Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Grip about Second Person

You are reading ESPN the Magazine. You like reading that magazine. They generally have interesting and well written articles. The topics are broader then what is available on many of the other conventional media sources and the they dive deeper into issues that are not based solely around the results of the latest game. You enjoy that view of sports.

While you are reading this article you come to the realization that it is written entirely in second person. That is an unconventional perspective for a written report, especially nonfiction. You never really see second person used in other forms of media. Novels, newspapers, sociological nonfiction, and radio do not use second person. It is really only written sports commentary in which it appears. You realize you don't really like second person. It doesn't add anything to the reporting, and the strange phrasing distracts from some of the points.

You wonder why they insist on using this style. Does one of the editors of the Magazine just really love second person? Was the author trying to show off his technical proficiency? You hope you this doesn't become a bigger trend. You could not stand having to read lots of different pieces written this way.

You think to yourself that hopefully it is just this one authors signature style. Something he uses to try and get people to remember him. You hope once ESPN the Magazine realizes how annoying it is to read something written in second person they will have a talking to with the author. They will convince him to go back to first person or switch to third person. You think that if the author insists on writing in second person he should really just quit writing magazine articles and start written screen plays.

You really do not like the use of second person perspective.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Seahawks Conventional Wisdom: Domination in Front of the Nation on Primetime

The final piece of conventional wisdom I set out to look at was the Seahawks supposed domination of opponents during primetime games. These games are either Monday Night Football, Sunday Night Football, or Thursday Night Football (although I personally wish it would go away Thursday Night does still exist and is on during prime time). With Mike Holmgren calling the shots the Seahawks developed a reputation for being a nearly unstoppable force during these games. Since then the media has continued to roll out this repeated commentary whenever the Seahawks are coming up on an evening game. But is it still accurate? Are the Seahawks still dominate during primetime or does the narrative need updated?

When considering the last two pieces of conventional wisdom, the Seahawks home field prowess and their inability to win morning games, we looked at win percentage and point differential for the whole sample set. For the analysis of these narratives the holistic view of the sample set worked because the conventional wisdom only considered their ability to win or lose. So for the idea that the Seahawks are dominate in the evening we need to look at more than just winning percentage and points scored in all evening games. Although the Seahawks do have a great winning percentage at 83% (15/18) win by an average of 12 points per game (ppg) this could all be fueled by poor competition. If the Seahawks are getting to play the dregs of the league every time they play a primetime game they could easily be running up the score, but it doesn't mean they are dominate, just that they are playing bad teams. To try and understand if the Seahawks are dominating their opponents I decided to take a look at their opponents final winning percentage over all 16 games and see how they did against good teams compared to mediocre and bad teams.

Between 2010 and 2015 the Seahawks opponents in evening games have had an average seasonal win percentage of 56%. To say this differently, during the season that their opponents were forced to play the Seahawks on primetime those same opponents won over half of their regular season games. So the Seahawks opponents are on average good, but not great. A 56% win percent is equal to 9 regular season wins.

We can break the Seahawks opponents into two categories: good teams, and mediocre and bad teams. Against teams with less than a 63% win percent the Seahawks are undefeated going 8-0. Against teams with a regular season win percentage of 63% (10 wins) or more the Seahawks have only gone 7-3. The Seahawks are undefeated against the teams they should beat (the mediocre and bad one) and they are consistently beating the ones that should be more evenly matched against (the good ones).

Figure 1

So, the Seahawks are winning lots of games on MNF, SNF, and TNF, but are the winning big? Are they truly dominating the competition? Are they running up the score against bad teams and just barely squeaking by against the good ones? To figure that out final point differential, the difference between the Seahawks and their opponents final scores, is a perfect stat. We can also break point differential down into the same two camps: good teams, and mediocre and bad teams. As mentioned before the Seahawks are outscoring all their opponents by an average of 12 ppg. Against good teams, those with over a 63% regular season win percent, the Seahawks won by an average of 12.1 ppg. Against mediocre and bad teams, those teams with less than a 63% regular season win percent, the Seahawks won by an average of 11.9 ppg. Basically the Seahawks are beating opponents on primetime by almost two touchdowns regardless of the quality of that team. The Seahawks are the definition of domination.

