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Author Topic: Offensive fragility  (Read 879 times)

Online Boston Card

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Offensive fragility
« on: December 06, 2017, 11:42:32 pm »
Over the course of the season, it has been noted that our offense, while good on average, appears to be "fragile", an idea that subjectively seems to be an issue, though it may not be readily quantifiable.  I would like to explore the idea more, but before trying to quantify it, I think it would be helpful to try to define what fragility means.  I can see it defined one of two ways.  The first is an offense that generally plays well, but is prone to bad games.  I might separate it a bit from a team that plays inconsistently (that's why although I think looking at variance in offensive output, however you measure that, is on the right track but probably not the right approach).  The idea would be a team where most games are good or very good, but some games are markedly deficient.  One way to do this would be to compare the output in the median game to the worst performing games (you pick the median game, not the average, because it would not be affected by the low performing outliers).  The other question is what would your offensive efficiency metric be.  I'm kind of partial to points per drive, though simple stats like yards per play, total yards, or total points are more accessible, and more advanced stats (like offensive efficiency) are available.  I would think, however, that whatever stat you chose, you would not want to adjust for opponent strength (or opponent defensive strength).  You could imagine an offense being considered "fragile" if it feasted on poor defenses, but was shut down by good ones; adjustment for defensive quality would tend to modulate that effect.

The other way to look at fragility is on a drive by drive basis.  In this sense, a fragile offense is one that has a lot of three and outs, even if it is also able to rack up yards on big plays (or on sustained drives).  So I thought one way to measure this was to look at the proportion of the time that you have a first and ten and can advance the chains (or score).  A "boom and bust" offense, as we saw earlier in the year, would score poorly.  Thus, a three-and-out, three-and-out, 75-yard-TD run, would score a 33% on this metric, while a long drive that racks up 4 first downs before stalling out at the opponent's 28 and gets a 45-yard-field goal would score an 80% on this metric (4 first downs out of five sets of downs).  The problem I see for this is that it would fail to differentiate a "fragile" offense from one that was just plain bad.

Anyway, I'm willing to do some research into these metrics, if people think they'd be helpful, but I'd like feedback first.  Is the concept of offensive fragility helpful?  How is it best measured?

BC

Offline Phogge

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2017, 12:28:11 am »
You lost me at "Over the course of the season."

Online qwerty49

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #2 on: December 07, 2017, 01:22:20 am »
Tough question. Think of the reverse - what makes an offense “robust”?

IMHO a robust offense:
Scores a lot
Despite the fact that you can sometimes see it coming
Sustains drives
Has many facets - if one falls short, another could just as well succeed
Does all this pretty consistently
Doesn’t get totally derailed by an injury to a key player

So maybe a fragile offense:
Is low-scoring
Especially when it’s too predictable
Lots of 3-and-outs
One-dimensional (or maybe just not very creative)
High beta, all or nothing
Not much depth beyond the starters

If you buy the above - Some metrics of fragility suggest themselves pretty readily, e.g. points per drive, or even the std deviation around the point/drive distribution.

Subjectively, a fragile offense to me is one you can pretty easily break with a simple set of tactics. E.g. stack the box, or blitz the QB every down, or spy the QB.

Looking at my own definitions I would have to say Stanford’s O was fragile this year. Very high beta around Bryce and if he would break a long one, and then when he got hurt everything was diminished. I definitely cringed every time Chryst threw the ball (mostly to Irwin in double coverage.). I thought it was relatively easier for the opponents to defense us than for us to defense them.

If you can quantify that stuff BC you’ll win the first Nobel Prize in Statgeeking!

Offline winflop

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2017, 05:02:39 am »
I think predictability is one of the symptoms of fragility. I'd look at:
- run/pass mix by down/distance
- play action on likely running down/distance
- variety of run plays called (inside vs outside vs "other" like jet sweep/reverse)
- variety of pass plays called - 3/5/7 step drops
- # of different receivers targeted in a game

I also think fragility can be a function of OL effectiveness. When you control the LOS you can more effectively dictate play and force the defense to react to you. If you can't control LOS then you have to react to what the defense is doing.

Just some pre-caffeinated thoughts this morning.

Offline washingtonismoney

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2017, 05:46:52 am »
I’d say fragility was a characteristic of the Chryst-helmed offense (for which, to be clear, he 59ers some but not all fault), but less so the latter Costello offense.

