A Better Box Score: Simple Ways to Improve the Basic Game Recap

Box scores are intended to give a snapshot of games, and, for the most part, they work. If I look at the box score for West Virginia’s 70 to 63 victory over Baylor, I have a pretty good inkling of what kind of game it was; similarly if I look at the box score of Auburn’s infamous 3-2 win over Mississippi State. But there’s an awful lot I can’t tell from those box scores. Mississippi State had 38 rushing yards, but was that because their running game was stoned or because they took too many sacks? West Virginia and Baylor combined for over 1,000 yards passing, but were those short passes receivers took the distance or long ones down field?

Run or pass? Or neither?

Run or pass? Or neither?

I’m against overwhelming the classic box score with a variety of so-called advanced statistics. I’m a fan of these and I think they are great, but the box score is not the place for unpronounceable acronyms. So below is a non-exhaustive list of very basic, very simple, hopefully very clear changes I think would greatly improve the quality of the traditional box score.

  • Sack Yards: This is an easy one, and is unique only to college rather than the NFL, but there’s no reason that sacks should count against rushing yards. It makes quarterback rushing yards extremely difficult to decipher, especially in the age of the dual-threat quarterback, and often makes passing look more productive than it is in reality. (It also penalizes quarterbacks who do the smart thing, and throw the ball away instead of taking sacks.)
  • Tackles for Loss: Sack yards should come out of passing but all box scores should also have a simple table of negative plays as its own stand alone category. You can tell a lot about offensive and defensive styles based on the number of negative plays.
  • Completions Behind the Line: Bubble screens, rocket screens, now screens, touch passes and swing passes are an increasingly large part of offenses, and, given that these plays are nominally forward passes but are typically “packaged” with running plays, they really should be their own quasi-run/pass category. (In college and high school in particular, the rules for linemen downfield are entirely different depending on whether the pass is completed behind or past the line of scrimmage, thus further arguing for different treatment.) Call it the Percy Harvin/Tavon Austin category of plays which “all-purpose” players typically thrive on. The other goal is to remove these plays from traditional passing categories (though I think it is fair to count incompletions against the quarterback), to make passing statistics more purely a measure of downfield passing.

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Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs Top Passing Concepts (Shallow, Stick, Sail/Flood) With All-22 Film

Very interesting clips showing Mark Richt’s Georgia Bulldogs’ top passing concepts, with all-22 game film; specifically his shallow cross series and the stick and sail/flood concepts.

Of course, Richt has previously done many clinics on his shallow cross series. It was probably the staple concept of the old fast break offenses he was a part of at Florida State. A clip of one of those is below.

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Stanford HC David Shaw: Can Football Change the World?

Very interesting TEDx talk by Stanford head coach David Shaw:

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You’ll find lots of good stuff in the shop.

Tim Tebow’s Last Chance

I watched Tim Tebow play before I had any idea who he was. I occasionally feel oddly fortunate for that fact, as very few people can say the same. Since at least the time he was a freshman at Florida, his reputation — really, his mythos — has preceded him: from heavily hyped Florida recruit to Heisman winner to on-campus living legend, and then to shocking first round draft pick to fan (and Skip Bayless favorite) to New York Jets sideshow, it’s become effectively impossible to watch Tebow play without also seeing the incredible amount of hype and baggage that follows him. This talented but flawed quarterback — born to Christian missionary parents in the Philippines, raised in Florida and, for a time, the face of football’s spread offense and read-option revolutions — has come to embody alternatively the dreams and nightmares of so many football fans.

Simpler times

Simpler times

In 2013 one therefore can’t simply “put on tape of Tim Tebow” and evaluate him as a player. Instead, in what may be his one truly great skill, any attempt to evaluate Tim inevitably results in something else: you end up also evaluating yourself, whether you realize it or not. Include me in this, too.

But in 2005, on the recommendation of one of my coaching buddies, I taped a game Tebow played in, without knowing who he was. As high school football has gotten more successful — and commercial — there’s been a rise in featured “matchup” games set up by promoters and marketed to fans as well as TV networks. This game, between Hoover High School of Alabama, and Nease High School in Florida, was a made-for-TV concoction designed to pit the most high profile team in Alabama against the most high profile high school quarterback in Florida — and maybe the country. My friend recommended taping it fundamentally because of the offenses: Hoover, under then coach Rush Probst, was a “client” of now-Cal offensive coordinator Tony Franklin’s “System” and had ridden it to several Alabama state titles in recent years. Nease, meanwhile, had exploded into one of the most explosive teams in the country using a kind of hybrid spread offense which combined zone reads with downfield passing to average close to 50 points a game. (While one might wonder how much you can learn from watching a high school game, remember that this was 2005 and we’re still talking about both of those offensive systems today.)

