I like stats. To me, football statistics are like cake and ice cream after a fine meal, AKA the game. Stats can confirm or refute our perceptions. We use, and sometimes abuse stats to conform to our individual points of view, and to clarify points for discussion.
In short, stats are good for argument’s sake.
We cite statistics when doing comparative analysis. We like to extrapolate stats for a player to see the possibilities over the long haul. We see a certain stat that makes us go “Wow!” We see stats that make us go “Hmm.”
There are those who suggest that statistics are mostly subjective and that they can be used as weapons to espouse a point of view. These folks suggest that “Stats will say whatever you want them to say.”
I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I am not aware of any single football statistic that can be used to support both sides of an argument.
Statistics can be “modeled” through the use of what Ty Shalter calls “data visualization.” Ty’s popular website, The Lions in Winter uses data visualization in very elegant, scholarly presentations that brings statistical data to life in a variety of graphical representations.
The “modeling” of statistics is an essential part of our professional and personal lives. Think about it. We accumulate and use stats all the time.
There are a lot of good sources for football information of the statistical variety, but I prefer Pro Football Focus for their robust coverage. PFF grades every player on every play of every game, a daunting task whereby they assign grades to players based upon their participation on a given play. At the end of a game, the player’s scores are tabulated for an overall grade.
While I think that PFF’s grades are pretty cool when comparing player A to other players in his positional group, it’s the raw stats that really gets my attention and becomes fodder for my own analysis.
Raw statistics? Let’s use defensive players as our example, as they are the main topic of the discussion that follows.
PFF tells us how many snaps a player took, how many penalties were called (and assessed), QB sacks, QB hits, QB pressures, solo tackles, assists, missed tackles and stops.
What’s a “stop?” A stop is defined by PFF as a play that causes an offensive failure (including sacks). We are left with the assumption that the more traditional “tackles for a loss,” and tackles for no gain are included in this statistical category.
Thus far, we have seen defensive stats for defending the QB and run defense. It should be noted that tackles in the following pass defense categories are included in the run defense data.
PFF looks at how many times a defender is targeted, how many receptions were allowed, the percentage of receptions allowed, total receiving yards allowed, the average yards allowed per reception, total yards allowed after the catch (YAC), longest play allowed, TDs allowed, interceptions, passes defended and the quarterback rating (QBR) against the defender.
Whew! I know that’s a lot to digest, but imagine the above categories in graphical representation and it all comes together quite nicely.
Are PFF stats perfect? Unfortunately, no. For instance, the “snaps played” category compares players (offensive and defensive) to the player who has the most snaps in the positional group.
The user can filter out players who played less than 25, 50, 60 or 75 percent of the busiest player in the positional group.
I would have given more value to the snaps played if they were represented as n of total team snaps.
The only other thing I take issue with is that nose tackles in a 3-4 defense are grouped with defensive tackles in 4-3 defenses.
OK, with that overly long preamble out of the way, let’s look at PFF’s statistical categories for some insights into how the Lions defenders performed.
We will focus on some rather surprising stats that were easily overlooked as we watched the game. The “eyeball test” can be misleading.
For perspective, PFF graded a total of 66 defensive plays (NFL stats indicate that 64 defensive snaps were played).
Who Played How Many Snaps on the D-Line
DT Ndamukong Suh (45 snaps) led the group. DT Corey Williams (44), DT Sammie Hill (23), DT Andre Fluellen (21), DE Cliff Avril (44), DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (43), DE Lawrence Jackson (27) and DE Willie Young (18).
One can only imagine the impact that DT Nick Fairley will have on the overworked tackles.
DT Corey Williams (44 Snaps) Never Was Penalized
This is bigger than you might imagine. Last year, Williams was flagged 15 times. 12 of those penalties were encroachment penalties.
Williams is playing with more discipline—so far.
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (43 Snaps) Was Really Good
KVB had a strip-sack of Josh Freeman for the D-line’s only sack of the game. KVB also had two QB pressures and two tackles. PFF awarded him three stops.
Those stops suggest that KVB’s two tackles were for a loss, or no gain.
Eight D-Line Players Who Played Snaps Recorded No QB Hits, but...
It’s true. Not a single QB hit was awarded. However, as a whole, the group pressured Bucs QBs a whopping 15 times.
Now, let’s apply those 15 QB pressures to the 46 pass attempts by Bucs quarterbacks. Let’s add the sack for good measure.
