Sunday, December 06, 2009

Shotgun to the Head: Ignoring the Stats Leads to Failure

First off, I'd like to introduce myself to all the Bob's Blog readers out there. My name is Josh Hixson. I'm a writer by trade here in Dallas (mostly non-sports stuff) and have been eating, sleeping and breathing football since the age of seven. Bob has graciously allowed me to share a few of my hot sports opinions on this here blog and for that I am extremely appreciative.

Now for the good stuff: If you follow Bob on Twitter (@bobanddan) then you probably noticed someone ask him earlier in the week if Tony Romo would be as effective a quarterback as Drew Brees has been this year in Sean Payton's offense. Bob answered with a question: something to the effect of "Do you think Tony Romo is as accurate as Drew Brees?"

The implied meaning there is that Brees is a smart and efficient passer, while Romo is known for being a Favre-esque gunslinger.

Is Brees just that much better than Romo that he can lead his team to victory every week with the accuracy and strength of his arm?

The short answer is not really.

When you look at the two quarterbacks using passing stats from Football Outsiders (the most usable and accurate out there IMHO) Brees is ranked higher in both DYAR (5th) and DVOA (2nd) than Romo (DYAR 9th, DVOA 10th).

Their simple explanation for this complicated calculation of a Quarterback's passing ability is explained simply this way: "DYAR means a quarterback with more total value. DVOA means a quarterback with more value per play."

Comparatively Brady, Manning and Favre are in the top five of both DVOA and DYAR this year through week 12.

But when you look at interceptions — a commonly used quarterback accuracy indicator — it may surprise some that Drew Brees (9 INTs), Peyton Manning (11 INTs) and Tom Brady (8 INTs) all have thrown more interceptions so far this season than Tony Romo (7 INTs). My point here is that if you only base QB accuracy on number of interceptions, then you're not getting the whole picture. What is the whole picture?: A quarterback's passing effectiveness as evidenced by DVOA and DYAR.

Now for the real shocker: When it comes to the elite passing teams in the NFL, it's less about about what the quarterback does and more about what the offensive line and offensive coordinator are doing.

It's also a common misconception that the running game sets up the passing game. Running the ball will only help the passing game if the formations, motions and backfield movements look similar for both running plays and passing plays because the defense keys on tendencies in formation and backfield movement. It's why Peyton Manning (Manning has the option to run or pass on every play) is such a dangerous play caller at the line of scrimmage and it's why Jason Garrett's ridiculous use of the shotgun is stifling the Cowboy's passing game.

If you can't get positive yardage running the ball out of shotgun, then you're telegraphing every play you run out of that formation. The numbers don't lie in this regard either.

New Orleans and Dallas are one and two respectively when it comes to run blocking, according to Football Outsiders. But when it comes to pass protection, New Orleans is 5th with 15 sacks given up through week 12 and Dallas is 19 with 25 sacks. Dallas' O-line aren't terrible pass blockers. It's just that their coordinator doesn't believe in the advantage of surprise.

When you fail to run play-action passes, or use formations that are friendly to the PAP, then you force your quarterback to deal with a defense that knows exactly what is coming when you set up in shotgun.

Running forces defensive lineman to fill a gap and occupy that space as the play develops in order to be effective, while passing the ball allows the d-line to drive straight for the quarterback with reckless abandon, depending on their assignment (if they aren't spying or dropping back into coverage).

And the statistics bare this out: Pat Yasinkas' Oct. 15 post on how Drew Brees has a 127.1 passer rating in the shotgun formation is no fluke. Yasinkas notes that at the time the Saints were only using shotgun 24.72 percent of the time, or 6th lowest in the league.

Conversely, in the week 10 loss to the Giants, Jason Garrett called for the shotgun formation (S11) 37 out of a total 58 plays.

When you abuse the shotgun you are asking to be blitzed, hurried, sacked and intercepted. It's like chumming a shark-infested pool before jumping in to swim a lap. The odds aren't with you that you're going to survive that lap whole.

As I write this, the Cowboys are losing to the New York football giants 31-17 with more than five minutes left in the in the 4th quarter. Jason Garrett has the Cowboys in the shotgun formation for the umpteenth time today and even Troy Aikman says on the air that Garrett will call a pass play.

The odds are against the Cowboys winning this game and in every other game when they run the shotgun religiously. Why Jason Garrett fails to recognize this could be a complete disregard for the stats or a general lack of faith in the play fakes. Either way, if this continues course it will lead to Garrett's labeling as a failure in the NFL.

Follow me on Twitter at @J_Hix

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