Pre-Season Review

The final preseason game has been played, roster cuts are finalized, and barring any last-minute surprises, the team we see now is the team we’ll see on opening night,  Consequently, it’s a good time to review the preseason.  Basically, I’m looking at what units/players surprised and disappointed and how that might affect the overall team’s performance.  I’ll start with what I felt were the biggest surprises.

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Special Teams - Terrible last year, this unit looks to be SIGNIFICANTLY improved.  The kick/punt coverage looks like it could actually be a STRENGTH of the team, though we’ll need to see the regular season play before we know that.  Regardless, I’m now confident it will be much better than last year.   Similarly, the return game looks solid.  Remember that for the Eagles, just getting league-average play from this unit would be a big improvement. As a reminder, here is Football Outsiders’ Special Teams Rankings from last season:

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Click to enlarge if you want.  I’ve highlighted the Eagles in green.  I’ve also highlighted two specific measures, “Punt” and “Hidden Pts”, by bolding them in red.  Both of these stand out as the 2012 Eagles’ biggest ST weaknesses.  The “Punt” category is self-explanatory, and we’ve seen significant improvement in the preseason.  The “Hidden Pts” measure refers to elements of the game that are outside the Eagles’ control.  So things like opponents’ field goal %, opposing kick distance, etc… That category is likely to improve as well.

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Defensive Line

Throughout the preseason, the defensive line looked a lot stronger than I thought it would be.  Perhaps I had lower expectation than everyone else, but I did not think the team would make the 3-4 transition as well as it has along the line.  We knew Cox would be good (despite some early issues), but beyond that, there were a lot of question marks.  Now, aside from Sopoaga, I’m legitimately happy with the overall group.  In fact, I think it’s the deepest unit on the team.

Vinny Curry still confuses me; he’s consistently disruptive but the coaches didn’t seem to even consider elevating him on the depth chart.  He must not be doing something he’s being asked to, but that’s hard to see on the tape.

Bennie Logan, if you recall, was the Eagles draft pick I liked the least.  From all accounts, it seemed like the Eagles chose him almost a full round early.  However, he’s definitely showed signs of being a valuable contributor.   I don’t know if he can hold up as the starting NT over a full season, but if he can, he’ll supplant Sopoaga by the end of the year.

Regarding Sopoaga, I’d like to remind everyone that he is exactly as we expected him to be.  HE WAS NOT GOOD LAST YEAR.  We knew this.  Nobody should be surprised by his underwhelming play.  However, the team was converting to the 3-4 and it was imperative that they added someone with NT experience.  That’s what they got.  I’ve seen some speculation that he’s “saving it” for the regular season, but that seems like wishful thinking to me.  At best, he’s a mediocre NT.  Rather than be disappointed by that, remember that he’s just a place-holder until the team can fill his role permanently (maybe with Logan).

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Starting Linebackers

Again, we’re talking about performance relative to expectations.  Essentially, I expected very little from this group.  Barwin was a “big” addition, but is recent play didn’t seem to match his reputation.  He’s looked good, and should provide at least competent play at the OLB position.  Mychal Kendricks might be the team’s biggest potential “surprise” this year.  We all saw his potential last year; at times, he looked GREAT.  However, he also struggled with poor tackling.  Shifting to the 3-4, he’s now moved to the ILB role.  As of right now, it looks like it suits him pretty well.  Depending on how the D-Line plays, I think Kendricks can be an EXCELLENT pass-rusher/blitzer.  Outside of Cox, Kendricks has the most “upside” of any defensive player on the team, and nothing he did this preseason has changed that analysis.

The Cole/Graham experiment has worked out about as well as everyone thought it would.    Both guys can be passable OLBs.  However, given Graham’s potential as a pass-rusher, I still believe his “future” lies with a 4-3 team.  He’ll be a valuable DE in Nickel situations, but I just don’t see him playing a big role in the team’s OLB plans beyond this year.  Trent Cole, by virtue of his age, doesn’t really have a “long-term”.  He’s in a similar situation to Graham, in that his best use is clearly as a 4-3 DE.  The good news is that attempting to shift both from DE to OLB could have been a DISASTER.  The preseason dispelled some of those concerns.

