OT - Time of Possesion and Other Such Myths

Just saw a great article, "Trying to win time of possession is dumb and stupid", from CatScratchReader (SBNation Panthers Blog) by Jonathan DeLong about TOP and how it correlates to winning in the NFL. It also discusses other such metrics and their correlation to winning.

If you dig down into the comments you can find some other plots that are of interest that I will also post below. Read the article first and then come back to these.

But this is the chart from the comments I found most interesting. It compares win percentage in the NFL to yards allowed per carry.

From the chart maker, Jonathan DeLong:

No lie, the slope of this line is almost exactly 0. It's r^2 value is 0.00006 (1 is perfect). It's p-value is 0.94 (Less than 0.05 is usually considered good). It's essentially a random set of data.

A team with the second best run defense of the last three years won exactly 0 games. Two of the three teams with the worst run defenses of the last three years had winning records. The team with the best run defense of the last three years won 5 games. Run game success just doesn't matter.

I know the NFL and CFB are different animals, and I don't have data like this for CFB right now, but the professional sport, from an analytic sense, shouldn't care about the run game, offensively or defensively, if they want to attack the most important factors for winning a game. What do we think about this as it relates to CFB?

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TOP WINS GAMES!!! The rest of the stuff is just fluff.

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

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Not sure how you got that when the article claims the exact opposite...

Get Angry, Bud!

I'm clearly joking; it's an inside joke like "Kevin" or Timmy being a great kicker/punt returner. If I wasn't at work, I'd dig back through the thread and find it. I don't put '/s' at the end of any of my posts because typically everything I say is sarcastic...

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

QuickAnalysis.GIF by vtaero.

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I've always said (for college games at least) that the top 3 stats that determine win % of an individual game is (in order)

1) Turnover ratio
2) Rushing yards (not ypc, but total rushing yards)
3) Third down conversions

The team that wins those three categories wins 9/10 times (that's not real stats, just been what I've seen).

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And time of possession as this post CLEARLY STATES.

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And, a take on that could be that TOP is indicative of a team that is winning in those three categories, as winning those three categories would mean that your offense has the ball more than the other offense.

Leonard. Duh.

troo troo

I just sit on my couch and b*tch. - HokieChemE2016

Rushing yards tends to indicate a team has the lead and is trying to burn clock. You don't win because you run, you run because you're winning.

the professional sport, from an analytic sense, shouldn't care about the run game, offensively or defensively, if they want to attack the most important factors for winning a game.

I would rephrase this to say "rushing results alone are not a good indicator of who will win the game," or something like that.

Honestly, I bet passing results are the same. My guess is that, at a macro level, how a team gets yards (rushing vs passing) doesn't mean much. When a team gets yards (how do they perform on first downs, third downs and inside the red zone) is probably a much better indicator of performance.

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Actually, there is a decent correlation between passer rating and win percentage according to a graph in the article, but passer rating includes scoring as part of its metric so that doesn't easily separate out yards per pass.

Get Angry, Bud!

passer rating includes scoring as part of its metric so that doesn't easily separate out yards per pass.

Exactly - There's really not a statistical indicator of rushing offense quite like passer rating, which incorporates attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and interceptions. That single stat doesn't just account for success per play, it also accounts for turnovers and scoring success, which are key determinaters in a game's outcome.

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The team that scores the most points determines the winner 100% of the time

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Unless replay takes away six of those points in the Sugar Bowl.

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Check your math.

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Check the replay booth

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Great minds think alike.

Some teams are willing to give up a lot between the 20's, but make their living in 3rd down defense and red zone defense. YPA and YPP aren't good indicators of win% by themselves, Points per drive and points allowed per drive are.

It also depends on the team. TOP is a good indicator for performance for certain teams (e.g. GT), but bad indicators for other teams (e.g. OkSt).

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Red zone defense is pretty random year-over-year in the NFL

Rip his freaking head off!

Beat me to it. Also "bend but don't break" tends to not be real. The one team that's consistently pulled it off is the Pats. They almost always have great field position thanks to their special teams and their offense rarely turning it over, and because they score so often they usually are working with a lead. For the most part teams that give up lots of yards can't consistently tighten up around the 25.

The Pats also play in the AFC East, so their defensive stats do get a little skewed. Yes, they can play bend but don't break, but this year it got exposed a little. Teams with competent offenses torched them and they got throttled in the Super Bowl.

Interestingly, the Eagles put a ton of emphasis on TOP this season. They also balanced it with brilliant playcalling and an absurd 3rd down conversion rate, so that helped.

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

The advanced metrics hated NE's defense all year even as the Pats were playing better defensively. They had the misfortune of playing KC before the Chiefs forgot how to play football for 6 weeks and caught Houston with Watson at QB, so when those two teams looked inept on offense it made NE's defense look that much worse.

Philly's led the league in TOP the last two seasons. They were 24th in pace (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/pacestats), and they led a lot so it looks like they scored early and sat on the football. Opponents had the fastest pace of play against them so they were trying to play catch-up a lot and that helped them control the clock some more.

I agree on the stat that points per drive and points allowed per drive are better metrics, but they don't really help figure out how to win because there are so many factors involved. Both stats are only slightly more detailed than total points. The real answer is what stat effects points per drive and points allowed per drive most heavily. We have seen rushing yards does not seem to be it. plays per drive or 3rd down conversion skews toward methodical teams rather than teams with explosive offense and chunk yardage. Both strategies can be successful (methodical & explosive) and I don't think there is a metric that will measure them both well enough to draw any real conclusions.