The defensive line pressured the QB on 35 percent of their attempts. This stat tells us that the 63 percent Bucs completion percentage might be higher than we are accustomed to seeing from such a vaunted unit.
LoJack Played Below His Potential
Jackson played 27 snaps. He was tagged for one of only two penalties against the entire group of eight linemen.
Jackson flat lined in every statistical category. No tackles, assists, stops or QB stats. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
If there’s a silver lining, LoJack didn’t miss a tackle either.
LB Stats—Who Played How Many Snaps
MLB Stephen Tulloch (65), OLB DeAndre Levy (58), OLB Justin Durant (21) and OLB Bobby Carpenter (2).
Again, there were 66 total defensive snaps, according to PFF.
Tulloch was the real sled dog of this group, but the most telling stats show that Durant and Carpenter were taken out of the defense in favor of nickel and dime DB packages where Levy was also taken out.
QB Defense and Tackling
Tulloch recorded a sack, made three solo tackles, had two assists and two stops.
Levy recorded one QB pressure, no solos, three assists and one stop.
Carpenter (in only two snaps) flat lined.
Durant recorded three assists and two were stops.
It looks like our eyes didn’t deceive us. Tulloch was very productive. The rest? Not so much.
On a positive note, the linebackers didn’t record a missed tackle. An improvement over 2010.
LB Passing Defense
Tulloch was targeted twice, giving up 10 yards on one reception. Six of those yards were YAC. Tulloch’s QBR against was a comfortable 64.6
Levy was targeted six times, giving up 29 yards (19 yards YAC) on three catches. Levy also had a nice 63.9 QBR against.
Carpenter was targeted once, giving up 16 yards (all YAC) on one catch. His QBR was 118.8
Durant was targeted five times, allowing 34 yards (17 YAC) on five catches. Durant’s QBR was 95.0
As a group, the LBs recorded no TDs against, no INTs and defended no passes.
It looks like we will see a regular dose of Durant being targeted in coverage.
Cornerback Stats—Who Played How Many Snaps
Chris Houston (66), Eric Wright (58), Aaron Berry (53) and Brandon McDonald (7).
Houston was one of only two defenders (Delmas was the other) who played every snap.
QB Defense and Tackling Stats
The group recorded no sacks, hits or pressures on the QB. No blitz that produced any stats.
Houston had six solos, one assist, two missed tackles and two stops. Houston led all Lions in tackles for Week 1.
Wright had six tackles, no assists, one missed tackle and two stops.
Berry had four tackles, no assists, one missed tackle and two stops.
McDonald flat lined these categories.
CB Pass Defense
Houston was targeted eight times, allowing 42 yards (14 YAC) on five catches. He had an INT, defended one pass and had a QBR of 36.5.
Wright was targeted five times, allowing 29 yards (19 YAC) on four catches. He defended one pass and had a QBR of 90.8.
Berry was targeted 10 times, allowing 77 yards (14 YAC) on eight catches. He defended one pass, but gave up a TD. Berry’s QBR was 132.1.
McDonald was targeted once, allowing nine yards (1 YAC) on one catch. His QBR was 104.2.
It’s notable that all of Wright’s catches allowed occurred after he was kicked inside in nickel and dime coverage. Opponents know that Wright is not as effective as a nickel back.
Also notable was how opponents went after Berry. The Lions coaching staff has to find a way to keep Wright on the right edge and Berry on the left side, where he’s more effective in a rotation with Houston.
In other words, avoid the nickel and dime coverage until we see how Alphonso Smith fits in.
Safeties—Who Played How Many Snaps
Louis Delmas (66) and Amari Spievey (65) played all the snaps at safety.
It’s interesting to note that Spievey would have played all 66 snaps, but was replaced for the final play by WR Calvin Johnson, who played along the goal line on the anticipated hail Mary play that never materialized.
Safety QB Defense and Tackling
Neither safety blitzed the QB.
Delmas flat lined on tackling stats, while Spievey had six solo tackles.
Safety Passing Defense
Delmas was targeted three times, allowing 22 yards (22 YAC) on one catch. He defended two passes and had a QBR of 60.4.
Spievey was targeted once and defended the pass. Spievey had a QBR of 39.6.
The safeties were true to the Lions defensive scheme. They allowed nothing to get behind them and made plays when called upon.
I will allow you to draw your own conclusions with regard to the Lions defensive player stats. I will be interested to see how they match up with your eyeball test.
If this proves to be popular, I will gladly break down the stats for the offense.
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