NFL Teams Are Analyzing Everything From The Salary Cap To Fan Loyalty

Carl Bialik: Did you know the history of analytics in the NFL before you joined the league?Paraag Marathe: I definitely did. When I came into the league in 2001, analytics was certainly more prevalent in baseball. It was just starting to become prevalent in basketball. The NFL was sort of the latest adopter. You see it a lot more now. Unlike baseball, where it’s all around player evaluation, the NFL is more complicated. It’s much more of a team sport, with much more covariance between positions. Is a running back’s success due to his ability to break away, or his line’s ability to run-block, or his quarterback’s ability to pass, which makes the run easier?But the NFL also has two other areas where analytics plays a big role. The first is game management: How you manage the clock, when to go on fourth down, the run/pass play selection, those sorts of things. The second is the salary cap. With the advent of the salary cap in 1994, and where I made my mark with the 49ers and the NFL, is managing the salary cap much more analytically, similar to how a portfolio manager would manage a stock portfolio, managing risk.CB: I’ve read that you’ve applied analytics to fans. How does that work and what have you learned about what they want?PM: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. And it’s not just what they want, as in, what are their desires when they come to stadium, in terms of what they want to consume — content, beverages, coming closer to the game — but also the lifetime value of a fan. When you capture a fan’s loyalty, someone who becomes a fan at an early age, they will stay there. There’s a lot of loyalty. For professional teams 20 years ago, maybe as recently as 15 years ago, the vice president of marketing was all around what’s the cheerleader uniform and what’s the rallying cry for team. Now it’s all around what’s the content for the website, what’s the lifetime value of a fan, and so on. It’s much, much more analytical.CB: How did you first connect with Bill Walsh?PM: I was working at a consulting company, Bain and Co., on a bunch of sports-related projects. Bill Walsh and Terry Donahue were looking at drafts — not the players themselves, but draft slots. Is there a better algorithm, a better way to do the draft chart? It was a three-month project. I was the junior guy on the team. We sort of hit it off, and they asked me to come on board full-time.CB: How often, while you’ve been on the job, have people asked you if you’ve played football? How did you answer?PM: They either asked me, or they just assumed I didn’t. If they did ask me, I didn’t play college football, and I barely played high school football. I played baseball growing up, mostly. If you’re asking, did I feel like an outsider from the beginning when I started, I certainly did, but times have changed, and you earn respect with the work you do.CB: What was the status of analytics at the 49ers when you arrived?PM: It was a one-man show. To be fair, I never really did that much. It wasn’t so much on evaluating player talent on the field. It was a lot on the salary cap and how to be more efficient on managing the cap.CB: How about now?PM: We’ve got four or five folks, whether helping scouts better evaluate players, helping coaches, as well as the salary cap.CB: Has the whole organization bought into analytics?PM: Yeah, I’d like to think so. It’s definitely more accepted around the league. The Ravens just hired a head of their analytics department in 2012. You see it all across the board now. Clubs are trying to look for any competitive advantage they can. It’s not just, spend $1 more than the next team, it’s, what’s every competitive advantage you can squeeze out of this product?CB: Is it tough to find good people, with so many teams hiring?PM: No, I wouldn’t say that. There are so many good analysts across traditional industries, and sports is still such a sexy field, that there is no shortage of good talent. There are a lot of people who want to work in sports. Just go to the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference every year.CB: How important is it to be able to communicate the findings to people who aren’t technical?PM: At the end of the day, it boils down to this. The information is only as good as it is to the person receiving it. I’ll take a C+ piece of analysis communicated perfectly over an A+ piece of analysis that’s not communicated well. Only a small portion of the work is the analytics itself. The rest is putting it in a practical format so the salary-cap person and the coach can appreciate it and use it. Instead of trying to go overboard with analytics, focus on the practical: Focus on the things that have the highest impact on your organization.CB: Because of the importance of retaining a competitive advantage, do you generally not disclose specifically what you’re looking at, and what you’re finding?PM: Generally speaking, we don’t really talk about a lot of those things. But it’s not just analytics. In nutrition, sleep studies, and psychological aspects, people are looking for advantages every place they can.CB: Can you detect the spread of analytics in the league from how hard it is to get certain players in the draft, or from tactics of opponents?PM: It’s mostly through conversations. I’ve been in the league now 14 years, and just having conversations with people in every level, I’m starting to see changes. Not starting to see — there’s been a lot of changes.CB: Is analytics work being done within teams better than the work done outside it?PM: Yes and no. That’s a tough question to answer. There are only 32 teams and there are seven billion people. There’s a lot of stuff that’s not even published that’s probably really good. The difference between what’s happening with teams and what’s happening in the ether, is what’s out there is pretty theoretical, whereas what teams do has to be pretty actionable. The most actionable things are being done in clubs, but I’m sure there are some excellent things being done out there.CB: Which analytics publications do you read?PM: Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, different blogs, even you guys do some awesome stuff. All the stuff that’s done is really good.CB: You said in 2005 that even at 45 or 50, you’ll never be a football guy. Do you still feel that way?PM: That was almost 10 years ago. What I meant is, not having played or coached the game, it’s just different. I don’t understand the nuances of the Xs and Os, nor do I try to, in terms of schemes and things like that. There’s no point in me trying really hard to be average at something. It’s important to focus on the things I know I can do well, like manage the salary cap. I won’t be a coach or GM, nor do I aspire to be.CB: Does the NFL support analytics sufficiently? For instance, you’ve criticized the rule barring computers from the coaches’ booth.PM: They’re still getting better. There’s the rule against laptops, even calculators. It’s difficult for an offensive coordinator to even capture simple things like average yards per play on a drive, or how successful a certain play has been, in terms of even crunching it in Excel. They have to do it on a notepad. Things like that are frustrating. I wish they would react a little faster to technology changes. They’re getting there. Now they’re allowing tablets on the sidelines, so you don’t have to have the binder full of photos of plays. The FiveThirtyEight film “The Cowboys and the Indian,” which debuted last week, tells the story of A. Salam Qureishi, who brought computerized player analytics to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1960s. At the time, few other pro sports front offices used advanced statistics to make decisions about player acquisition and game management.By 2001, that wasn’t the case in baseball, but the NFL hadn’t progressed much since Qureishi’s days. That year, Paraag Marathe joined the San Francisco 49ers as a one-man team with goals similar to Qureishi’s: improve player acquisition.Marathe, like Qureishi, is of Indian descent. Unlike Qureishi, he knew a lot about football before working in the NFL. Marathe grew up in the Bay Area town of Saratoga, California, as a big fan of the 49ers and other Bay Area teams. He worked for the 49ers first as a consultant, on a three-month stint from the consulting firm Bain and Co. Then San Francisco executive Bill Walsh offered him a full-time job. “It was a no-brainer for me,” Marathe said in a telephone interview last week.Today, Marathe, 37, is one of the elder statesmen of NFL analytics. He oversees it for the 49ers as team president. He sees more of his competitors using similar tools, looking for every competitive advantage they can find. (We spoke last week amid a late-season slump that has eliminated the 49ers from the playoffs after three straight conference-championship-game appearances.) In the following transcript of our interview — lightly edited for brevity and clarity — Marathe explains why it remains easy to hire talented analysts, why communication is more important than statistical rigor and why plenty of good work is still being done outside the league. San Francisco 49ers President Paraag Marathe speaks at the annual Bay Area college football media day at Levi’s Stadium on July 30 in Santa Clara, Calif. Alex Washburn / AP read more

