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Home » New England PatriotsNovember 2005 » Horse Nonsense

Horse Nonsense

Hype does not a good football game make. The sports media acted as if it were the Patriots of last year, with Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour intact and in sync with a functional secondary, that would play their AFC rivals. They tried to present the Colts as the effete pretenders of the past, with a gaudy offense but subpar defense. Everyone wanted to pursue and pimp the sexy storyline to cover up the obvious mismatch.

Say what you will about the Foxborough Mystique and Aura; as far as I know, after they abandoned Yankee Stadium they did not become world-class defensive backs nor ace assistant coaches. Anything for a Monday Night Football ratings boost, I suppose.

Bill Belichick defied his usual course of action by deigning to engage the Colts in an offensive shootout. It was perhaps the best option given his lack of a reliable defensive corps, but in doing so he violated the very principles with which he typically coaches. There would be no annihilation of the opposition’s strengths; for all his game-calling wizardry, Belichick cannot summon effective defenders from thin air nor heal his roster by mere touch.

Even the weather did not side with New England. There might as well have been a dome over Gillette Stadium. Mother Nature did not visit with a timely November flurry to remind Indianapolis that it isn’t nice to fool with her. If the Patriots were going to win, it would have to be on their own merits.

Perhaps we’re seeing a dynasty in the wane. The Patriots seem to ceding their crown, at least temporarily. Even on their own field they are not the most successful team this season: the New England Revolution defeated the Chicago Fire yesterday to win the MLS Eastern Conference Championship. This Sunday afternoon they will face the Los Angeles Galaxy for the MLS Cup.

At about the same time, the Patriots will attempting to regain some amount of dignity against the Miami Dolphins. If the pattern holds, they will win, as they have yet to have a winning or losing streak. Let’s hope last night’s blowout is not the start of one.


I really have no idea whether there are football equivalents for baseball sabermetric stats like VORP and FRAR, but the Colts game made me wonder (a) what the average contribution to win probability is from the aggregate offense, defense, and special teams performace (this will differ from game to game of course) and how much of a decline in efficacy, measured in win probability contribution, there has been in the Pats defense this year vs last year. Without taking variation in opponent into account, it seems like most of the poor performance has been on the defensive side, and the team's actual winning percentage went from .875 to .500 so far. So, is the whole drop of .375 due to the defense? It would not surprise me if that were true (although it seems like nearly every team they have played has been very good thus far this year).

If there is a FRAR for football, Duane Starks is like negative infinity. Mercifully, he is on the IR now.

What makes quantifying baseball performance easier is that both defensive and offensive permutations of the game of finite states and easily definable zones. Also, the high number of games just makes the data all the more valuable because there is more of it.

For football, a younger sport that is as of yet not clearly quantifiable nor documented, statistical analysis is in its nascence. The inherent difficulty is that there are more permutations of situations (four downs and anywhere from inches to 99 yards, etc.), a field in which defensive responsibilities are not always clearly defined, and a small sample size of games. How would you quantify a successful zone defensive? What percentage of that is due to player performance or the efficacy of the scheme itself?

It seems to me that football statistics will necessarily be based on team effectiveness. I like what Troy Aikman is doing with his rating system. I didn't know about it until recently, and it seems that he has selected some of the same metrics I use in my analyses of the Patriots games.

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