Keep in mind that the Costello offense had to deal with a hobbled Love, some OL injury, plus no Wedington and Schultz (in one game) — yet was still pretty productive. So I think the offense solved its fragility problem by the end of the year.

Overall I think the best demonstration of the fragility thesis was the 2014 offense. The typical reason I hear explaining that offense’s so-so play was Hogan’s father dying, and/or offensive line inexperience. This sounds to me like “the offense is fragile,” as it contained multiple top 15 picks (peat, McCaffrey); another first rounder on the line (Garnett); other star skill position players (Montgomery, Hooper) and on and on. That strikes me as not merely underperformance but a reflection of fragility.

Offline CTcard

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2017, 06:17:12 am »
I have been using the term often lately. I think I cribbed it from teejers as the one thing he was saying about the offense that rang true to me.

Many of the issues listed above seem to me to be reasons why a team is fragile, but not really a definition of fragile.

I have been using the word fragility to define an offense that has notably poor individual game performances compared to its average level of performance. As far as dictionary definitions go, that is probably closer to a version of "consistency". I guess fragility would imply one small bad thing happens and the offense collapses - which may or may not be consistent with the definition I used above.

As an example of what I was thinking about would be a team in the top 20 in offensive efficiency (Stanford #16 OFEI) that still puts out individual game performance in the bottom 40 of all games played (Stanford vs OSU 3rd worst by my count in OFEI).

For a quantitative measure, a couple of thoughts would be:
- Look at how far below a team's own average is their worst performance.
- Count number of performances worse than N*sigma below the average.

In either case I might want to look at the parameter versus teams grouped by overall performance. My instinct is that top 20 teams will usually have fewer or less bad individual performances, but on the other hand teams with a higher average have further to fall.

And I guess I would use FEI as a measure because it is the only thing easily available on a game by game basis that I know.

-------
On a season to season basis the idea is a little harder to define. Nominally you could still take an average over X years and look at season outliers from that. But teams, coaching staffs, everything change to quickly to get a reliable average to compare to.
Probably the best you could do here is simply standard deviation in offensive performance measured in whatever way you like.
« Last Edit: December 07, 2017, 07:07:02 am by CTcard »

Offline Hulk01

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2017, 06:54:37 am »
I like Shaw’s characterization of an excellent offense:  It’s efficient and explosive.

i’ll start with explosive because it’s easier to define and measure.  An explosive offense has a high percentage of running plays of over 15 yards and pass plays of over 20 yards.  And you want to be explosive, of course, because it’s hard to work your offense down a field constantly having to convert third downs.  Look into the number of Stanford drives over the years—-or indeed any team’s drives—in which the team converted on third down three consecutive times in a single drive.  Not common; 45% x 45% X 45% on average: A one-in-eleven event.

This year’s Stanford team was undeniably explosive.  Love was the key, of course, but Costello/AW/Smith contributed significantly in the second half of the season. 

“Efficient” gets more complicated, if only because there are more measures for it.

 I think “third down avoidance” is one.  How often do you get first downs on first and second down? 

“First down proficiency” is another.  Shaw measures it as the consistency/frequency with which we gain at least four yards on first down—call it “four or more yards on first down percentage”:  I might be tempted to deduct from it plays that went for no or negative yards.

“Average yards left on third down” is another.  Unless you have Andrew Luck or his rare equal as your college team’s quarterback, you’re not going to be effective on third and seven or more.  As an alternative to this, you might calculate “percentage of third downs of three yards or less.”   Or, if you want to highlight inefficiency with the stat, “percentage of third downs of seven yards or more.” 

Fearing I’ve gone on too long, I’ll leave it here. I can supply some numbers from this year.  I will add, to the surprise of many, that this year’s team did not run more often on first down than past Stanford teams.  In fact, only one Stanford team since 2008 ran less often on first down.

Wait, more thing. "Fragility" might be a different thing, even entirely different.  But it does sound at least very close to "consistency."  There did seem a high degree of variability in Stanford's performance this year.  But that seemed true, or more true than any year than I can recall, in the Pac-12 generally.  And I wonder if the tv-pushed scheduling, with short rests/bad starting times/away games that ended near midnight didn't make every team look more 'fragile" and inconsistent.


