Quick Stat Analysis

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Quick Stat Analysis

I was browsing ESPN’s coverage of the NFL this weekend and, of course, the Bengals-Ravens game upcoming, when a short paragraph caught my eye.

“The Ravens are actually the worst pass defense this year against No. 1 receivers, although they end up eighth in pass defense DVOA overall because their pass rush and coverage of other wide receivers have been so strong. The Ravens have given up touchdowns to Vincent Jackson, Randy Moss and Dwayne Bowe — and No. 1s (those three and Braylon Edwards) have a 73 percent catch rate against the Ravens (compared with the league-wide catch rate for No. 1 receivers of 55 percent).” (ESPN Sunday Countdown, Contributed by Aaron Schatz of FootballOutsiders.com)

[In the words of Mythbusters, CAUTION! Stat analysis to follow!]

Schatz is using completion percentage (catch rate) to #1 receivers to evaluate the Ravens success. But that catch rate is just a bad stat. Here are final numbers for the #1 receivers in the Ravens four games so far…

  • Vincent Jackson: 6 catches, 141 yards, 1 TD
  • Dwayne Bowe: 4 catches, 40 yards, 1 TD
  • Randy Moss: 3 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD
  • Braylon Edwards: 3 catches, 35 yards, 0 TD

With the exception of Jackson, who absolutely lit up the Ravens secondary with help from Philip Rivers, the Ravens have been pretty exceptional against #1 receivers. If the catch rate is high, but the completions rate is low, that points to the fact that QBs just aren’t throwing to their #1’s against the Ravens. Thinking back to Sunday against New England, I don’t remember Moss seeing more 4 balls thrown his way. So while the catch rate for Moss might be 75%, his final numbers were still very average.

Bottom line: I’ll take a high catch-rate with low thrown-to totals every day, especially against #1s. To me, this signals that the Ravens have been especially good against #1 receivers. Maybe it’s because the Ravens are doubling them up, maybe it’s because the Ravens are game-planning well. Either way, the ball is not finding the #1 very often. And that’s a good thing for Baltimore.

When you look at the catch-rate stat this way, it turns the above argument on its head. Opposing QBs are avoiding their #1 receivers against the Ravens (Tom Brady threw to 9 receivers, the Browns to 8). And they are actually completing more passes for more yards to back-ups and check-downs. QBs are getting the ball off, and getting yards. And that leads me to believe, and anyone who’s watched the Ravens will agree, that the pass rush has actually been weaker than expected.

So, to ESPN Sunday Countdown and FootballOutsiders.com… watch the games, not the stats. Football is not a ’statistically perfect sport’ the way baseball is.

And to the Ravens? Continue to control #1’s (here’s looking at you, Chad Johnson). The others won’t do much damage.

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