Where The US Women Are Likely To Play In The World Cups

Check out FiveThirtyEight’s Women’s World Cup predictions.Let’s begin with a confession …This article is 100 percent a selfish undertaking to determine if I will get to see the U.S. women’s national team play live at the Women’s World Cup, which begins Saturday. You see, I blindly bought tickets to “Match No. 49,” a semifinal matchup June 30 in Montreal. As a 27-year-old woman looking to relive her experience as an 11-year-old fanatic during the 1999 Women’s World Cup, I want nothing more than to see the USWNT play in that game.That’s what brings me to this article — a guide to following the USWNT.Below you’ll find the chances of seeing the U.S. in Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Moncton in each knockout-stage round, based on FiveThirtyEight’s Women’s World Cup predictions.For example, FiveThirtyEight projects that the U.S. has a 65 percent chance of making the semifinals. Based on the U.S.’s most likely path, there is a 51 percent chance that the Americans will participate in the semifinal game in Montreal (Match No. 49) and a 14 percent chance that they will participate in the game in Edmonton. read more

John Isner Is All Alone at Wimbledon

At a major international tournament, American men had a very bad day.Yes, the U.S. men’s soccer team did just fine Thursday, losing 0-1 to Germany but advancing to the knockout stage of the World Cup. But at Wimbledon, all but one of the four remaining American men exited the singles draw without winning a set. That leaves just John Isner to play in the third round. Isner is by far the highest-ranked American, but he’s often vulnerable to upsets at events outside the U.S.“I guess it’s better than last year. We didn’t have anybody past the second round,” Isner said of the American men’s success at Wimbledon, at a press conference Thursday. “At least there’s one guy past the second round.”Here’s a sign of how bad things have gotten for American men’s singles tennis: Even with all the early exits, Isner has to win just one more match for this tournament to count as a good Grand Slam by recent low standards. He’d be the lone American man in the fourth round for a second consecutive major, after five consecutive Grand Slams without any American man to make it to the Round of 16. The U.S. hasn’t had a male quarterfinalist at a Grand Slam since Isner and Andy Roddick reached that stage at the 2011 U.S. Open, nor a semifinalist in the five years since Roddick lost in the final at Wimbledon. No American man has won a major since Roddick did at the U.S. Open in 2003, and after every disappointing Grand Slam, the prospect of an American major champ seems farther away than it did at the one before.The situation is very different for the American women. They’re led by world No. 1 and five-time Wimbledon champ Serena Williams, who will be joined in the third round this year by her sister, Venus Williams, who also has won Wimbledon five times. Even more American women are outperforming their male counterparts. Three others have made the third round at Wimbledon, with one more, Victoria Duval — the 18-year-old who got into the tournament the hard way, by qualifying — still to play her second-round match.Isner isn’t an ideal American No. 1. He has a booming serve and one of the worst return games in the top 50. But without him, things would be truly bleak. For the third consecutive major, Isner is the only American man ranked high enough to get one of the 32 seeds. No other American man even ranks in the top 50.Sixteen countries have a No. 2 player ranked higher than the second-best American, No. 67 Sam Querrey, one of the players who lost on Thursday. Among the countries with a higher-ranked No. 2 player are Switzerland, Croatia and Austria, which have a combined population under 21 million — roughly the population of Texas. Three other countries with a population under 20 million have a No. 2 player ranked higher than Querrey. (It’s worth noting that tennis has become more popular globally since the 1980s, hence more countries are competing and leaving fewer spots for the traditional powers.) The strength of the No. 2 player matters, as a proxy for depth of talent and for the Davis Cup, the international team competitions with two singles slots.To Denis Kudla, a 21-year-old American who lost his second-round match here Thursday, international comparisons aren’t fair because of tennis’s relatively slight stature among U.S. sports. “Tennis is our fifth or sixth sport,” he said in an interview last week. “People just have to be patient.”American women fare better in the equivalent international comparison, perhaps partly because female athletes have fewer professional options and tennis is one of the most lucrative. Just two countries have higher-ranked No. 2 players than Sloane Stephens of the U.S.: Serbia and Italy.Strong prior American male generations — John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors; Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras — cast a long shadow over Roddick and his peers, former top-10 members James Blake and Mardy Fish. But the Roddick generation was far stronger than the current one, as demonstrated by the decline in the number of American players in the majors’ draws, of seeded American players and of American players who reach the third round. “I think what happened is, maybe we missed a generation,” Kudla said. “The generation behind Roddick maybe didn’t pan out like it was supposed to.”