Football Outsiders Almanac provides 'hard-core' analysis for fans, clients
25 comments by Kent Somers - Jul. 28, 2010 10:52 PM
The Arizona Republic
For NFL fans who know a 9-route is not a new drink at Sonic and an under-front is not a clothing fashion, these are golden days.
It seemed not that long ago we viewed having the time, score and down-and-distance on a television screen at all times as innovation. Today, every game is available via television and other assorted video devices. So are 30-minute replays of most contests and red zone packages that keep us updated on every score.
There are other resources for avid fans. One of the better is the Football Outsiders Almanac 2010, produced annually and available on amazon.com and footballoutsiders.com.
With two full-time employees, some part-timers and a bunch of volunteers, the folks at Football Outsiders break down every play of every NFL season. They spot trends, debunk myths and give us, as they say, "innovative statistics, intelligent analysis."
"It's definitely hard-core, stat-based X's and O's," Managing Editor Bill Barnwell said, "stuff you don't see on TV every week."
Among the publication's clients are ESPN and a couple of NFL teams, which Barnwell declined to identify. "Fortunately they are good teams," he said. "We're not working with the Raiders, for example."
The publication breaks down the league, teams and players. There is even a section devoted to colleges.
For example, research done by Football Outsiders found that wholesale defensive changes often can be a good thing for a team, which is positive news for Cardinals fans.
So is the fact that the publication projects 9.4 wins for the Cardinals. Football Outsiders acknowledge quarterback Kurt Warner's retirement hurts, but believes the Cardinals are helped by talent at other positions, in addition to coach Ken Whisenhunt's ability to adapt and by a schedule that shouldn't be too taxing.
5 items on the Cards
According to the Almanac:
1. Quarterback Matt Leinart will be better than many people expect.
"Most quarterbacks in the league would lose their jobs to Kurt Warner," Barnwell said. "We think he'll be a lot better than people are projecting.
"He'll be back practicing with the first team getting first-team reps (snaps). We've found that when guys come in as a starter and practice all week, they play about 10 percent better than when they come in as reserves."
2. Inside linebacker Karlos Dansby will be the only defensive player "extremely difficult" to replace.
Dansby played in all situations, a valuable attribute in today's game. Football Outsiders didn't think much of safety Antrel Rolle because he missed too many tackles.
3. Levi Brown might struggle at left tackle.
Quoting the Almanac: "Brown improved a bit as the 2009 season went on, but he was an obvious liability in pass-blocking situations, frequently losing inside and outside battles to quicker ends. (Mike) Gandy led the Cards with nine blown blocks, but Brown was right behind him with eight."
4. Guard Alan Faneca's performance slipped in '09.
The Almanac: "In 2009, Faneca was the one glaring liability in the Jets' outstanding line, registering six blown blocks of his own. That gives Arizona's left side the most 2009 blown blocks of any in the league."
5. A big year for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie?
"Are passes defensed solid indicators of future cornerback performance? If so, expect a monster 2010 from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, whose 27 passes defensed trailed only Darrelle Revis' 36." DRC, however, was a liability in defending screens to wide receivers.
5 items on today's NFL
1. Teams run when they win, not win when they run.
If the guys at Football Outsiders were given only one point to make, it would be this one. They wrote their first article on the notion that establishing the run was a key to victory. What they found is that winning teams tend to have the lead late in games, which leads to more running plays. If running the ball, say, 30 times a game meant victory, why wouldn't a coach call runs on the first 15 plays of the game?
2. Running on third and short is generally smarter than passing.
"On third and 1, a running play will gain a first down 36 percent more often than a pass. On third and fourth downs with no more than two yards to go, a run is successful 40 percent more often."
3. A good pass defense is more important than a good run defense.
"With rare exceptions, teams win or lose with the passing game more than the running game - and by stopping the passing game more than the running game."
4. Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from shotgun and 5.1 yards with the quarterback under center. Over the past four seasons, the average team has gone from using shotgun 19 percent of the time to 36 percent of the time.
5. A team built on depth is better than one built on stars and scrubs.
You cannot concentrate salaries on a handful of star players because there is no such thing as avoiding injuries in the NFL. The game is too fast and the players too strong to build a team based around the idea "that if we can avoid all injuries this year, we'll win."