Wednesday, June 01, 2016

The 2015 Cowboys Defense - Splash Play Final Results

About 5 years ago, I was talking with some defensive-minded football sorts about the issues with statistics when it comes to that side of the ball.  The sport is based on numbers, but the exercise of any defensive player is to be 1 of 11.  Everyone do your job.  And often times, that job is a thankless effort where you take on someone so that your team-mate can make the actual play.
There is no way to change the fiber of how defense is played.  The beauty of football is that the guy with all of the big plays had plenty of help.
However, sometimes a play on defense causes a stop and it is less glamorous than a sack that the whole world notices.  So, back in 2011, because of that inspiration, I started collecting splash plays for the Cowboys defense.  
What is a splash play?  Here is a quote about Navarro Bowman from NFL Films that I enjoyed:
"He's really starting to make a lot of splash plays. We don't like those on offense. But, a splash play is when you have a big hit. Big hit on a running back. Big hit on a wide receiver. Big hit on a quarterback. Or just making a tackle for a loss. Just making that impact play is what they call a splash play. He makes a lot of those." - Davin Joseph on Navarro Bowman
So, because of that, I started asking defensive players and coaches to help identify what a splash play would be to them.  Here is what we came up with 5 years back.  What is a splash play?  
A sack, a pressure that forces a bad throw, and big hit on the QB, and a batted ball that may lead to an interception opportunity. Again, you can see how this leads to subjectivity, but a subjective breakdown is better than no breakdown at all, I have decided. In addition, a splash play will include tackles for loss, a big hit for a short gain, or a stop which is an open field tackle where a player is pulled down on 3rd down short of the marker because of an exceptional effort from a defender. An interception is clearly a splash play, but so is a defended pass that required a great effort. A major hit in the secondary could be a splash play, but I believe that the outcome of the play will determine that. Sorry, defensive backs, but standing over a guy who just caught a 15 yard pass because you think you hit him hard will not generally pass the test on this blog. So, stop doing it.
I am trying to be careful about handing out too many splash plays per game. I am trying to be picky, but not too extreme in either direction. When I log a splash play, I always put time of the game on the chart so that if you want to review the same game and challenge my ruling, you are welcome to do so. Also, if multiple players deserve recognition on a single play, we will try to see that as well. 
Basically, we are trying to assign a value to making plays on the defense. We don't want to just see sacks and interceptions. We want to see broader definitions of splash plays to assign credit to those who help the Cowboys get off the field in important situations. These rankings will not deduct for negative plays at this point. There are simply too many occasions where we are guessing, and for now, I want to avoid that for this particular idea. 
A splash play is a play that makes a positive and major difference in the game. And by keeping it all season long, we will see which defenders are play makers and which are simply warm bodies. And now, we have 5 years of Data to consider.  Since we started, the Cowboys have logged 1,186 splash plays over 80 regular season games.  The average game gives us about 14.8 splash plays.  The team results are as follows for each of the last 5 years:

Now, below, we will see the annual leader for the team for each of these 5 seasons.  You can see that in 2011 and 2012, the Cowboys had amazing years from DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and since have not had anyone with what we would describe as "amazing".  We are still trying to find context on what is a great season and what is a good season, but clearly, anything that averages 2 splashes a game for 16 games is a rare feat we have only seen a few times.

By the way, Ware had 30 more in 2012 and Spencer had 29 more in 2011.  So, back then, the 2nd best player would have won any year since.  They were really impressive together (despite the public perception of their performances at the end).  
The chart below will take all of the Cowboys who were still active in 2015 and show the 5 year trend.  Again, the first thing that jumps out during the project is that no player has even 1 splash in all 5 seasons.  Sean Lee and Orlando Scandrick would have, but they both were lost for an entire year.  Most everyone else demonstrates that the Cowboys have had plenty of turnover and that longevity is a rare trait in the present day NFL.
Also, the chart below shows that Sean Lee is the all-time splash leader and will surely be the first player to 100 splashes this season (he sits on 92).  Amazingly consistent production from Lee as the chart shows.  

Ok, now below, let's focus on 2015-only.
Here are the final standings for 2015 for the Cowboys season - 

Lawrence wins the title, by barely edging out Sean Lee (who did not play in the final game).  Greg Hardy finished with a disappointing 19.5 (hoping for much more for that trouble and cash) and then Byron Jones with a very fine rookie season.  The Cowboys definitely could have used 2014 Tyrone Crawford.  

Now, raw splash numbers are problematic because if one guy is playing 1,053 snaps like Brandon Carr while another guy is playing 307 snaps like Tyler Patmon, we cannot just look at the splash numbers to settle all debates.  That is why we thought we should find out how many snaps it takes each player to get a splash.  Here we see DeMarcus Lawrence leading the way again with a splash play every 28 snaps.  Very impressive and on pace for a 30 splash season (if he can avoid suspensions).  Meanwhile, JJ Wilcox required an absurd 182 snaps per splash.  Apples and oranges for a deep safety to be compared to a DE, but I am not sure anyone would debate against the idea that the Cowboys need more big plays from their safeties.  That is why Byron Jones is so exciting.  
f you are wondering what to compare these numbers to for context, here is the same chart from that magical 2014 season - Check JJ Wilcox in 2014.  Also, Tyrone Crawford from year to year shows his value, as well as Scandrick the play-maker.

I realize it is a lot of data, but I wanted people to have this to see the production moving forward.  Here is one last chart that is difficult to make readable, but I want to post it anyway.  It will hopefully answer the questions about "what kind of splash plays is each player getting".  You can also see the categories for the entire study here:

So, there you have it.  Leave comments below if you would like further clarifications.  Also, if you are the type to want more details about the math or where each splash occurred, you can go through each games archives on my blog and I list time and spot for every single splash in this study here.

1 comment:

Miles said...

Several things strike me:
- Look how variable Wilcox is -- 2 to 16.5 to 4.5.
- I wonder how much position correlates to PPS (with a snap minimum). Certainly in the Cowboys 2015, DLs and LBs make up most of the leaders, and I think its also true for 2014. I wonder if that is a Cowboys thing, or a league wide thing. That is, the eyeballs want to say our DBs are not great -- backup quarterbacks look like all-pros against us. But, would the pro-bowl DBs show at the top of their team's list? It might be that DBs just have less splash play opportunities overall. It seems like 6 of the 8 criteria (sack, pressure, QB hit, batted ball, tackle for loss, short gain, open field tackle) are not exclusive to DL/LBs, but much more likely to be their kind of plays.
- It's a cool stat. The players that fans think are good bubble to the top.