Gambling on a Gambler

Johnny Manziel is one of the hardest evaluations I’ve ever encountered. Even before ever turning on the tape, the sort of pop culture fame that has followed Manziel creates preconceived notions that must be ditched before evaluating his play on the field.

Before evaluating Manziel, it’s important to get rid of all of the biases that surround him. Remove the hype. Remove the personality off the field. Tear down the portrait of idolism that some fans have of him. I want to focus on specifically what he is on the field and what traits he possesses that are translatable to the NFL.

It’s also vital to point out that I won’t evaluate who Johnny Manziel is off the field. I don’t know him and I’ve never met him. All I’ve ever seen are a few interviews and some TMZ reports and none of that is enough for me to extract any kind of an opinion on the type of leader, drive, work ethic, or person that Manziel is. I’ll leave the personality evaluating to the professionals.

Hype and personality are what caused the Broncos to draft Tim Tebow in the 1st round of the NFL draft. Instead of evaluating how Tebow was as a passer – the most important trait of being a quarterback in today’s NFL – they liked that he was a winner and a leader. These traits are important, but there has to be a base level of proficiency as a passer for a quarterback to be successful.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the important part: evaluating Johnny Manziel on the field.

I’ve watched a lot of “film” on Johnny Manziel. Unfortunately, it’s mostly been broadcast footage as I’m not privy to the all-22 film that NFL teams have access to. It’s incredibly hard to grasp the defensive concepts and coverages when I can’t see what the safeties and deep coverage players are doing.

It’s also hard to evaluate route concepts and combinations when I can’t see the full route of every wide receiver. These combinations identify how an offense wants to attack a defense. They can cause a quarterback to have to go through either a very simple or very complex progression reading to determine where he wants to throw the ball.

This process starts in the pre-snap phase where a quarterback will try to identify the coverage and pressure concepts of the defense based on certain cues or tells. Knowing what the defense is going to do before snapping the ball is a major advantage, and it’s something that every great quarterback can do on a regular basis.

In the post-snap phase, the quarterback will have a key defender or two in which he will read at the snap. Based on the defender’s movement, it will either solidify his pre-snap read or alert him to a shift in coverage or pressure. If a defense shows one coverage pre-snap but drops into another coverage post-snap, then it is on the quarterback to quickly adjust his read, know the routes his receivers are running, understand how they match up with that coverage, and then know where the open receiver will be.

Without the use of all-22 film, it is extremely difficult to identify all of these elements on every single play. This means that I am limited to a small sample of plays to evaluate the complexity of scheme and Manziel’s proficiency of reading defenses and responding to the intel that they give him. I can infer based on experience, but even then, it’s a small jump that incurs some assumption on my part.

Instead of going through the positives and negatives of Manziel as in a similar format as most NFL scouting reports, I wanted to go game by game so that I can more clearly present some of the main points I see on film. But first, I like to look at some statistics of the player to get a general feel for the player that I’m about to evaluate.

Formulating a Foundation

I’m not a huge statistics guy. Stats can lie, and they often do. Volume statistics like yards and touchdowns can vary greatly based on other aspects of football that have nothing to do with a player’s skill set. With those metrics, style of offense, time of possession, and leading or trailing can dictate how high or low those numbers go.

Instead, I’m more interested in efficiency stats. I don’t want to know how much the quarterback does his job, I want to know how well he does his job. Because Manziel started in both 2012 and 2013, I can also compare these numbers to see if there are any indicators of growth or any red flags.

Manziel threw 434 passes in 2012 and completed 68 percent of his passes, with an average of 8.5 yards per attempt. In 2013, he threw 429 passes, completed 69.9 percent, for an average of 9.6 yards per attempt.

These numbers indicate a significant growth from 2012 to 2013. Manziel not only increased his completion percentage, but he did it while throwing farther downfield. This seems to show that Manziel progressed in his passing proficiency from one year to the next.