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Looks like some guy got bored and realized he has Tableau.

Rip his freaking head off!

Seriously. Not going to lie, the article linked is pretty cringey to read. For example, it threw me for a loop when the first two graphs were literally just the same graph with the axis flipped, and then the author tried to spin it as being insightful somehow.

These graphs are confusing to say the least. IMO written by a "politician" to get the desired result. It's says the team with the second best run defense for the last 3 yrs won ZERO games. Who hasn't won a game in the nfl in 3 yrs? Im sure it's talking about Cleveland last year, but it's very confusing (and misleading). Cleveland also ranked 26th out of 32 teams in rush offense last year. I'm sure the old saying this info is trying to disprove goes something like "the team that runs best wins the game". Cleveland is equally bad at running it as they are decent at stopping the run.

Philadelphia has the #1 rush defense (yds/game) in the league last year and they won the super bowl. So my political spin says the team with the best rush defense wins the championship 100% at the time. Also Philadelphia ranked third in rushing offense so they actually did "run the ball better than their opponents"

IMO written by a "politician" to get the desired result.

Given how Bush league the "analysis" and the graphs are, I'm more inclined to think he didn't know what he was doing rather than he was intentionally doctoring the results. Regardless, I don't trust it either.

the second best run defense over the past three years, just means the Browns last year had the second best run defense recorded over the last three years and happened to not win a game. The Browns passing defense was 19th, so not terrible, really in the Browns case, offense cost them more games than defense. Football is a complicated game, one stat will never do well at defining W/L.

Come to Blacksburg and see what the Hokie Pokie is really all about

one stat will never do well at defining W/L.

I disagree. Game by game point differential will be directly tied to winning percentage.....\s (sort of)

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He'll Trot out some Lame reply, whenever he finds a Post Time.

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you mean after he saddles up to his computer? I'm sure this thread will have him glued to the screen (too far?)

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As a standard strategy it is not a strong one. However, you can base a game around limiting the other team's possessions and chewing clock. A pretty great example of this from the past year is how Miss St attempted to beat Alabama. They ran the play clock down all the way on almost every play. They successfully kept the Alabama offense off the field and limited their total number of possessions and until the end, it looked like it was going to work. HOWEVER, it is important to keep in mind that in order for this strategy to work, Miss St also had to be excellent at converting third downs and staying on the field themselves, which they were, especially early on. TOP is silly when used as any kind of indicator or signal in a broad sense, however, one can build a game plan around ball control and limiting the other team's possessions and then TOP does become a more important factor, but only in the instance where that is a focus of their game plan. Even in this case though, it remains a questionable point of reference because even if you execute this gameplan, win TOP, and limit their possessions it probably doesn't matter if they scored a TD on every drive in under a minute.

It's a double-edged sword too (running the play clock down on every play) because you keep their defense fresh and give them plenty of time to sub in the right personnel.

"What kind of person would throw away a perfectly good dog?"

I think it's a strategy that can work for badly overmatched teams to try to get more variance involved in the outcome of a game. If we look at each play or possession as a having a certain percentage of success, it's far easier to obtain a positive outcome over 8 or 10 possessions and 50 or so plays/team then 20 possessions and 70 plays. The more data points across a game, the more likely it is that the noise and variance will even out and the better team will win. Think march madness v. mlb playoffs.

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TOP is an interesting beast. Last year I fully bought into the 'TOP doesn't matter' mindset, only to see in the NFL that the Top 5 teams in TOP all made the playoffs, and the #1 team won the Super Bowl. Also listened to the announcers in every national game the Eagles played harp endlessly on the fact that Doug Pederson, to the contrast of Chip Kelly, put a major emphasis on TOP and controlling the ball and the clock.

But at the same time, their dominance of TOP was more of a result of how efficient their offense was able to be. They could move the ball 5 yards at a time practically whenever they wanted throughout the season. And their ability to pick up 3rd downs before Wentz went down was pretty good, only to see it get absurd in the playoffs at a net 60.5% in the NFCC and Super Bowl.

Then I look at the #2 team in the TOP category, and its the Panthers, a team that is shown all the time here in Raleigh. That team's offense was a struggle at best this year, to put it mildly. They had zero running game but they were able to pick up 3rd down conversions at a pretty decent clip. While they weren't explosive, they could be efficient, and their ability to shorten a game and let the defense flex a bit allowed their offense to do just enough to get them to the playoffs. But, their offense lacked such a bite this year that once they were ousted in the Wild Card round, Mike Shula was given his walking papers and they're under new direction next year.

So, do I think TOP is the end all be all? I agree with the CSR article in that actively trying to win TOP above all else will set you up to struggle. But, if you ask me what I would want for the perfect offense, I would want one that, by its nature, will dominate TOP as it wears down defenses by methodically marching down the field and scoring on the majority of its possessions.

"Some days you’re a horse and some days you’re a horse’s ass. I’ve been a horse’s ass for a little while." - Roy Halladay

If you believe in advanced metrics, Philly was 3rd against the run last year.

http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef

Arizona and Denver were the two best teams against the run and they missed the playoffs, though I don't really think their defenses can be held responsible. Cleveland was 4th against the run. I wonder how much of that had to do with teams just running clock on them. With teams throwing more run defense isn't as important, but ultimately if teams can just line up and get 5 yards/carry you're doomed.