NFL Notebook (2018-2019)

Yes, I have another thread about the 2018-2019 season, but I want to use this thread more for random thoughts and ideas, specifically about football in general. For example, the first idea I want to write about involves evaluating pass protection. With that, here’s the idea:

The Range of Pass Protection–From Good to Bad

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but I would like to see categories for different types of pass protection. Here, I’m referring specifically to the quality of pass protection, from the worst to the best. Good and bad pass protection have certain qualities, qualities that can be measured by time to throw and the space of the pocket. The qualities also can be seen–good pass protection looks a certain way, bad protection looks a certain way, and the quality of pass protection in between also looks a certain way. For example, if the pass rushers seem stuck at the line of scrimmage for a relatively long time, creating big space between the QB and the pass rushers, this is probably the best type of pass protection. If one or more pass rushers get in untouched or virtually untouched (and not be design), that’s really bad pass protection. Pass protection ranging from competent to great almost always involve the OL starting in a straight line and bending into a “U” or a pocket. The O-linemen are in front of the defenders. In the best pass protection, the line bending into the “U” occurs gradually or even slowly. Pass protection that bends quickly isn’t good, but it’s still not the worst. In the worst pass protection, the O-linemen often look like a mass of bodies. Now, sometimes good pass protection can look this way, maybe if the defense has a really unbalanced line or something funky. But generally, good pass protection involves the orderly formation of a “U.”

After identifying the various types of pass protection, I’d like to count how often each of these occur in a game and then look at the performance of the QB. In the ideal situation, I’d control for the QB and the WRs–that is, they would be good. If you gave them good pass protection, you’d expect the passing game to be successful. What I’d like to examine is if there is a minimum number of certain type of pass protections in order for the QB and WRs to perform well. For example, maybe you at least 10% of the passing plays to have great pass protection. And if you have this you could expect a really good game. Or maybe the situation is more complex. For example, 10% may not be enough if 10% of the pass plays involve the worst pass protection. In that case you would need 15% of the pass plays to have great pass protection. Additionally I suspect the distribution of the various type of pass protection might also make a big difference as well. For example, here’s a possible sequence, with the numbers representing the order in which the pass plays occurred: 1(terrible), 2(decent), 3(terrible) 4(great), 5(decent), 6(great),….

My hypothesis is the quality of pass protection and the sequence of this has a huge impact on the QB’s confidence and ability to get into a groove. If a QB gains confidence and gets into a groove over a few games, that can be hard to shake. Such a QB can be more resilient to when bad pass protection occurs. On the other hand, a series of games with bad pass protection can damage a QBs confidence and they can get into a rut–a rut that can be just as hard to shake.

Bend Fast But Don’t Break Defense?

We all know about the bend-but-don’t break principle in defense, but watching the Seahawks made me wonder about another twist on the concept. What if your defense allowed an opponent to move quickly down the field, but you were really stout in the red zone, and was also good at creating turnovers? Wouldn’t that be better than allowing your opponent to run a lot of plays and eat up a lot of clock? The former will lower the number of snaps and time on the field for the defense, while the latter does the opposite. If you’re offense is good at controlling the clock, then your defense will have even more time to rest than if they had to play a lot of snaps in a long drive. If you could build a defense like this, would this be a desirable thing?

I’m not sure about the answer, but I wonder if you could design a defense like this. How would you allow the opposing offense to bend quickly while also preventing them from scoring TDs? That is, if the offense is making a lot of explosive plays, would have a lot of control over preventing from scoring on these plays. And if part of your strategy is allowing opposing offenses to get down the field quickly, I would think you’re forgoing three and out opportunities. You would also be losing the field position battle as well.

Why does the running game require so much committment?

(Note: I wrote the above a while ago. I want to start this thread because I want to talk about some other things first. Hopefully I’ll answer the question about the running game at some point.)

6 thoughts on “NFL Notebook (2018-2019)

  1. Have Teams Figured Out How to Defend the Rams?

    Robert Mays, from the The Ringer, mentioned that since the Lions basically have ignored jet sweeps and running game when playing against the Rams, basically daring them to run on both those plays, and that other defenses have copied this, and it seems to have been effective. I don’t know if this is true, but if it is, it raises some interesting questions.

    For one thing, it supports the claim that McVay is a more of a pass-first guy, even though he’s running a more pro-style offense. If teams are going to dare you to run, well then run the dang ball! If he doesn’t, it strongly suggests he’s not really a pro style guy. To me, most pro style coaches, while they may lean toward the running game, they’re ultimately about taking what the defense gives you. Even for these run-first coaches, if the defense dares you to passs, I feel like most of them will pass. Pete Carroll, one of the more conservative coaches, fits this mold in my view.

    Another question I have relates to whether an uptempo offense can truly be run-oriented. Running was a crucial feature of Chip Kelly’s offense as well, and he set up the offense so that both the running and passing would augment the other. But I always got the sense that the offense was predicated on the passing game, and that Kelly preferred to pass. I sort of have the same feeling about McVay. Additionally, I have the sense that uptempo offenses are mostly used to enhance the passing game. I don’t think I’ve seen or heard of a uptempo offense that runs the ball for 30 times. If that’s accurate, I’m curious to know exactly why that is.