This then leads me to see how often he turned the ball over. While Manziel threw 11 more touchdowns in 2013 than in 2012, he also threw 4 more interceptions. This seems to imply that he began to take more risks in his sophomore year over his freshman year (after a redshirt year).

Risk versus reward is a common theme with Johnny Manziel.

Finally, looking at his rushing stats, Manziel ran significantly less in 2013 – about 25 percent less – and finished with slightly over half the yards in 2013 than he did in 2012.

There could be a couple of different explanations for this that only watching the film could reveal the answer: either teams played more containment of Manziel so that he couldn’t run (his yards per rush dropped by 1.7 yards), or Manziel chose to be more of a passer than a runner in similar circumstances (increased productivity in the pass game).

Overall it looks as if Manziel grew as a passer and played slightly more from the pocket than as a runner. This gives us a baseline on which to form an opinion. Now it’s time to reverse engineer from those results to see how they were achieved – and without allowing any biases to influence our opinion.

The Film

I like to watch film of the most recent year first so that I get a better impression of who the player is right now. This is just a personal preference but for me it is harder to let my evaluation and opinion of a player evolve as quickly as his play does. But by starting with the most recent season, I can form an idea of the player now and then go back to previous seasons and see where the player has grown or regressed with more distinction.

I try to watch games against the best competition and always make sure to try to include the player’s best and worst statistical performances. All of this allows me to get a well-rounded picture of the player. The evaluation starts from a very high level and then begins to narrow to a clearer definition of who that player is based on these games.

By looking at the best and worst statistical performances, the idea is that I will get to see the player at his best and at his worst. I can see the gap between those performances and it also helps me to delineate different characteristics where a player fails and succeeds.

Most importantly, it helps me to identify the situations and circumstances where a player performs well and doesn’t perform so well. For the poor performance, I ask the questions, “Why did he perform poorly in this game? What did the opponent do to cause this? What did the player do to cause this? What did the coach and scheme do to cause this?” For the good performance, I ask the same questions but framed so that they allow me to attribute accountability to the proper place. It also helps me to project a player into the NFL with a slightly better focus because I can identify the likelihood that a defense will replicate these conditions of poor performance and how likely the individual player is to overcome them.

2013 – Texas A&M vs. Alabama

Alabama has the best defense in the country. I know that Johnny Manziel is an athletic quarterback. I always assume that these coaches are smarter than I am so I want to see how Nick Saban game planned against Manziel. Did he try to keep him in the pocket with containment? Did he play mostly coverage concepts or did he blitz? How did it all work?

I’m also a huge fan of this game because it’s shot from a high camera angle and basically functions as an all-22 angle.

Manziel’s first pass was a go-route down the right sideline to Mike Evans from the opposite hash mark. Alabama showed a single-high safety in pre-snap, which meant that Manziel could easily identify that Mike Evans was in a one-on-one situation on the outside.

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This is an easy read for Manziel and at the snap he knew where he was going with the ball. He took a quick drop and lofted the ball down the sideline for Evans to go up and get it. Manziel’s 50/50 ball was slightly underthrown but still allowed Evans to go up and win over top of a corner who could never get turned around to find the ball. Because Manziel threw the ball to the outside shoulder, the safety was never an issue.

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It should be noted that Mike Evans is a high-caliber receiver and one of the best at high-pointing the ball when it’s in the air. Depending on an evaluator’s overall opinion of Manziel, they could say that Evans was the reason this pass was completed or the person may attribute credit to Manziel for trusting a big play receiver like Evans and putting the ball in a place where he could win over top of the corner.

But this is the very first play we’ve evaluated. We shouldn’t be looking for an answer, we should let the answer find us. It’s important to see this type of play happen many more times (and it does) and when we have a large enough sample size, the answer will reveal itself.

Two plays later we see the same look from Alabama. The view of the deep safety is obstructed by the lineup graphic but he’s there in the middle of the field. This is basically the same play as the last one. Bama blitzes their inside linebackers with a single deep safety. The visible safety drops down into man coverage on the slot receiver. Mike Evans streaks down the sideline on a “go” route.

