Monday, June 16, 2008

What If WhatIf Sports had a clue?

One of the things that annoys me about blogs is the (unnecessarily and ridiculously) provocative titles. Yet, for the second time in a week (see this post), I'm doing it. Why? Because I read a really stupid piece. This one, in fact, from WhatIf Sports predicting the AFC South results in 2006. In particular, this nugget from their look at the Indianapolis Colts really bothered me:

Most Exploitable Weakness: Running game Joseph Addai is a great talent and a fantastic fantasy performer, but the Colts were a slightly below average running team last year and Addai cannot be the only guy. The team brought back Dominic Rhodes and drafted Mike Hart, but neither projects to improve the team rushing average.

On the surface of things, that the Colts were a below average running team seems like a credible statement. After all, they finished 18th in rushing yards and 22nd in yards per attempt. As I mentioned in my review of Dominance, though, yardage stats suck. Fortunately, we have better statistics available.

In particular, I refer to Football Outsiders. First, let's take a look at the Colts' overall team offensive efficiency. We see from that page that the Colts ranked 3rd in the NFL in Rush DVOA, 11.0%, just ahead of ... the Minnesota Vikings, everybody's rushing attack darlings. This ... can't ... be, can it? This must be a mirage. If we look at the running backs, they can't be that good.

The Colts' lead running back was Joseph Addai. He's 4th in the NFL in DPAR. Not bad. 16th in DVOA-not as great, but still not bad. But let's look at Success Rate-54%, 6th in the NFL. Oh, but Addai was much better than the other rushers. So, let's look at Kenton Keith, the only other guy who had more than 30 carries. Keith: 4th in the NFL in DPAR, 13th in DVOA, and #1 in the NFL in Success Rate with 58%!

Ok, Addai's not a bad player, and maybe Keith's better than he's generally given credit for. So, let's take a look at the offensive line statistics. The Colts rank 5th!, 5th! in Adjusted Line Yards. They're 1st in the NFL at Power Success. They're 6th in Stuffed. But, aha, here we come to the rub. The Colts are 5th in ALY at 4.51, but they're only averaging 4.03 when it comes to RB Yards. What happened? Fortunately, the answer is right there on the same page: only 9% of the Colts' rushes went for 10+ yards, 31st best in the league. Most teams in the NFL get 2, 2, and 12 yard gains when they run the ball; the Vikings are a good extreme example of this. The Colts get 4, 4, and 4. One of these is better, and it's not the Vikings.

There are legitimate reasons to think the Colts may not be as good this year. Addai seemed to wear down as last year went on. He may not have had many long runs because he was on the field so much (or not, as the Colts haven't been in the top half of the league in 10+ runs since 2001). The Colts have to replace Jake Scott at right guard. Manning was sacked last year at a rate he hadn't seen since 2001, and that represented a marked decline from the year before. Wayne is the only known healthy and reliable receiver. The defense may not be deep, and who knows if and how quickly Freeney and Mathis will return to full strength. But, whatever weaknesses the Colts have, "they were a below average running team in 2007" has NOTHING to do with them.

UPDATE: Stupid Preview screwed up the URLs. Should be fixed. Also, forgot the HT to DGDB&D, from which the link.
UPDATE #2: Colts only lost Jake Scott on the O-line, so they return 4 starters. Sentence edited accordingly.

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