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Adjusted Stats 2009 Year in Review Part VI

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This is the sixth in a series of posts that will review the 2009 season (as well as 2008) from an adjusted stats perspective.

Tentative Publication Schedule

Part I: Which Stats Correlate Best to Winning? - 6/24/10
Part II: Drilling Down and Regression Models - 6/28/10
Part III: Passing Efficiency Formula - 6/30/10
Part IV: Conference Strengths and Pace - 7/2/10
Part V: Testing Conventional Wisdom - 7/16/10
Part VI: Team Matchups - 7/20/10
Part VII: Year-to-Year Changes - 7/22/10
Part VIII: Points per Yard Efficiencies - 7/26/10
Part IX: Data Dump - Team Rankings - 7/28/10
Part X: Data Dump - Team Reports - 7/30/10

Team Matchups

Thus far our studies have focused on season performance as a whole. But if we want to analyze matchups then we have to look at things on a game-by-game basis. Before getting into matchups of individual units, let’s look at the highest level possible. On a single game basis, does being the higher scoring team or the team that allows fewer points lead to wins more often? How about offensive and defensive strength on a yards per play basis? This post will use only adjusted stats:

Matchup Edge 2009 2008 Overall
W-L WPCT W-L WPCT W-L WPCT
Pts All. per Game 546-168 0.765 518-199 0.722 1064-367 0.744
Points per Game 527-187 0.738 533-184 0.743 1060-371 0.741
Yards per Play 488-226 0.683 493-224 0.688 981-450 0.686
Yards Allowed per Play 495-219 0.693 482-235 0.672 977-454 0.683

Not surprisingly, offense and defense show nearly equal performance in this analysis. Hopefully at this point nobody is surprised to see such a result. But we haven’t controlled for offense versus defense. Let’s rerun the analysis based on whether the same team has both matchup edges.

Matchup Edge 2009 2008 Overall
W-L WPCT W-L WPCT W-L WPCT
Both Points Edges 399-40 0.909 396-63 0.863 795-103 0.885
Both Yards Edges 324-55 0.855 322-64 0.834 646-119 0.844
Off. Yds, not Def. Yds 164-171 0.490 169-159 0.515 333-330 0.502
Off. Pts, not Def. Pts 128-147 0.465 135-120 0.529 263-267 0.496

Yet again, there is no new information to be gleaned. Having the offensive edge is roughly as advantageous as having the defensive edge. Teams that have the edge on one side but not the other are 0.500 against each other. At this point I lack any motivation to come up with new ways of comparing offensive to defensive importance. While intuitively I used to think that defense may be slightly more important than offense because a team’s defense can score without any input from the offense, the numbers aren’t bearing that out. The values for scoring edges above aren’t what I base that on as they include defensive scores for a team’s offense, but instead the yardage results reinforce each side of the ball’s equal importance. It’s worth considering that while a defense can score on their own, an offense has given up those same points on their own.

The next level for this analysis is to look at the individual units. We’re back to the run game versus pass game debate, but this time will we find some statistical backing for the widely held belief that being able to run and stop the run is more important to a team’s success than the passing game? First things first, let’s look at the overall numbers based on having the matchup edge in each individual statistic (comparing offense to offense and defense to defense):

Matchup Edge 2009 2008 Overall
W-L WPCT W-L WPCT W-L WPCT
Tot. Passing per Att. 495-219 0.693 502-215 0.700 997-434 0.697
Tot. Passing All. per Att. 498-216 0.697 472-245 0.658 970-461 0.678
Tot. Rush. All. per Carry 480-234 0.672 462-255 0.644 942-489 0.658
Tot. Rush. per Carry 450-264 0.630 431-286 0.601 881-550 0.616

Well we haven’t found the statistical evidence to support the run game proponents yet. While it’s good to have a run game advantage over your opponent on either side of the ball, neither matches the advantage gained by being better at throwing the ball or defending your opponent’s throws. Something else that has popped up again is the recurring theme that being able to stop the run is more important than being able to run the ball. This was true in our first correlation studies and has been reaffirmed here. Next is the table showing the performance based on having both or just one edge while still keeping the pass and run games separate.

