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  • The Football Analytics Thread

    Alright guys, how do you really feel about them? Not just sites like PFF and Footballoutsiders, but the rise of data and analytics in general in the NFL. Give us your thoughts, pros/cons, and general feeling.

  • #2
    What do you mean by analytics?

    If you just mean systematic studies to better understand football teams and the game in general, NFL teams have been doing that for decades.

    If you mean statistics, then there are limits to what you can learn that way. PFF doesn't really do statistics, they just count things and watch a lot of film, but they don't really run any stats to a big degree.


    Sports analytics is a lot like scientific studies. You ask the question that you need answers too, then pick the methods and analysis technique that fits the questions. Sometimes statistics are best o generalize from large sets of data. But for specific answers then a more deterministic method is needed.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by Steve View Post
      What do you mean by analytics?

      If you just mean systematic studies to better understand football teams and the game in general, NFL teams have been doing that for decades.

      If you mean statistics, then there are limits to what you can learn that way. PFF doesn't really do statistics, they just count things and watch a lot of film, but they don't really run any stats to a big degree.


      Sports analytics is a lot like scientific studies. You ask the question that you need answers too, then pick the methods and analysis technique that fits the questions. Sometimes statistics are best o generalize from large sets of data. But for specific answers then a more deterministic method is needed.
      What do I mean by analytics? I mean the proliferation of data and how it is now used more than ever to try to give a team in the NFL a competitive advantage. And yes, while things like systematic studies are nothing new (ie. quality control coaches and film cutups), the availability of more data has made it evolved into something more widespread. Some examples include the article that you posted about pass blocking being more important to winning than run blocking, to Anthony Lynn deciding to leave on a Thursday to London because that was what the data told him, to nutrition/injury prevention, and even player contract negotiation.

      Comment


      • #4
        Speaking of PFF, they did a whole column last Monday.
        https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.co...cs-fmia-guest/

        How NFL teams have changed their attitudes towards PFF and advanced data

        By Neil Hornsby, PFF Founder

        FMIA's Peter King told me last week he estimated there were perhaps 400 people currently employed in analytical roles across major league baseball, then asked how many I felt there were in similar roles in the NFL? "Significantly fewer" was my instinctive response. His next question was the obvious "Why?"

        I'll tell you the same answer I told him. "It's just been harder."

        Football was harder because, until very recently, you simply didn't have a lot of data about the incredibly complex set of interactions that constitute a typical play. Baseball has always had a lot of data about its relatively simple, one-on-one encounters. It's a little like trying to build a restaurant business with the use of only a couple of ingredients.

        The lack of data in football was one of the main reasons PFF came into existence. Go back over the previous 10 years and tell me how well the left guard for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was playing and how it compared to the rest of the league? Good luck.

        Back then we were in a time when establishing the best middle linebacker was a matter of counting tackles, and an era in which people were trying to determine the best offensive line based on how many times its quarterback was sacked and how many yards the offense gained. By way of example, the Houston Texans last season gave up a league-worst 62 sacks. Everyone knows that. It's a stat.

        What you don't know is players not on the offensive line were responsible for over a third of those sacks (21 were spread across tight ends, running backs, and even Deshaun Watson, who accounted for 14 himself). The Texans offensive line was not good, but Houston had far from the league's worst pass protection (we had them ranked 20th). Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. (Getty Images)
        Back in 2008, while a lot of people's response to the lack of data was "Well, let's work with what we've got," our idea was slightly more ambitious. It was "Let's try and collect the data we need." In hindsight that plan seems more strategic than it really was. PFF was initially just a hobby based on collecting something that didn't exist. The fact we now have all 32 NFL teams as customers, and by the time the 2019 season begins, over 60 NCAA clients, is still a matter of amazement to me. "How did that happen?" I sometimes catch myself wondering. We just got lucky I guess.

        In that time we have certainly played a part in deepening the football data set. Since our inception we have collected over 13 years of NFL data (every game, every player, every play has always been our mantra), as well every NCAA FBS game played since 2014. In addition, a few years ago, the NFL brought in player tracking data (the x,y coordinates of every NFL player at 10th of a second intervals). Now that's beginning to look more like it!

        So now we have the data, so just throw a ton of data scientists at it and all the NFL's analytical problems are immediately over, right? Not so fast. There are at least a couple of problems with that thinking.

        1.) Any project manager worth their salt will tell you the time, cost, quality triangle they work within isn't in perfect equilibrium. While you can add more resources to any project, you very quickly get into a law of diminishing returns when it comes to the idea that twice as many people means things get done twice as quickly.

        Any vaguely competent business isn't going to throw endless resources at a problem for which there isn't even an estimated (never mind defined) rate of return. From what I have observed, most clubs' response to analytics has been sensibly proportional to date and I'm sure they will add to that as the need arises. Sure, there are a few clubs off the pace and it will take a few years (and unfortunately maybe a change of general manager) before they catch up. However, this does at least account for some of the discrepancies between how baseball and football have embraced analytics.