  2. Is It Critical for a QB to Throw Well From the Pocket?

    For a long time, I have believed this to be the case. I’m fine if a QB runs the ball in option offenses or even relies on improvised scrambling–IF the QB can play well from the pocket (not only complete passes but protect the football as well).

    Why is that? The main reason is that, at some point, especially in the biggest of games, the QB will have to throw from the pocket. On a related note, the QB will have to pass the ball in predictable passing situations–e.g., when his is down at the end of the game or in two minute drills. If a QB can’t perform well in these circumstances, their value diminishes greatly because the chances of this type of QB taking a team to the Super Bowl and winning it is extremely low.

    In 2018, a few QBs are likely to put this theory to the test. I’m thinking specifically of Lamar Jackson and MItch Trubisky, and, to a slightly lesser degree, Patrick Mahomes. (I guess I could add DeShaun Watson as well, as we’ve never seen him perform in the playoffs.) What’s interesting about these QBs is that they play in an offensive system that relies on misdirection, schemes that can really help the players. The thing is, at some point, against the best teams, these teams won’t be able to rely on these schemes–the QBs will have to play well from the pocket. The plays from the pocket may not be a lot, but they often will be decisive.

    Right now, based on what I’ve seen, I don’t think Trubisky and Jackson will pass this test. I tend to think Mahomes can do this, but I’m less certain–and I could see committing crucial turnover. I’m most confident about Watson at this point.

    By the way, what I’m talking about is the difference between QBs like Russell Wilson and Cam Newton and QBs like Tyrod Taylor, Colin Kaepernick, and RGIII.

  3. Thought Experiment: What if games were decided by who scored a predetermined number of points first?

    Pick-up basketball games are usually won when when team scores a certain amount of points first. What if football games were decided that way, and eliminate the game clock. (Actually, you could also keep the game clock and allow two ways to win–either score the predetermined number of points first or have the most points at the end of regulation time.)

    I don’t have the time and energy to flesh this out, but I think the value of this exercise would be to show how important the clock is and how it impacts the way teams play. I suspect this could also reveal the importance of running and defense.

  4. You would need a clock and a whichever-comes-first rule, or you would for sure see your clock-chewing teams ditch that strategy. Without the clock wouldn’t it looks like arena football, or those touch football games we played in 8th grade PE?

    You might also need a clock just as a mercy in those 12-9 games where neither team seems able to get the ball in the end zone. No clock works in volleyball and golf and (to a lesser extent) baseball because those games aren’t as brutal on athletes’ bodies.

    I can see why this setup might appeal to you; you hate turnovers, and turnovers in a first-to-30 game (or whatever) would be a lot worse than they are in the current game.

    Would speedy players be even more valuable than they are now?

    1. You would need a clock and a whichever-comes-first rule, or you would for sure see your clock-chewing teams ditch that strategy. Without the clock wouldn’t it looks like arena football, or those touch football games we played in 8th grade PE?

      It sounds like you think I’m advocating for getting rid of the clock, but I’m not. I actually think this thought experiment is one way to show the value of running and ball control.

      You might also need a clock just as a mercy in those 12-9 games where neither team seems able to get the ball in the end zone.

      If you did something like this, I think you need a clock, in a whichever comes first situation. But I wasn’t really thinking about the brutality of the game, although that is a valid point. I was just think the game might take too long to finish. Think about two really bad offensive teams, or two really good defensive teams. Now, while the game might be brutal in some situations, I could see it being far less brutal in others. You mention 8th grade football, and my guess is that the pass-first offenses would shorten games. Think about the Rams, Chiefs, and Saints (at least early in the season). Then again, not all teams are going to have that kind of explosiveness, even if they want to.

      I think, in some ways, there would be less pressure on the players, which doesn’t appeal to me. Part of what separates great players from good ones is the ability to perform under duress.

      I can see why this setup might appeal to you; you hate turnovers, and turnovers in a first-to-30 game (or whatever) would be a lot worse than they are in the current game.

      Could you flesh out your thought, here? I’m not sure what you’re thinking.

      Would speedy players be even more valuable than they are now?

      I tend to think speed would be more important than power. When the winner scores a certain amount of points first, ball control becomes far less important. Because of the clock, one win to win is to prevent a team from scoring more than you do. For example, a team can by scoring on only a safety, if they don’t allow their opponent to score any points. But that approach doesn’t work if the winner is the first to score “x” amount of points. Even if you have a time limit, the win by defense and ball control doesn’t seem like a good strategy.

      Having said all this, I think the running game would have to play a role in order to allow an offense to be balanced and not one-dimensional. (I think if running is important in this scenario, that can help show why running is important under the current rules.)

      In closing. my sense is that a lot of the analytics guys under value running, and they’re almost completely blind to the importance of ball control. And yet explaining why both are important is really difficult. This thought experiment might be a way to show this.

  5. Is this a Good Way to Evaluate the Whether the Quality of the Run Game Impacts the Effectiveness of the Play Action Pass?

    I don’t think it is, but I don’t have time to explain my reasons, now. I’ll try to come back and do so later. In the meantime, I’d be interested in hearing what you guys think. Also, do you guys think the quality of the run game does have an impact on the play action effectiveness? On this question, my position is that while the play action pass can be surprisingly effective, even when the run game isn’t great, I do think a really good run game can make the PA more effective. From what I understand Baldwin’s position is that it has no effect.

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