Two Ways to Look at the Numbers

Statistics cause a surprising amount of drama for sports fans. (It affects baseball fans the most, of course, but all sports fans get hit to one degree or another.) Pay too much attention to statistics and you either turn into some sort of heartless computing robot or you start a website devoted to nothing but mocking bad sportswriting. Pay too little attention to statistics and you find yourself advocating that your favorite team start the untested third-string quarterback because you “like his moxie” or “because he looks like a player” or something equally vague.

And even if you find that happy middle ground, there’s the question of choosing the RIGHT statistics — is your quarterback racking up yards because he’s just that awesome, or because he’s constantly playing from behind and has to throw the ball 68 times a game? Stuff like that.

Which brings us to the current 3-1 Redskins squad. There are two major ways to look at their statistics: one very good, the other … well, the other isn’t bad, but it’s a bit sobering.

Let’s look at the good one first. Murph at Homer McFanboy takes a look at the stats and finds them enormously exciting. Here’s a sampling.

In 2006, Campbell completed 63 of 122 passes for 713 yards with 6 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. His completion percentage was 51.6 and his QB rating was 68.8.

In 2007, Campbell completed 67 of 113 passes for 869 yards with 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. His completion percentage was 59.3 and his QB rating was 84.3.

In 2008, Campbell completed 81 of 124 passes for 878 yards with 6 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. His completion percentage was 65.3 and his QB rating was 102.2.

If you were to graph most of the statistics as Murph lays them out, with years running along the X axis and the statistic in question heading up the Y axis, the resulting line in almost all cases (Campbell’s QB rating, Portis’s rushing yards, Moss’s receiving stats) shoots up the page at a vertical that looks too steep to climb.

On the other end of the spectrum is DW’s analysis over at Riggo’s Rag. He compares the numbers after this year’s 3-1 start with the numbers after last year’s 3-1 start, and what he comes up with is both surprising and (as previously noted) somewhat sobering.

Last year’s offense at this time was averaging 21.75 pts per game and 340 yardsper game.

This year’s offense is averaging 21.5 pts per game and 342 yards per game.

Last year’s defense at this time was giving up 13 pts/g and 268 yrds/g.

This year’s defense is giving up 20.2 pts/g and 315 yrds/g.

DW does point out areas where having the same stats actually implies an improvement over last year, most convincingly the strength of schedule and the fact that this years stats-to-date includes the slow start against the Giants, and both those are certainly relevant. But there’s still a pretty stark difference there.

The obvious change between the two approaches is that Murph is looking at individual statistics while DW is looking at group statistics; I suppose the question is which one of these blocks of data provides a more accurate picture of where the team stands right now. Are the skill position statistical leaders performing better while the team as a whole remains the same?

I don’t think that’s it, necessarily. The team’s performance feels crisper and more assured than it did at this time last year, although once you start using words like “feels” (and “crisp” or “assured,” for that matter), you’ve left the realm of statistics and moved into … something less technical.

Spence at DC Pro Sports Report finds a more mathematical way of putting it, noting what kind of teams the defense gave up yardage against and where in the game it was. I tend to agree with that assessment, and with Murph’s wildly optimistic analysis of the individual statistics, but it doesn’t hurt to keep DW’s point in mind.

In the end, it’s all decided on the field and that’s why they play the games and blah blah blah, of course, but without people doing analyses like these, what would we as fans have to bicker about?


18 Responses

  1. I would say that the team statistics referenced here are less relevant for this year’s squad. That first Giants game was such an aberration compared to the rest of our games. Plus you expect a team under a new coach and system to improve . Whereas last year you expected steadiness. None of these stats speak to the fact that the Redskins have been improving week to week, showing tremendous poise (most of the time) and playing with passion on offense and a meanstreak on defense. I’m not predicting Super Bowl, but I would say that the team is further along than most anyone expected they would be. Hopefully, they can continue to improve and build on the confidence and teamwork that has been created with their play over the last month.

  2. “and you find yourself advocating that your favorite team start the untested third-string quarterback because you “like his moxie” or “because he looks like a player” or something equally vague.”

    *cough* Colt Brennan fans *cough*

  3. Very good Jeff L, very good.

    I think the key with “team” stats is what teams the stats were accumulated against(strength of schedule). Without looking into the details of last years four opponent’s offenses, this year’s is certainly an impressive array of high quality teams (all in the top 6 I think), I would bet that’s not the case for last year, and the offense almost needs to be graded on a curve (if comparing last year to this year) to be fair. Last year was year 2 under Saunders, and his system used the same language as the system Gibbs used before him. This is new across the board, and Zorn(and Smith and the rest of Zorn’s staff) has done one hell-uv-a job with this team thus far.

    I just hope we can be a little lucky with few injuries and keep it rolling.

  4. I have tremendous confidence in our offense so far this season, but I definately think our defense needs to improve a little if we want to still be playing in January. The secondary looks amazing, and even though the line is getting some pressure, I’d be a lot more confident if we had put Romo in the dirt a few times sunday. That being said, our awful prevent defense is probably to blame for the inflated numbers, and I think its a good sign that London Fletcher called a players meeting on monday, it shows that they know they can play better and i think they will.