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Offensive Line

I don’t think this unit is getting enough press for underwhelming play.  To be clear, they’ve been mostly GOOD, and nothing to be concerned about.  HOWEVER, I thought this would be a real strength of the team.  Getting Jason Peters back healthy, adding a top 5 OT in the draft, and moving Herremans back to guard all seemed like very positive moves.  All told, I thought we might be looking at one of the best OLs in the league, depending on how well Lane Johnson played.  I think it’s time to ratchet those expectations back a bit.

Peters didn’t play much in the preseason, so he’s got the most “uncertainty” regarding his expected level of play.  Still, I think everyone might be putting too much weight into his 2011 performance.  He was DOMINANT, especially in the run game.  Is it possible that a ruptured Achilles tendon robbed him of some of his explosiveness?  Absolutely.  I still expect a very good year from him, but it’s dawned on me that expecting him to again be among the best OTs in the game may be too optimistic.  Hopefully I’m wrong, and he’s just gearing up for the regular season, but it’s possible.

The Herremans/Kelce combo is a larger concern.  Everyone seems to remember Kelce as a very good center, but in fact, his rookie season was fairly inconsistent.  He certainly showed the ability to be consistently good, but I think his “rep” surpassed his actual play.  Similarly, Herremans at G was expected to be VERY GOOD, not just solid.

Lane Johnson is too tough to evaluate at this point, but he looks to be playing in-line with expectations.  He’s going to look great at times, and struggle every now and then as he adjusts to the NFL.

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The TEs (really Chip Kelly’s use of them).

This might be premature, since it’s likely that Chip Kelly hasn’t even come close to revealing his main playbook.  However, I have to say I was disappointed by the overall use of the TEs throughout the preseason.  I expected that to be a focal point of the offense, and it wasn’t. I really liked seeing Harbor/Ertz lined up in the slot (and targeted), but it just didn’t happen as often as I thought it would.  Ertz, in particular, seemed underutilized in the passing game (6 catches total), though it was hard to tell if that was based on coverage or play-design.

On the other hand, Celek looks good, and could finally put up statistics that match his purported “ability”.  With D-Jax on the outside and a heavy rushing attack with Shady/Brown, I doubt many defenses will be able to pay much attention to Celek.

Finally:

Just 7 Days until Game #1…

QB Fumbles; Providing some Context

The reaction to yesterday’s post was pretty strong, not here really, but over at BGN.  I realize that type of breakdown is far from perfect, but I thought it was a good illustration of the overall point I was trying to make (after seeing the data):

Yes, Vick is “inconsistent”. However, a lot of QBs that are considered “good” are also just as inconsistent if not more.  I hope to take a look at the standard deviation of performances to get a better sense of things, but the fact is, QBs, in general, have many more bad games than most fans realize.  Case in point:

Tom Brady, over his career, has recorded a passer rating of less than 80 in 31% of his starts.  Consider that for a moment.  Tom Brady is one of the best QBs of all time (if not THE best).  Still, nearly one of every three starts of his can be considered a “poor” performance (Rating less than 80).

Among the most often cited counterpoints to yesterday was the issue of Vick’s propensity to fumble.  That’s a fair point, so today I took a look at the data.  Again, it will surprise you (in a good way).

Here are the active leaders in QB Fumbles (besides Peyton Manning, who’s not included for reasons that aren’t really important here):

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Vick, as expected, leads everyone with 87 fumbles (stats are from Pro-Football-Reference.com and, I think, only represent Fumbles Lost, not all fumbles).  However, look at the complete rushing stats.

In context, things look a lot better for Vick.  Yes, he’s fumbled more than anyone else.  However, he has also provided a LOT of additional production on the ground.  Looking at the stats a little differently, we can see the differences more clearly:

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 10.47.10 AMThis is an admittedly simplistic view of things, but it provides necessary context for the whole “Vick fumbles so much” debate.  I feel like I need to remind everyone here that I’m far from a #TeamVick member.  I still think Foles makes more sense.  However, the Vick-Haters have gone too far.  As you can see above, Vick’s fumbles, while damaging, are not necessarily “worse” than any other QB’s.  In his career, he has run a LOT more than almost any other QB in NFL history and provided a lot of offensive production with his legs.  AS a result, he should be expected to fumble more.

We can certainly argue over how much “production” is necessary to counteract the negative value of a fumble.  Unfortunately, our data isn’t nearly as granular as it needs to be to provide a definitive answer in that respect.

What happens, though, when we view it purely in terms of TDs and TOs?

Again, simplistic but informative.  Here is a table showing a selection of QBs with their Rushing TDs, Passing TDs, INTs, and Fumbles.  I’ve also totaled the TDs and TOs and provided an overall TD/TO ratio.