“Every country goes through a slump,” Benjamin Becker, a German player who played for Baylor University, said in an interview this week. “It’s not easy to always have these prodigies like Agassi, Sampras, McEnroe, [Jim] Courier and Connors. A lot of times, countries take generations off.” He added, “I’m very confident that an American player will be soon at the top level.”Two young Americans who hope to fulfill Becker’s prediction had modest success last week, qualifying for Wimbledon by winning matches on adjacent courts at the Bank of England Sports Centre while monitoring each other’s progress. Ryan Harrison, who was watching Kudla’s match during changeovers of his own contest, said in an interview that in an individual sport, national rankings don’t matter much. “The U.S. is always concerned about how many top players they have,” Harrison said. “The only thing I’m concerned about is my own development, my own career.”He added: “The U.S. has to really understand that we’re working. We’re doing what we can here.” read more

LeBron May Be The Most Clutch Playoff Shooter Of His Generation

On Sunday afternoon, LeBron James offered another reminder of how silly it was to ever doubt his performance in the clutch.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iz-3ItHYeiQAfter the game, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst tweeted that James has now made more go-ahead shots at the end of playoff games than Michael Jordan. (It’s not the only area in which James is Jordan’s statistical peer in the postseason.)Windhorst’s definition for what constitutes a game-winning shot is as good as any — it covers all potential go-ahead field-goal attempts with five or fewer seconds remaining in the fourth quarter (or overtime) of playoff games. At Basketball-Reference.com, I was able to find 10 such attempts for James: five makes and five misses.1I’m not sure what accounts for the discrepancy with Windhorst’s numbers (he has James as 6-for-10), but for the remainder of this post, I will use Basketball-Reference.com as my data source. How does that stack up to other playoff performers over the years?Unfortunately, Jordan’s playoff career predates BBR’s shot-by-shot database by three seasons, but the site does have a record of every such shot attempted since the 2001 playoffs. And in those go-ahead situations (after accounting for the leverage of the game in which each shot occurred), nobody has a better record relative to expectations2As measured by points generated per shot above what would be expected from the distance of the shot. than James — particularly not his longtime nemesis Kobe Bryant, who sits at the opposite end of the list.Relative to the league-wide average, James generated 4.8 more total points than expected on his go-ahead shots, which translates to about one entire playoff win beyond what an average shooter would have contributed from the same field-goal distances. And those numbers become magnified when you consider that James’s average go-ahead shot came in a playoff game with championship implications 34 percent greater than the typical postseason contest. After we weight by the leverage of his specific game-winning shot attempts, James generated the equivalent3At normal playoff conditions. of 8.5 more points than expected, or roughly two playoff wins above average, with his clutch end-of-game shooting alone.(By contrast, Bryant generated 3.2 fewer points than expected and did it in games that were about 64 percent more important than the average playoff game, compounding the damage of his 1-for-10 performance.)So there’s no doubting James’s history of knocking down big playoff shots. But what’s also interesting about the list above is that the trailing section contains slightly better players, on balance; the bottom 10 players have tallied 1,090 wins above replacement (WAR), versus 987 WAR for the top 10.Granted, there’s essentially no relationship between career WAR and leverage-weighted net expected points for the entire sample of players … but maybe that’s the point. Role players can be called upon to hit huge shots with championship implications just as readily as stars. While James (and Dirk Nowitzki, and Chris Paul, to name a few) are all-time greats, the fact that the likes of Rashard Lewis and Metta World Peace also rank so highly — and Bryant fares so poorly — might speak as much as anything else to the unpredictability of who steps up and changes the course of NBA history with a clutch shot or two.One thing’s for sure, though: James has shown that he’s better at knocking down such consequential buckets than any other player of his generation. read more

