LaMichael James, unbalanced sets, and Chip Kelly’s gashing of Stanford

It’s up over at the Grantland Blog:

That Oregon coach Chip Kelly has a plethora of spread and read concepts in his offense is by now well-known. And Saturday evening against Stanford was no different. Kelly has often remarked that it sometimes takes him a couple of series to tease out how the opponent wants to defend him. At that point, his up-tempo offense usually explodes.

Against Stanford, Kelly repeatedly went to his basic zone-read run game but with three receivers to one side and a tight end to that same side — an unbalanced set. Because Kelly forces the defense to cover his three receivers with three defenders, or else his quarterback is instructed to throw a bubble screen to one receiver while the other two block, he forces the defense to make decisions in how it will defend the inside runs.


Read the whole thing. Highlight of the play after the jump.


Simple Rating System: The Oklahoma State Cowboys rise to top the rankings, with a caveat

By now, you understand how the Simple Rating System works. Last week, Stanford and Boise State were top six teams with BCS aspirations. Following home losses, both teams can still take pride in how far they’ve come: a second straight 12-1 season will be viewed as a disappointment.

As always, thanks to Dr. Peter Wolfe for providing the game scores. Here are the SRS results through week 10. The SRS places equal weight on each game and cares more about margin of victory than records (which is why it’s a predictive system). As a result, Stanford (5th last week) and Boise State (7th last week) are still top 10 teams, as is 5-5 Texas A&M. All three of those teams are 16+ favorites this week.

Rk   Team                 Conf   G   MOV      SOS      SRS      Rec
1.   Oklahoma St          B12   10   22.7     44.7     67.3    10-0
2.   Alabama              SEC   10   23.2     43.0     66.2     9-1
3.   LSU                  SEC   10   23.0     43.0     66.0    10-0
4.   Oklahoma             B12    9   20.6     45.5     66.0     8-1
5.   Oregon               P12   10   21.1     43.2     64.2     9-1
6.   Stanford             P12   10   22.0     40.0     62.0     9-1
7.   Wisconsin            B10   10   23.3     36.6     59.9     8-2
8.   Boise St             MWC    9   19.9     38.9     58.8     8-1
9.   Michigan             B10   10   15.2     41.0     56.2     8-2
10.  Texas A&M            B12   10    6.6     47.9     54.5     5-5
11.  Notre Dame           IND   10   10.7     43.0     53.7     7-3
12.  Texas                B12    9    8.7     44.7     53.4     6-3
13.  Georgia              SEC   10   13.7     39.7     53.3     8-2
14.  Missouri             B12   10    5.5     47.5     53.0     5-5
15.  Houston              CUS   10   26.0     26.8     52.8    10-0
16.  Arkansas             SEC   10   14.3     38.4     52.7     9-1
17.  Southern Cal         P12   10    9.0     43.5     52.5     8-2
18.  TCU                  MWC   10   15.1     36.7     51.8     8-2
19.  Nebraska             B10   10    9.9     41.8     51.7     8-2
20.  Arizona St           P12   10    9.8     41.8     51.6     6-4
21.  Michigan St          B10   10    9.9     41.5     51.4     8-2
22.  South Carolina       SEC   10    8.5     42.3     50.8     8-2
23.  Florida St           ACC   10   14.9     35.6     50.5     7-3
24.  Kansas St            B12   10    4.5     45.9     50.3     8-2
25.  Virginia Tech        ACC   10   12.1     36.9     49.0     9-1

Grantland: How and why Jim Harbaugh eliminated sight-adjustments in the 49ers passing game to make it go

It’s up over at Grantland:

A key reason for this is that Harbaugh has made the passing game easier for Smith, particularly when it comes to beating the blitz. Of course, coaches often say they are “simplifying the playbook,” but Harbaugh has been able to do it coherently and in a way that actually aids his quarterback’s ability to succeed rather than simply removes options.

One reason for this is that many NFL plays simply duplicate each other; you only need so many ways to throw the same pass to the flat or run off tackle. You might as well perfect the plays you have rather than keep adding new ones every week. But Harbaugh has also changed the entire theory behind how Smith and his offense approach the blitz, and this is where Smith’s greatest improvement has come. That’s because Harbaugh eliminated “sight adjustments” from the 49ers playbook. Indeed, this change has been so successful that, according to Pro Football Focus, Smith’s completion percentage, quarterback rating, average yards per attempt, and touchdown-to-interception ratio against blitzes have all been much better than Smith’s historical averages, but also better than his performance on all other downs.

Read the whole thing. Video diagrams after the jump (and in the article).


Frank Gore to break 60-year old team record

If you take a second, and are spotted a guess or two, you could probably guess the career leader in rushing yards for every team. Some are immediately obvious, as is the case for franchises like Dallas, Cleveland, Detroit or Chicago. A couple might take a few guesses (Tampa Bay? Philadelphia? Arizona?) while others have been recently set (St. Louis, Green Bay and Carolina). But did you know that the oldest team rushing record belongs in San Francisco?

I'm fast, but am I faster than "The Jet"?