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I included McNabb just to remind everyone how good he actually was.  We’re concerned with the active players though.

Vick does, in fact, come in at the bottom of the list.  However, look at his ratio (right-most column) compared to guys like Cutler and Manning.  My sense is that a lot of Vick-haters would jump at the opportunity to trade him for Eli Manning or Jay Cutler.  I wouldn’t.  In fact, the more a did into QB stats, the worse Eli Manning looks.

The point, of course, is that complaining about Vick’s fumbles may sound right, but if we put it in context, his “problem” isn’t really that bad.  He runs more than any other QB, he should be expected to fumble more.  His fumbling rate is higher than most QBs, but he also produces a lot more rushing production; perhaps we should judge his fumbling rate as though he were a RB.

Also, consider the following points:

- Vick’s TD/TO ratio with the Eagles is 1.05, the same exact ratio as Joe Flacco.

- Vick’s more than 5500 rushing yards presumably led his team to a number of field goals, meaning there’s additional upside to his rushing that isn’t accounted for here.

Hopefully that shed some light on the whole “fumble problem”.  Yes, Vick fumbles a lot.  However, focusing on that without accounting for the corresponding rushing production is an incomplete (and unfair) view.

Vick isn’t a great QB.  It does appear, though, that he’s good enough.

Finally, no posts for the rest of the week (school orientation).  4th Preseason game should be fun, but relatively inconsequential as far as the team’s 2013 performance goes.  Things to watch:  Nick Foles (of course), Matt Barkley, and the DBs.

How Inconsistent is Vick?

Occasionally, I start to write a post with an end-point in mind, only to find out that what I expected to be the case was actually far from reality.  Today is one of those occasions.  I was hoping to provide an illustration of Vick’s “Boom-or-Bust” nature.  Indeed, I have done that, but I also found some very surprising results when I compared him to other prominent QBs, albeit with a serious caveat that I’ll explain at the end.  First, let’s look at Vick by himself.

Here is a chart showing Vick’s QB Rating by start.  I’ve only included games from his Eagles career (34); he simply isn’t the same player from his Falcons days (mostly a good thing).  All numbers are from Pro-Football-Reference.com.

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To make things easier, look at this table:

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Before we talk about that table, we need some context.  Last year, Tony Romo finished 10th in the league in Passer Rating with a rating of 90.5.  Also, last year the median Rating for starting QBs (does not include spot-starters) was 84.

In light of those stats, I’m going to define “Good” play as anything about 90.  Anything less than 80 will be defined as “poor”.  Everything in between is mediocre.

See any issues?  Vick, in his time as the Eagles’ starting QB has delivered Good (or better) play 56% of the time.  However, he’s played poorly 35% of the time.  Interestingly enough, he’s had “mediocre” play in just 9% of his starts.

That’s about what I expected to find.  I assumed Vick would provide a higher percentage of Good and Poor starts, with a very low percentage of Mediocre starts.  While that appears to be the case on an absolute basis, comparing him to other QBs leads to some huge surprises.

Here is the same table (I’ve combined the 90-100 and 100+ lines), but with several other QBs included.  To keep the comparison fair, I’ve only included starts from the 2010-2012 season (between 46 or 48 games for each other QB).

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Looking at Vick’s “consistency” in context with other QBs, we can see some very favorable comparisons.  During Vick’s time with the Eagles, he has delivered “Good” performances more often and “Poor” performances less often than Eli Manning, Joe Flacco, and Tony Romo.

Vick has similar numbers (slightly worse) to Matt Ryan.

Lastly, I just want to highlight the remarkable play of both Brady and Rodgers.  That’s what having an “elite” QB gets you.  75% of the time, you know you are getting “Good” play from the position.  Also note Rodgers’ incredible avoidance of “poor” performances.  This is probably the subject for another blog post, but Aaron Rodgers might be quietly putting together the greatest QB career ever…

Summing things up, it seems as though Vick’s “inconsistency” is somewhat overblown.  On an absolute basis, that may be true.  However, it’s also true that, since coming to the Eagles, Vick has delivered “Good” QB play in an impressively high percentage of his starts.  Outside of the true top-tier of QBs (Brady, Rodgers, Brees, P. Manning), Vick compares favorably to his competition.  Additionally, looking at QB Rating ignores Vick’s rushing stats, which can only help his case in comparison to most NFL QBs.

