In fact, with these offenses, most teams worry about the run with packaging. When NE has a running package that is heavy out there, they counter. When they don't, they don't. If a team runs, you simply flow to the ball. The entirity of the time in the modern NFL you are trying to figure out the pass and what that is going to do.  

    No one has  "picked up" that New England is passing alot. Teams know they are passing more than they run because they have had (last year was almost an exception) elite passing targets. Telling a reader that someone picked it up is incredible. Otherwise, one could never explain how New England is effective ever. We are supposed to believe that one or two NFL teams have coaches to get what you say "a high school coach can pick up" and one guy that wrote an article too, but the other 29 or 30 coaches can't? 

    Stop and mull that over. 

    Playcalling where it pertains to running or passing has basically, well, I'd say, zero to do with the success or failure of New England's offense. 

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