Jason Lisk wrote a fabulous piece on Joe “The Jet” Perry of the 49ers two years ago, highlighting not just his success but the struggles he endured in his post-playing days. Sadly, Perry died in April, as a result of complications from dementia. Perry is about to be in the news again soon: Frank Gore recently passed Roger Craig for second all-time on the 49ers career rushing list, and he is now just 149 yards from topping Perry. Of the 32 franchises, no team has seen one man hold its rushing record for as long as Perry has with the 49ers. In fact, since the team entered the NFL, no other man has ever been its career rushing leader.

Perry joined San Francisco in 1948, just two years after the color line had been re-broken in football and only one year after Jackie Robinson did the same in baseball. He became the first black player to play for the 49ers, but it didn’t take long for him to win over teammates and fans. In Perry’s first professional game — on his first very touch — he raced over 50 yards for a touchdown. In 1948, the Browns and the 49ers were the class of the All-America Football Conference, a rival football league to the NFL. That season, Cleveland and San Francisco went a combined 27-0 against the rest of the league. One of the stars for the 49ers was rookie Joe “the Jet” Perry, a fullback who led the league with 10 rushing touchdowns and averaged 7.3 yards per carry. In the season finale, Perry rushed 9 times for 160 yards against the rival Los Angeles Dons. But the Browns won their two head-to-head meetings, 14-7 and 31-28, respectively, to secure their place as the league’s premier team.

The following year Perry led the league in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and yards per carry; he also played a big part in one of the biggest games in AAFC history. On October 9, 1949, Perry rushed 16 times for 155 yards and scored two touchdowns in a win over Cleveland, including having one of the game’s highlights on a 27-yard, one-handed catch and run score. San Francisco won the game 58-26, the first loss for the Browns in 30 games and two calendar years.


Grantland: LSU and the Speed Option

It’s now up over at the Grantland blog:

The best and most crucial example of the speed option in the game came in overtime. The play-by-play simply refers to it as a 15-yard rush by Michael Ford, but the play essentially ended the game, as Alabama had just missed a field goal and, after the run, LSU’s field goal — and thus its victory — became inevitable. On this play, LSU showed a particularly interesting wrinkle. Not only did it run the speed option but it actually lined up in an unbalanced formation, and then ran away from the extra blockers. As can be seen from the image above, LSU put the tight end, H-back (a tight end lined up off the line) and a wide receiver all to the right side of the formation. To the left, the Tigers had only the offensive guard and the tackle. Alabama’s adjustment was to overload the offense’s right side, to the point that it was undermanned to the weak side.

Read the whole thing.

The NFL doesn’t want you to have access to the “All 22″ film

The NFL doesn’t want “All-22″ game film — the “eye-in-the-sky” view that coaches use to analyze their teams and their opponents** — released to the public because “it would open players and teams up to a level of criticism far beyond the current hum of talk radio… [F]ans would jump to conclusions after watching one or two games in the All-22, without knowing the full story.”

It should be this simple

This is, of course, ridiculous. Obviously the argument doesn’t work, because if anything the All-22 would clarify the hasty conclusions fans and commentators already jump to on the basis of poor angles and little information. And even if it did open them up to criticism, so what? It’s an arbitrary game played for people’s enjoyment. If the First Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens’ ability to criticize the actions and policies of government and government actors, even during times of war — something that could potentially have a cost in human life — I should think that people who are paid millions of dollars to coach and play an arbitrary game can stand a little bit of heat. The whole thing is silly.

The proffered reason — that it would result in too much criticism — is so silly that it can’t possibly be true. But if it’s not true, then what is the real reason? I struggle with this (though I shouldn’t overlook the Occam’s razor-esque possibility that it’s simply that the people with decisionmaking authority over these kinds of things at the NFL are not intelligent, thoughtful people and do it for no real reason at all), as the only apparent conclusion is that it’s simply to insult the intelligence of fans and people who enjoy football. In short, it leaves two possibilities: first, either we really would fail to comprehend the complex array of movement on the field by twenty-two supremely athletic but human men, and thus we need the gentle paternalism of the cameraman and producer to show us, in a kind of cinematic baby talk, “See, with this close-up the quarterback throws a pretty spiral to the receiver!”; or, second, football isn’t even a game so much as it is a product to be branded in a particular way, and by restricting the All-22 the NFL can by Orwellian imagery of extreme close-ups and slow-motion shots emotionally convey to us the narratives solely how they want to in the way they want to. In either case, it’s all about controlling the message; the only question is why, and all the answers are depressing.


Simple Rating System – Week 10: Where LSU — and ‘Bama — continue to lead the pack

Last week, I discussed how the simple rating system could be an easy-to-understand and effective predictive ranking system. This week, I’ll be updating the ratings after the week 10 results, and providing an update on each conference. As always, special thanks to Dr. Wolfe who publishes the game scores for every NCAA and NAIA game each week.