The DAntoni Basketball Revolution Goes To College

Marshall basketball coach Dan D’Antoni was angry. His team had been down 20 points at halftime during a late December non-conference game against Pittsburgh (“We looked like we were running in mud,” he said), had exploded in the second half, scoring 1.45 points per possession on a variety of back-breaking 3-pointers and half-court cuts that led to easy layups, and still lost. Any team that can drop 68 points in 20 minutes should win the game, but the final score was 112-106 in favor of Pittsburgh. “We booted it,” he said. When a reporter questioned whether the team’s high number of 3-point attempts might explain the loss, he got testy.Decked out in his customary Marshall basketball t-shirt and a dark blazer, D’Antoni unspooled what he referred to as his “daggone analytics story”: “The last two championships have been Cleveland and Golden State,” he said, talking about the NBA. “What did they do? You don’t see anybody post up. They just spread that thing out and go.”D’Antoni became an overnight exemplar of analytics. But can an NBA blueprint remake a mid-major team with subpar talent in the NCAA?When I asked D’Antoni about his quote, he said that he didn’t mean to embarrass the reporter but, “I could’ve said, ‘Of all those five players on the floor, how many of them do you think we had rated higher for college play than [Pittsburgh] had?’ And we’re within a few points of them. That’s like going to the playground and giving the other team the first five picks, saying, ‘Let’s play,’ and then when they win, saying they outcoached us. Give me a break.”This is D’Antoni’s third season at Marshall, after roughly a decade as an NBA assistant, where he coached alongside his younger brother, Mike, in Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles. Thus far, his tenure has mostly been a success. Before he arrived in Huntington, Marshall had been known more as a stepping stone for rising coaches, such as Billy Donovan and Donnie Jones, than for any on-court successes: the team had finished under .500 nine times since 2001-02. The Herd won 17 games in 2016 (the record marked Marshall’s fifth-highest win total in the 2000s) and quickly notched 14 wins this season before a three-game losing streak the past two weeks sapped some of the squad’s momentum. Now tied for fifth in Conference USA, the Herd have an uphill climb to make it to the NCAA tournament. They face arguably the conference’s toughest February slate — UAB, Old Dominion, and Middle Tennessee all loom during this next week; they’ll likely need a run through the CUSA tournament to make it to the dance.D’Antoni isn’t your usual coach. As I prepped for our interview, I read an article about D’Antoni that mentioned he once said he hugged a tree in his front yard each morning. When I asked D’Antoni about it, he said, “I believe there is a connection between here and somewhere else, and since the tree is a living thing, I connect through it and thank it for everything I have been fortunate to have.” But perhaps even more compelling is his attempt to transform Marshall, a team composed of borderline DI players, a walk-on, and an ex-DII player, into one of the nation’s most analytically efficient offenses.“If you do just the ordinary, you’ll lose, so you have to do something unusual to beat people more athletically gifted than you,” D’Antoni said.For the Marshall coach, that means streamlining an offense so that his players are executing each possession with the intent of taking the most efficient shot possible. And D’Antoni knows all of the percentages. “I’ve told our players the numbers forever,” D’Antoni said. “When you look at offense, it’s not about the overall scheme — it’s about the actions within an offense, and you have to know the best odds for scoring.” Using data culled from the NBA, which D’Antoni contended still applies to the college game, a corner 3, which is worth 1.27 points per shot, is the best shot in basketball. The next best shot? “Any other three,” he said. A lay-up — “a clean lay-up,” D’Antoni stresses — is even better: 1.8 points per shot.1According to the NBA’s most recent data, a shot in the restricted area is worth 1.21 points per shot, while a 3-pointer above the break — that is, an attempt either atop the perimeter or on the wing — is 1.06 points and a corner 3 is 1.21 points.Which is why Marshall never stops shooting. Roughly 43 percent of the team’s attempts are from beyond the arc, squaring Marshall within Division I’s top 50 (per Ken Pomeroy), and according to Synergy Sports, Marshall scores 1.08 points per spot up (1.17 points per catch and shoot), which is bested by only 23 other DI squads. “I don’t know if there is another team in the country that does as many shooting drills as we do,” said Austin Loop, a junior guard with the third-best overall offensive rating in Division I and who has converted 49 percent of his 3’s. Perhaps not coincidentally, Marshall scores at one of the country’s most efficient clips, dropping 1.11 points per possession, which is the highest ever for a D’Antoni-coached team (and good for the top 60 nationally).