Alright everybody, back on the bandwagon…

Eagles vs. Jags Review

Following Saturday night’s game, there were two major issues I wanted to address.  One is Vick’s performance, the other is the overall defensive performance.  Vick first:

Vick

If anything, Saturday’s game was a good illustration of what we should expect from the team this year.  The previous two games, the offense had looked very good.  There were a few miscues but, overall, the unit moved quickly and consistently.  That, of course, was not the case on Saturday.

I’m not that concerned, but that’s because my expectations were already different from many commentators/analysts.  I’ve said it several times, in several different places, but:

56.3%

80.6

1.5

What are those?  Michael Vick’s career completion percentage, QB Rating, and TD/INT ratio.  To be clear, I think the offense will be very good this year with Vick at QB.  However, the guys has played 10 seasons in the NFL; our expectations for his performance this year should be made in reference to that sample.

The upshot?  The offense is going to be good, but inconsistent, if Vick is the QB.  Derek Sarley, formerly of IgglesBlog, has a great breakdown here. (Promo code Q42B).  The reason I like his analysis so much is that it perfectly highlights two of the biggest issues I have with Vick (both of which I’ve mentioned before):

- He doesn’t anticipate routes, he waits for receivers to be open.

- He often turns down the open short throw (and primary option) in hopes of getting something downfield.

That second point, in particular, is a major reason why I was hoping for Foles to be named the starter.  All of Chip’s schemes and the entire idea behind the “simple math” option design, by definition, requires the QB to consistently take whatever the defense gives him. That’s definitely an attribute of the offense, not a drawback, but it means Vick needs to be willing, for example, to throw a quick screen rather than wait for a downfield throw.

Part of this might be confidence.  Vick’s strength is overwhelmingly in his deep throw accuracy and power.  Therefore, it makes sense that those would be the throws he looks for most often.  However, that mindset is going to result in some missed opportunities (like the missed screen in the link above).

With Vick as QB, there are going to be a lot of stalled drives.  The flip-side is that there will also be a number of deep-strikes.  The hope, obviously, is that the “explosiveness” more than compensates for the weaknesses.  Time will tell, but I’m hopeful.

Remember when I said that Vick as the starter is BAD for the O-Line?  I don’t have the All-22, but I suspect that played a role in the unit’s relatively poor performance on Saturday.  He holds the ball for a long time (partly because he doesn’t take the open short routes consistently), and he’s prone to rolling out of the pocket rather than stepping up in it.  Again, that’s NOT GOING TO CHANGE.

So far, this probably sounds like an “I told you so” post and a likely overreaction to one preseason game; that’s not my intention.  So let me repeat:

I expect the offense, under Vick, to be very good this year.

My overall point here is that, over the past two weeks, I’ve tried to remind everyone that Vick’s game has several large, and well-known weaknesses.  Over the first two preseason games, those weaknesses were largely hidden, which led some to suggest they were no longer there.  Saturday’s performance should have dispelled that notion.

The Defense

I’m guessing a lot of fans were disappointed with the defense, particularly on the long TD run.  Again, this goes back to expectations.  Odds are, the Eagles’ defense will not be “good” this year.  We’re going to see some ugly play, there’s simply no way around it.  The overall talent level on defense is low.  As a result, I’m not going to get upset over the occasional 60 yard run.  It’s terrible defense, and the team won’t win a SB until its fixed, but expecting better, at this point, is just foolish.  It’s going to take at LEAST another offseason to address the defense.  Until then, we all have to hope that the huge breakdowns can be minimized.  Whereas last year, the team was destroyed by long passes, I expect this year’s team to be attacked on the ground.  That should be a net positive, but it’s going to be frustrating anyway.

The Roster

Look for the Eagles to add a CB and/or S after league-wide cuts are made.  The DB depth is, by far, the biggest current roster construction issue.  Right now, the team is one or two injuries away from being in serious trouble on the back end.  As I said last week, if anything is going to blow this season up, it’s an injury or injuries to guys like Fletcher/Williams or Chung.  The Eagles desperately need some insurance there.  As cuts get made, that’s the only position group I’m really looking at around the league.