The final piece of conventional wisdom related to the Seahawks that needed to be investigated for the Pete Carroll era was their dominance during evening games. The Seahawks opponents were be broken up into two different groups, good teams, and mediocre and bad teams, based on those opponents regular season win percentage. Then the Seahawks win percentage and final score differential against those groups were examined. During primetime the Seahawks have won 70% of their games against good teams by an average score of 12.1 ppg. The conventional wisdom about these games is still true, the Seahawks are dominating their opponents during evening games. Under Pete Carroll the Seahawks are a dominate force in primetime.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Seahawks Conventional Wisdom: Bad when Playing in the Morning

I recently published a post showing that the Seahawks are still a very dominate home team. They routinely win 60%+ of their home games and do so by an average of at least a TD. The conventional and common media narrative about the Seahawks home field prowess is accurate. So, if the first bit of conventional wisdom about the Seahawks being a dominate home team is still true what about the next most commonly held belief that they cannot win a morning game?

Evaluating this data is a lot harder to do because there is not a consistent sample size across each season. The number of morning games changes every year based on their opponents and the location of the games. Being located in Seattle the Seahawks only play morning games when they are on the east coast. Even than not all of their east coast games are in the morning. Due to their run of good season the Seahawks are frequently featured on nationally broadcast primetime games that kickoff in the evening. All of these factors mean the Seahawks have had as few as two morning games (2010) and as many as five (2013). However, even with the smaller sample sizes we can take a look at the trends under Pete Carroll.

Let's start our analysis by looking at the away game winning percentages in each of the three potential time slots: morning, afternoon, and evening. See Figure 1 for away game winning percentages plotted by season. The only clear trend that jumps out to me is that the season total away game winning percentage has a clear upward slope under Pete Carroll. The Seahawks have won over half of their road games each of the last three seasons. In the first three seasons of Pete Carroll's career with the Seahawks the team won less than half of their away games.  Obviously as the team has improved overall they have also improved on the road.

Figure 1
When it comes to looking for win percentage trends in each of the different time slots the data doesn't paint a clear picture. There is a lot of variance from season to season. For instance after winning 80% of their morning games in 2013 the Seahawks only managed to win 33% in 2014. The trend appears to be them hanging round the 40% mark, but it varies drastically. The afternoon and evening time slots have just as much variance although the afternoon appears to average lower and the evening average a bit higher.

I decided to calculate a four game rolling win percent and a cumulative win percent for the morning games. I started the data after the first for morning games has been played, but included those games in the data, to give us a less drastic swing from game to game. This was to try and clarify the data from the morning games and help us answer the question of are the Seahawks bad in morning games. The cumulative win percent trend line paints a clear picture that shows the Seahawks have been steadily improving since 2011. See Figure 2 for a look at the plot. The Seahawks have brought their morning game win percentage up to about 48% from around the mid 30's. They are definitely trending in the right direction.

Figure 2
In addition to win percentage the point differential in the morning games gives us a another valuable look at whether or not the Seahawks are terrible at 10am PST. If the Seahawks are losing close games it might be more about luck than some sort a core truth about the franchise. While on the other hand if the Seahawks are constantly getting blown out it is much more likely that they have some sort impediment stopping them from winning in the AM.

The point differential per game data for morning games surprised me. I was expecting to see something close to zero. The Seahawks are only winning about half of their morning games under Pete Carroll, yet the average score differential has been positive in all but one season, 2010. Plotting out these average score differentials shows us another positive trend. See Figure 3 for the plot. The Seahawks have been improving every year since 2010 with one outlier in 2014, when they dropped down to an average victory of 5 points per game. (Interestingly the Seahawks average point differential has been improving for all road games, not just the morning ones.) In 2013 and 2015 the Seahawks averaged over 20 points per game more than their opponents in the morning on the road. Clearly the Seahawks are not just squeaking by when they play morning games.

Figure 3
Although the data has a much smaller sample set and doesn't offer any obvious conclusions I am confident in saying that the Seattle Seahawks morning game troubles have come to an end. Throughout Pete Carroll's reign the team has been consistently improving their morning game win percent. Additionally the team has put up impressive per game point differentials, consistently outscoring opponents by 5 or more points. It is time for sports media commentators to update their tired commentary about the Seahawks and stop talking about their struggles in morning games.

Sources: Pro Football Reference

Friday, November 18, 2016

Seahawks Conventional Wisdom: Home Field Dominance

Convention wisdom about the Seattle Seahawks says they are really hard to beat at home in CenturyLink Field, they are really hard to beat on primetime games, and they are really easy to beat when they are playing on the road outside of the Pacific Standard Time zone. I hear these believes echoed over and over again by TV broadcasters. The thing is most of this perception about the team is based on the Mike Holmgren era when the Seahawks became a national noticed team. Back then there were times when those Seahawks teams would lose 6-8 of their roads games. The Seahawks would destroy opponents in Seattle one week only to show up on the east coast the next week and get blasted. The thing is this era is long gone now, but the prevailing notion of the Seahawks hasn't changed. So, I decided to take a look at the Seahawks during Pete Carroll's time at the helm to see if the conventional wisdom needs updating or if it is still valid.