“We go over every stat that the coaches keep,” Ryan Taylor, Marshall’s senior stretch-4, said. That includes game-by-game plus/minus reports, which are presented to the Herd via a white board in their locker room, as well as intensive film sessions and Synergy analysis (provided by D’Antoni and the rest of the coaching staff). “Coach D’Antoni wants us to make at least 36 percent of our 3’s, which equates to 52 percent on 2’s,” Taylor elaborated.2If Marshall were to connect on 36 percent from deep, it would actually equate to 54 percent of their 2’s. “Taking 3’s is easier for us — since it is farther away from the basket, it isn’t contested, and then it opens up our offense even more.”D’Antoni didn’t naturally warm to this style of play. During his initial years as a high school coach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, he coached conservatively: “My teams were constantly posting up and taking contested 2’s, which are essentially worthless. Those shots only count for .78 points and are the worst shot in basketball.”His thinking didn’t change until a late-1980s conversation with Mike, then playing in Europe, who relayed the revolutionary impact of the 3-point shot overseas. Dan began to eliminate post ups and mid-range jumpers, and he emphasized 3-point attempts and pick-and-rolls. He continued to fine-tune his offensive approach after he ditched the high school ranks and followed his brother to Phoenix as an assistant, where the two coined the phrase “athletic ball,” a concept D’Antoni brought with him to Marshall: “Instead of a player creating a scoring opportunity, you move the ball quickly so that the ball creates the opportunity. That way, a player who isn’t as athletic but is skilled can play against anybody. As long as the ball is free flowing, it’ll get to the place where that guy is capable of making that shot.”As Mike explains, “Something has to be athletic enough on the floor if your players aren’t, and the ball zipping around accomplishes that.”That’s being put to the test at Marshall. D’Antoni arrived at the college game at a fitting moment. Since 2002, DI’s 3-point field goal attempts rate — the percentage of shots taken beyond the arc — has jumped from 32.1 to 36.2 percent, the highest it has ever been. What works for Cleveland, Golden State and the majority of the NBA — spacing the floor through the 3-pointer — has finally begun to saturate the DI level, and thanks to the years D’Antoni spent on the NBA sidelines, Marshall has been a leader in this strategic shift (the Herd’s 3-point attempts rate jumped from 34 to 42 percent in his first season).As the team’s 14-11 record makes clear, though, change takes time. What D’Antoni is preaching clearly works at the NBA level, but his players are not of that caliber, and the learning curve — even 90 games into his tenure — is still much steeper.During Marshall’s recent losing streak, the Herd made just 30 percent of its 3’s and scored an anemic 1 point per possession. D’Antoni spends each practice teaching his players what constitutes a good shot from a bad shot in his free-flowing and fast-paced offense, but the line separating the two is still very much open for interpretation when the players take the court.“If you watch us play, we still take a lot of bad shots,” said former assistant coach Chris Duhon, who spoke with FiveThirtyEight before he resigned in January after an arrest for driving with a license revoked stemming from a DUI. “We haven’t mastered that process yet.”“Obviously they take some bad 3’s, but heck, if I coached any other way, they’d take some bad 2’s,” D’Antoni said. “But I don’t want players looking over their shoulders to see what is a good shot or not. Our offense gives them a freedom to play the game and use their own smarts to create good shots. Let them choose.”This is the only way D’Antoni knows how to coach, and as a self-described “gunslinger,” the only way he believes Marshall will succeed is through what he calls his ‘organized chaos’ offense. “There is more to it than just saying, ‘Here’s an analytic game plan, let’s do it,’” he said. “I may have opened up how the game is played, but I never want to stand pat.”He continued, “I am a big believer in risk. You have to know how to bet, know the odds, and have a feel for everything. How far along I am with my coaching and whether it’ll work, I don’t know. I tried to figure out the odds, and I just know what I’m coaching at Marshall presents us the best odds for winning.” read more