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Manziel against wastes no time after the snap. He immediately turns and throws the deep ball to Evans who has beaten his man by a step. This time, instead of the ball being slightly underthrown and Evans have to jump for a contested ball, Manziel makes a throw that leads Evans up the field, in stride, and down the sideline. Perfect placement.

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Manziel follows this play up with a short throw to the tight end (after running into his own running back on the play action) in the end zone for a touchdown.

While the throws on this first drive against Alabama were really good, I haven’t seen Manziel have to read through a progression yet. All of the reads – if you could even call them that – were very simplistic. See Mike Evans with single coverage on the outside? Throw him the ball. No read necessary.

So far we’ve seen some very good physical display from Manziel but we haven’t seen him tested mentally yet. The two runs that Manziel had on this first drive were called runs so there were no pocket-escape plays. Manziel has also gotten rid of the ball so quickly that he hasn’t had to deal with any type of pocket movement.

On the next drive however, Manziel displays his athleticism and speed when Bama’s C.J. Mosley shoots through a B-gap untouched on a blitz. Manziel turns and runs to his right and gets the edge around Mosley and another defender for a gain of about 12 yards and a first down. This is the first non-designed run of the game for Manziel.

On this next play, this is a good display of a “hole shot” throw where Manziel has to fit the ball in between a dropping cornerback and a safety in deep-half coverage. The ball must have some velocity and good trajectory or else it could bring either defender into the play. Manziel lays it in perfectly.

On the next drive, Manziel has a play where he waits patiently but is then flushed from the pocket to his right. He doesn’t sprint out, but instead keeps his eyes downfield. He waits until he sees Mike Evans break from his route where he then throws to an open spot on the field and gets a big gain. The play looks great on Manziel. He was patient, kept his eyes up, and the result is a big play. It’s easy to attribute this all to Manziel but the throw wasn’t really great. Evans had to come back about 7 yards on the throw to get it. There wasn’t a lot of zip on the ball either.

Take a look for yourself here at the 2:29 mark:

On the replay you can really see how far back Evans had to come for the ball. It’s a good play on both parts but I don’t walk away from it going, “Wow, what a play by Johnny Manziel.” Instead, I think, “Good play, but any receiver not as intelligent and athletic as Evans and that could have been a pick.”

Again, maybe Manziel understood who he was throwing to and that was a calculated risk. At this point in the evaluation, it’s hard to know.

A few plays later, Manziel makes another throw off his back foot that sort of sails showing a real lack of velocity on the ball. This keeps showing up. If Manziel doesn’t have room to step into his throws, his velocity really suffers. With a clean pocket and space to step and drive, his arm strength is good enough.

The issue that I have with this is that in the NFL the pocket gets tighter, spaces get smaller, windows get narrower, and coverage gets better. I highly doubt a few of the throws he’s made in this game are completed in the NFL, and more likely, end up intercepted.

And then there’s this play at the 5:36 mark:

Alchemy.

It’s important to note that it’s 3rd and 8 on the Alabama 34 yard line. We haven’t gotten that far in the evaluation of Manziel, but one thing that stands out to me is that he always seems to be aware of the situation. I don’t think he attempts that throw in a different part of the field, but again, that’s an inference.

After the snap, Manziel has a receiver open to his right 3 yards past the line of scrimmage. He forgoes that opportunity which I think is an alright move considering they need 8 yards on 3rd down. Manziel then makes a u-turn in the other direction. I’m not sure why he spun because there wasn’t anyone bearing down on him. This is a sign of poor pocket tolerance by Manziel.

The u-turn takes him into a defender who really has a shot at getting Manziel down for the sack. Manziel backpedals and somehow escapes the grasp of the defender, a la Eli Manning in the Super Bowl helmet-catch play. Manziel then rolls right and throws what is essentially a jump pass into 2 of his own wide receivers and 3 Alabama coverage guys. Amazingly, Edward Pope comes down with the rock and the play goes down in football lore.