When I began watching the game two things became clear very quickly: Hoover was the far superior team at essentially every position, but the Tebow kid was basically carrying his team. Nease lost convingly, 50-29, but Tebow racked up over 422 yards of offense, including 398 through the air, and could’ve had 500 yards if his receivers would’ve avoided some costly drops. I don’t much care for recruiting, but Tebow — about whom I knew nothing before I began watching — jumped out at me to the point where I took some scouting notes on him, notes which I recently dug up:

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Chip Kelly on Designing an Offense

When I was hiring staff, I wanted to hire a lot of smart people. Then let’s sit together as a group and say, ‘Alright, what did you do in the quick game? How do we want to do it in the quick game? This is what we did here. How did you call it in Cleveland, (offensive coordinator) Pat (Shurmur and defensive coordinator) Bill (Davis)?’ (Wide receivers coach) Bobby (Bicknell), came from the Buffalo Bills: ‘How did you do it?’ How did (offensive line coach) Jeff Stoutland do it in Alabama? And then we came up with what is the best way for the 2013 Eagles to run it. And we did it in every phase: the screen game, the quick game, the drop back game, the run game, all those things. What’s our two minute offense going to look like? It’s a collaboration from everybody we put together on our staff. And everybody has a say, and we’ll all talk it through, and then we’ll, as a group, decide on what is the best thing moving forward.

That’s from Chip Kelly’s most recent interview post practice. Most so-called innovations are the result of a bunch of guys sitting in a room trying to figure out if what they are doing makes sense. Do it enough — and thoughtfully enough — and focus on what your players can do and how it all fits together, and the wrinkles and interesting stuff will take care of themselves.

Alex Gibbs Denver Broncos (Terrell Davis) Outside Zone Cut-Ups and Explanation

As always, very good (somewhat old) stuff from Alex Gibbs on the outside zone running play. Note that Gibbs recently rejoined the Broncos as a consultant.

Of course there’s a lot more where that came from. (Hat tip to togfootball.) Also try eight hours of Alex Gibbs talking with Dan Mullen, Steve Addazio and others at the University of Florida several years back:

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New Grantland: What Drafting Matt Barkley Means for Chip Kelly’s Plans for the Eagles

It’s up over at Grantland:

Kelly’s staff in Philadelphia further supports this view. Kelly said he wanted offensive and defensive coordinators with NFL coordinator experience, and in Pat Shurmur and Billy Davis, that’s what he got. Throughout this offseason, Kelly has made clear that he wants the Eagles to be something of a laboratory for football ideas, whether it be X’s and O’s or the science of peak athletic performance.

But this line of thinking still has to be tempered with a bit of realism. Kelly is clearly bright, committed, and open-minded, but the idea that he can step into the NFL and runany offense — spread, pro-style, West Coast, Coryell, Wing-T — seems implausible. He shredded college football running a very specific attack based on very specific principles, and the mathematical advantage he gained from having his quarterback be at least some kind of a threat to run was a central tenet. He might be able to adapt his offense to his players and coaches, but this is not the same thing as continuing and growing what worked at Oregon.

Read the whole thing.

Paragraph of the Day: Cal Bears/Packaged Plays Edition

The highlight of [Cal's] practice for me was during the team periods I was standing about 5 yards away from Tony Franklin. I was right next to him so I could hear each play call. What was slightly shocking to me was how often they attach quick game concepts on the backside of runs. Nearly every single run play there is a quick game or screen component tied on to the backside, and sometimes routes are tagged frontside as well. They call quick concept backside so often that they actually have to call/signal for the backside to BLOCK when they just want a designed run play. The hot new thing is combo [a.k.a "packaged"] plays … 2 in 1 or even 3 in 1 plays… EVERY PLAY is a 2 in 1.

Read the whole thing here.

Smart Links – QB Accuracy, Hook and Lateral, Free Shipping, Star Wars, Evaluating OLine, Wittgenstein – 3/8/2013

Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said that accuracy in a quarterback is overrated. Seriously.

- ShakintheSouthland on the hook and lateral.

- Promo in the Smart Football Shop: Use the code “SPRINGTIME” to get free shipping in the Smart Football Shop.

- College football’s best individual passing games since 2005. Also check out the best passing seasons since 2005.

- What was neoliberalism?

- How Disney bought Lucasfilm. I enjoyed this; Bloomberg Businessweek has turned into a surprisingly good magazine.

- Assembling the “billing block” as the bottom of movie posters.

- Matt Waldman on the disconnect between evaluating and drafting talent.

- Bruce Feldman always has interesting takes, this time on the low road many star NFL offensive linemen took to success:

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