The Secret To The Rams Blocking Success Isnt The Linemen Its Sean

Returning to Los Angeles, the Rams used the 11 personnel more than any other team in the NFL in 2018. So it’s possible that instead of the Rams being generationally superior at run blocking — or instead of Gurley being a one-of-a-kind game-altering running back — the Rams’ offensive line just faced fewer crowded fronts than other teams. This would at least provide some context for their overwhelming success — and help explain how Anderson could Wally Pipp an MVP candidate in the playoffs.To find out, I created a reasonable facsimile of Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards and then calculated the number of yards each team earned either over or under expected based on the number of men in the box and the field position from which the play originated.6I removed QB scrambles but left WR run plays in. I also did not adjust for shotgun. Finally, I did not scale the adjusted line yards metric so that it looks like running back yards per carry. My version of adjusted line yards will not agree exactly with Football Outsiders, but there still is a high degree of correlation. Each metric predicts the other at an r-squared of 0.68.Both Football Outsiders’ line yards and my version agree that the Rams had the best rushing offensive line unadjusted for box count. When we look at line yards over expected after accounting for box defenders, however, the Rams aren’t the best run-blocking offensive line ever. In fact, they’re not even in the top four since 2009. 18New England20093.062.720.364.43 *Box-adjusted line yards adjusts for number of defenders faced near the line of scrimmage.Source: ESPN Stats & Information Group But an NFL offense is not just at the mercy of the defense when it comes to running against stacked or light boxes. Play-callers actually have a large degree of control over how many defenders near the line of scrimmage they will have to face. When an offense trots out three or more wide receivers, the defense nearly always matches with an equal number of defensive backs, which limits the number of linebackers on the field and lightens up the box.Since the 2009 season, the number of rushing plays that faced six or fewer defenders in the box has skyrocketed. This is a reflection of an evolving offensive philosophy, not a defensive one. The increasing number of light boxes was a response to the massive shift by NFL offenses to the “11 personnel”: 1 running back, 1 tight end and — most importantly — three wide receivers. Over the course of the past decade, the 11 personnel became the most popular personnel package in the NFL. It’s now the base NFL offense. And nickel5Defenses with five defensive backs on the field. is the current base defense — a sea change from the previous decade when 3-4 and 4-3 defensive fronts were the norm. 2New England20103.322.730.604.82 10Washington20123.162.740.434.24 Teamseason538 adj. line yds538 box adj. line ydsbox adj. line yds over expectedfootball outsiders adj. line yds 8New England20173.082.650.445.05 One explanation is that the Los Angeles Rams offensive line is just very, very good, and Gurley has been reaping the rewards. But I think there’s another factor at work — one that has more to do with the head coach than with the players on the field.Some football observers have gone so far as to suggest that the Rams 2018 run-blocking unit might be the best in the history of the NFL. While offensive lines are perhaps the trickiest position to evaluate with data, there’s actual evidence for this scorching-hot take using a metric created by Football Outsiders called adjusted line yards. Adjusted line yards are calculated by looking at each running play and using a formula to attempt to assign the proper credit to the offensive line. The metric punishes blockers for losses on run plays, credits the hog mollies with half of the yardage on runs from 5 to 10 yards, and gives the line zero credit for any field position gained 11 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.2Football Outsiders also adjusts for plays from shotgun, down, distance and situation, and it removes any scrambles and handoffs to players who aren’t running backs. By this measure, the Rams are the best-performing line in at least the past 22 years, the period for which data is available.31996 to 2018.But one problem with adjusted line yards is that the metric doesn’t account for the number of defenders the offensive line has to face during any given play, which has huge implications for how effective a rush will be. Running the ball when there are seven or eight defenders near the line of scrimmage is much harder than running against six or fewer. If a team runs more of its plays against light fronts, we should expect it to have more success in general. We’d also expect the offensive line in particular to have an easier time opening holes against defensive fronts that have fewer, rather than more, defensive players near the line of scrimmage that they have to block.Looking at 10 years’ worth of data from ESPN’s Sports & Information Group,4For a total of 126,154 running plays. We excluded scrambles and any plays for which no defender data was given. that’s exactly what we find. If we split the field up into 10-yard chunks, there isn’t an area of the gridiron that exists where running against seven or more men in the box is easier than running against six or fewer. 13New England20183.042.650.415.03 11Baltimore20183.122.710.434.61 5Los Angeles20183.312.830.515.49 1San Francisco20123.192.570.634.50 3New Orleans20113.312.730.594.95 14Houston20103.012.610.414.52 7New Orleans20183.122.690.455.19 Todd Gurley began the 2018 season on fire, accumulating yards and scoring touchdowns at a historic pace. Despite missing the final two games of the season, the second-highest-paid running back in the NFL led the league in rushing touchdowns and finished fourth in yards from scrimmage. And yet, Gurley may start Super Bowl LIII as a backup. Since returning from injury, the Rams star has been outplayed by fill-in journeyman running back C.J. Anderson, who has more or less relegated Gurley to a change-of-pace role.How is this even possible? How can a player go from being the league’s premier running back to backing up a guy who was cut by the Denver Broncos in May, the Carolina Panthers in November and the Oakland Raiders in December? We’ve seen backup running backs fill in admirably before — when the Chiefs released star RB Kareem Hunt this season, Damien Williams was just as, if not more, productive1Williams averaged 114 yards from scrimmage and 1.6 TDs in regular-season games he started, while Hunt averaged 109 yards from scrimmage and 1.4 TDs. — but it’s hard to remember it happening to a back as seemingly indispensable as Gurley, let alone on a stage as big as the Rams are on now. 15Seattle20123.142.780.374.42 12Carolina20113.112.710.424.32 9New York20103.172.730.434.56 17Dallas20092.982.600.374.48 19Tennessee20163.052.700.364.63 16Kansas City20103.062.700.374.44 6Miami20093.012.550.474.44 4Jacksonville20103.202.620.594.63 The Rams have the fifth-best offensive line since 2009NFL offensive lines by two metrics for regular-season adjusted line yards, yards accounting for the number of defenders in the box and yards over expected based on defenders in the box, 2009-2018 In fact, if all you know about a running play in the NFL is the approximate field position of a team and the number of defenders near the line of scrimmage, you’re able to predict the leaguewide yards per carry with an extraordinarily high degree of accuracy: 96 percent of yards-per-carry totals are explained by the offense’s field position and the number of men the opponent has in the box. How many defenders are in the box is almost certainly the most important factor in determining rushing success in football, so it follows that we should try to account for it. The 2012 San Francisco 49ers — who were 5 yards from winning a Super Bowl under Jim Harbaugh and QB Colin Kaepernick — take the honor of fielding the best run-blocking offensive line since 2009. Thinking back on the number of big plays Frank Gore broke off against stacked boxes, the ranking certainly passes the smell test. The 2010 Jaguars offensive line, ranking just ahead of the Rams, was also formidable: It opened massive holes for Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings, who combined for nine touchdowns and 1,783 yards on the ground despite QB David Garrard doing nothing to scare opposing defenses away from crowding the line and trying to stop the run.The Rams still fielded the fifth best offensive line in our time frame and easily the best this year. But much of the credit for the success of the running game should probably go not to Gurley, Anderson or the Rams offensive line, but to Sean McVay. The second-year coach has put his players in the very best position to succeed through his scheme and play-calling. Running the ball out of the 11 personnel helps dictate to the defense and lightens the box for his linemen, allowing them to open holes even thrice-cut journeyman running backs can run through.While league observers can fall into the trap of over-weighting the effect of coaching, in some cases the credit and praise is warranted. The distribution of talent across teams is so even, it’s really not so much a matter of who you run the ball with — or behind — it’s a matter of when you run it. McVay chooses his spots as well as anyone in the NFL, and the Rams are in Super Bowl LIII because of it.Check out our latest NFL predictions. read more