And here is where the hype can dilute the facts. This is an amazing play to watch as a football fan. It still gives me chills to watch it unfold. Even the announcer gets into the hype with, “Can you say magic?!” The problem is that as scouts, we should be evaluating every element of the play to determine who gets credit, who is at fault, and what really matters in the play.

Too many fans are stuck on the result. It was a completion and a big play on 3rd and 8. But was it a good decision? Was it the right play by Manziel? The result doesn’t negate everything that happened before it. Results can be fluky while a solid decision making process can lead to more consistent results.

What I notice on this play is that even though Edward Pope came down with the ball, that’s not who Manziel was throwing it to. He was throwing it to Mike Evans – his safety valve.

This shows up on film over and over and it’s where people will begin to diverge on their analysis of Johnny Manziel. This was a calculated risk by Manziel because he was throwing a jump ball to a guy he trusted to come down with it. Instead of Evans coming down with it, Pope just happened to get there first. See how stats and results can lie?

The biggest issue that I have with this play is the way Manziel threw the ball. He was falling (jumping?) backwards when he threw it. His body and the way he flung the ball up in the air tells me that it was a prayer more than a calculation. While there was some thought involved in whom he was throwing to, it was more of a hope than a calculation.

That’s taking a lot of inference out of that play based on cues that I’ve identified. This is where scouting gets subjective. When scouts are reasoning why players took certain actions, the scout is now leaning on his own opinion of the events that occurred. This is where evaluations split off and 2 people watching the same film can extract two different evaluations.

That’s the problem with evaluating Johnny Manziel. Only he knows why he did the things he did. Everyone else is just guessing. All we can do is evaluate his play on the field and try to pinpoint who he is going to be in the NFL.

Manziel is a gambler. He takes risks. But just because he hits on 20 and gets an ace doesn’t mean that it was the correct decision.

The decision that teams will have to make is whether they are comfortable with who Johnny Manziel is on the field or not. If they’re not comfortable with him gambling so much, do they believe that they can change his DNA as a player? How much can you rein in a player like Manziel without inhibiting his instincts, which in my opinion, are extremely advanced? Or can you rein him in at all?

In a league where the structure comes before the player, it will be interesting to see if anyone takes a shot early on in the draft with Johnny Manziel. If they do, are they falling victim to the hype or are they believing in the film? Would you be willing to gamble on a gambler?

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Posted in 2014 NFL Draft, Evaluations | Tagged , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Obstinacy and Analytics in the NFL

The NFL is a league of 32 separate entities that are all working towards a common goal (profit) while competing against each other. There is massive conduit that connects all 32 teams that allows staggering amounts of information to flow throughout the league. Ideas and concepts can change hands in the league with very little impedance, especially with how often coaches, scouts, and personnel change teams and take that information with them.

Yet, with such a terrific pipeline through which information can flow, football organizations are a stubborn bunch.

Change doesn’t come easily in the NFL, and when it does, no one likes to admit that something is being changed. They have their way of doing things and until a better way is proven five times over, teams just simply refuse to adapt.

Darwinism states that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Without this ability, organisms will eventually die out and become extinct. The speed at which an organism adapts can greater enhance its ability to dominate over other organisms in its surrounding environment. NFL coaches and organizations are essentially anti-Darwin because they’re so remarkably resistant to change.

The problem doesn’t lie in the people themselves. It’s the machine of the NFL that has created this environment and front offices and coaching staffs have fallen victim to the demands.

Hiring for football positions in the NFL is an anti-meritocracy. Ninety-five percent of hires are made via the “buddy system.” It’s not what you know; it’s whom you know. Coaches and staff members are raised in this environment. They use the buddy system to make it to becoming a head coach or a general manager by making promises to hire friends or former colleagues who helped them to get to where they are now. Thus, the vicious cycle continues.