Pete Carroll has been the head coach since 2010, for six full seasons now. During that time his teams have gone 36-12 at home and 24-24 on the road. Over this span the Seahawks are 11-12 in morning games, 34-21 in afternoon games, and 15-3 in evening games. Just looking at these numbers it appears that the old and common belief about the Seahawks appears to be true. Their home record is way better than their away record and they have been mediocre in morning games and excellent in evening games.

Table 1

Stopping our analysis here is simplistic and these numbers do not capture the whole story. During the last six seasons the Seahawks have risen from mediocrity in 2010 and 2011 to elite from 2012 and on. This improvement can be seen in Figure 1 by looking at the teams winning percentage in each of those years. The Seahawks have clearly improved since 2010. The 2015 season was their worst season during this dominate run, yet they still managed to win 10 games good for a 63% win percentage. Seeing as how the team has improved in general over the last several season we should also look at how they have changed on the road, in morning games and in primetime. It is quite possible the early failures skewed the data to hide the present reality.

Figure 1

Let's start by looking at the conventional wisdom that the Seahawks are a dominate home team. I will address the other two topics in subsequent blog posts. Overall I will strive to answer if the Seahawks are still a team that can only win at home and is unstoppable in primetime.

Referring back to Figure 1 we can see a clearly rising trend for the Seahawks away game winning percentage. They have won at least 63% of their away games in each of the last three season. While the road performance has been improving the home game results have actually been dropping. That said they are still stellar. The Seahawks have won at least 63% of their home game in each of their last four seasons and have never won less than 50% with Pete Carroll as the head coach. Additionally the Seahawks home win percentage has been higher than or equal to their overall win percentage every one of those same years.

Another stat we can look at to determine if the Seahawks really are a dominate home team is average point differential, which shows us how close the final score of the Seahawks games are. Final score doesn't always accurately reflect the game player because of garbage tie TD, but in general it shows us how well the Seahawks have been performing in games.

Figure 2

For every season between 2010-2015 the Seahawks have had a positive average point differential at home. Surprisingly though this number has been dropping steadily since a high of 18.5 points in 2012. Even so the Seahawks are still winning by nearly a TD per game when at CenturyLink.

Couple these impressive home field margin of victories with their consistently high winning percentage and it appears that the conventional wisdom about Seahawks being dominate at home is true. Pete Carroll has maintained the level of excellence that was established under Mike Holmgren. His teams have continued to make Seattle one of the hardest places in the NFL for road teams to win.

Sources: Pro Football Reference

Saturday, November 12, 2016

NFC Title Fight: The Dallas Cowboys

In addition to the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks the Dallas Cowboys are the another prime contender for the NFC Title. Coming into the season the Cowboys were not pegged for success. They finished the 2015 season with a 4-12 record. They were a turnover prone team with an ineffective offense and a mediocre defense. During the 2016 preseason the Cowboys veteran starting quarterback Tony Romo broke his back leaving rookie Dak Prescott as the starter for at least half the season. But despite those challenges the Cowboys have impressed so far. They are currently 7-1 and leading the NFC. The Cowboys success is based around an excellent run game led by rookie star Ezekiel Elliott and the best offensive line in the league, quality defense, and disciplined play.

The Cowboys top rusher in 2015 was Darren McFadden, who was unable to capitalize on having the most talented offensive line in the NFL blocking for him. With their disappointing 2015 record the Cowboys decided to upgrade their run game and used the fourth pick in the draft to take Ezekiel Elliott. The pick was a bit of a surprise because it spurned the current NFL trend of not drafting running backs early. Many thought it another Jerry Jones ego pick (which it probably was) that was doomed to fail. The doubters have been proved wrong.

Elliott has already rushed for 891 yards in only 8 games, averaging 111 rushing yards per game (ypg). Put another way Elliott leads all NFL players in total rushing yards despite being a rookie and already having sat during the bye week. He has also been able to find the end zone frequently, having scored seven rushing touchdowns (TD) in his first eight NFL games. Zeke is a great player taking advantage of excellent run blocking. As a Seahawks fan stuck watching Christine Michael, I am envious every time I see a highlight of Elliott running the ball.

