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From last December to August, I didn’t write about sports and “took a break.” I didn’t consciously say to myself, “I need to stop for a while.” It kind of just happened.

In that period of time I stumbled on a document that had 2015 NFL play by play data. For fun I would look into random thoughts that I might be able to test from the data. If the results were interesting enough, and because I didn’t want to write, I would just post an image of the findings on Reddit.

This week’s breakdown is a collection of the different findings, lets call them observations, that I made from 2015 NFL play by play data. The reason I call them observations is for two reasons. The first reason is because there is certainly some amount of error in the findings. The data was not easy to work with and there was some oversight on my part in general. The people of Reddit were helpful in pointing out parts that didn’t make sense and helped me correct errors, but some surely remain. THESE ARE NOT PERCET.

The second reason is that these findings can be improved upon. Whenever I posted one of these observations on Reddit, someone would make a comment about how the stat that was created could be made better and improved to become more insightful.

These stats are by no means perfect on either of the levels just discussed. And for those reasons, that’s why I call what follows “observations.”

Yards per Play by Alignment

yards per play by alignment

This chart shows the yards per play that each team generated out of shotgun and under center in 2015. The last column shows the difference in yards per play for each team out of shotgun compared to what they generated under center.

NFL Wide Yards per Carry by Alignment

yards per carry out of shotgun and under center - league wide - 2015

This chart looks at the league wide yards per carry out of these different play types.

There are many different ways that this can be improved to come closer to a more accurate depiction of the truth. On Reddit, user based-mode made the comment that “I would love if this accounted in some way for yardage to first down, so that running a draw against prevent defense on 3rd and 15 for 5 yards didn’t count the same as a power run with 1 yard to first down and the defense lined up for it.” One way to address this issue would be to look at DVOA for each classification.

Yards per Carry by Alignment


This chart shows the yards per carry a running back had on plays that happened under center and out of the shotgun. The last column shows the difference between the two.

One of the findings out of this that particularly interested me are the numbers for C.J. Anderson. Anecdotally there has been a narrative about how he his more effective when the Broncos start from under center than out of the shotgun. This preliminary information would run counter to that narrative.

Yards per Carry by Direction

This chart shows a few different stats. The third column—yards per carry—shows what the yards per carry for a team was in a particular direction. The column titled YPC+ shows the percent above or below the league average yards per carry for that particular direction a team’s yards per carry was in that particular direction. For example, the Cowboys had a YPC+ of 142% on runs categorized “LEFT END” which is 42% higher than the league average yards per carry for runs categorized “LEFT END.” Direction% looks at the percent of time a team ran in a specific direction.

Punter Stat – Average Percent of Available Yards

For this stat I looked at the percent of available yards that a punter punted on a given play. Then I took the percent for each punt and averaged them together to show, on average, the percent of available yards a punter’s punts traveled. For example, if a punter punts the ball from the 50 yard line to the two yards line, his punt traveled 96% of the available yards. This stat looks at where the ball was punted to, not where it was returned to. The reason that this was decided is because we want to look at how good a punter is and not punish him because he is on a team that is poor at covering punts. If a punter punted the ball into the end zone, he was only credited for a punt to the 20 yard line. As someone mentioned on Reddit, one of the disadvantages to this stat is that it doesn’t factor in a punt that goes a great distance but is a line drive and is out of the range of the punt coverage.

That concludes the list of observations that I wanted to share from my look into 2015 NFL play by play data. The observations that you can make are really endless, and over time I’m sure that I’ll post more on Reddit. If anyone has any ideas that they want to have tested out, message me. I’d love to hear what other people have to think.

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Devin Jordan

Devin Jordan is obsessed with statistical analysis, non-fiction literature, and electronic music. If you enjoyed reading him, follow him on Twitter!
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