Preseason Game #3: What you should REALLY be watching for…

The third preseason game is tomorrow night.  It’s standard at this point for Eagles commentators/beat writers/bloggers to put up a “what I’m watching” post, and I’m no different.  I will say, however, that I tend to look at things a bit differently.  For example, at Birds 24/7, Tim McManus is watching:

- Kenny Phillips

- Cole/Graham

- Watkins

- Herremans

- Russell Shepard

Click the link to see his rationale, but none of those strike me as particularly meaningful, though they’re all of some interest.

Defensive Line, especially Logan/Curry

So far, the defensive line is FAR ahead of where I (and most others) expected them to be.  Preseason performance obviously has to be discounted, but there’s no doubt the group looks stronger than I thought they’d be.  Of note here are Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry.  Both players have shown signs of being very good players in this defense.  However, both have also been predominantly matched up against backups.  I want to see what they do when playing against #1s.

Logan, in particular, is an important piece, by virtue of Sopoaga playing in front of him.  Sopoaga isn’t exactly a world-beater at NT, and isn’t likely to produce anything beyond mediocre play.  Every team needs some draft luck in order to contend, and hitting on a 3rd round NT would certainly qualify.  If Logan can contribute, it eliminates a big hole in the defensive roster.

Rumor has it both Logan and Curry will rotate in early tomorrow night.  If we’re talking long-term (and we should be), that’s the biggest thing to watch.  Can either player be a significant contributor?

Nate Allen

It’s looking more likely that Nate Allen will be starting for the Eagles this year, at least in Game 1.  The question here is, can he be average?  With what is expected to be a very good offense, the Eagles don’t need a GREAT defense, just a passable one.  Last year, the team’s Safety play was horrendous.  Missed tackles and bad angles against the run and broken coverage in the pass game.  I’m confident that Patrick Chung (while he’s healthy) will provide solid, if unspectacular, play.  If Nate Allen can do the same, the Eagles will have filled the biggest hole on the team.

Michael Vick

Now that he’s the unquestioned starter, I hope to see a better representation of Chip’s playbook.  We won’t get it all (he’ll save a lot for the regular season), but we should get a much better feel for how the offense will function.  Beyond that, I’m looking for one thing from Vick:  Can he hit throw the bubble screen accurately?  So far, it looks like the WR screen will be a foundation of the offense.  However, it’s not as easy a throw to make as it looks.  To be successful, the ball has to be delivered quickly and with precise accuracy.  If the throw ends up on the WR’s back shoulder, it essentially ruins the play.  With DeSean especially, it can mean the difference between a huge gain and a negative play.

TEs in the Slot

There might not be an area of this offense I’m more excited about.  With the TEs the Eagles have, specifically Clay Harbor and Zach Ertz, this should be a consistent source of positive match-ups.  I want to see a lot of it.  At the highest level, it forces the defense to change its personnel.  Normally, the defense would be in a Nickel alignment, with 3 CBs to cover the offense’s 3 WRs.  However, a CB won’t be able to consistently cover Harbor/Ertz.

There are a few options for the defense, but none of them are that attractive.  It also plays to both Harbor and Ertz’s strengths, namely the Size/Athleticism combination.

Health Insurance

I’m not overly concerned with the bottom of the roster.  It’s obviously important for the players, but for the team’s overall performance, the last few spots on the roster aren’t going to matter much.  However, I want to remind everyone that a few of the Eagles’ offseason additions and presumed starters must still be considered injury risks.  Specifically:

- Patrick Chung.  He’s missed 14 games over the past 3 seasons.  In all likelihood, he won’t play 16 games this year.  Someone has to be able to step in and provide adequate play.  I’m not sure that person is on the roster.

- Bradley Fletcher. He played all 16 games last year and in 2010, so I’m more confident in him than I am in Chung.  Let’s not forget that he’s torn the ACL in his right knee TWICE (as well as the MCL once).  The Eagles aren’t exactly deep at CB.

Therefore, if you want to watch what’s really important during the second half of the game, keep your eyes on the DBs.  It was the team’s biggest weakness last year, and while it should improve based on the current starters, there’s very little depth.  If the wheels are going to come off this year, it’ll likely have something to do with this position group.

Whether its Wolff, Coleman, Phillips (not likely), Whitley, Lindley, etc… doesn’t really matter.  The Eagles just need SOMEBODY that can step in and deliver non-catastrophic play.