Led by their sensational rookie running back the Dallas offensive attack has been great. They are averaging 27.9 points per game (ppg), which ranks fourth in the NFL. As would be expected on a team that features Elliott, the offense is based around running the ball. The Cowboys are currently leading the NFL in rushing averaging 165.3 ypg. Running the ball that effectively has led to the Cowboys leading the league in time of possession (TOP) per game. The Cowboys holding the ball on offense for an average of 33 minutes a game (and they haven't even played the Seahawks yet!). The terrifyingly good rushing has also allowed the Cowboys to convert third downs at a high clip. They are ranked fifth in the league converting 46.5% of the time.

The Cowboys offense focuses on the running game, but their passing game is no slouch either. Filling in for the injured Tony Romo rookie Dak Prescott has been a big success. Flanked with good receivers Prescott has producing 246.3 pass ypg for the Cowboys. He currently has 12 passing TD and only 2 interceptions. A TD/INT ratio like that is stellar. It is in the same realm as Tom Brady (12/0), Derek Carr (17/3), and Matt Ryan (23/4). Dak is also completing 66.5% of his passes. Prescott's quality play and has probably cost Tony Romo is starting roll. It will be hard to sit down the skilled rookie for an aging and injury prone Romo.

A great offense like that in Dallas can't consistently win games by itself. A team has to also stop the other team from scoring. Dallas's defense has done exactly that, giving up only 17.5 ppg, which is fourth best in the NFL. They do this by stopping the other teams runs and containing the other teams passes. They only give up 86.8 rushing ypg, which is sixth in the NFL. They conceded 246 pass ypg, which falls squarely in the middle of the pack ranking 15th. The defense is helped by the previously mentioned best offensive TOP in the league. It allows the defenders to stay fresh longer. However, those fresh legs aren't everything. The defenders still have to make plays to stop their opponents offense and they are doing exactly that. Although not great the Dallas defense is solid.

The final factor that is letting the Dallas Cowboys excel in 2016 is their discipline. The offense has only received 51 penalties thus far, seventh fewest in the league. Much like the offense the defense never beats themselves with stupid mistakes. They have been penalized the fewest times in the entire NFL this year with only 44 penalties called against them on defense. Smart disciplined play means the Cowboys never hurt themselves. The other teams have to earn every offensive yard and fight for every defensive stop. The Cowboys are going to gift them anything.

To many the Cowboys have been a surprise success story to start off the 2016 NFL season. Their 7-1 record puts them comfortably in the lead for the number one seed in the NFC. Their teams offensive success has been anchored by tremendous talent running back Ezekiel Elliott and their offensive line. While the defense has done their part keeping opponents from scoring points. Finally the team doesn't give up free yards from bone headed penalties. They are among the least penalized teams in the NFL on both sides of the ball. The Cowboys are a good team built around running the ball, limiting opponents scores, and minimizing self-inflicted wounds from penalties.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Seattle Seahawk's Front Office Makes Mistakes

Seattle Times columnist Matt Calkins recently wrote a piece where he argued that the Seahawks offensive line struggles can't be blamed on the front office. In his words, "It’s easy to criticize the five guys out there protecting Wilson. But it’s hard to criticize the brass that put them out there." He thesis is that all of the front office's moves have been right and we, as  fans, wouldn't want to undo them if we could. So, their strategy of investing in the defense to build them into a historically awesome unit and paying key offensive skill players is not to blame. I disagree. The front office does share a large part of the blame for the awful mess that is the Seattle Seahawk's offensive line.

Since coming to Seattle in 2010 Pete Carroll and John Schneider have done a wonderful job of building and maintaining a championship caliber team. The proof is in their four straight playoff appearances, four straight league leading scoring defenses, and two trips to the Super Bowl. It is hard to criticize such a successful pair. However, they do deserve criticism for their terrible handling of the offensive line.