Offline UltimateCard

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2017, 07:57:16 am »
And I wonder if the tv-pushed scheduling, with short rests/bad starting times/away games that ended near midnight didn't make every team look more 'fragile" and inconsistent.

The numerous, lengthy TV timeouts with long rests between plays can't be good for establishing efficiency either.

Offline gocard14

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2017, 08:18:45 am »
I would argue that “fragility” and it’s opposite “resilience” are different and important qualities compared to efficiency. I’d define it more as how effective an offense is responding when plan A isn’t working, which in our case means we’re not running the ball consistently or effectively. We were very poor in this measure against SDSU, OSU, and WSU. I’d argue that since Costello took over we were actually quite good. When we couldn’t run the ball as well as needed against U$C we started making chunk plays through the air.

Offline Langdude

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2017, 08:36:24 am »

Offline stupac2

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2017, 08:36:38 am »
The other thing to keep in mind is that every offense is going to appear more "fragile" against good defenses.

Reading this discussion I'm wondering whether fragility is just a symptom of subpar QB play.

Offline Goose

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #11 on: December 07, 2017, 09:07:07 am »
The other thing to keep in mind is that every offense is going to appear more "fragile" against good defenses.

Reading this discussion I'm wondering whether fragility is just a symptom of subpar QB play.
I tend to agree, but I would extend it further. Every team is "fragile" when the other team is playing better than the "fragile" team.  :) U$C looked very "fragile" against WSU. If your game plan isn't working, either because your QB can't execute it, the defense is stopping it, or the OL can't block it, you will look "fragile". Most "multiple" offenses, like U$C and Stanford (but unlike WSU) have in their game plan a diverse set of plays that theoretically counteract the fragility. However, in our case, when the defense contained our running offense, we couldn't execute our passing offense. KJ has significantly reduced that problem, and should reduce it even further next year. However, if any part of your offense is just losing the battle physically, you are going to have a difficult time executing your game plan. You can try to minimize the problem by avoiding some part of your offense, but that may just not be possible. When we have OL issues, even at just one position, we see this effect and become "fragile". We can't suddenly go "air raid" (for example) because we don't have the personnel and haven't practiced it. So, if the defense is beating you in your areas of strength, you just aren't going to look good, period. Sometimes, you simply have to play better.

Offline teejers1

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #12 on: December 07, 2017, 10:50:57 am »
I'm a simpleton who relies on my eyes far too much when making evaluations.

A few thoughts:  for "robustness," I think PPG (by the offense) and YPG are good metrics, assuming (as we all should till further notice) that Stanford will never employ a gimmicky/hurry up offense.  Does the offense move the ball and does it score points?  Pretty basic, perhaps not "advanced metrics" enough, but it still provides great data.

The idea that Stanford doesn't "run the ball more on first down this year than in year's past" is almost beside the point.  Running the ball encompasses a lot of possibilities (sweeps, reverses, draw plays, counters, etc.).  My eyes tell me we saw an inordinate number of pitch backs to the RB or straight handoffs to the RB designed to go between the tackles.  Throw on top of that the no-split heavy formation, and that covers the vast majority of Stanford's running plays.  Very little variety in approach or attack.

Another indicator of a robust offense.  How often does the play calling result in a player being wide open/running free?  We almost never saw that.  (Maybe the fake run in bunch formation and throw to an open TE?).  A robust offense will give you that sometimes - perhaps not regularly, perhaps not even once a game - but occasionally.

Finally, any offensive YPG stat that starts with a 2 is just pathetic.  Period.  I remember asking if 425/game was too much to ask.  In far too many instances under this regime, the answer has been yes.

Again - and coloring all of these opinions - is the belief that Stanford has very good to excellent players on O.  It's all about maximizing the talent on the field (which is why I am more forgiving on the D side of the ball - think those guys did well on that front, a couple notable lapses in the CCG notwithstanding).
« Last Edit: December 07, 2017, 11:45:41 am by teejers1 »

Offline CowboyIndian

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #13 on: December 07, 2017, 10:57:52 am »
The numerous, lengthy TV timeouts with long rests between plays can't be good for establishing efficiency either.

Not to mention having the lights go out for 20 minutes 😡
Eventually she came out of her coma and she started having memory problems - Manti Te'o

Offline Phogge

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Re: Offensive fragility
« Reply #14 on: December 07, 2017, 11:00:47 am »
Reinforces my "Never play at night" homily.