 

Run/Pass Game Theory; Optimal 3rd and 1 play selection

Today we’re going to revisit the Run/Pass play selection series I began a few weeks ago.  For those of you have didn’t see it, here are the primary articles:

Marginal Value of 1 yard on 3rd and 1

Nash Equilibrium and 3rd Down Strategy

The overall theme of the articles was that NFL play-callers are not running as often on 3rd and 1 as they should.  I supported this argument with a fair amount of evidence, using expected points and run/pass success probabilities.  However, there were a couple of holes in there.  Today I want to close one of those, refining the analysis and consequently lending it more confidence.

First, from the first link above, this is what I’m talking about:

Let’s just assume for a second the odds of success for each are equal to the Run/Pass odds we saw yesterday (I know that isn’t right, but its instructive). That means the expected payout for each is:

Run: 2.39 expected points * 70.7% success = 1.69 Expected Points

Pass: 2.65 expected points * 54.6% success = 1.45 Expected Points

For that to be correct, that expected yardage for a run on 3rd and 1 would have to be 1 yard and the expected yardage for a pass would have to be 5 yards, neither of which is likely the case.  However, as you can see, the difference in expected yardage gained would have to be very big to account for the difference in success rates.

The section in bold highlights a particularly large potential weakness, which I’ve now fixed. Using the Pro-Football-Reference play finder, I was able to provide a higher level of resolution.  For my data set, I used all 3rd and 1 plays run over the past 5 seasons.  From this, we need the following pieces of information:

- The average gain of a successful run on 3rd and 1.

- The average gain of a successful pass on 3rd and 1.

- The odds of success for a run.

- The odds of success for a pass.

Using the play-finder, we can see that the average successful run gained 4.43 yards.  The average successful pass gained 11.26 yards.

While I previously used this site for out success rates, we can now find them ourselves using Pro-Football-Reference.  Since our data set is now just 5 years, we need to update our rates.  Over that time frame, on 3rd and 1, run plays succeeded 69.3% of the time.  Pass plays were successful 57.7% of the time.

Now we have our building blocks.  Just as we did before, we can use them in combination with Expected Points (AdvancedNFLstats.com) to calculate the expected value of each (run/pass), which will tell us which is the better choice (on average for the league).

To refresh, here is the expected value of each yard line:

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Using this concept, we can calculate the value of the average gain on 3rd and 1 for both run plays and pass plays.  For example, given 3rd and 1 at the 20 yard line (opposing), a successful run can be expected to gain 4.43 yards, leaving the offense with a 1st down between the 16 and 17 yard line, which is worth 4.35 expected points.  Similarly, a successful pass will gain, on average, 11.26 yards, giving the offense a first down between the 8 and 9 yard line.  That position is worth 4.86 expected points.

However, we’re not done yet.  We need to factor in the different success rates.  Here is a table, summarizing the previous paragraph and adding the expected success rates:

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As you can see, once we factor in the expected success rates, the Run option stands out as the optimal choice.  It’s expected value is 3.01 versus an expected value of just 2.81 for the pass option.

If this sounds counterintuitive, remember the chart I gave you in the “Marginal Value” post, seen below:Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 12.40.30 PM

The bulk of the value in any successful 3rd and 1 play lies in the first yard gained.  To that end, sacrificing additional yards in exchange for a higher success rate is typically a good trade-off.

Finally, I ran the numbers at each yard line, giving me this chart, which shows the expected value of a run and a pass at each yard line, in a 3rd and 1 situation:

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Now that’s interesting.  It’s hard to see, but the optimal play call switches from run to pass at the 53 yard line (so own 47 yard line) as you move farther away from the end zone.  Here is chart that illustrates the difference more clearly.

Values above zero mean the Run is the better option, values below the axis mean Pass:Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 1.18.04 PM

So it looks like our overall thesis needs some updating.  Note that the lumps in the data (particularly on the right side of the chart) probably reflect statistical anomalies in the Expected Points data.  Theoretically, that should be a smooth line.  However, the magnitude of the difference isn’t that important, so it doesn’t effect the overall point.

Given recent NFL success rates on 3rd down and the expected value of a first down at each yard line, NFL teams should RUN when they are beyond their own 47 yard line, and PASS if they aren’t.  Note that the values once again converge with 13 yards to go until the end zone.  Obviously, beyond that the 11.26 average pass gain gives you a TD, which skews the results and likely isn’t representative of what happens in real life (presumably the average gain for a pass declines when you’re that close to the end zone, it kind of has to).

We can also assume that if NFL play-callers followed this analysis, the success rates would change, leading to the overall equalization in expected value of a Run versus a Pass, eliminating the inefficiency.  That point would represent the Nash Equilibrium.  However, until that happens, smart NFL teams can exploit this for an advantage.