Womens volleyball Buckeyes Sweet Sixteen bound

Members of the Ohio State women’s volleyball team celebrate after scoring against LIU Brooklyn on Sept. 2, 2016. OSU won, 3-0. Credit: Jenna Leinasars | Multimedia EditorThe Ohio State women’s volleyball team upset arguably their most important opponent this season, No. 14 Kansas State on Saturday for a trip to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA tournament. The Buckeyes eliminated the Wildcats in five-sets, 25-20, 25-22, 22-25, 23-25 and 17-15. OSU secured their spot to play in Saturday’s second round by knocking off Missouri State in three sets on Friday, while the Wildcats swept Lipscomb, also on Friday. A pinch of sibling rivalry added to the competitiveness of the evening. OSU senior middle blocker Taylor Sandbothe looked through the net at her younger sister, freshman middle blocker Elle Sandbothe. Before the match, Taylor took to Twitter and expressed her excitement at the opportunity to play “her best friend.” The front row match-up would prove to be a factor during the entire match.The Buckeyes made their presence known from the beginning of the first set. A variety of hitters went to work, which resulted in an early 9-1 run for OSU. As Kansas State closed in on the OSU lead, the arena erupted, showing the home team support for the Wildcats. Sophomore setter Taylor Hughes wrangled in the final two kills of the set to give the Buckeyes the 1-0 advantage. OSU jumped out to an early lead again to start the second set, but the Wildcats weren’t letting the Buckeyes escape without putting up a fight. Kansas State battled to put the score within two points at 14-12, but OSU’s consistency and patience shone through to maintain control of the lead. Elle Sandbothe assisted on a major block for Kansas State, but it was immediately followed by a kill from her sister, Taylor. OSU held a narrow lead at 24-22, but sealed another set victory with a kill by sophomore outside hitter Audra Appold. After the second set, OSU was hitting .225 collectively, compared to Kansas State’s .056. However, it was the Wildcats who came out of the intermission with the momentum on their side. They held onto the lead for the first time in the match to begin the third set as the Buckeyes’ defense and serve reception began to unravel. OSU came back with aggressive swings and gained the lead for the first time in the third set at 15-14 before a back-and-forth battle ensued between the teams. The Wildcats focused on Taylor Sandbothe’s path and another block by her younger sister shifted the energy back to Kansas State. The Wildcats saw their first set point of the match, and the Buckeyes couldn’t counter back. Despite the Wildcat win, OSU still held the advantage 2-1 going into the fourth set. The Kansas State crowd made their voices heard to start the fourth set, cheering after every point that dropped on OSU’s side. The noise was egged on by the point-for-point play that characterized the entire set. When the dust cleared, it was again Kansas State who stole the set victory and forced a sudden-death final set. Errors are critical any five-set contest, and unforced errors by OSU allowed the Wildcats to take the two-point advantage 8-6 before switching sides of the court. The Buckeyes quickly changed their tone and after a handful of nail-biting final points, OSU claimed the crucial win to stay alive in the NCAA tournament. Junior outside hitter Luisa Schirmer combined with Taylor Sandbothe for 36 kills. Sophomore setter Taylor Hughes finished with another triple-double to her name with 14 kills, 41 assists and 15 digs. The Buckeyes are off to the Sweet Sixteen to face Big Ten rival, the Wisconsin Badgers. read more

Badgers backs run wild on OSU

The Wisconsin offensive line “did a great job protecting and showing, obviously, the run and then passing,” said defensive lineman Dexter Larimore. “But the bottom line is that our D-line didn’t give enough pressure and we, as a defense, didn’t collaborate on third down and get off the field.” Despite the defensive struggles, both Tressel and Heyward said that Wisconsin hadn’t done anything outside of the ordinary, nothing that they hadn’t prepared for. “If I had to bet (what they did on offense) wasn’t anything too earth-shattering, just excellent execution,” Tressel said. “This was probably a lot of their base package.” OSU special teams continued to give up valuable points when David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a Badger touchdown. It sparked a horrendous first half for the Buckeyes. With 10 minutes left in the second quarter, OSU held the Badgers from within the 5-yard line for two downs before giving up a 1-yard touchdown to Clay, putting the Badgers up 21-0. After two field goal attempts, the Buckeyes headed to the locker room down 21-3. The defense improved in the second half as the Buckeyes outscored the Badgers by five points, but their efforts were in vain. “To Wisconsin’s credit, when it got to (21-18), they stepped up and kept that 10-point cushion on us the rest of the second half and they came up with the win,” Tressel said. The state of Wisconsin is known for its cheese, but it was Ohio State’s defense on Saturday that looked like a block of Swiss: full of holes for Badger running back John Clay. The senior racked up 104 yards in Saturday’s game, which Wisconsin won 31-18. In last year’s matchup at Ohio Stadium, Clay had 59 yards on 20 carries against the Buckeyes, but after just one quarter in Camp Randall, he had already racked up 71 yards, including a touchdown to put the Badgers up 14-0 early in the game. “Football is a game of execution,” OSU coach Jim Tressel said. “It’s one thing to talk about football, it’s another thing to draw it up on the board, and the big thing is to execute. They executed.” Senior captain and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward attributed Clay’s success in part to the line’s failure to execute defensively. “They did a pretty good job,” Heyward said. “But we didn’t do a good job of executing as well. But you’ve got to tip your hats off to them, they played their butts off.” After giving up 184 total yards on the ground to the Badgers, Heyward took much of the blame. “We have to learn from our mistakes.” Heyward said. “I didn’t perform as well as I wanted to, I take this loss very personally. If there is ever a finger to be pointed it’s at me. As a leader of this defense I think it starts up front and I don’t think we did a good job at all.” The final nail in the defense’s coffin came after quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeye offense had brought the team within three of the Badgers. Wisconsin had the ball on the OSU 12-yard line and Badgers’ running back James White scored to put Wisconsin up 28-18. read more