        2.) Although this will sound strange, the other major issue is finding someone with both the chops and skill set to introduce and use the data to effect change efficiently. Surely every major software company on the planet has a ton of incredibly smart people that can chew through such a (relatively) small data set in a few weeks? If only. I'm not going to embarrass anyone by naming names, but a few years ago one of the world's foremost technology companies was given our data to work with. The "results," delivered a few weeks later, had them proudly showing us how they had managed to count the total number of third downs in a season for the New York Giants. The graphs looked magnificent, however.

        If a team ever wants its analytics department to be part of the crucial workflow within the football calendar (as opposed to a bunch of nerds with spreadsheets intermittently answering the odd tricky question), it will need at least one top-flight integrator to make it all hang together. In order to grow the department, you need to add meaningful and observable value, and finding a person who can conceive, articulate, plan and deliver this is not an insignificant challenge.

        This role is hard to find in any business, but when you throw in the football component (someone with a deep enough understanding of the game that they can have a peer-to-peer conversation with a coach or GM), it becomes very difficult. Those individuals are slowly being identified and installed, but this is not a plug-and-play type of deal. In all probability, the team has compromised on one of those key attributes and may be trying to get perhaps a world-class business analyst up to speed on the "business of football."

        It takes time for a new function to gain acceptance in any business, much less one as set in its ways and traditions as football. For starters, just look at the uneasy alliance on some teams between the front office and the coaching staff and you begin to appreciate how hard it would be for a new group to succeed in that power structure. A "flywheel" methodology--the steady building of momentum predicated on multiple iterations of delivery, success and acceptance--is the only real way forward, and as that happens more and more people will be brought on board to build on that.

        Football isn't as advanced as baseball in analytics because it's at a different point in its evolution, but it's gaining traction. Let's check back in five years and see where things are. I suspect we'll not see anywhere near the disparity we do now.

        Comment


        • #5
          Honestly I'm not savvy enough to fully appreciate modern analytics and their contribution to the game but I love the idea and can't really see a logistical downside.
          I hope coach Lynn and Telesco agree and are active in this area.
          every and anything to gain an edge imo outside of violating human rights ethics. Obviously

          The Art of Tillery

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by 21&500 View Post
            Honestly I'm not savvy enough to fully appreciate modern analytics and their contribution to the game but I love the idea and can't really see a logistical downside.
            I hope coach Lynn and Telesco agree and are active in this area.
            every and anything to gain an edge imo outside of violating human rights ethics. Obviously
            This is what I could find about our team. Granted this was two years ago so things could have changed dramatically since then:
            https://www.si.com/mmqb/2017/06/28/n...nning-charting

            LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

            Under president John Spanos and GM Tom Telesco, the Chargers have gone with the integrated approach--using third parties and having coaches and scouts responsible for data in their own areas--rather than hiring a full-blown analytics staff. As Telesco explains, both the team's approach overall and where analytics stand within it are "always evolving."

            Comment


            • #7
              Actually, I totally disagree with PFF. Football has been way ahead in analytics. Football teams have used systematic film study long before it was fashionable in other sports. NFL teams have been doing extensive film study since the 1950's. Even before that, guys like Steve Belicheik got into the coaching end of things by going to scout next week's opponent in person. That is a systematic way of uncovering new knowledge.

              As far as using statistics for decision making, the NFL will always be behind, but that is just the nature of the beast. Baseball as an activity lends itself to statistical analysis. That is because you have a much more limited # of things going on at one time. One hitter vs one pitcher, and then the fielding is only an issue when the player makes contact with the ball. Football is never going to be that neat, so why would you even attempt to use the same tools.

              I liken it to how different sciences do their analysis. Some do a lot of statistics-driven analysis, like with drug trials. Other, typically physical sciences do relatively little in the way of statistical analysis. Businesses have been able to use the same sorts of analytics as money ball, in large part because they are looking at fairly simple relationships and are willing to generalize a good deal more. Football is going to be different because it is a different set of problems.

              Ultimately the thing teams really have to do is get better at asking the questions. That is where it all starts.

              I do think the NFL made a pretty big mistake when they went out and started designing the NEXGEN GPS tracking based numerical products. I mean, it's super cool in a general sense, and they will probably find a use for it, but unless someone had specific things in mind for that type of data, why start collecting it? It is data in search of a problem. When they had the contest last year to try and find uses for the data they were collecting, you pretty much knew they fucked up.

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by Xenos View Post

                This is what I could find about our team. Granted this was two years ago so things could have changed dramatically since then:
                https://www.si.com/mmqb/2017/06/28/n...nning-charting
                Good find X.
                John Spanos.
                Brilliant !!

                We play modern defensive football...with a few old fashioned wrinkles.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Personally I hate the Saber Metrics in Baseball and I hate it in football as well.