The SRS assigns equal weight to each game, so by week 10, the weekly fluctuations are not significant. Still, here are the current SRS standings as of today:

Rk   Team                Conf   G   MOV      SOS      SRS      W-L
1.   LSU                  SEC   9   22.6     46.1     68.7     9-0
2.   Alabama              SEC   9   23.6     43.6     67.2     8-1
3.   Oklahoma             B12   9   20.6     45.8     66.4     8-1
4.   Oklahoma St          B12   9   20.3     45.8     66.1     9-0
5.   Stanford             P12   9   27.2     37.7     64.9     9-0
6.   Oregon               P12   9   20.6     41.5     62.1     8-1
7.   Boise St             MWC   8   23.3     37.5     60.8     8-0
8.   Wisconsin            B10   9   22.8     37.6     60.3     7-2
9.   Texas A&M            B12   9    7.3     48.2     55.5     5-4
10.  Michigan             B10   9   14.7     40.5     55.2     7-2

LSU vs. Alabama: The Zen Riddle

Can a game be great even though the quarterback play is only average (or even below average, depending on how you adjust for the competition)?

Your answer probably determines whether you thought last night was a good game or a bad one, or even whether it was fun to watch or was boring.

Should Lynn Swann be in the Hall of Fame? What do the numbers say?

As one of members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee, I appreciate Peter King’s candor when it comes to the struggles the voters face when discussing wide receivers. King has written about the wide receiver conundrum frequently, including this note a couple of weeks ago:

Hall of Fame Headache Dept.: Art Monk retired after the 1995 season with 940 catches, most in NFL history. On Sunday, Derrick Mason of Houston became the 11th player in 16 years to pass Monk. Mason had one catch in the 41-7 rout of Tennessee, giving him 941.

Larry Fitzgerald, 27, is 296 catches behind Monk. Andre Johnson, 29, is 242 behind him. We haven’t even begun with the children of the aerial generation, the receivers just starting their careers in a time of unprecedented passing.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The 44 electors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will have to define what a Hall of Fame receiver is over the next few years, because they’ll be facing an onslaught of receivers way beyond Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Isaac Bruce (1,024 receptions) or Torry Holt (920)? Or both? Hines Ward (980) or Mason (941)? And the tight end position could get similarly silly, numbers-wise. Tony Gonzalez has 289 more catches than any tight end in history.

There has to be something to separate these guys, and each voter has to search his/her conscience to judge them on more than numbers. I am one of the voters. It’ll be interesting, and perhaps maddening, to see how it unfolds.

I have several suggestions on how voters should tackle this admittedly tricky problem (here’s my article addressing the Carter/Brown/Reed conundrum), but I’ll leave further discussion of that for another day. For now, I want to examine exactly how much differently wide receivers are used today than they were 40 years ago. It’s easy to say things like “the passing game has exploded” but there’s nothing preventing us from being much more precise than that.


The Simple Rating System: Bringing order (kinda) to chaos

[Ed. Note: This is the first post by my good friend and stat guru Chase Stuart. For at least the rest of this season, Chase will be contributing his unique perspective to the site. Chase has previously contributed to the New York Times Fifth Down and the Pro-Football Reference Blog. You can also follow Chase on twitter.]

The last two seasons, I have published college football ratings using the Simple Rating System. Before explaining how the Simple Rating System (SRS) works, allow me to first explain what the SRS is trying to do (and just as importantly, what it’s not trying to do).

A want and enjoyment of numerosity

Most rating systems fall into one of two categories. A rating system could simply replicate the standings in any particular league; such a rating system would best be described as retrodoctive or explanatory. A retrodictive rating system fits the data to explain what happened in the past. The BCS computer ratings are mostly retrodictive; so are player or team ratings that give significant weight to high-leverage plays that tend to be highly random (clutch play, fumble recovery rates, etc.). An explanatory rating system tries to measure how much a team or player has accomplished in the past; it does not attempt to answer the question “what will happen next?” When Bill Parcells said “You are what your record says you are,” he’s championing retrodictive ratings. So was Rich Kotite when, coaching the 7-2 Eagles in 1994, he said to the media: “Judge me by my record.” An explanatory rating system would say that Kotite and his Eagles were doing well; but it would never have predicted that Kotite would go 4-35 over the next — and final — 39 games of his career.

The other type of rating system is a predictive system, which works as they name implies: it tries to predict the future. Here is a useful chart detailing some of the differences between the two in college football rating systems. Predictive rating systems are not very concerned with wins and losses; instead, they focus on more granular pieces of data. The best and most obvious example of a predictive rating system would be the formulas used by the folks in Vegas. Those who make point spreads aren’t disturbed if their rankings place Team A, which has “accomplished less” than Team B, higher up in their rankings. This weekend produced a useful example. No purely retrodictive rating system would put the Oklahoma Sooners ahead of the Kansas State Wildcats. Oklahoma was 6-1 but lost to a mediocre Texas Tech team; Kansas State was undefeated and had beaten some solid teams, albeit in less than thrilling fashion. Both the BCS ratings and the Associated Press’ rankings had Kansas State over Oklahoma, because those systems are designed to acknowledge accomplishments. But despite being the higher ranked team and playing at home, Kansas State was a 14-point underdog to the Sooners. And Oklahoma promptly went into Manhattan and blew out the Wildcats, 58-17.