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Where’d you get those numbers, Richard?

Have we all recovered from the trauma of this week’s Monday Night Football game? Good. Let’s take a minute and look at this Richard Justice column, whose basic thesis that Gary Kubiak and Rick Smith should be hearing the clock ticking is one with which I agree, but being a Richard Justice column says some things that make me wonder what he’s talking about. This is one:

After four years, the Texans still can’t do the basics. They can’t run, stop the run or sack the quarterback. They’re ranked 32nd, 30th and 31st in those three areas.

As it happens, the jump page for this column in the dead tree version of the Chron contains NFL team statistics on it. Going by these traditional measures – which is to say, yards per game – the Texans rank 30th in rushing offense at 87.4 yards per game, and 21st in run defense at 120.6 YPG. (Sack totals aren’t listed there.) If you prefer a less traditional approach, according to Football Outsiders, the Texans are 23rd in run defense and 30th in run offense. None of those are good ratings, but none of them line up with Justice’s numbers, either. My guess is he’s citing Cold Hard Football Facts, which has the locals ranked 32nd in yards per rushing attempt, 30th in yards per rushing attempt defensively, and 31st in percentage of negative pass plays, which covers both sacks and interceptions. On the one hand, I’m impressed that Justice knows about CHFF. On the other hand, I’m wondering why he didn’t cite them as his source, assuming that is indeed where he got those figures from.

That’s kind of a nitpicky point. I don’t think anyone disagrees that these are the Texans’ greatest areas of weakness this year, though one wonders how much of this is simply worse than expected performances from Steve Slaton and Mario Williams, who is reportedly playing through injuries. More troubling to me is this:

The Titans are a reminder that until the Texans can run and stop the run, they’re not going to win. Kubiak’s decision to be a pass-first offense is an indication of how badly he and Smith failed in other areas.

OK, I admit I’m more of a baseball stathead than a football one. I know the traditional wisdom is that running teams win while passing teams are more style than substance. But is that really true? What is the correlation between rushing or passing efficacy and winning? I’m not on firm ground here, but I will say this much. Here are the top ten teams by rushing and passing, according to all three measures, with CHFF’s rankings based on yards per rushing attempt and negative pass play percentage as above:

Rush Traditional Outsiders CHFF ======================================== 1 Titans Cowboys Titans 2 Jets Saints Cowboys 3 Panthers Jaguars Panthers 4 Dolphins Dolphins Jaguars 5 Saints Packers Saints 6 Jaguars Titans Jets 7 Giants Falcons Dolphins 8 Cowboys Eagles Eagles 9 Bengals Ravens Rams 10 Packers Patriots 49ers W-L 59-41 61-39 50-50 Pass Traditional Outsiders CHFF ======================================== 1 Colts Patriots Colts 2 Patriots Chargers Patriots 3 Texans Colts Titans 4 Cardinals Vikings Saints 5 Steelers Texans Vikings 6 Saints Saints Cardinals 7 Packers Bengals Giants 8 Giants Cardinals Broncos 9 Cowboys Steelers Falcons 10 Vikings Giants Texans W-L 73-27 74-26 69-31

W-L refers to the cumulative won-lost record for the ten teams listed. Seems pretty obvious to me which is the group to be in. Of all the top ten passing teams, only the 4-6 Titans have a losing record; the Falcons, like the Texans, are 5-5. Five of the best rushing teams (Titans, Jets, Panthers, Rams, 49ers) have losing records with three more (Ravens, Falcons, Dolphins) being 5-5. Maybe this year is a fluke, but what it suggests to me is that if anything it took Kubiak too long to realize what he had was a pass first and ask questions later team. Like I said, I don’t disagree with the general thrust of Justice’s column, but if this is his reason for criming Kubiak and Smith, I think he’s got it exactly backwards.

Oh, and just for completeness, the best and worst teams against the rush:

Rush D Traditional Outsiders CHFF ======================================== 1 Steelers Vikings Steelers 2 Bengals Steelers Ravens 3 Vikings Jaguars 49ers 4 Packers Packers Packers 5 Ravens 49ers Bengals 6 49ers Redskins Eagles 7 Cowboys Panthers Vikings 8 Cardinals Ravens Jets 9 Titans Cardinals Broncos 10 Eagles Seahawks Dolphins W-L 61-39 53-47 58-42 32 Bucs Bucs Bucs 31 Bills Rams Bills 30 Raiders Browns Texans 29 Browns Bills Rams 28 Rams Chargers Panthers 27 Chiefs Raiders Browns 26 Panthers Saints Saints 25 Redskins Panthers Falcons 24 Falcons Chiefs Chiefs 23 Bears Texans Lions W-L 28-72 38-62 34-66

Some bad, bad teams among the worst run defenders, no question about it, though the presence of the 10-0 Saints on two of the three lists (they’re 19th best by the traditional YPG measure, four places ahead of the 22nd-best Texans) should dispel the notion that you must be good against the run in order to win. Similarly, the seven teams with losing records among the best run-stoppers (Ravens, Titans, Jets, 49ers, Redskins, Panthers, Seahawks) show that being good at that is no guarantee of success. Again, this is not to say the Texans are any good at this, because they’re clearly not, but simply that they could be a team with a better record in spite of it, no matter what Richard Justice or anyone else may say.

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One Comment

  1. John says:

    very interesting stats indeed. I just like the old coach maxim “we need to score more points than our opponents which should give us a good chance of winning”