Quick Thoughts on Vick

Much of what needs to be said about Vick as the starting QB has been.  I just wanted to add a few things to the discussion:

- I thought Foles was the better choice, but that’s because I’m more concerned with the long-term than near-term.   No doubt Vick earned the spot, and I think he’ll perform well.

- However, keep Vick’s skill/ability in perspective.  If he plays like he has over the majority of his career, this could be a shorter stint than many realize.  Kelly won’t put up with poor decisions and inaccuracy when he has a backup QB he has confidence in.

- In that vein, the obvious question is: How long is Vick’s leash?  Kelly said Vick doesn’t need to “look over his shoulder”, but frankly, I don’t see how that’s possible.  The world now knows that Foles has some ability and can play in this offense.  If the Eagles drop 3-4 games in a row (maybe that Denver, NYG, Tampa away game stretch?), will Kelly still be as confident?

Almost by definition, selecting Vick is a choice of “Win Now” over “Develop for the future”. Therefore, if the team is around .500 and Vick falters a bit, how do you not pull him for Foles?  You’ve already stated you’re trying to win this year.

Basically, the pressure is on Vick to play very well.  However, if he plays to his long-term averages, I think we’ll see Foles get a shot.

- The key to Vick playing very well?  For me, it comes down to two things, which I’ll be watching closely for every game.  (Health is a given, but it’s not something Vick really controls)

1) Patience.  Does Vick have the discipline to consistently take 5-6 yard gains?  Put another way, can Vick consistently lead TD drives that don’t involve 20+ yard passes?  I hope so, but I’m skeptical.  His entire career has suggested he looks for the big play first, the smart play second.

2) Short throw accuracy.  Can Vick consistently put the ball exactly where it needs to be, hitting receivers in stride?  Yards after catch figures to be vital in this offense.  “Catchable” is not good enough.  I anticipate seeing a lot of WR screens and slants.  Those will fail if not delivered perfectly.

- What about the rest of the offense?

This is good for DeSean and Shady.  Vick’s deep throw ability is his clearest advantage over Foles.  As a result, DeSean will likely be much better off with Vick at QB.  Any time the defense wants to stack the box (for instance with a multi-TE set), DeSean will have an opportunity for a home-run, which Vick will undoubtedly be happy to throw.

Conversely, the presence of the deep threat (Vick-DeSean combo) will stop defenses from consistently bring safeties down to the LOS.  That should give Shady the space he needs to get past the first level, at which point he’s more dangerous than any back in the league. The one area this might hurt Shady is in the passing game.  I think Foles would be better at throwing to Shady out of the backfield.  Naturally, that’s a secondary option, so the tradeoff is still overwhelmingly positive for Shady.

This is bad for the O-Line, the TEs, and Damaris (if he gets playing time).  Perhaps Vick’s worst attribute is his inability to intelligently navigate the pocket.  He’s too quick to roll out, which is extremely harmful to the OLs ability to block.  The short drops should help, but that assumes Vick will actually deliver the ball on-time.  His history suggests he’ll be prone to holding the ball after the 3-step drop, looking for a downfield option.  Vick creates a lot of sacks, and is unquestionably harder to pass-protect than Foles.

The TEs and Damaris figure to be hurt as well.  This goes back to the “ball-in-stride” point. I have no idea how much playing time Damaris will get, but I hope it’s a lot.  His game, though, requires pinpoint accuracy from the QB.  If he has to hesitate or break momentum to catch the pass, it negates his best attribute (his quickness).   It’s a similar story for the TEs, though probably not as big of a difference from Vick to Foles.

One could argue that Vick’s deep throw ability and his ability to draw a defensive spy will give the TEs more space to work with than they’d have with Foles.  That’s positive.  On the other hand, the TEs are worse than WRs at both catching the ball and adjusting their speed/routes.  Vick’s combination of inaccuracy and power (he throws the ball very fast) will likely lead to more difficult catches for the TEs than they’d have with Foles at QB.

- Lastly, if you were a backup QB and could hand-pick any NFL starter to sit behind, Vick would be high on the list.  “Staying healthy” for Vick means playing 14-15 games.  In all likelihood, Foles will get a chance to start a game or two this season, at which point we’ll really be able to tell how different the offense is with each QB (we haven’t seen anything close to the whole playbook yet).