Weekly football picks Week 7

Justin Zwick Last week: 1-2 Overall: 15-5 Picks: Ohio State, Iowa, Arkansas Quinn Pitcock Last week: 2-1 Overall: 14-6 Picks: Ohio State, Michigan, Arkansas The only game featuring a difference of opinion last week was Michigan State-Michigan. Sparty’s 34-17 victory gave James Laurinaitis, Quinn Pitcock and Zack Meisel 2-1 weeks. Justin Zwick suffered his first losing week of the season, as he returned closer to the pack at 15-5 overall. Laurinaitis and Pitcock trail Zwick by just one game. Senior basketball player Dallas Lauderdale checks in two games off the pace. This week, every participant expects Ohio State to knock off Wisconsin, but opinion is spread out on the other two contests. THIS WEEK’S GAMES No. 1 Ohio State @ No. 18 Wisconsin No. 15 Iowa @ Michigan No. 12 Arkansas @ No. 7 Auburn James Laurinaitis Last week: 2-1 Overall: 14-6 Picks: Ohio State, Iowa, Auburn Dallas Lauderdale Last week: 1-2 Overall: 13-7 Picks: Ohio State, Iowa, Auburn Zack Meisel Last week: 2-1 Overall: 11-9 Picks: Ohio State, Iowa, Auburn read more

Prince Philip dubs himself worlds most experienced plaqueunveiler as he opens new

first_imgGatting said after meeting Philip, who was invited to lunch in the new stand’s restaurant: “He always seems to be very aware and interested in what’s happening in the game.”He’s been a wonderful supporter of the MCC and the sport generally.” The Duke of Edinburgh is an honorary Life Member of Marylebone Cricket Club The Duke of Edinburgh cutting the ribbon The Duke of Edinburgh (second left) is shown a number of bats by Dr Chinmay Gupte (second right) and John Stephenson (right) The Duke is believed to be the Royal Family’s keenest cricket fan. He was a talented player in his younger days and served two terms as MCC president in 1949 and 1974, and is an honorary life member. The Duke of Edinburgh joked about his prowess at unveiling plaques when he opened a new £25 million stand at Lord’s cricket ground.Philip, famed for his off-the-cuff comments, quipped just before he pulled a cord to part a small curtain: “You’re about to see the world’s most experienced plaque-unveiler”. The Duke of Edinburgh (second left) is shown a number of bats by Dr Chinmay Gupte (second right) and John Stephenson (right)Credit:Arthur Edwards/PA Wire He then walked on to the outfield where a group including Gatting and former England bowler Angus Fraser held a variety of bats, including a modern one and a replica of one used by ex-England captain David Gower in the 1980s.The Duke was also shown a new pink ball which has been developed for both night and day matches and prototype stumps with retractable bails which are designed to reduce the possibility of injury from flying bails. The Duke of Edinburgh opens the new Warner Stand at Lord’s Cricket GroundCredit:WPA Pool /Getty Images It is the first phase of a major redevelopment project at Lord’s in central London, famously the home of cricket, which is owned by the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) – the guardians of the laws and spirit of the game. Construction of the Warner Stand at Lord’s, which hosts 2,656 seatsCredit:Anthony Devlin/PA On arrival at Lord’s, Philip, wearing his red and gold MCC tie, affectionately referred to as egg and bacon, chatted to senior members of the club in the pavilion’s committee room. The Duke of Edinburgh is an honorary Life Member of Marylebone Cricket ClubCredit:Arthur Edwards – WPA Pool /Getty Images The Duke of Edinburgh opens the new Warner Stand at Lord's Cricket Ground Construction of the Warner Stand at Lord's, which hosts 2,656 seats The Duke of Edinburgh in his Marylebone Cricket Club tieCredit:Arthur Edwards – WPA Pool /Getty Images His comment was reminiscent of a joke made by his grandson, Prince Harry, who said of the Royal Family during a tree-planting ceremony: “It’s what we do.”And when the Duke was shown a selection of cricket bats through the ages, from an 1890s blade used by Albert Trott to a huge example now ruled illegal, he looked at a baseball-style bat with a very long handle and said to former England captain Mike Gatting: “It’s an offensive weapon.” The Duke of Edinburgh in his Marylebone Cricket Club tie The Duke of Edinburgh cutting the ribbonCredit:Arthur Edwards/PA Wire Philip was looking at a version of the Mongoose bat that was used a few years ago by Australian cricketer Matthew Hayden.The Duke met primary school cricketers and other past England players when opened the new Warner Stand, originally built in 1958 and named after celebrated former England cricket captain Sir Pelham Warner. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings.last_img read more