This is an example of a much larger issue of organizations’ inability to adapt, grow, and evolve in the NFL. The problem is exacerbated by the influence of the now- generation. Because of the advancement of technology, humans are so used to everything in our lives being on-demand (information, television, food, etc.). Team owners have developed the same thinking and expect change to come much faster than it actually happens.

Win Now or Get Out

There was a clear message that Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam sent when he fired his entire staff after only a year on the job. Win now or get out. It’s a strong example of the ideology that a lot of owners are taking throughout the league.

It’s tough for owners to watch Jim Harbaugh and Andy Reid turnaround the 49ers and Chiefs so quickly and so spectacularly, only to watch their own team waddle through mediocrity year after year. Owners are typically men or women who have had life answer every beck and call at their whim. It isn’t a stretch to think that they would expect their team to do the same.

The Chiefs after Romeo Crennel and the 49ers after Mike Singletary are two examples of teams that were ripe for a revolution. In both instances, the rosters were talented and experienced but had been poorly coached and schemed, which caused the team to falter rather than flourish. By all accounts both teams had strong locker rooms even through the tough times. The owners hired intelligent coaches who adapted their schemes to the players already on the roster instead of stubbornly demanding that the players adapt to them.

These turnarounds both happened within a few years of each other but it’s important to understand that they are the exception to the rule. It takes time, diligence, and continuity within the organization to turn a bad team into a good one. The Jaguars right now are a good example of this. They were a bad team but are headed in the right direction because they’ve gotten the right people in the right positions and have committed to making the team better without rushing the results. But in “Generation Now” of the NFL, most owners are too impatient to trust their own hires and allow good people to do their jobs.

The late Steve Jobs, one of the greatest modern day CEOs, said, “You’ve got to be a really good talent scout. No matter how smart you are, you need a team of great people… and be able to help build an organization that can eventually build itself because you need great people around you.”

Jobs hired people the best people available for a specific position and then allowed them to manage that position without interfering too much. He made decisions when necessary but he didn’t micromanage the people below him. He trusted his own skills of talent scouting and he built Apple into one of the world’s most recognized consumer brands. The level of continuity within Apple has allowed the company to continue to progress even after Jobs’ passing.

League owners have fallen victim to the “win now” attitude and are making rash decisions because they’re not progressing fast enough. If the team hasn’t made a turnaround in two to three seasons, owners clean house and start all over. It’s the same as planting a tree, letting it grow for a year, and then hacking it down and planting another one. If it isn’t given ample time to grow it can never blossom.

Unfortunately, the stubbornness that runs rampant throughout the league extends all the way up the ladder to the owners, as well. Their inability to adapt and change their ways creates extensive problems for the rest of the organization.

What does this have to do with analytics?

Obstinacy is a disease that reaches into every facet of an organization. From fourth down decisions, clock management, to analytics. It is a disease that has plagued the league for at least 45 years.

In 1968, Sports Illustrated published an article on the use of computers and analytics in the scouting process of college prospects. Amazingly, a lot of the ideas, concepts, and calculations are still being used today, 45 years later!

Pretty much everything about the NFL has changed since 1968 – schemes, players, and rules. Technology has advanced exponentially allowing us to do more with greater amounts of information in fractions of a second. Yet the NFL has barely taken a half step forward in how they’ve developed the use of analytics since that article was published 45 years ago.

Only over the last few years have teams begun to install analytics departments into their front offices. Some teams now use analytics to parse out what can inhibit their quarterback’s play, while others are using player-tracking systems to help glean information on how practice habits can help or hinder game performance.

These are huge steps that teams have just recently begun to adapt. The analytics push is finally taking hold but it’s 10 years after the original publishing of “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis – a story of how the Oakland Athletics used advanced statistics to find under-valued assets to help them compete with teams who were spending five-times as much on their player payroll.

Baseball Analytics vs. NFL

Baseball is a unique game. There is no clock. The game is only advanced when an out is recorded. Baseball is also unique in that it is nine players reacting to one. In the NFL, it’s eleven players reacting to eleven players.

