Jan 29, 2008
As some of you may know, I’m not a big numbers guy. I certainly understand the power of some statistics, and I do find many stats to be very revealing. The main problem I have with “numbers people” based on my experiences is that these individuals often put too much weight and emphasis on the numbers. The numbers really tell only a part of the story. Sometimes, they don’t tell a story at all.
I get especially perturbed when we get e-mails following a week of NFL action from people who are dismayed and confused as to why a certain player didn’t fulfill his expectations and didn’t meet his projections. It’s as if these people believe there is actually a mathematical formula that we can plug in that should result in a projection for the week that will be at least 90% accurate.
The problem is; it’s still football.
Certainly, crunching the numbers is necessary, and it can be effective and lead to accuracy when projecting stats. But analyzing the numbers is only one small aspect of projecting weekly stats. Analyzing the actual player matchups is another.
But ultimately, we’re all at the mercy of the football Gods.
That point was pounded home to me a few weeks ago when I spent the afternoon at NFL Films watching the coach’s tape of the Wild Card games with Ron Jaworski and Greg Cosell, who is the Senior Producer of the NFL Matchup show on ESPN. I’ve known these guys for a while now, and it’s great watching the tape with them not only because you can learn so much, but also because they hold nothing back. Good old Jaws is very politically correct on the air, especially on Monday Night Football, yet he does offer a lot of great insight. But when he knows you, and you’re sitting in his office watching tape, you really get great insight into what he’s thinking and what he’s seeing on tape.
Speaking of the tape, while watching it, it really put the task of analyzing the NFL on a game-by-game basis into perspective. Quite frankly, after watching some key plays from the Steeler-Jaguar game over and over and over again, for example, I’m amazed we’re as accurate predicting this stuff as we are. There are so many elements that are involved in the offensive execution of a play, or a drive, or a game, and of course also the defensive execution. The statistical data can only give so much insight. Hell, you can only assume so much based on the actual matchups, such as the WRs vs the CBs, the o-lines vs. the d-lines, etc. These are only minute details compared to the fact that it’s football.
Basically, one lineman misses a block, one defender slips for a second, or one official misses a key call, and you can throw a lot of the pre-game statistical and matchup-oriented analysis out the window.
A great example of what I’m talking about came in the 2nd quarter of that Steeler-Jaguar game. I liked WR Santonio Holmes to make a big play in that game (he did score), and he almost made one, although you wouldn’t know it from watching the game on TV. In fact, you probably didn’t know that the key Pick Six by Rashean Mathis was a second or two away from being a long TD to Holmes the other way. On the play, it was determined that the Jag defense and Mathis completely baited Ben Roethlisberger into making the throw. Watching it on TV, it looked like a horrible throw, but after watching the play 10 times and knowing what Jaws and Cosell know in terms of hardcore football stuff, they came to the conclusion that they anticipated the route and Mathis’ position baited Big Ben into making the throw. Mathis knew it was coming, and that’s how he was able to confidently step in front of the receiver and make the pick. Had he been a second or two late, however, Holmes probably takes the pass and takes it to the house, and our prediction of Holmes likely making a big play would have come true.
This is the kind of hardcore football stuff that comes into play much more than what the stats say, or even what the actual player matchups indicate. This is what I’m talking about when I often cry “It’s still football” when the unexpected happens.
And by the way, with 1:56 left in that game and the Jags down by 1 facing a 4th and 2, David Garrard scrambled up the middle for 32 yards to the Steeler 11 to set up the game-winning FG. Garrard had rushed for less than 10 yards in six of his previous seven games, so we projected him to rush for only 6 yards that week. He got 32 on that one play, but it shouldn’t have counted. Steeler fans won’t be happy to hear this, but Pittsburgh got completely hosed on that play because not only was DE James Harrison held/taken down, DT Casey Hampton was basically tackled on the play, so Garrard’s run should have been called back, and they might not have hit that FG. Garrard still would have exceeded our minimal projections, but he should have had 26 yards rushing, not 58.
I’m not sure how much value this lesson learned has for fantasy players, but at the very least, if you’re a person who typically pulls his or her hair out due to the events that transpire on the field each weekend, perhaps you can take heart and put things into perspective.
It’s still football.