Matchup Edge 2009 2008 Overall
W-L WPCT W-L WPCT W-L WPCT
Both Passing Edges 347-68 0.836 329-72 0.820 676-140 0.828
Both Rushing Edges 299-83 0.783 278-102 0.732 577-185 0.757
Off. Pass, not Def. Pass 148-151 0.495 173-143 0.547 321-294 0.522
Off. Rush, not Def. Rush 151-181 0.455 153-184 0.454 304-365 0.454

The pass game still rates as more important than the run game (top two rows). Additionally, being able to defend the run also continues to reveal itself as more important than being able to run the ball. The only slight surprise with these results is that being able to throw the ball appears more important than being able to defend the pass. Previously these two aspects of the game have shown themselves to be essentially equally important. And in this case we see that 2009 did show an even relationship but 2008 did not. With only two seasons to view, it’s possible that 2008 was merely an outlier.

So far we’ve been comparing a team’s offense to their opponent’s offense and their defense to their opponent’s defense. But we know that the true matchup lies in the interaction between one team’s offense and the other’s defense. When looking at these two phases, there are four matchups in each game – two passing game matchups and two running game matchups. In order to determine the winner of each matchup I used the normalized ratings. This makes it possible to compare one team’s rating in an offensive statistic with their opponent’s rating in the defensive equivalent. On the next page is a table showing the win-loss performance of each possible permutation of these matchups. Keep in mind that each row shows two permutations. For example, the success of teams that win all four matchups is shown in the first row at 365-39 overall for the past two seasons. Therefore teams that have lost all four matchups are obviously 39-365 over that time period. Also, scenarios where one team wins both their offensive matchups but loses both their defensive matchups are left out because their record will necessarily be 0.500 in those situations (if Team A wins both offensive matchups but loses both defensive matchups from their perspective then Team B is in the identical situation from their viewpoint). The same logic explains why scenarios where one team wins their offensive passing and defensive rushing matchups but loses their defensive passing and offensive rushing matchups are not shown.

Matchup Edge 2009 2008 Overall
W-L WPCT W-L WPCT W-L WPCT
Win All 4 Unit Matchups 194-18 0.915 171-21 0.891 365-39 0.903
Win 2 Pass. (Rush. Ign.) 349-66 0.841 312-78 0.800 661-144 0.821
Win 3, Lose Off Rushing 83-17 0.830 65-19 0.774 148-36 0.804
Win 3, Lose Def Rushing 52-14 0.788 45-13 0.776 97-27 0.782
Win 2 Rush. (Pass. Ign.) 293-84 0.777 277-110 0.716 570-194 0.746
Win 3, Lose Off Passing 47-18 0.723 40-30 0.571 87-48 0.644
Win 3, Lose Def Passing 35-28 0.556 41-28 0.594 76-56 0.576
Win 2 Pass., Lose 2 Rush. 20-17 0.541 31-25 0.554 51-42 0.548

We’ve now tortured the data in about every way possible regarding passing versus running the ball. There doesn’t appear to be any way to run the calculations that will support the argument that being able to run the ball or stop the run is more important – or even as important – as being able to pass the ball and stop the pass. The data simply does not support that line of thinking.

With that said, this doesn’t necessarily serve as an argument to completely ignore the run game. Each team has to maximize their ability in the context of their personnel and their opponents. Passing every down may decrease a team’s passing effectiveness such that it hampers their overall scoring pace. Recall that these analyses have been done using total passing per attempt, not per game. Maximizing efficiency through the air and minimizing the same for opponents is the best approach to winning more games. For some teams in some seasons a bigger commitment to running the ball may yield only a small increase in total rushing per carry with an even more negligible direct effect on their win probability. But if that commitment opens up the passing game and improves their production through the air then it will lead to more overall success.

Thoughts and comments welcome as always.