Baseball is a very stationary sport. All of the players basically start at the same place on every play. The NFL, by comparison, is a very fluid sport where 11 guys can move in any direction after the snap and pre-snap formation movements have made even that phase difficult to quantify. Anyone who has charted the 49ers over the last few years can attest to this.

Even with these dynamics, it took over one hundred years for a major league team to finally discover, accept, and adapt to the stats and analytics that helped determine the quality of a player and his impact on winning games. The first published article on the topic was from Bill James in his abstract in 1977. It took twenty-five years for the idea to take hold and come to fruition in Major League Baseball.

One of the largest differences between the NFL and MLB throughout history is that baseball has always been very numbers driven. Box scores can tell ninety percent of the story of a baseball game because of the depth and accuracy of the stats. Earned run average is a solid metric to determine a pitcher’s worth. Batting average over the years wasn’t perfect but it was a good indicator of a player’s capabilities at the plate. On-base percentage was a widely kept statistic but didn’t garner the attention that batting average did.

The depth of baseball statistics provided a lot of information that could be manipulated to find more accurate ways to evaluate players. There was value in the use of the stats, but perhaps the most important aspect of those statistics is that they existed.

The NFL doesn’t have the same type of statistics currently available to manipulate – at least publicly anyway. Yards, touchdowns, interceptions, and completions are standard references when analyzing or discussing a quarterback’s play. But the flaw in these statistics is that they don’t translate unilaterally across the NFL because of scheme, surrounding talent, and game situations. They’re indicators of other aspects of the game, but not necessarily a quarterback’s true abilities as a passer.

These types of statistics can be considered compilation stats. Simply having the opportunity for a player to compile these stats is as important as the ability to compile them. Matthew Stafford may throw for 4000 yards every season, but it doesn’t mean he’s a better quarterback than Russell Wilson who throws for 3,300. It just means Stafford simply had more opportunities because of scheme, having the best wide receiver in the NFL to which to throw, and a team that often found themselves trailing in high-scoring games and therefore had a necessity to throw forty times per game.

Sacks are a compilation statistic that is useful but it’s a metric that doesn’t quite take the impact of a pass rusher far enough. A pass rusher doesn’t have to bring down a quarterback with the ball in his hand to have an impact on the play. In fact, he doesn’t even have to touch the quarterback to make a difference in the play. A rusher who gets pressure on a quarterback can force him to make a quick decision and throw the ball into coverage, resulting in an incomplete pass or an interception. That’s a massive impact on a play and on the game. But until Pro Football Focus brought “pressures” to the mainstream statistical vernacular, these stats weren’t tracked. It’s still not an official stat even though tracking pressures is more indicative of a good pass rusher than sacks.

Simply put, there are a lot of important NFL stats that don’t exist yet. And because of the stubbornness of the NFL, they likely won’t find their way into box scores, and therefore mainstream football vernacular, until years down the road. Advanced NFL Stats has done a remarkable job of exploring this uncharted territory.

Both Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders have people who chart every play of every NFL grade and have done so for a few years now. Because of these projects, they have both begun to track statistics that were never previously recorded, like quarterback pressures. Football Outsiders also has taken the information to the next step and created formulas to help decipher team efficiency in different areas. Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or DVOA, has become a go-to metric for determining the true level of play of a team.

Human Error

As you can see, a lot of the advancements in NFL analytics have come from outside of the league. In other words, the NFL has let everyone else lay a lot of the groundwork and then began to infuse it into the front office. The actual leaps that analytics has taken in the NFL has very little to do with what NFL teams are doing on the inside.

This can likely be attributed to human error in the environment of the NFL. In other words, stubbornness strikes again.

With a larger investment into analytics before the rest of the league caught on, a team could have clearly set themselves apart from the pack and given themselves a major competitive advantage. Instead, the “old way” was accepted as the best way and here teams are, 45 years after that Sports Illustrated article, still using a lot of the same analytical tactics.