                  Ill explain, the metrics in of themselves are very good and it can really help but it can be a real albatross around your neck as well. Take Baseball, as a lifelong Dodger fan I have watched Sabermetrics take away a WS title two years ago against the Astros and watched it turn our manager into an idiot. If you live with the metrics as Roberts and the Dodgers do it makes you lazy as a manager/coach. If you use it to supplement your decision making then its pretty good. In baseball the metrics will bare out pretty well over 162 games but come playoffs they will always stab you in the back like Roberts found out. I find myself yelling at the TV for Roberts to take his eyes off the spreadsheet and watch the game. Too often in a 7 game series the metrics which do not and cannot account for someone getting hot or in a slump a manager will make a move that defies logic like last year Roberts pulled out a red hot David Frieze who was 2-2 with a homer and a double and was hitting like .400 for the series and put in a left handed catcher that had good number vs righties but was in a slump hitting under .100. Of course it did not work but that is an example of only going by metrics and closing your eyes to what is actually going on in the game. The best managers/coaches use metrics but do not allow them to override their game sense.

                  That is my biggest pet peeve with the metrics.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by FoutsFan View Post
                    Personally I hate the Saber Metrics in Baseball and I hate it in football as well.

                    Ill explain, the metrics in of themselves are very good and it can really help but it can be a real albatross around your neck as well. Take Baseball, as a lifelong Dodger fan I have watched Sabermetrics take away a WS title two years ago against the Astros and watched it turn our manager into an idiot. If you live with the metrics as Roberts and the Dodgers do it makes you lazy as a manager/coach. If you use it to supplement your decision making then its pretty good. In baseball the metrics will bare out pretty well over 162 games but come playoffs they will always stab you in the back like Roberts found out. I find myself yelling at the TV for Roberts to take his eyes off the spreadsheet and watch the game. Too often in a 7 game series the metrics which do not and cannot account for someone getting hot or in a slump a manager will make a move that defies logic like last year Roberts pulled out a red hot David Frieze who was 2-2 with a homer and a double and was hitting like .400 for the series and put in a left handed catcher that had good number vs righties but was in a slump hitting under .100. Of course it did not work but that is an example of only going by metrics and closing your eyes to what is actually going on in the game. The best managers/coaches use metrics but do not allow them to override their game sense.

                    That is my biggest pet peeve with the metrics.
                    I totally understand what you're talking about. It's about the balance. You can't rely solely on it but you can't ignore the advantages that it may provide either. It's that annoying tightrope line that everyone team has to walk. Someone like Belichick seems to know how to walk it very well.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Some possible examples of the benefits of analytics:
                      https://www.theringer.com/nfl/2018/1...ics-revolution
                      The new information can also help teams simplify play-calling, like going for it on fourth down more often. The Eagles won the Super Bowl in part because of their aggressiveness in such situations--and in part because they went for two-point conversions when it was mathematically smart to do so. Analytics are not new to football, but this depth of knowledge is. The Eagles have had an analytics department for nearly two decades. "We confirmed," said Joe Banner, the former Eagles president who helped set up the department, "that there's a competitive advantage in analytics in a league that is structured to prevent you from having a competitive advantage."
                      Sharp is in high demand because he can help answer a question vexing front offices: Which stats matter? He became interested in how teams win games when he was in college and became convinced of two things, both of which would foreshadow the modern NFL. The first is that an offensive emphasis on passing correlated to wins. The second is more complicated than it sounds. Sharp found that third-down efficiency, long the obsession of announcers and old-school coaches, was not the key to an effective offense. He found that it was better for teams to scrap third downs entirely and move the chains by gaining the necessary yardage on first and second down.

                      "Announcers love to say, 'This team is 10-of-13 on third down,' and there's never any comparison to early-down success," Sharp said. In his view, teams should run the ball on first down much less than they do. This revelation came to him in the late 2000s, as he watched quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady at their peaks.

                      "I don't think their strategy was to avoid third down, but I think there was just more aggressiveness. It's about calling efficient plays," Sharp said. "You always hear TV announcers, it drives me crazy, they'll say on second-and-short, 'Good time to take a shot down the field,' and there's a lot of risk in that. The interception rate is higher than it is on a regular play, the success rate converting it is low. Run a play that gets you the first down and take a shot on the next first-and-10 if you want."

                      There is some evidence that teams are coming around to Sharp's ideas about early-down aggressiveness. The leaguewide yards per attempt average on first down is 7.4, up from 7.1 in 2017. On second down, it's 7, up from 6.5 last year. On third down, yards per attempt has actually dipped slightly, from 6.2 in 2017 to 6.0 now. This season, the Rams and Chiefs lead the NFL in first downs, yet are 26th and 31st, respectively, in third-down attempts. Sharp pointed to the Chargers as a team that did not pass enough on first down and did not call efficient plays on early downs last year. This season, Philip Rivers's yards per attempt average on first down has climbed from 8.1 to 9.7; the 11-3 Chargers are enjoying their best season in years.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Xenos View Post
                        Some possible examples of the benefits of analytics:
                        https://www.theringer.com/nfl/2018/1...ics-revolution

                        Exactly, context matters. You also have to not suppress or deny what your eyes are telling you either. If you are going against your gut and what is happening in a game just because the metrics are telling you to then you are making the wrong call.

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