  5. 90% of the time, if your score 50% more points than your opponent, you’ll win the game.

  6. Benjamin Disraeli (PM from the UK back in the day) once said that there were 3 types of lies.

    Damned Lies

  7. @abrickinthewall

    Very good point. And nice show of memory, or just good at History?

  8. I don’t quite agree with the defensive analysis because the quality of offenses we faced in the first four weeks of 07 was vastly inferior to the quality of offenses we have played so far in 08.

    So far this year we have played the #2, 3, 4, and 5 offenses in the NFL in four weeks. The offensive ranks of our first four opponents last year were #6 (Philly), #12 (Arizona), #16 (NYG), and #28 (Miami). And the highest ranked team in that 07 group, the Eagles, was way off their usual offensive mark in week two because McNabb was still clearly hobbled by his knee injury.

    A better way to examine our defense this year is to look at how our opponents have faired against us vs. how they have done against other teams. It’s a small sample pool in only four weeks, but our first four opponents are collectively averaging 402 yards of offense per game.

    But against us, those four teams averaged just 315 yards per game. So we’re holding four of the five best offenses in the NFL to nearly 90 yards less than their average output thus far.

    Also, to put things in further context, the mighty 07 Patriots led the NFL in offense with 411 yards per game. The Giants, Cardinals, Saints, and Cowboys are collectively clocking in at 402. That shows just how well all four of these teams are playing offensively right now. And we held them all to an average of 315 yards per game, which would only be good for #16 overall in the NFL right now.

    I think that’s a really strong sign for how well our defense is playing, and I see it as one of the most underrated units in the league. Also, it’s somewhat amusing that Philly is ranked #6 in total offense so far, which puts us up against five of the top six offenses in the NFL through five weeks. How absurd is that?

  9. I think these stats prove that we are capable of beating any team any day and anywhere. Gibbs put together a team of CHARACTER and now Zorn is showing them how to be winners. Hail

  10. the best line I’ve ever heard abouts stats is this, stats are like a bikini, they show alot but not everything.

    Way too many things to take into consideration. Strength of schedule, which we wont know truthfully til the end of the season, when did the offense get a lead in a game, how much time were they trying to chew up, how many minutes were spent playing catch up, how many minutes was the defense playing prevent, weather in a game. every game is game planned different, EVERY YEAR IS DIFFERENT PERIOD

  11. The best stat earlier on is Improvement from day 1 to present. No improvement….no hope.

    Washington showing improvement. Future looks good.

  12. You have to combine the statistics with what you see on the field. I think all of us thought we were lucky to be 3-1 last year. I think watching the games this year you can see an improving team, a team earning wins.

  13. Chris C……..

    How many catches are you going to have on Sunday? Gonna score a touchdown? I bet M. Terl would love to know you read his blog everyday.

    Go 47 go.

  14. Hey, this team is performing as I predicted after the Colt’s HoF game. Zorn has shown me confidence and composure and it has flowed over to J.C. Granted the Giants game worried me a lot. Wasn’t sure what was happening, but they picked it up on the Saints, Cardinals, and Cowboys. They showed me what I have thought they could be this year. Keep up the work this week on the Eagles.

    As long as they keep their heads in their helmets and play smart and PHYSICAL they’ll beat the Eagles too.

    Remember the 1986 Penn State Lions in the Championship game against Georgia and Mr. Walker. PSU played physical to the point the receivers were scared to put their hands up to catch the ball. Hey Redskin D.~ Do that ever game and make a big name for yourselves. Dan is right. Physical play wins games. No doubt there.

    I’ll be cheering and yelling in front of my big ol 42″ this week. I’m only about 1.5 hours out of Philly, so listen and you guys will hear all Skin fans supporting.

    At home, I’m in the 405 pumping up the crowd. I’m sure you’ve heard us up there.

    Hey Mr. Zorn~ The Redskins/Cowboys rivarly is a big deal. BIGGER than any in the NFL. It’s been running for over 32 years. We will forever dispise the Cowboys and everything about them.

    Now go get them up in Silly Philly.

  15. My first stop on stats is always Football Outsiders. They’ve got us ranked 7th in the league, this week was the first time they introduced strength of opponents; last year we finished 12th.

    We’re in good/great shape right now.

  16. stats don´t really say much without analyzing the whole context. One example of how dumb they are: 20% (just a fake number) of car accidents are caused by drunk drivers. So you could just say start drinking, since 80% are caused by drivers that don´t drink, which is stupid.

    I think everybody agrees that we have faced much better teams this year and beeing 3-1 shows how good we are now. Just look on how many yards D. Brees has on the other 3 games (343, 363 and 421) and how many he had against us (216). K. Warner on the other games (197,361,472) and 192 against us. Our defense is playing great.

    GO SKINS!!!

  17. The defense is fine. I don’t even want to get into it. They held very potent offenses in check. The bills are at number 4 in total defense bc they have played oakland, st louis, a seatle team that has no threat at wr or running back, and jacksonville who has a third string o line playing. when u look at stats you have to put them into perspective.

  18. How about we just don’t look at them at all? Big numbers like “Y” or “X” make us as sleepy as a druggy eating Es Car Go with his boss at Nine in the Afternoon after a hangover with his kitten.

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