To give credit, there are some teams that are now pushing forward into unexplored areas. There is more information available to teams now than there ever has been. However, as important as access to that information is, it’s all irrelevant if the analyzing and application of that information isn’t accurate.

It’s like a carpenter with power tools. First, he must have access to those tools. Second, he has to know how to use them. If used correctly, he can create a beautiful piece of furniture. If used incorrectly, he could saw off his own hand.

Teams will have to sift through large quantities of data, determine what is important and what isn’t, and then take that information and then apply it to the correct areas of the organization and game. Whether it’s learning how to better manage the clock at the end of the game, investigating how to help their quarterback perform better, determining the most effective scheme, negotiating contracts, or evaluating college prospects, teams must use the information correctly to catapult themselves ahead of the competition. If used incorrectly, they could cripple the organization for years to come. The Raiders could have used analytics to better manage their contracts over the last ten years. It’s taken Reggie McKenzie three years to dig Oakland out of salary cap hell.

No matter how much information there is available, it will always be up to humans to translate that data and apply it within the organization. Analytics can help to mitigate biases in most situations but it is always something that is present in nearly every decision and evaluation. It is the responsibility of scouts, coaches, and front office executives to try to make logical, objective decisions based on the information at hand.

Changing The Game

It’s in this vain, that Nate Silver references the “search for intelligent life,” when discussing the adoption of analytics into the NFL. While Silver seems content with blaming the decision makers themselves, I’m more apt to push the onus onto the culture of the NFL.

Coaches have very short tenures and often don’t get a second chance if something goes awry on the first one. It’s the win-now culture that has owners so quick on the firing trigger and coaches are less likely to deviate from the norm because it leaves them open to criticism. Most are content to continue doing things the way they’ve always done so that they can say, “Any coach would have done the same things I did.”

It’s guys like Bill Belichick who have incredible job security that are more apt to take risks and stray from the norm. Remember 4th and two against the Colts? The ability to experiment is something that gives the Patriots a competitive advantage because when they hit on something new, the rest of the league spends money, time, and resources to catch up while the Patriots are reaping the benefits.

The league still doesn’t seem to be able to consistently stop or mimic the two tight- end offense that the Patriots have used recently. While the other teams in the AFC East were trying to find safeties or cornerbacks that could hang with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots were building an offensive line and backfield that allowed them to run with power or zone based on how teams decided to match up. Teams spent draft resources to cover those two specific players, which only created a larger gap when the Patriots built an offensive line and strong backfield while teams were focused elsewhere.

Belichick, Chip Kelly, and a few others are willing to draw outside the lines and have created problems that other coaches have never even dreamed about. Analytics is something that has fallen outside the lines for organizations for years. Now that franchises are expanding their horizons, the evolution of analytics could see a major jump in the next few years.

Don’t expect any breakthrough statistics or metrics to come to light anytime soon as teams will protect that sensitive information. The NFL and its teams are much more careful about their internal information than to allow an author to pen a book about their secret formula. We may not see specific metrics developed by teams in the public forum until those metrics have spread throughout much of the league.

Whether public or private, analytics will change the game for the better, even if the obstinacy of the NFL tries to keep it out.

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Posted in Coaching, Philosophy | 9 Comments

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2013 Roster Evaluation

In 2013, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell way short of the preseason projections. Because of this, the coaching staff and general manager were unceremoniously released. But what went wrong? Was it coaching or did the roster lack talent?

Like any new general manager and head coach, Jason Licht and Lovie Smith’s first duties after being hired were to evaluate the current roster and find out what needs improvement and where the strengths of the roster lie. I decided to do the same.

Below is the link to my personal evaluation of the Buccaneers’ roster from last season. It’s not a summary, it’s strictly a scouting report on each player that played enough snaps to get a solid idea of his performance. I’ll let you decide where the strengths and weaknesses lie.

2013 TB Roster Eval

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