Introduction to football’s advanced metrics

Here at Baltimore Sports and Life, we strive to take analysis to the next level. The folks who cover the Orioles here at BSL are well versed and excel in using SABRmetrics in their analytics. We go more in depth with our breakdowns here which is what sets us apart.

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Thanks to places like Pro Football Focus and Football Outsiders, advanced metrics are starting to work their way into the football world as well and it’s time that we jump on board. Sure it is going to face criticism and folks will be hasty in discounting the new school ways of thinking. That’s exactly what Bill James went through years ago when he discovered his way of analyzing baseball.

It’s time we start initiating some of these new school statistics into the fold when we analyze games, players, and projections. The most important thing I ask everyone to keep in mind, is to keep an open mind. While football and baseball metrics might as well be apples and oranges, both of which are just another tool for your analyzing pleasure. Advanced metrics are not the end of all debates.

Football statistics we are used to seeing, like completion percentage, don’t exactly tell the whole story. That’s where an advanced metric comes into play. If a QB hits a wide open receiver five times in the numbers, and the receiver is Braylon Edwards (meaning he drops them all) then the QB’s numbers suffer. If he spikes the ball three times in a two minute drill, it counts against his completion percentage. Should it?

That’s why there is Accuracy Percentage. Accuracy Percentage counts all completed passes, dropped passes, and doesn’t take into account the spike/clock play, “hit-as-threw” or throw aways when the QB is flushed from the pocket and avoids losing yards by taking a sack.

An example from Pro Football Focus: Kurt Warner’s 2008 completion percentage of 67.1% was bumped to an Accuracy Percentage of 79.3% thanks to 35 dropped passes being awarded back to him, 12 throwaways and three spikes being marked off his record, and a combination of 33 other batted or ‘hit-as-threw’ efforts being counted out.

Think of it as how accurate a QB is when he gets a throw off in the direction of a receiver. You can also analyze a QB’s Accuracy Percentage on passes of different lengths and parts of the field, and when he’s under pressure.

New from Pro Football Focus is Play Action Passing, to see who uses it the most and how effective they are with it. Also Time In Pocket which measures how fast a QB gets rid of the ball, QB rating when he lets it fly under 2.6 seconds and over 2.6 seconds, and how long it takes a QB to decide to tuck it and run.

Those are the ones that focus on the QB. What is appealing to some folks, like me, who are new to the advanced metrics, is that it is pretty simple. Cut and dry.  Here are some of the other ones that I find most appealing, and how you might say, “user friendly” like the Accuracy Percentage. These will be some of the ones I’ll work on trying to include more of in Ravens analysis.

Running backs – Elusive Rating takes into account how many missed tackles he forces, and yards after contact. Seems like a score in the 80’s is great, and CJ Spiller notched a 94.6 rating last season. Then you have Breakaway Percentage which tells you who the home run threats are. Who has the most big play potential? It’s the percentage of total yards gained on runs of over 15 yards. 40% makes you a threat, while Chris Johnson notched a 50.4% in 2009, Darren Sproles with 52.4% in 2011, and Adrian Peterson with 56.5% of his rushing yards coming on rushes of 15 yards or more.

Receivers – Drop Rate measures who has the best and worst in the game. It’s a percentage of dropped passes on catchable balls. The worst offenders drop over 20% of these passes, with Early Doucet leading the pack in 2012, with a 21.2% Drop Rate. Then there is WR Rating, which to put it simply is the QB rating when targeting a specific receiver. In 2010, Peyton Manning had a 143.4 rating when throwing to Austin Collie. In 2011, Aaron Rodgers posted 150.2 in the direction of Jordy Nelson. Last year’s leader was Phillip Rivers to Danario Alexander at 134.1. Slot Performance will be one Ravens fans should pay attention to this season. It is yards per route run out of the slot. The same stat is used for CB who line up in the nickel on slot receivers, and measure opposing QB rating on those plays. In 2011, QBs notched just a 36.8 rating when Nnamdi Asomugha lined up in the nickel (107 snaps).

Blocking – Pass Blocking Efficiency measures the total amount of “QB disruptions” allowed by a player compared to the total snaps  in pass blocking they take. Sacks are however weighted heavier than hurries on this scale where a 100 rating is perfect. The elite pass blockers rate in the 97 range.

Defense – Pass Rushing Productivity is a score based on pressure generated on the QB by a player. All sacks, hits and hurries go into the calculations, with the best edge rushers scoring in the 13 to 15 range. Cameron Wake led the league in 2012 with a 13.1 PRP Score. Run Stopping Percentage focuses on stopping the runner where it matters most. Within 40% of required 1st down yardage, 60% of required 2nd down yardage, and on all 3rd and 4th downs. Basically they are tackles that prevent offensive success. League leaders are in the 12-15% range. There is also Tackling Efficiency which is simply tackles made per missed tackle. Pro Football Focus also dives deep into Coverage per Snap. How many yards per snap did the defender allow, how many catches per snap did he allow, and how many times did the QB target the receiver that defender was covering. It’s a way to clearly see which defenders the QBs are staying away from, and which DBs are seeing the most action and making plays.

The folks at Pro Football Focus really know their stuff, and they watch every snap of every game, over and over again. They are not the stereotypical “computer nerds” that people seem to falsely associate with advanced metricians.

For more on advanced metrics in football, give a listen to our guests Gordon McGuinness and Steve Palazzolo of PFF on previous episodes of Ravens Rap. (Episodes 23 and 24 respectively).

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About the author


Mike Randall   

Ravens Analyst

Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. With BSL, Mike Co-Hosts Ravens Rap weekly with Matt Jergensen. Mike has appeared as a guest on 1370AM.


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