Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Football Outsiders, Third-Down, & Aaron Rodgers

I have been laying low for a few months but it is definitely time to ramp up again. I missed some great stuff like the NFL draft, the Bucks playoff run, and the Lost series finale. Suffice it to say that all these events were awesome except for one half of the Lost finale (purgatory? really?).

Anyhow, I'm sitting here plucking through the Football Outsiders 2010 Almanac. While it is still essential pre-season reading, I have quite a few more nit and quibbles this year. ("Predicting" how many injuries each team will have this year?!). But I don't want to start off on a negative note.

FO predicts that the Packers will be the team to beat in the NFC North---and here's the kicker---despite the fact that the Packers "are in the middle of . . . rebuilding." As counter-intuitive as that sounds, I think FO is correct.

Interestingly, last year FO predicted that the Packer offense was due for a slide, because the Packer offense

was flukily-effective on third down last year. We've found that teams that play much better on third down than they do on first or second down in a given season almost always see their third down play decline in the subsequent season. The Packers were 11th in the league in first down offensive DVOA last year, and 22nd on second down, but had the second-best offense in the league on third down. That's extremely unlikely to recur.

At the time, I was skeptical that the Law of Third Down would hold true for the Packers in 2009:

I have done my own---profoundly unscientific---study and I'm not sure that that FO's reasoning will hold true for the Packers this season. The thing that strikes me when looking at the Packers 2008 3rd down opportunities is the number of big plays on third and short. McCarthy is a very aggressive third down playcaller (in part because he is more willing to go for it on fourth down). While the conventional team will plunge forward for 1, 2, 3 or 4 yards to pick up third and short, McCarthy (again completely unscientific here) at least seems to be far more willing to attack through the air. . . .I suspect that this approach might skew the third down DVOA, which measures each play's outcome versus the typical outcome. When the typical outcome on third and short is a 2 or 3 yard gain, and the Packers connect on a 30 yard pass, I suspect it is going to skew the third down DVOA quite a bit. Just a hunch.

As it turned out, the Packers were even better on third down in 2009 than they were in 2008, finishing the season as the top-ranked third down offense as measured by FO. And even more interesting, FO has abandoned the Law of Third Down as it applies to offensive production.

However, FO still thinks that Rodgers, individually, cannot sustain his third-down production boldly stating that Rodgers third-down production is "dramatic outlier" that is "unsustainable in any way." Now, I will concede that Rodgers was insanely good on third-down last season (especially on third and long), and if I had to lay money, I would of course predict that he will slip at least a little, but I doubt it will be nearly as much as FO would anticipate. Aggressive third down play calling will continue to skew the third down averages, both for Rodgers and the offense as a whole.

No comments:

Post a Comment