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Big Plays Win Games

| August 12th, 2019

What if I told you that less than 14% of plays determine the outcome of most NFL games?


Everybody loves watching big plays in football. Highlight reels are filled with bone-crushing sacks, long runs, deep bombs to a streaking WR, and big interceptions, because those are the exciting plays fans love to watch.

It turns out those are the plays that decide games too, and I have the stats to prove it.


Methods

Earlier this offseason, I wrote about the strong correlation between long runs and passes and overall offensive success, which got me thinking about what other plays might prove to be crucial to a team’s success. I ended up settling on four types of plays, which I will briefly describe below:

  • Explosive run: a carry that goes for 15+ yards
  • Explosive pass: a pass that goes for 20+ yards
  • Sacks
  • Turnovers

My hypothesis was that the team who produces more of these big plays than their opponent will usually win the game. To test this, I tracked all four categories for all 256 NFL games in 2018, along with the final score of each game.

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Mathematical Proof the Bears Need More Explosive Plays on Offense

| March 4th, 2019

I recently ran across this Tweet from NFL Matchup on ESPN – a terrific account you should definitely follow on Twitter if you want to be a better educated football fan. It got me thinking about Chicago’s offense and explosive plays.

Seeing as I’ve already written about Mitchell Trubisky’s struggles throwing the ball deep and Jordan Howard’s lack of explosive runs, I figured the Bears probably ranked towards the low end in this area. Using Pro Football Reference’s fantastic Game Play Finder, I was able to track these stats for every team in 2018 (full data here, slight discrepancies for the 17 teams shown in Tweet above, but all were within 1 or 2 plays).

As you can see in the table below, the Bears did indeed not do very well when it came to explosive plays.

We can see here that the Bears were slightly below average in every category, meaning there is need for improvement in explosive plays across the board. I’ll also note that percentages are calculated simply: (explosive plays/total plays)100; I figured this might be a useful metric since there is a some difference in how many plays teams run, especially when you split it up into run and pass plays.


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