The front office has been unable to draft and cultivate offensive line talent. At times the front office's treatment and strategy around the o-line has felt downright neglectful. The draft is a good example. Since 2010 the Seahawks have drafted 12 offensive linemen and J.R. Sweezy. Take a look to see all these "legendary" men in Table 1. If we throw out the 2016 class because they are so new and still unknown quantities, these draft picks have produced five NFL starters (Glowinski, Britt, Sweezy, Carpenter, and Okung) and none of them are that good. The best of the bunch is probably Russell Okung, Pete Carroll's first ever draft pick, but that isn't saying much. During his time in Seattle Okung struggled to stay healthy and on the playing field. When he was playing he had moments of greatness, but also plenty of moments of bone headedness. The GM and Head Coach thought so little of Okung they didn't bother to resign him and instead let him bounce off to Denver. With Carroll and Schneider in charge the Seahawks have been unable to consistently use the draft to find competent offensive linemen. It has been a weakness for the team.
Table 1
The front office's neglect of the offensive line can also be seen in their decisions of which players to retain. They have let Breno Giacomini, James Carpenter, and Russell Okung walk during free agency rather than pay them. Like Matt Calkins says they used the money to sign their big time defensive play makers to longer term deals. I won't question their strategy here. Keeping Earl Thomas, Bobby Wagner, and Richard Sherman gives the Seahawks three players that are arguably the best in the league at key defensive positions. They also used that money to bring in guys like Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett. Again I don't question those moves. These players are the heart and soul of the defense that has propelled all the success the Seahawks have had. However, making smart decisions to sign star defenders doesn't excuse dumb decisions that were made to try and free up the money to pay those defensive guys.

This may seem like blasphemy to many, but Doug Baldwin is only a good receiver not a great one. He is a good route runner with good hands, but he isn't stellar. While the number two receiver, Jermaine Kearse, is mediocre at best. Fans wouldn't have liked it, but money could have been saved and used on a guard or tackle by letting those two receivers walk during free agency. Take a look at Table 2 for a comparison to Jermaine Kearse to three other comparable wide receivers. All three of these guys are putting up number just as good as Kearse for less money. The front office chose to reward their WR rather than pay a tackle or guard. The front office made a strategic decision here and over the last two seasons it has proved itself to be the wrong one.
Table 2
Another big mistake that Carroll and Schneider made is trading Max Unger to the Saints for Jimmy Graham. At the time the trade was made the Seahawks biggest need was a talented receiver. Getting a frequently Pro Bowl TE seemed like just the perfect fix to many including the GM and Head Coach. To other though the trade looked to be fixing one problem at receiver by creating a bigger one on the offensive line. Based on the evidence of who they started in 2015, the Seahawks coaches appeared to think they could turn any old big guy into an NFL quality center, so giving up Max Unger wouldn't be a big lose. To keep from reliving the results of the trade too much let's just say Jimmy Graham hasn't provided the level of production in the passing game that the Seahawks were hoping for. Instead he spends lots of time blocking or running around not having the ball thrown to him because Russell Wilson is scrambling away from oncoming pass rushers. The Jimmy Graham trade resulted in a fail and the thinking behind it was flawed.

It is often said that the key to success in football starts with winning the battle of the line. Whoever is able to gain the upper hand in the trenches will prevail more often than not. Seattle has done an excellent job identifying and developing defensive line talent. Their defensive tackles and ends have been able to consistently bring pressure on opposing RB and QB and disrupt the opponents offense at the point of attack. The big boys on the defensive side of the ball are so good at their jobs that Seattle brings an extra man on a blitz very infrequently, which enables the pass defense to shut down aerial attacks. Unfortunately the offensive side of the line is just plain terrible. The scouting and coaching genius that feeds the defensive line doesn't work for the offensive line. The offensive line has been a weakness throughout Carroll's tenure with the team, but rather than hold steady as mediocre they have continued to decline every year. Now in 2016 they are probably the worst o-line unit in the NFL. The fault for this horrendous line lines at the feet of the front office and coaching staff.

Monday, October 17, 2016

NFC Title Fight: The Minnesota Vikings

One of the keys to the NFL post season is securing one of the top two seeds in your conference. The high seeds guarantee a bye into the divisional round and at least one home game. These are both huge advantages and it is no coincidence high seeds often end up in the Super Bowl. Recently the Seahawks earned themselves a key tie breaker for the NFC's top seed by defeating the Atlanta Falcons 26-24. The Falcons high flying offense makes them one of the best teams in the NFC. The Falcons also play in a weak division and are sure to rack up wins against the Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers. So, having that tie breaker is huge for Seattle.

The two other teams that most threaten the Seahawks chances at the NFC's top playoff seed are the Minnesota Vikings and the Dallas Cowboys. Both teams are a bit of a surprise. Both of the two team's starting quarterbacks were not slated to start before the season kicked off. In both cases injury to the starter during the preseason, Teddy Bridgewater in Minnesota and Tony Romo in Dallas, forced someone else to take over the quarterback job. This can be a major blow to an NFL team, so many expected these two teams to struggle. However, both have defied expectations and started out strong. Both are going to challenge the Seahawks for NFC dominance. So, let's take a look at the Minnesota Vikings.